San Simon and the Hot Springs

So I might actually get around to writing about Guatemala, one subject at a time... eventually. Tonight's topic is San Simon and our visit to Las Fuentes Georginas hot springs (in case you couldn't tell by the title of this blog). This excursion took place on Wednesday, May 26th. This was the day after many of the students got sick, so there were only about 7 or 8 of us that went to the springs. Although the springs no doubt do wonders for joint pain and stressed muscles...dehydration and upset stomachs would likely be worsened by the heat.

On our way from Xela to the hot springs, we drove through a city called Zunil. Maneuvering our van through the cobblestone streets that were very clearly not made for cars was exciting and I was very glad that we had a driver that knew what he was doing. There wasn't a whole lot about this place that would distinguish it from Xela, except for a particularly interesting resident...San Simon. Chris and Alyssa, our guides from the Asturias Academy, briefly told us about this local saint and sparked our interest. San Simon (also known as Maximon) is a combination of a Mayan deity (of sexuality), a Catholic priest, a Spanish Conquistador, and Judas Iscariot...yeah, interesting guy. His effigy currently lives in a house in Zunil where his Brotherhood takes care of him. I say 'lives' because he has his own room where he 'sleeps' for 8 hours a night, he's given cigarettes (which he actually smokes using some kind of respirator inside his mannequin body) and is generally treated like a human being. When Chris pointed out the house where San Simon was, our curiosity was sparked and we asked if we could see him. Our insanely talented driver found a place to park and we quickly piled out of the van in the pouring rain (little did we know, this was the beginnings of Tropical Storm Agatha). Dodging puddles and trying not to get hit by cars, we unceremoniously ran through the open doors of the house of San Simon.

When our eyes adjusted to the candle-lit darkness, we saw men seated at tables, some playing cards, others analyzing crystals, almost all of them smoking cigars or cigarettes. Chris lead us to the back of the open room where we saw three men gathered around the figure of San Simon. They seemed to be talking to him and performing some kind of ceremony. A fourth man stood in the corner and would occasionally approach Simon to ash the lit cigarette in his mouth. In front of Simon, there were dozens of lit candles, different colors representing different wishes. In the corner, near the candles there was a crucifix and little statues of Mary, the only thing about this place that felt remotely Catholic, it almost felt like a joke.

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We were already starting to feel the hairs on the back of our necks rise up but when Chris told us about the Grim Reaper figure that was upstairs we started to wonder if a group of American tourists really belonged there. But of course we were curious so we walked up the narrow cement stairway, single-file and peered through the door to sneak a peek. Looking back on it...I can say that we *really* didn't belong there... in the brief time between me walking through the door and promptly getting out of there I saw the terrifying figure of death in the corner, a woman with wild hair whispering to it and men passing around the biggest cigar I had ever seen. The room was an open air balcony with a tin roof to protect people from the elements, along the edge there was a counter with so many candles grouped together that it was really just a pillar of fire. I'm not a particularly religious or superstitious person but I felt very uncomfortable in this place. I made my way back down the stairs to take another look at San Simon and watched as the three men brought a live chicken into the space in front of Simon. Although we didn't stay much longer, I didn't have to stay to know that the chicken was going to be sacrificed. Chris gave the Brotherhood the customary offering of 5Q per person and some of us quickly took some pictures before leaving and attempting to shake the uncomfortable feeling.

We returned to the van and went over what it was that we had just ignorantly walked into, some more shaken than others. Our driver continues to work his way through the treacherous hills of the city and eventually we got to the mountainous country where we saw a great deal of farmland, crops looking like patchwork quilts laid out across the hills. The soil of this land is very fertile because of the volcanos in the area so there were many different kinds of crops planted with special attention given to placement and planting cycles.

Eventually we made it to Las Fuentes Georginas hot springs, tucked away in the mountains of Guatemala. We were surrounded by huge trees with leaves that reminded me of the tree stars in Land Before Time. Unfortunately I didn't get any pictures of this trip because I was too busy admiring it and I didn't want to get my camera wet in the springs. Megan took a couple of pictures though and the website has some good pictures, so hopefully that will do. We changed into our swimsuits and made our way to the pool closest to the source, therefore the hottest. Since we were so high up in the mountains, we found ourselves walking through the misty clouds. We spent over an hour soaking in the springs. The floor of the pools were rocky and shallow, never getting deeper than waist level, except closest to the source (which was about chest deep). After about twenty minutes I had to find a rock to sit on because my body temperature was starting to get a little too hot for my comfort.

I wish I had actually taken pictures of this place, it was beautiful beyond words and I never want to forget the lush forest in the mountains. Unfortunately we were some of the last people to visit the springs before Tropical Storm Agatha destroyed them. I'm not sure of the extent of the damage, but while we were stranded in Xela over the weekend we overheard the bartender at Bamboo talking about Las Fuentes Georginas specifically and saying that they had been destroyed.

Thanks for reading! I'll try and get to more posts soon. I can already feel the experience fading into memory as I fully adjust to life back home.