Click map to see detailed route


Sent: 13 February 2001 00:44
Subject: 2 Hours Standing On A Chicken Bus After A Sacrificial Blood Bath

Dear All,

I am now in Guatemala's 2nd largest city, Quetzaltenango (gosh, what-a-mouthful), also known as Xela (pronounced as Shella). With only
100,000 people, it's really a small town compared to the millions of Guatemala City. I arrived here a few hours ago after a 2+ hour bus side -
on what's known as the Chicken Bus - only $1 for the 100km - squeezed with god-knows-how-many-people - possibly 7 people in a row when there's supposed to be 4 by standards elsewhere in the world, plus animals, chickens and anything imaginable. The top was laden with cargo plus my backpack, and the conductor sometimes sits on top too with others too poor to sit below. The journey from a godforsaken road junction went through the mountains, winding at every corner, and I felt as though I was going to throw out, especially when I was standing half the trip and when I finally sat, was squeezed sideways rather than sitting properly.

Upon arrival, I suddenly found myself with a Californian Chinese girl (ABC) - bus too crowded previously to notice her. She has travelled overland from California, down Mexico and Belize, and now here to learn Spanish (Xela, like Antigua, is also full of Spanish language schools). She's on the shoestring and wanted to go to a particular hotel which cost $3 per night. God knows why I followed her, and actually agreed to stay in this Highland town hotel without cold water. Well, WeeCheng the backpacker has now turned into WeeCheng the overpampered banker... I should have paid $8 more and get hot water and individual bath room. Guess what, I went to the bathroom to take a shower and actually forgot my key! The hotel receptionist was only found after 20 min of me freezing in the cold in short-sleeved shirt and shorts... What a start to a new town!

OK - a bit of backtracking. On Saturday morning, after a late night watching Che Guevara's Bolivian Diary at a cinema, I took a tourist shuttle bus (comfortable air con bus, with ample space and so on - more than $10 for a journey as long as the Chicken Bus one) to Panajachel (nicknamed Gringo-tenango for the number of Americans there) on Lake Atitlan. The lake, surrounded by volcanoes, is one of the most beautiful places on earth. Little villages grace its shores, where the locals wear their own costume - each village has its own distinctive style and you can notice the difference, and things are a lot cheaper than Antigua too. A really idyllic place with lots of hippies and backpackers chilling out. It is hard to imagine that the Civil War was bitterly fought around here for 36 years, ending only in 1996, pitting the Mayan Indians and Marxist groups against various Military juntas and their CIA-supported death squads. I took a boat ride to visit the villages. In this highland lake, the sun was glaring and yet it was windy. Net result: I suffered a terrible sun burn. The most interesting village was Santiago Atitlan, where a local brought me to the abode of Senor Maximon - a Mayan diety that the Catholic Church hates - he's a mannequin like wooden-figure dressed in a strange costume smoking a cigar. Locals believe that he's the mixture of ancient Mayan gods and the Spanish conqueror of Guatemala, Don Pedro de Alvarado.  They visit him, gave him gifts of cash, liquor, and cigars, and he, through his protectors standing next to him, promises wealth and health. Strange music was being played and a coffin containing the life-size statue of Jesus Christ lies a few meters away.  "His Father," one of the guardians explained...

Beautiful Lago Atitlan


On Sunday morning, I took an overpriced (OK, no one forced me) tourist shuttle to another mountain town, Chichicastenango (also known as Chichi), where masses of tourists come every Thursday and Sunday to see the huge local market - hundreds of stalls with colourfully-dressed villagers selling touristy stuff as well as all kinds of day to day stuff. Exotic and yet touristy as well. After a quick visit to the market and increasing the Guate GDP by buying some crazy masks and embroidery, I found my way through a short country patch to look for Pascual Abaj, another Mayan diety. This one is more unique than Maximon, for it predates the Spanish era. A simple black stone idol stood there, with a shaman and a helper, plus three "patients". He walked around the patients, blessing them with a live pigeon, dispense incense onto the idol, poured wine over it, and suddenly tore the live pigeon apart...with blood dripping. A female French tourist actually screamed when she saw the quartering of the poor bird. The shaman placed the pigeon's head on the idol, then rubbed the remainder against each of the patient, and finally placed that on a pile of fire...grilled pigeon ? He continued to deal with the patients, one of whom was a young man dressed in "normal" shirt and pants and when the shaman spent a bit of time "treating" him, an arrogant French tourist shouted at the group, wanting the young man to move aside so that he could snap a pix of the more colourfully dressed shaman and the other two patients. The police standing nearby scolded the tourist. He, a mere tourist, dared to disrupt what's to the local, a serious religious ceremony, simply because he wants to have exotic pix taken. Atrocious. Personally, I would recommend an ancient local custom for this crazy tourist - cutting a hole through his penis, and pulling a string through it. 

OK. Tomorrow I shall visit a remote Mayan village with a colourful church that's full of both Christian and Mayan iconology, plus yet another Mayan
idol nearby. After that I shall proceed to Antigua.  



Senor Maximon of Santiago Atitlan with his guardians.  He's shifted from house to house every month.  Anthropologists say this has the effect of more equal distribution of power within the local community. The Christians hate him and he was once destroyed by a group of zealous Christians.

The Church in Santiago Atitlan, built in 1547.  Numerous statues of biblical figures with distinct Guatemalan Mayan features (people see god in their own image?) to be carried around during feast day processions.  Hmm... how different are these from Senor Maximon ? 

San Antonio - Wedding

Chichicastenango - the Sacrificial Bloodbath

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