Religion is ever present, in all different forms around the world. In Trinidad, we have our own beliefs, but in travelling to Santiago Atitlán, a Trini should be prepared for two things
- Some decent craft shopping
- Meeting Maximón.
Maximón (pronounced Mah-SHEE-moan) or San Simón, or whatever other local name he’s called, has about 15 to 20 shrines or santuarios, which are set up for worship of this deity … or saint … or demon. Depending on who you ask, you’ll get the following perspectives:
- Maximón to the Catholics is an unauthorized and sometimes outlawed saint
- Maximón to the tourist guides and local business folks is an opportunity to draw tourists and make money
- Maximón to the indigenous people (and many of mixed blood as well) is a potent miracle worker who needs to be placated with the things he likes – coincidentally or not, the things many of us like too.
When you get to Santiago Atitlán, your quest for Maximón can actually be a super easy one, as you get off your private or public boat, you’ll be mauled by a sea of kids and tuk-tuk drivers wanting to take you on a tour consisting of the market, main square, church, and Maximón. You can hire one of kids or guides to provide you a “tour” and your problem is solved immediately … but if you’re adventurous, I would ignore all of them and head uphill on your own, as the place is super small and has one main road … you can’t get lost. The road will curve uphill to the right and will be lined with dozens of handicraft shops.
Since there is only one main street, finding the market and the church is super easy. Finding Maximón on your own, can be a bit of a challenge (if you don’t speak Spanish) but asking locals is always an easy way to find out where he is located. Maximón like to live in different houses every year, so you will have to ask around, as your guide book will never be up to date.
In our case, we were led down some back alleys to someone’s house, with a weird soundtrack coming from another building. I would describe it as something between moaning and chanting but from experience, I recognized it as people praying for a sick person. Regardless, it’s still creepy being taken through back alleyways listening to those sounds … so resist the temptation to run!
Once you get to the house, you’ll realize that Maximón is a boss … every day, he has fresh beer and cigarettes to smoke. He is definitely a bad ass god. That being said, when you enter the house with him, it seems quite creepy – especially when you find out that on a nightly basis, he is taken upstairs to sleep in a bed, and then dressed and brought downstairs daily to meet his people. Maximón does leave the house once a year during on the Wednesday of the Semana Santa or Holy Week when he is paraded in the streets. After the procession, he changes houses (The locals say he is moved to avoid “amok” for fear of his famed sexual desires) and goes into a different family house for one year and that family does not work the entire year. Their only job being attending to Maximón and his worshippers. As for seeing him, we had to pay 10Q to enter, but USD is also accepted – Maximón accepts all currencies, but prefers US or Quetzals.
Maximón is a short wooden man dressed like a local and heavily adorned with cheap colorful scarves around his neck, with a wide brim hat on his head and a smoking cigar in his mouth. Yep, he is a boss! Looking at him, while he was “puffing” his cigar, resting among the candles and liquor bottles, with a pan for money. You almost felt like you were compelled to pay him, but I didn’t know whether this was a shrine, bar or just random hokum … to believers, Maximón can cure diseases, can break relationships and marriages, can win disputes, get you a wife or a husband. In exchange for his favorite things – money, alcohol, candles and tobacco – he will grant you any wish, provided you believe, that he can help you.
In the house, you’ll find many decorations and other sorts of creepiness … like a buried image of Christ and many Christian symbols. I don’t know what it is, but I find the representations here in Central America rather off putting … it’s just an opinion simply borne from lack of exposure to these types of drawings and sculptures.
Even the room was packed with decorations. From the ceiling were hanging colored papers cut in all shapes and forms, ribbons, beads, fruits – almost anything you can imagine was hanging from the ceiling.
In all, I spent about 7 minutes sitting in the room, looking around and taking pictures … but you definitely have some food for thought when you leave the room … for me, I needed a coffee and some tequila!