My new Polish friend, Pawel, and I stepped off our boat in Lake Atitlan and began wondering what to do with the hour we had to explore the town we’d just arrived in. As usual, we were swarmed by people offering to take us on tours of the town. One tuk-tuk driver said simply, “Do you want to go see Maximon.”
Suddenly, I remembered reading about the Mayan evil saint called Maximon. After a quick look at his guide book, my accomplice was on board and we hopped aboard a tuk-tuk. If you want to visit Maximon, you have to go with a local who knows where this idol is. The statue is moved from house to house each year.
After a short drive our newly hired tuk-tuk driver said we’re here. It just looked like a normal street, lined with shops. Surely, there were no houses here. Then, he took off down a narrow alley. When I say narrow, this thing was about a meter wide, and had sharp 90 degree turns. It’d be an excellent site for a mugging.
As we approached the first corner, me following behind the guide first, I adjusted my tripod to a position where I could use it to throw a quick punch. Our guide saw me do this and offered to carry it for me. He was either a really nice guy, or trying to disarm me. I said I’d hold onto it. Taking each corner wide and poking my head out to see what was lurking round the bend, we weaved our way back to a residential area.
When we reached our destination it was obvious. An open door with a dark interior venting smoke from the inside was in front of us. Our guide said we were lucky because they were in the middle of a ceremony. Then, he walked inside. Pawel and I exchanged a look of trepidation before we were beckoned to follow.
As I stepped into the room I was immediately hit in the eyes by thick, hanging incense smoke. My eyes watered as my nose took up the rich bouquet and I had to resist the urge to sneeze. As I got my sight back and my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I discovered we were in a very strange place. A wooden idol, Maximon, sat in the middle of the room. In front of him, colored candles that had burnt down to pools of wax littered the floor, still flaming. To my right, about a dozen Mayan women sat in silence, holding tall candles.
A man stood face to face with Maximon, speaking to him angrily. It sounded like they were in the middle of a pretty serious argument. At this point, our guide moved deeper into the room, to the far corner. We picked our way past the pools of fire, women and angry men. He then told us about what was going on in the room, but it was so overwhelming it was difficult to take it in.
We returned outside and were told that if we wanted to take any pictures, it cost ten quetzales for three photos. I only had large notes so was stuck with a bit of a problem. Fortunately, my companion had a solitary 10 quetzales note, and was good enough to let me go in and take the photos for the both of us. It’s a good thing I had three chances. The first photo was framed strangely in the dark, in the second a man walked in front of me, and the third… can be seen below.