The day before we left Xela was a Saturday, and we decided to go check out the nearby town of Zunil and some famous hot springs called Fuentes Georginas. The Johns, our two Canadian housemates known in our house as Juan uno and Juan dos, came along. We took a half hour local bus from near the centro to Zunil, a pretty little town where we walked around a bit and checked out a local women’s artisan cooperative. We were hungry but the local comedor was asking exorbitant tourist prices so we walked down the plaza and bought hot dogs, while Denae tracked down one of her favorite meals: a can of refried beans and some fresh tortillas from the tortilleria.
The main focus for our trip to Zunil was to pay a visit to San Simon, known in a few other places as Maximon. San Simon is an “evil saint,” a figure revered in several Guatemalan towns for his ability to grant wishes, usually for things like love or a good harvest, but apparently also harm to one’s enemies. He’s a life sized mannequin wearing western clothes, and definitely has a sinister appearance; Denae said she thought he looked like a stereotypical Mexican narcotraficante.
San Simon lives in a different local house every year, and is taken great care of. He sits on a throne in a room filled with candles that people leave when they ask something of him; different colors represent different requests. He loves tobacco and alcohol, so people bring them to him as offerings and he usually has a cigarette or cigar burning in his mouth- they’re lit and changed by an attendant. Walking into San Simon’s room was a crazy experience: candles were burning everywhere and there was a smoky haze, while a man was smoking the biggest cigar I’ve ever seen and flicked Quetzalteca liquor over the candles while he chanted. Another guy was kneeling practically in San Simon’s lap while he talked to him, and while we were there a woman came in and put one of the saint’s hands on her head while she prayed loudly. San Simon is taken very seriously around here.
We’d brought a cigarette and some booze as an offering. The attendant poured our liquor into a small pitcher, then tilted San Simon and his chair backward so that his open mouth faced upward, and I poured in the alcohol. I didn’t see where it went, but I heard afterward that it drains out below him in a bowl and is reused for ceremonies. The attendant also took the cigarette San Simon been smoking out of his mouth and replaced it with the one we’d brought. It was a fun experience.
After we finished visiting San Simon we paid a pickup driver about $7 US to drive us the half hour up the mountain to the Fuentes Georginas hot springs. It’s a popular place for both foreign and domestic tourists, for good reason. The springs fill up three separate pools, the first much too hot for anyone to get into. The other two felt amazing especially after the chilly ride in the pickup, and the setting was spectacular with lush tropical looking forest clinging to the steep hillsides all around. There were quite a few people there, mostly Guatemalans, and everyone was having a good time. There was lots of barbequing going on, beer being drunk, a real fiesta.
As I was getting ready to get out and take a shower, I watched a couple guys get all the way into the insanely hot top pool. They were the first people we’d seen submerse more than their legs. I walked up and asked them how they could stand it and they said the key was to not move once you were in the water. My competitive instincts kicked in, and I decided I needed to give it a try. Getting in hurt but I just ignored the pain and went in up to my neck. The heat was ridiculous but the advice I’d been given was accurate: if I didn’t move at all it wasn’t too bad, but any movement caused a swirling of hot water that was pretty painful. After about twenty seconds I climbed out as fast as I could and stood under the ice cold shower for about a minute. My body was bright red, and for the next hour I felt like I had a decent sunburn. Probably not the healthiest thing to be doing.
We had a great time at the Fuentes. They have several cabins available for overnight rentals, and it’s something we’d like to do sometime. There’s also some hiking trails to explore, but we were feeling so relaxed after our soak that we only made it a few hundred feet up the hill. This place is a must-see place if you’re in Xela.