Our last day in Guatemala certainly was one of the most culturally rich events. We took our shuttle with our new friend, Julio, to Chichicastenango. As we headed into Chichi, we saw Chicken bus drivers drinking Tecates in the drivers seat conversing with other bus drivers. We saw three people on motorcycles with no helmets; mom, dad and babies 2-3 years old. As we entered Chichi, we passed a huge billboard with a picture of feet and toe tags covered with a sheet that read… something to the effect of “Don’t kill, and don’t die.” Again, my nervous laugh came as there was no turning back now.
We arrived and met up then tried our best to stay together, but if you stop to grab a shot, by the time you look up, your team of photographers are GONE… So needless to say, I was soon all alone in the town of Chichi and it might be one of my favorite market experiences of all. I luckily hooked up with Dan and Julio just in time to head over to a Mayan ceremony. Julio had a Mayan child leading us all the way up a mountain. I almost backed out 2-3 times certain we were all idiots allowing this child to lead us to an unknown location. It was hot, and we kept questioning whether this was a good idea. On the way there, we were all hoping it was going to be worth it, and it really was. It was nothing like what I imagined at all. There were very few people there, which made it actually more intimidating. There was no way to photograph without them knowing, and we kept checking with the folks leading the ceremony as to whether we could take the shots. They were tolerant with us taking the pictures.
What we walked up on was a man being ‘cleansed’ from the negative things in his life, and a ritual I did not understand. I found myself in very uncomfortable territory not only feeling very much like an intruder to something that seemed sacred to them, but also not sure what I was witnessing. The religious intersection of Christian, Mayan, and other traditions and cultures was very confusing. I felt very safe, but found I had a lot of questions as we hiked back down. The ‘leader’ rubbed herbs, limes and even eggs on the man being “cleansed” and then they would burn them in the many different fires they had built that all had bright marigolds around the outer edges of each fire. Then we watched as they threw cigarettes, booze, etc. into the fire as some ceremonial practice to somehow rid this man of his bad deeds. I suppose he brought these things up the mountain for these people to help him get rid of his need for them. This idea, I suppose, would be similar to how we may pray for deliverance from the actions and things that are destroying us spiritually. The man was praying, although I’m unsure who he’s praying to, as the crosses there were representations of “teachers” rather than a personal God. I was taken with the mix of religious ideas and am curious to learn how they got to this place of strong belief in such rituals. I found it interesting, disturbing, intriguing, questionable, and worth learning more about. I found an appreciation of what they are searching for, knowing that while I do not share or understand their beliefs, they were gracious to share it with us.
After hiking back down the mountain, we shot more in the market, ate some lunch quickly on our own and met up with others out front on the steps of a beautiful hotel. We loaded up, headed back to Antigua, and had about an hour and 1/2 to shower and edit photos before heading to our final dinner together as a group. We had a great meal, and stayed up editing until 2 a.m. then Julio picked me up and we headed for Guatemala City to catch our flights. This, to me, was a great learning of the gracious and loving nature all people can have even when our beliefs are very different. I prayed that day on the mountain for these people, sought anwers on my own, and searched in prayer what this ceremony meant to the heart of God. Whether you call it deception, or truth, I think it shows we are all searching for something greater.