NOTE: This is something I almost didn't put on the blog. Possibly because it's intensely personal, and also because it sounds a little fanatical to some.
Finding Out About Semuc Champey
On our first trip to Central America, Shelly and I were flying down to Guatemala City from Cancun when I spoke with some Guatemalans about what there is to do in Guatemala. I told them we planned on seeing Antigua, climb a volcano, Lake Atitlan, Chichicastenango Weekend Market, and some ruins. They all said we should go to Semuc Champey. I had never heard of the place, but they said it was beautiful, and interesting and that it really is a must see. I looked up information in the guides I had, and long story short, we never made it to Lake Atitlan, Chichicastenango, or some of the ruins. Instead we were driving north in our rented car from the airport for 5 hours to a place called Lanquin, where we were to stay at an eco-compound called El Retiro. The Guatemalan highlands are an amazing place. This is the area of Guatemala that was called Alta Verpazes . It was the area that couldn't be accessed by the conquistadors that came in the 1500s that nearly destroyed all remnants of the Maya.
El Retiro - Lanquin, Guatemala
Arriving to Lanquin and El Retiro
I don't know if there is some sort of magic in the place, but it was magical, and we both felt it on the ride there. The trip was long and the last 10 miles or so were on very steep dangerous, yet beautiful dirt roads in our nearly bald tires on a rental car. not a 4 wheel drive. When we got to El Retrio, they were showing us the bungalows that I could rent, and the guy opened the door on some woman who was changing in her bungalow. I didn't see anything but the back of her head and a towel around her body. We got a private room instead, and headed down to get some sun by the river, and we met a woman named Karina and her 4 year old son Yachan. She ended up being the woman we had walked in on earlier while changing.
Yachan and Karina
Fire Ceremony with Don Marcello
Karina and Yachan are French and she has lived in Guatemala for 15 years helping the Guatemalans out doing census work and some teaching. She spoke good Spanish, and unfortunately Shelly couldn't understand most of what was said, but we got on the subject of 2012 and the Maya and what she believed. She told me some things I already knew, but then she told me about a Mayan priest named Don Marcello who looked into a fire and told her things her ancestors wanted her to know. She said it was called a "Fire Ceremony". She said the priest knew things about her he couldn't have and it has changed her life. She then asked us if we wanted to meet him and do the same thing. She stated that she was the only gringo he has ever done it for, and she didn't know if he would be open to doing it for us.
Contacting Don Marcello the Mayan Priest
Before leaving for Central America, we really wanted to grow and have a realization about life. Almost immediately after speaking to Karina, I got the sensation, and suddenly knew, that we would see Don Marcello, and that this possibly was "the thing" or "realization" we would come to down to Central America to find. Before leaving for Central America, our life was not where we wanted it to be, and hoped this trip would help us to recharge and come to some realizations. I really thought it would happen on top of a pyramid in some epiphany or soft voice whispering to me ancient wisdom. Well it wasn't, as most things aren't when we think something is going to happen a certain way. It almost made me cry however. My eyes welled up and I felt excited and immediately knew that Don Marcello would see us, and he would perform a fire ceremony for us. Even the next day when Karina called Don Marcello and left a message, I didn't get discouraged that we didn't have an answer. I simply knew we would end up seeing him.
The next day, Karina came to us and said it was on! We were to meet Saturday in Rabinal at the Central Plaza Catholic Church at 1pm. To say we were excited to do this, would be an understatement. We were told we should not to quarrel with each other at least 24 hours before the ceremony. We hardly ever do that anyway, but felt it interesting that this was his only request!
Hotel Ana Gabriela - Salama
Heading To Salama
We made our way to Salama, a city outside of Rabinal where Don Marcello was. It was about 4 hours away from Lanquin, and we found a charming place to stay. It was a nice hotel from a very warm family who were trying to sell the hotel. It had 20 rooms, all very nice, and they were selling the entire thing for around 600,000 thousand dollars! We ate well there, and enjoyed our stay in such a peaceful place. We were now in the Baja Verapaz region, which was an area ravished by conquistadors as far as the Mayan are concerned.
The Catholic Church In Rabinal
Heading To Rabinal
We took off in the morning for Rabinal which was about an hour away from Salama. We sat around the steps of the old church in the central plaza as directed and waited looking around for someone we had never met nor knew what he would look like. What would he look like? Would he be dressed up in some shaman outfit? We met Don Marcello at the church at 1315 when a very normal looking Mayan guy around 50 years old, wearing a baseball hat and normal clothes walked up and introduced himself. We told him we had gotten there at 1300 and he said he knew this and had been watching us for a while. I guess he was making sure we were ok and not joking around and making light of the fire ceremony we were about to do. We then walked a few blocks away s to a shaman shop where we bought a box full of stuff.
Buying Goods at the Shaman Shop
Two different sizes of color-coded candles, larger ones for the four directions and smaller tapers for the 20 Day Signs of the Nuhuals are laid out in order of usage in the ceremony. The large color-coded candles represent the four directions and ancestors. The yellow colored candles symbolize peace, red is for love, green is for the Earth, white is for purity, royal blue is for the sky and black is for the offering.
Several different types of incense are used: small nuggets of copal (resin from any of a number of tropical trees), rax-pon( a large round ball of pine sap), small bits of myrrh, frankincense, herbs and sesame seeds. "Florida water"(citrus based as cologne water), sugar, cacao beans, eggs, home-brewed rum and puros (rolled cigars of pure tobacco), vodka, and some other stuff that I don't even remember. I was sceptical about all the stuff we just bought. I couldn't help but wonder how all of these things had anything to do with a fire ceremony. I couldn't help but wonder if this was just a sham and we were buying this guy his cigars and alcohol for the week.
The U.S. and Their Condemnation
We spent about an hour sitting in there and he was asking me questions about the United States. He asked me about sacred artifacts in US museums. He said the spirit of the Nuhuals (mayan deity) are in them and belong in the place they are made. He said it would ultimately be the destructive force of the Nahuales that bring about the destruction of the world and specifically the US. He asked what we did, and what our parents believed religiously. We finally had everything and the price came out to about 30 dollars. It was very hot and dry day and inside the shop it seemed even warmer. I was feeling uneasy about the whole situation yet, I was intrigued by Don Marcello and somehow trusted him. He had never spoken with people from the US and his curiosity of us was probably just as intriguing as he was to us.
With Don Marcello Heading to the Ceremony
Going To The Sacred Place
We got in a tuk-tuk and made our way out-of-town with this huge box of goods and three people. We made it to a long fence line that took us on a path to a small valley overlooking some smaller mountains in the distance. We walked down to a shelter that had four to six posts holding it up, with many medium-sized fire pits burnt around. There were stones placed out in the small field showing the 4 cardinal points of north southeast and west. We were facing west and he was facing east. He told us of this place and the sacred nature of it, that for centuries this place has been sacred to the Maya. We found it hard to believe as it was strewn about with trash from all the ceremonies that had been done here. There were fire pits and piles of trash all over the place and didn't appear to be a sacred place to us. However, our own prejudice on what a sacred place is supposed to look like is not reality in this instance.
The Sacred Cerros
Setting Up The Fire Ceremony
I was nervous. I knew something cool was about to happen and not seen by many westerners. He poured a circle in the middle of the fire pit about the size of a donut spare in your car. He then made a cross with the sugar on the compass north, south east and west. He did all this in Spanish, and I don't remember everything that was said. I wish I had recorded it now. He explained that the circle in the Mayan cross means many things. He then setup the candles and other supplies we had bought in the shaman shop in town.
The Site of the Fire Ceremony
Performing The Fire Ceremony
It symbolizes the Mayan calendar, the womb, circle of life, the earth, and other things I cannot recall. He said the cross stands for good and evil, man and woman, the tree of life, and other things too. He then laid out the pine balls everywhere, and the larger candles. There were Blue, Yellow, Green, Black, White and Red. Blue stands for the waters of the earth, Green stands for the plants of the earth. They were in the middle or center of the cross, and the circle. To the north was the white candle that represents peace. The south had the yellow candle which meant money or the color of gold, and the sun. The east had a red candle representing the sunrise, and love. And the west had the black candle which represents the darkness, and sunset.
The Earth Switching Poles and Direction
He laid out cigars and cocoa beans, and sesame seed, and eggs some in the middle and some on the outsides one on each side of the candle. There were other incense, and things he threw in there in a configuration and all of which were offering to the ancestors who were going to be invoked. Mayan fire ceremonies are major events, lasting from 2-4 hours, not counting the set-up time. It begins with the innovation of the four directions, then their ancestors. Sometimes the tone of the ceremony is somber, other times it may be fun-filled and light.
Our fire ceremony was fairly somber almost sacred. Don Marcello is what is called in K'iché (the type of Mayan ) a "Aj Q'ij" (pronounced Ahh’ key) which means Daykeeper. The daykeeper refers to the Mayan calendar which tells the future and past, and what god rules the day. They are shamans who work as intermediaries of the ancestors. He explained that the Mayan circle which represents the earth is moving in a direction that will be reversed in 2012. Currently it is moving in a counter-clockwise fashion from love to peace, peace to darkness, and darkness to money, money to love. It should be peace to love, love to money, money to darkness, darkness to peace. Which makes more sense. In 2012, the earth will switch poles and travel in that direction.
Cleaning Our Impurities
We were cleansed of our impurities, an egg was given to us and we were told to wipe it all over our bodies to draw out impurities. Before that however, We then were hit with black smaller taper candles and given some in our hands of different colors. I believe 7 of each color. Don Marcello took the black candles he was holding and lightly beat on our shoulders and bodies with them, and a few dropped to the ground for Shelly and one for me. He then said it signified that we were both sick, Shelly more so than me, and then we transferred that sickness to the egg and put it in the fire pit. He poured some alcohol on the fire and lit it.
Asking the Ancestors
He chanted in K'iché and Spanish, and prayed to the 20 Nahuales that exist. We walked around the fire 13 times in counterclockwise manner, then 20 times. That represents the 13 months of the Mayan calendar, and the 20 Nahuals which add to 260 which is a Mayan year. Every approx 5150 years this happens. The world is finishing its 4th age. The new age will be one of awakening and new consciousness. I feel that sometimes we are already headed that way, that the collective consciousness is increasing. We threw in certain numbers of cacao beans. Sometimes we threw in 13 then 20 then other amounts, as the fire burned he would say things to us that our ancestors want us to know through him by reading the how the wind affected the fire direction.
Directions to Live In Guatemala
He told us that Shelly and I are good for each other, and that we should have babies. He told us that we should stop spending money on things we do not need. He also gave us the opportunity to ask questions. I asked him first what would happen in 2012. He said on December 21st 2012 the world will be changed by a flood. He said that a planet would crash into the earth and cause widespread flooding, and that anywhere near the oceans would be lost. He said the ancestors want us to move to go home and start a business. That we should save money so we can move back to Guatemala before february of 2012. He said that a great wind will come In Feb 2012, that will ground airplanes and make it impossible to return to Guatemala. He stated that we needed to do all of this before February. He wants us to tell our families about this, and friends, and let them know to believe and go to Guatemala. I asked him why Guatemala.
What Will Happen In 2012?
He explained that Guatemala is the center of the earth. And that civilization started here. The Maya are the roots of civilization. He said that the 20 Nuhuals will return to Guatemala signifying the cleansing of the world or pruning of the tree. He says that all of the world are simply branches of the tree that has its trunk in Guatemala. He says every 5000 years the branches are pruned. He said the world would need to start over due to the perversion of it and get back to the roots. He said we needed to come to Guatemala and that we are nurses in the US but could be doctors in Guatemala and the new world by learning how to cure with the plants and minerals of the world. He pointed to the field and said that everything to cure the human race is grown right here. I asked him what would happen in 2012. If the world would be destroyed. He told me he can't see the future, and that the Mayan Calendar doesn't necessarily say the world will be destroyed. There are two outcomes, destruction or a change in consciousness. He believed personally that destruction would happen, but said no one knows.
Fire Ceremony Summary
This was a lot of information to take in. I have to admit that he seemed upset with me. He told me he hated my tattoos, and that I appeared like a nervous person to him. I asked him about my work. He told me to make money, but start my own business. He didn't tell me to quit my current profession however as a nurse. We were doused with perfume water, smokey from walking around the fire umpteen times, and we were sweaty from the day's heat. Shelly asked a few questions as well. It was a really special and interesting ceremony. Not what I thought , but I am learning more about it now, by searching online. The language barrier, even though I am fluent in Spanish, made for some loss in meaning for some of what he said, and some of what he said, I didn't understand at all, however the gist of it all is that we needed to prepare, and this change in the world was going to happen.
The Guide At Tikal
Coincidence in Tikal
While in Tikal on my birthday, we had the opportunity to climb temple IV at 5am and see the sunrise. We heard this was amazing from someone at Semuc Champey. They told us it was a must. We spent another 10 dollars to have a guide walk us there in the pitch black jungle, and somehow I wondered if I would come to that epiphany I mentioned earlier in the post. I always thought that it would be high on a pyramid by myself when I would come to this realization. It didn't come. But after the sunrise, there was another guide there with two girls from Switzerland. I stepped around the corner and smoked a cigarette. The guide came around the opposite side. As he approached, I wondered if he was going to yell at me for being off-limits around the roped off area or that I was smoking a cigarette on Temple IV. He didn't, we just started talking about the Maya and their temples and people.I told him I had seen a Mayan priest and done a fire ceremony, and that he told me profound things. He asked me where I did this. I told him I went to Rabinal and met with a priest. He brightened up and said he was from Rabinal! Then he asked me who was the priest. I told him Don Marcello. He then humbly said, I know him well, and seemed surprised that he had done the ceremony for us. Or maybe just that we had even been to Rabinal. Small world I thought, and I immediately wondered if it was a sign to heed Don Marcello in some way.
It wasn't coincidence that I was in Tikal when I was, on that pyramid on that morning, and that tour guide was from Rabinal, and walked around that corner. It wasn't coincidence that I met those Guatemalans on the plane that told us about Semuc Champey, or finding El Retiro, or meeting Karina and Yachan, or getting the meeting with Don Marcello. This is not coincidence. And in some ways, I think it was on the pyramid that I had this realization.
Change In Perspective
I thought about this a lot. I wondered if the end of the world is near. I still don't want to commit to the idea that is, but I guess I have come to the realization, that my world can end any day. Walking down the street, riding my motorcycle, heart attack, etc... I am not immune to death, and it will happen to me as it will to everyone on this earth thus far and forevermore. I thought that If I were to know I was going to die in one year. Would I live my life differently? Of course I would, and would I be traveling working when I wanted, or would I be a slave to the daily grind?
I realized I needed to do what made me happy, and simply trust, as I did on this trip in almost every aspect of life. I simply trusted that things would be ok. We go where we wanted without any worry to where we were going or how. It was amazing. We traveled by the seat of our pants, without a real plan or itinerary. It was liberating and in in all honesty has changed our life. We have changed directions, the way we see the world, and our goals have changed. I guess Don Marcello helped us a lot more than we had realized he would.