Thursday, January 18, 2007


esquipulas wasn’t really on our agenda, apart from going through it to catch a bus to our first destination – quiriguá. but we had made such good time that by the time we got to esquipulas we figured we might as well check it out. esquipulas is the granddaddy of religious attractions in central america. remember when i told you about how juayúa is home to la iglesia del cristo negro (church of the black jesus) in el salvador? well, esquipulas is the home of la iglesia del cristo negro to all of central america. located in guatemala, just over the border from honduras (and el salvador), it’s bigger and definitely more touristed. both the statue in juayúa and the one in esquipulas were carved by the same guy, quiro cataño. however, the church in esquipulas, in addition to having the statue, is also known to be a church of miracles, so hundreds of central americans make the pilgrimage to esquipulas every day. it’s quite something, actually. the town is kind of run down, but the church grounds are amazingly manicured and the church is just beautiful.

me being a fool (and sadly, one of the last pictures of me with my favorite red sweatshirt that is now somewhere in honduras....see the entry about copán)

la iglesia

at one point, we were walking around the plaza in front of the church, near a statue, and on the other side was this old, old man laying on the ground on some flattened out cardboard boxes. he had a rainbow umbrella propped up next to him, sheltering him from the light rain that was falling. there was a basket in front of him and it had a greeting in spanish along with what his name was and that he needed help and couldn’t speak. i don’t know what it was about that whole situation but i just about broke down in tears. it was just so emotional. he was looking up at passersby and i gave him some quetzales and said buenos dias to him, and he just looked at me with these sad eyes and it was like he was trying to reach up and shake my hand but couldn’t. god, it was awful, i’m telling you. i mean, you see that kind of stuff every day here – so it’s not like it was anything new. but the way he was just laying there, virtually helpless, at the mercy of strangers – both to help him out with a few quetzales and to not steal what he did have in his rickety basket.

not that there’s not poverty and homelessness in the states, but it seems like down here it’s just so much more amplified because conditions are already bad. there aren’t shelters or homes for homeless or disabled people. poverty and homelessness is such a heartbreaking thing, no matter where. and it just makes me so mad when i see some article about some hollywood star spending $15,000 on a dress or $8,000 on a purse. it’s just so ridiculous that $1,000 could help someone out for the rest of their life and to someone else, it’s just pocket change. anyway, i seriously just about went into emotional turmoil seeing that old man. i lingered around that little area where he was for a while, feeling that if i just went on my way to see the church i would be abandoning him or something. but i finally made it up to the front of the church. inside was really pretty simple, aside from the huge, straight out of phantom of the opera crystal chandelier that hung in the back of the church. outside the church, on the right side, was a nativity scene that was kind of weird....i really don’t know how to explain why i thought it was weird. first off, it reminded me of a hole at a putt-putt golf course because it had some of that green carpet stuff in a long strip in front of the manger area. like if it actually were a hole, you’d make a putt down that aisle of green carpet into the manger or something. i’m probably going to hell just for equating a nativity scene to a putt-putt golf course. it also had all these different pieces. i know, it’s like the nativity scene that is in most latin american homes. they have the normal scene, but then add weird things to it like plastic toys and five baby jesus figurines. like at mama rosa’s house, back in molineros, she had a nativity scene that had a pokemon figurine in it, and like three virgin marys and the baby jesus was HUGE and he was sleeping on a neon green pillow. there was also this decoration that had a baby with some lace around a big number – like it was a present for a baby’s birthday. all these dolls and figurines were placed amongst the normal shepherds and three wisemen, turning to look at the huge baby jesus.

the nativity scene

anyway, that’s what this nativity scene reminded me of, and i guess since it was in latin america, i shouldn’t have been surprised or anything. but i just figured churches were a little different than everyday people’s homes, and this is a pretty big church that receives LOTS of donations, so you’d think they’d have the complete set and leave it at that. but i suppose latin americans like to least my dad thought so when he was here for his visit. he kept noticing that when we went to people’s houses and they gave us coffee or food, nobody had matching dishes. and my dad said that there was nothing wrong with it at all, that people here just have other things on their mind and they don’t think it’s important whether or not they have matching dishes. which is totally right. so we walked around this nativity scene and then there were these guardrails that led back to this other area of the church so courtney and i followed it. there was a long line of people and we figured it was to see the big, carved statue of jesus that was at the front of the church. now, keep in mind, we had our backpacks and everything with us, so we really stood out as we waited in line. we were also the only non-latin americans, so of course, everyone kept staring at us. nothing new.

as we waited in line there were these interesting pictures on the wall to look at. people leave these little trinkets at the statue of jesus, these tiny gold and silver plaques that say a person’s name and a date. remember how i was telling you all before about the church in sonsonate called “san antonio del monte,” where people had prayers answered so they came to the church and left a drawing or some sort of recuerdo saying “thanks?” well, it was kind of like that – only most all of these “thank you’s” were on these little plaques – they reminded me of military dog tags. there were also little arms or legs – which i have no idea what they were. my only guess is they were things to say “thanks for helping me walk,” or “my arm was broken and it was healed.” but honestly, i don’t have a clue. so anyway, these pictures would be like in the shape of jesus’ head or of a cross, but they were made out of all these little recuerdos. they also had some that were just all placed in a frame. so it was like people’s thank you’s weren’t just tossed into some bin in the church. they were actually hanging up for everyone to see. and these went back too, some 60 or 70 years. i think the oldest one i saw was from like 1935 or something.

one of the frames holding some of the recuerdos left at the church

so we made it into this one room and we saw that people are backing up, and i was like “huh?” thinking there was some problem. but then we figured out that it was the line of people who had already seen the statue. they were backing away from the statue because you shouldn’t turn your back on jesus, or god. i’m surprised this is the first time i’ve ever seen anything like this in all of the churches i have seen in central america already. i understand the reasoning behind it, but i couldn’t help but think it was a little funny. not that not turning your back on jesus is funny, but just the action of having to walk backwards, while everyone who is waiting in line to see the statue is staring at you walking backwards. i kept thinking “well this is gonna be interesting.” because not only were we already being stared at with our huge backpacks and chele skin, but then we were going to be stared at for simply walking backwards. great! bring it on!

we finally made it to the was in a glass case, with a bunch of flowers and other decorations around it. i’m not gonna lie to you, it is super emotional seeing something like this. i’ve never been a die-hard religious person, and could argue all day about the inconsistencies in the bible and the thousand questions i have about religion. but stripping all that away and just seeing how some people are brought to tears being in a place like is totally emotional. you start thinking about where you’re at in life, how did all this come to happen, what DO you have to be thankful for, are you even thankful, who’s to thank/blame for all this? i don’t know....if anything, it opens your mind...religious or not.

so we got up to the front of the statue and said our little prayers (while everyone else stood and watched us...i honestly have felt less pressure getting up and giving a presentation in college. i felt like i had to come up with some suave way to do the sign of the cross or something. for crying out loud, the people that had gone before us – mostly little old ladies – had these elaborate signs of the cross they made that i’m not kidding you, rivaled all these fancy schmancy professional baseball players that get up to the plate thinking they’ve got THE signature sign of the cross. no way, these little old central american women have it totally down!) so with that done we started the whole walking backwards thing, which i did for maybe 10 steps before i nearly lost it. i just kept thinking of how stupid i must look, backing down this aisle, my huge backpack on, trying to walk backwards in a straight line. courtney was in front of me and she looked hilarious walking backwards like that and it was all i could do to get out of the whole area without busting out laughing. i tell you again – i was in no way laughing at jesus or his holiness or anything. i guess you just have to know me, and since most of you who are reading this DO know me, you’ll understand why it was so funny. geez...the whole making fun of the nativity scene and then on top of that, laughing at having to walk backwards from jesus......i really hope i’m not gonna have problems later on just for making this stop in esquipulas.

so that was it. we did nothing more than see the church and then hop back into a microbus and head on up to chiquimula, where we would pick up a bus to quiriguá and finally be done traveling for the day.