I thoroughly enjoy his discourses on world affairs, for in spite of the obvious difficulties he has with digestion, this is sadly a nation where so many don't even bother to consume. (For instance, there's a bright middle-class kid in our neighbourhood who was not only unaware that there were wars going on in Iraq and Afghanistan, he thought I was jerking his chain when I described the modus operandum of Islamist suicide bombers.)
Don R also has a collection of tallish tales gleaned from his professional life as an albañil. There was the time, he told us yesterday, when the immensely secretive Hermandad of the church of San Pedro Las Huertas invited him to fix a light fitting in their crypt and there, he alone amongst the uninitiated, caught a glimpse of their stack of glittering loot, including a diamond-encrusted golden crown and a grailish chalice, also studded with multicoloured gemstones.
Then there is the story of how his spade once scraped the buried dome of a lost religious house whilst he was out digging a well on private land. (According to Don R, the owner of this finca is afraid to declare its existence for fear that the government will force him to sell-up cheaply.)
Indeed I've heard a number of such semi-mythological relatos about entombed monuments on the slopes of the volcano. The town cited in most of the guidebooks as the location of the Spaniards' first capital in Guatemala is Ciudad Vieja. However rumours still circulate that the precise location of the place where the Conquistador Don Pedro del Alvarado's widow Doña Beatriz de la Cueva met her mucky end in a catastrophic mudslide on on 9-11 1541, remains a secret kept from the backpackers.
The indeterminacy surrounding so many key events in Guatemala's history is fascinating to me. Maybe they simply don't offer decent courses in History or Archaeology at San Carlos University? The boundary between true history and folklore is certainly a rather blurry one here...as we saw yesterday, when I tried to give a verified account of the background to the Quema del Diablo tradition. Don R filled me in today that the Devil gets the bonfire treatment after dark on the 7th because that was the night that Lucifer took it upon himself to tempt the Virgin prior to the more sinless insemination which subsequently ensued.
Infidel minds such as my own tend to wonder why the Christ wasn't born in September if the Immaculate Conception is said to have taken place on December 8th. (Maybe it was 'Express' as well as Immaculate?!)