Simon Calder is Travel Editor at Large for The Independent, writing a weekly column, various articles and features as well as filming a weekly video diary. Every Sunday afternoon, Simon presents the UK's only radio travel phone-in programme called The LBC Travel Show with Simon Calder (97.3 FM). He is a regular guest on national TV, often seen on BBC Breakfast, Daybreak, ITV News and Sky News. He is often interviewed on BBC Radio, particularly for BBC Radio 4’s You & Yours programme and BBC Five Live.
Saturday 23 September 1995
Reaching the idol involves a journey through a series of towns whose names resemble bad Scrabble hands, through Quetzaltenango, also known as Xela, to Zunil. Villagers are resigned to the inevitable approach and the predictable enquiry in Spanish of "Donde esta Maximon?". After a few wrong turns down labyrinthine cobbled streets, you track down the saint. He holds court in a wooden shed, rather more opulent than the dwellings of many of the local people.
Maximon turns out to be a tailor's dummy, kitted out in a suit and tie, straw hat, glasses and woolly gloves, with a fetching embroidered scarf draped around his shoulders. A cane lies propped up against his chest, and his eyelashes have a generous coat of mascara. He looks like the result of an only partially successful experiment to cross-breed the Milky Bar Kid with a Thunderbirds puppet.
Two villagers sporting baseball caps fuss around him, making sure the ash from his cigarette doesn't fall on to his suit and giving him a drink now and again. Worshippers wander in and out of the hut, making offerings of candles and cigarettes which they light and place on the ground to burn. Maximon stares expressionless from his rocking chair, oblivious to the kerfuffle. The ritual culminates in the offering of money, a cigarette and a small jugful of Quezalteca, the local liquor. The administration of alcohol involves one disciple's tipping Maximon's chair back while the other carefully pours the mouth-searing potion down his throat. The attendants claim that the liquor is "absorbed" by the saint. Foreign cynics would suggest it is actually piped away for recycling in the local bars.
The search for the world's most beautiful freeway has caused much controversy. "No doubt about it," writes Joyce Prince of Oxfordshire. "The 180 miles from Hobart to Bridport along the east coast of Tasmania." Richard Bevan of Bedford nominates the Coquihalla Highway in British Columbia. "As well as great scenery, it saves hours off the trip from Vancouver to the Rockies - and has a more interesting name than I-280 or M1." Mr Bevan wins the North American road atlas, which I hope he will use to find yet more exotic highways.
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