“For safety reasons, we'll need to go in groups of at least four to the cemetery,” our Spanish language teacher informed us.
“Why,” we wondered. “Are the dead coming back to life?”
Fortunately, there was no Night of the Living Dead moment featuring slow-moving corpses dressed in traje (traditional Guatemalan clothing) stalking us through the aisles of mausoleums, marble statues, and colorful drawer-like niches filled with loved ones.
Just the opposite: the morning spent with our Spanish teachers at the Cementario General in Xela (Queztaltenango) turned out to be one of our most remarkable.
Although not quite as polished as Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires, Xela's Cemetario General gets the nod for the colorful and visually eclectic. It also provides a glance into Guatemala's socioeconomic structure and how the delicate balance of merging Mayan beliefs with more recent Catholic traditions plays out in the way that Guatemalans honor their dead.
Perhaps we have as much to learn about other cultures from their cemeteries as we do from their streets.
On a more practical note, criminals have been known to prowl the Cemetario General in Xela. Hence, our teacher's recommendation to travel in groups. Although our class didn't encounter any thieves during our visit, the police collected from the sidewalk a man who had drunk himself to oblivion earlier that morning.
In spite of all this, we highly recommend making the effort to visit this stunningly beautiful place.