If you haven’t been able to tell, I really like walking around in graveyards across the world. I think they give you an “in” to the culture that is most often overlooked.
El Calvario Cemetary in Xela, Guatemala is definitely worth a leisurely stroll if you have the time. The entire thing is incredibly lush and green with colorful, stacked tombs dotting the hillside. This is all overlooked by the massive Santa Maria volcano and lazy clouds hovering around the sides. A little surreal but if I was ever put into the ground, this would be the place to be.
As we were meandering our way though we came across a hidden cove with a very bizarre, old tomb with hundreds of flowers strewn about and messages of all types scribbled on the concrete. Either this was some new type of vandalism or we were missing out on something very important here. I walked around the sides of the sculpted tomb only to find very little. No date. No last name. There was nothing but pleading messages from devastated lovers and a very different name: Vanushka.
My interest was piqued.
The history is as follows:
In the 1920s an Eastern European gypsy family immigrated to Guatemala and toured the countryside in the family circus. In true Romeo and Juliet fashion, Vanushka became enamoured with a gentleman in the audience during one of her performances. The young gentleman, Javier, was from a prominent family in the area and followed suit with Vanushka and her beautiful performance.
After the show Javier caught up with Vanushka and they spent the night talking and walking around the circus grounds. This continued for the rest of the week and by the end, they confessed their undying love for each other. It was no secret on the circus grounds that this was happening. How could you miss two young love birds walking hand in hand all night long?
Javier’s family quickly caught on to what was going on. Javier refused to leave Vanushka’s side. They were in love and he was determined to see it through. In a rage, his father sent him to Spain to finish 4 years of university. With little authority, Javier had to leave.
When wishing Vanushka farewell the morning of his departure, she had to be ripped from his arms as his chaparone refused to let him stay any longer. He looked out the window and thought how the next 4 years of his life were going to be difficult ones. He could not wait to return to Vanushka’s arms.
Over the next few weeks Vanushka wasted away. She refused to sleep or eat. One night, with one last tear, she silently passed away from a broken heart.
Her family buried her in the El Calvario Cemetery where her tomb can be found today.
Legend has it that many years later a woman in a similar situation came to Vanushka’s tomb to weep and vent her sorrow. Shortly after her “talk” with Vanushka she was reunited with her one true love. It is said that if you leave flowers and a message of your sorrow for Vanushka that she will reunite you with the love in your life.
There are hundreds of messages written all over her tomb (in multiple languages) and with each one you can feel a pang of sorrow.
The story of Vanushka has become intertwined with the local culture. Singer/songwriter Alvaro Aguilar even wrote a song honoring Vanushka – you can find it here.
If you want to see the tomb it is a wee bit hidden. When entering the cemetery, if should be your first left into a little alleyway. It is a bit difficult to find but I’m sure if you ask someone they will be able to point you in the right direction.
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