The Legend of Pozo Vivo

Cahabón river (harris & goller/

Cahabón river (harris & goller/

written by Bob Makransky

The Pozo Vivo (Living Spring), located 100 meters north of the main highway just outside Tactic, Alta Verapaz, is a small pool of crystal-clear, still water—a smooth mirror until roiled and troubled by the sound of the human voice or anything that disturbs the peace of the place.

It is true that the Pozo Vivo is fed by an underground stream that periodically roils the water and the sand on the bottom of the pool. But whether or not this is in response to a disturbing presence must be left to each visitor’s own judgment.

There are different versions of the legend of the Pozo Vivo; the following was told by Waldemar Godoy:

It is said that in the 16th century what is now the valley of Tactic was ruled by a great chieftain of the Pokomchi Maya, who had a daughter named Sacumal Po (Moonbeam).

She was a girl of striking beauty and exquisite grace, with a shy and ethereal personality. She was far happier by herself in the depths of the woods or splashing in the Cahabón River than she was being showered with the amorous attentions of the powerful suitors who flocked to ask for her hand.

She had a childlike innocence, but not a light heart. All of her life she had felt an oppressive anguish, like the presentiment of tragedy, which kept her emotionally aloof from the society and concerns of her family and peers.

When Sacumal Po was 17, eight Spanish soldiers of fortune commanded by Capt. Pedro de Herrerías, under orders from Hernan Cortés, arrived in the valley of Tactic. They had been following the Cahabón River to its source, in the hope of finding the Fountain of Youth, which the Indians of Cozumel had told them was located in this area.

Herrerías was a bold and dashing warrior—tall, blue-eyed, ardent and impulsive.

His troops were weary, footsore and disillusioned and on the brink of mutiny.

Exploring ahead of his men one day along the Cahabón River, he spied Sacumal Po bathing and playing in a deep pool by a waterfall. Transfixed by her beauty, he stood up and gazed dumbly at her, as if in a trance. She startled like a deer at seeing the strange foreigner, but then she too was caught up in a wave of enchantment, which flooded her being and banished all traces of her old forebodings.
In wordless words, she heard him call “come.” She climbed to the riverbank, modestly donned her garments, and ran to his embrace. In silence they knew—for they had no words in common—that they each had found what they were looking for.
Several hours passed and the two lovers were resting entwined in one another’s arms when the main body of Herrerías’ men arrived. They were abusive and tried to lay hands on Sacumal Po, but Herrerías grabbed his sword, shielded the girl with his body, and cursed his men, saying, “Back, you swine, and woe to whoever touches her because she is my beloved wife now and for all eternity!”

Eight Spanish soldiers of fortune commanded by Capt. Pedro de Herrerías arrived in the valley of Tactic. They had been following the Cahabón River to its source, in the hope of finding the Fountain of Youth, which the Indians of Cozumel had told them was located in this area.

The rebellious men, their lust inflamed by Sacumal Po’s beauty, regarded their captain’s refusal to share his spoils as the last straw. They drew their swords and fell upon Herrerías, who dispatched two of them before he was himself felled by a blow from behind. The survivors turned on one another like rabid dogs, to decide who would take possession of the girl. This outcry brought the warriors of Sacumal Po’s father, who rescued her and took the remaining Spaniards prisoner.
The tribal council went into serious deliberation, finally decreeing that the Spanish soldiers would be stoned to death, and the princess, because of her sinful and traitorous behavior, was to be hurled into a bottomless crevasse. However, loathe to kill the sad beauty, they decreed that her life would be spared if there were any youth who would redeem her through marriage; in that case, they would both be banished from the tribe forever.

Of course, there was a young man Ansil Ab (Strong Arm) ready to step forward and save her life. But when she was faced with this former suitor, Sacumal Po said: “Ansil Ab is a good man and I regret that I cannot marry him, because my heart is dead. It died with the one who first illuminated it. That is my will.”

So at last, Sacumal Po, dressed in her finest garments, was led to the edge of the bottomless crevasse, from which—with a smile on her lips—she leaped to her death.

The next day, the people of the valley of Tactic were amazed to find that the bottomless crevasse was now filled with water of crystalline clarity, which roiled whenever talk or bad feelings disturbed its tranquility. It is said that on moonlit nights, the silhouettes of two lovers in an embrace can be seen shimmering in the shadows of the pool. And even now, right at the edge of the pool, there is a double liquid amber tree that has grown into the shape of two lovers kissing.

One comment

  • Victor Engel

    I’ve been to Pozo Vivo, which is near Chamché. We had heard of this story, so we went to the pool to test it out. At first we just stood around the crystal clear pool, which seemed to be several feet deep with rocks and perhaps petrified wood at the bottom. All was calm. Then someone tried shouting out, and sure enough, the rocks and petrified wood started moving around the bottom of the pool.

    I suspect this is some sort of quicksand, with water fed by the waterfall (there is a swimming pool built around the falls – good swimming if you can stand the cold water). The water seeps up from underground. My guess is that the rocks move around as a result of hydraulic pressure from people standing around the edges of the pool. The time it takes for this to take effect happens to match time time people typically take to wait before calling out.

    The whole area has some interesting hydrology. My family lived in a house overlooking Laguna Chichoj next to San Cristóbal. That lake has a river flowing out of it, but the river eventually flows underground. East of Santa Cruz and north of Tactic there is a waterfall that flows underground. Eventually the water emerges to form the Cahabón River. Downstream on the Cahabón River is Semuc Champey. At Semuc Champey there are natural pools of water underneath which flows the Cahabón River.

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