Okay, so now most of you know that we have made it safely back to the land of Oz, but are still way behind in our blogs, so without further ado, we will catch up and continue on.
Though Tracy has been queen of the blogs I decided that I should write a line or two about our adventures. And I can tell you, it has been a great adventure so far.
I always am amazed by the kindness of strangers. Reaching across the gaps of culture, a worker who was painting the walls of our little villa got to talking. I told him of our latest plans, to visit a mountain village where pilgrims from all over Mexico travel to seek help from a patron saint, the Virgin de Juquila. The tiny puebla of Juquila is set about three and a half hours away from where we have been for the last six weeks. When I tell him about us catching a cab to the bus station, and then climbing aboard a daily mini van he looks at me and says, “Why don’t you take my truck? It’s very reliable and it will be more convenient. You’ll be able to experience more of what the village has to offer” I am slightly stunned. I have only had maybe two short conversations with this man. Yet he insists. How can I refuse such generosity?
We set out early the following day, the girls riding in the back of the truck, something they have never done before as it is quite illegal in Australia. But we are in Mexico and there are few rules to the road. The mountain begins almost immediately out of town and the climb is steep. The roads are full of potholes and I deftly try to maneuver around them but invariably drive into them with bone shaking regularity. The vegetation gives way to pine trees the higher we climb. Along the way pilgrims are headed to the village, some on foot, some on bicycles, some in buses. The climb on a bike takes four days from the coast. We don’t have that kind of energy. The windy road switches back and forth enough to make Tracy sick, so she heads into the back of the truck to get some fresh air and I am left alone with my thoughts as we climb.
When we finally see the picturesque village in the distance, the road narrows and I attempt to navigate streets that are slimmer than my driveway with traffic veering right at me. A river bends in and out around the outskirts of the village. The girls are in the back oblivious to my stress as they snap away photo after photo. Meanwhile, I give way to loaded donkeys, (no they have not been drinking, they are merrily burdened with firewood). I can see the church on another hillside and try to make my way in that direction guided only by the fact the village is small enough that I will eventually find it. Yet it gets harder as the road narrows yet again as we get closer to our destination. Soon we can travel no further as the streets have become a market place which continues to grow throughout the day. I wonder how I am going to get back out. If we don’t move in the next two hours we will be stuck in the newly formed market for several days as the festivities begin. Lucky for us an hospedaje is just down the street and it has parking. It’s nothing more than a concrete bunker with two beds and a black and white tv, but it has parking. We didn’t come here for a comfy room though, we came to see the Virgin de Juquila.
It is said that about 400 hundred years ago the Virgin Mary appeared here to several local Indians, a race of people known as the Chatinos. I had never heard of them, and I was fascinated to learn more about these people. They inhabit this region only, as they have for a thousand years. Because this apparition has appeared many times the Catholic Church deemed it a miracle. So a friar brought over an effigy of the Virgin from the Philippines made of wood and a shrine was constructed to house her. Pilgrims began arriving and soon the village expanded as miracles begin to take place and word got out. Then disaster struck and the whole village burned to the ground, including the shrine. But by another miracle, the only thing that survived the fire was the statue of the Virgin, only now her fair color was darkened to the same likeness of the Chatino people. They now had a saint of their own that resembled them.
Tracy and I can both attest to such incidents of miracles happening. About 17 years ago we were in a fishing villagein Colima when the worst rain storm in 75 years took place. The rising waters began to rapidly swallow the restaurants and shacks lining the river.. Meanwhile, the volcano which was about an hours drive away began to erupt. There was chaos as we scrambled around trying to salvage what we could of peoples belongings before being swept out to sea. The river mouth which was about 100 meters across in normal conditions was now well over a kilometer. And growing. Half way down the stretch of land where all the buildings were was a shrine to the Virgin de Guadalupe where candles were placed daily for the protection of the fishermen. By the time the storm had finished and the water washed everything away, including whole islands of vegetation with standing palm trees complete with swarming birds, the only thing that remained was a tiny little island, and in the center of that little island was the shrine of the Virgin. In Mexico miracles exist.
People come to Juquila for a purpose, and that is to make one wish or request to the Virgin. They say that only one wish can be asked for, and that wish will come true. One who is seeking that wish will make an effigy. Perhaps it is a delivery truck, or maybe a fruit and vegetable stand, or a child they wish to conceive. These effigies are made at a place called the Pedimiento, which means “the asking place”,and is a short drive back up the mountain from the village. The offerings are made from clay taken from the hillside, then planted in the area. There are thousands and thousands of different forms and shapes beneath the trees that cover the hills. Most of the clay objects melt back into the land over time, leaving room for new seekers when they come to make their offerings and request.
That afternoon we stroll the market place and have a meal of delicious stuffed chiles and beans with basket after basket of fresh corn tortillas. This is my comfort food and all I want to do after that is have a siesta. But there is too much to see. We head into the church to see the Virgin, and she is placed high on an altar encased in glass. She is much more beautiful than I had ever anticipated. She is radiant in her gown and jeweled crown, and she is dark like the Chatinos. People stare and pray and the line of pilgrims never ceases, just an endless flow of worshippers coming and going. We then head around to the rear of the church where there is another door that leads to the back of the shrine. From here we are able to catch a closer look at the Virgencita from behind, through a thin layer of gauze fabric. We were lucky to go at that time because later the lines were long and viewing times were short.
That evening we wandered through the narrow lanes looking at all the different regional foods and wares, as well as the kind of mass produced trinkets one would find in markets throughout the world. We purchased a few things for friends and family and went back to our room where we watched a Mexican novela for about half an hour before falling asleep.
At 4:30 am the next morning we were awoken to the sounds of music over a loudspeaker. The dogs followed suit, and then the roosters, and after the roosters the sound of 15 young pilgrims that were staying in our hospedaje preparing for their time before the Virgin. There is no chance of sleeping in here in this village. The pious are up early. Mass is at 6:00 and most people are there early to get in. We lie around and wait for the light of dawn, which eventually comes around 6:30. By seven we are out on our balcony witnessing the glories of this beautiful village that is now surrounded by small patches of fog and woodsmoke. The sun peers over the mountain tops after eight and we set out to find something to eat, which is always exciting in a new environment. The girls don’t complain too much about their choices of food as we find a stall where the Chatino woman makes us fresh picadillos, which are small thick corn tortillas with black beans and cheese covered in both green and red salsa. I ask her if she has any fresh chilies, and she hands me these tiny little bombs called “tutse”chilies. She is so impressed that I down a few with my meal that she offers me a gift of a bag of them when we leave. Her generosity moves me and Tracy asks to take her photo for our memories.
Our day continues on like the day before and when the afternoon comes we load up the truck and head out. I am not looking forward to the exit as I can’t remember how I found my way into the village center, and the narrow roads look as daunting as the day before. I ask directions from a passerby and he shows me a quick exit over the river to the only main road, (one that I missed earlier) and we easily make our way out passed the hundreds of buses, taxis and cars. As a testament to my aversion to these narrow roads, even the taxidrivers opt for a three wheeled bemo type scooter that should only hold two people and the driver, but in usual Mexican form takes four or five passengers. This is the only place in all of Mexico that I have seen such a vehicle used as a taxi.
Our last stop before heading back down the mountain is the Pedimiento where we go and make our offerings as well as a few clay effigies of our own. An auspicious sign emerges as we leave the altar, an eagle hovers over us for a few moments before heading off to find a thermal. It is the only eagle we have seen in Mexico.
As if the trip isn’t special enough, when we near the bottom of the mountain a strange and wonderful bird flies past us and into a tree. It is the rare and incredible quetzal bird with its colorful three foot tail feathers floating gently behind in one fluid motion. These feathers were once reserved only for royalty. Now even a simple sighting is an uncommon event. We can hardly believe that we saw it, an apparition would be hardly more of a surprise.
This side trip concluded when we arrived back safely in Puerto Escondido and I noticed that the surf was thumping yet again. I paddled out with only two others in the water and treated myself to another round of good waves and a beating or two for good measure. Call it the yin and yang of surfing, heaven and hell where the distance in between is measured in fractions of a second.
Until next time.