Sorry no photos this day. Phone's batteries were dead. Photos resume on next post!
The final day on the road to Talpa! This day, I asked for my needs in a mess of confusion; met the Virgen de Talpa in her double-cross home; got the message that awaited me in the most indirect but divine way; and got to experience being more of a bum in a magical place. Read on for more!
I woke up under the skies and the omnipresent yellow light from the altar to the local Virgin; and noticed that I was covered in morning dew once again and only a glimmer of brightening in the eastern skies, and the moon was setting. Other pilgrims were awakening and getting ready to hit the road.
I was excited! Only 7.6km as the crow flies to Talpa de Allende! Even if the road were to twist and turn a lot, I was definitely going to arrive today. I spied that the path was occupied by an endless stream of pilgrims so there was no need to be concerned on which path to take as the last set had many roads like a star and spiderweb put together. I called my friend, Emily last night to see about lodgings, and there was no lodging for me tonight; but will have something for the next night (Sunday night). She was worried while I got the message to just have Divine trust.
The mini-camp was packed up and as the sun barely cleared the horizon and basked all with its deep golden glory; I stepped onto the road and slipped into an empty spot in the stream of pilgrims and fell into step. I built up a decent cadence and what started out as a straight road with huts on the sides turned into a passage through massive grey boulders heading steeply uphill.
The uphill was at times gentle; and other times brutal; and forced us into a single file. None of us were allowed to walk at our own pace; and had to set an ad-hoc community pace though the narrow, windy uphill passage.
Eventually, the passage gave way to the highway once again and there was a large mass of buses parked haphazardly; cars lining the road filling up every available surface; people in large throngs leading away from the highway; and a few small huts.
Sigh. Another convergence point where pilgrims and mainstreamers congregated for some reason. We trudged on-wards and needled our way through the throngs as best as we could; going in the general direction where the crowds were heading; steeply uphill in broad clearings and open spaces dotted with rocks.
There was a very large and thin cross at the summit of the rocky hill we were climbing and many people were looking outwards and taking pictures. This must be the attraction that the convergence point created itself for. I needled my way to an empty spot on the lookout and was greeted by the most majestic and hopeful sight on the entire journey!
The sun was a couple of inches from the horizon and basked its still deeply golden glow on the most colorful and diversely textured and featured valley. The valley was large and many roads, patches of trees, and little hills dotted the landscape. In the distance; seemingly against the opposite end of the valley stood a low-rise, large mound of a hill, sparkling with what seemed like little gems gleaming in the golden glow of the sun.
I watched in awe, wishing I could take a picture with my phone's camera; but content anyway to behold this vision before me. I marveled and admired the sight; validating the hopes that I will reach the gems of Talpa de Allende today. My thoughts and feelings basked in the hope and joy the sight brought; when suddenly I heard moderately loud; celebratory music; accompanied by rhythmic drumming. The music filled the whole valley; and resonated with each and every one of us; filling us with a steady and constant rhythm.
My heart leaped, my feet were inspired to move on, and I looked for the path towards the gems. I saw it, and it was a constant downhill, and undulating back and forth curves going onward forever into the distance! I saw pilgrims embarking on the undulating path and noted how steep the downhill was. Tapping and re-oriented my walking stick; I set off and re-joined the stream of pilgrims.
As I walked downhill, I noticed it was alternating between smooth and rocky; with loose dirt everywhere. I slowed to tortoise pace; and as usual; pilgrims left and right were passing me. Many of them were almost running downwards, some skipping the road altogether and making a beeline towards Talpa. The reason I did not run with them was because downhills were difficult for me and I had no depth perception. Each step needed to be carefully weighed, due to the backpack; and any misstep would result in a worse fall than from the previous day.
On and on I went, taking each step carefully, through the individual undulations in the road and eventually fell in step behind a pair of young women doing the same. They were nearly barefoot; which were only clad in thin socks; and both were holding their shoes and supporting each other through each step.
Eventually, I saw huts along the way, almost indistinguishable from the dirt and road as the straw the roofs were made from were of identical color. There was only one hut serving food and drink; and everyone was gathering there. I had a feeling that this would be only chance before reaching Talpa; so I navigated inwards.
There were so many people everywhere; it took me a while to figure out the flow through the mass confusion. There were bags of different forms of starchy chips on the floor on top of crudely constructed palettes. I looked onward and saw an improvised counter where people were handing over a form of starch from the piles and requesting something; getting it and walking away. There was no money being exchanged. I asked somebody what was being served; and the reply was "Duritos con etc, etc." I went back, set my backpack down at the entrance; and picked a form of starch.
I fished out a giant square shaped, orange chip made from deep fried corn. Bubbly all over the place and held together by a small grid of flour fibres. it seemed about 18 inches wide, and 18 inches long; and had a dip, like a square bowl. I went through the line and when I got to the counter again; I asked for "salchichas" (sausage, this time referring to hot dog) and *everything* else. She replied that they were out of salchichas and proceeded to heap a combination of vegetables and potatoes onto my giant chip. She then proceeded to squirt some red chile sauce all over, much to my delight.
I gratefully took my meal to the entrance and found a spot to stand and eat. An explosion of flavor took my tastebuds like a tidal wave; and I enjoyed bite after bite. Basically I was eating bits of the shell and topping along with it, in a careful way. In eating, I understood why it was called a Durito - *this* is the dish that inspired the well known brand of "Doritos" chips. I liked the fresh version of Duritos much better. I finished eating and noticed others with small cups of agua fresca, and noticed that this hut claimed to be the original place where agua fresca de arranaya was created. I looked around and asked where they were getting their helpings. I got my answer and proceeded to where they pointed.
Like the Duritos, they were handing out the agua for free; and I dranked my serving in one gulp. I decided to fish out another helping of Duritos and found the big shells were all gone. I took an alternate, a bag of what looked like little wheels made of the same thing; and recalled that millions of bags like these were sold in the poor Mexican neighborhoods in CA and NM in the US. I carried through and got another helping of the mix of vegetables to fill up the whole bag, with more red chile sauce.
I went back to my spot, and ate this second helping; and proceeded to loop through the line several times with the same cup for more agua. The sun continued its slow ascent towards midday and it was time for me to go. I grabbed one last bag of bare chips, this time, straight potato chips with no salt; and munched on it as I continued onwards.
The path eventually stopped its undulating ways and transitioned to endless fields dotted with an occasional tree. At one point, I was really thirsty and just when I was thinking it would be wonderful to slake my thirst, there was a small stand where a couple was serving from three different containers, three different kinds of agua fresca. I chose the limon one with chia seeds - one liter as usual, and it was served as a bag and straw. I also needed to use the restroom; and saw a horseman and horse stopped in a tree surrounded by bushes. I drank my agua, waited until they were done and proceeded to the same spot.
It was time to move on. The road split into two, a high road and a low road. I hesitated and eventually took the high road, which led through a field; then reunited with the low road.
Then I saw the giant, ornate arch that marked the entrance to Talpa de Allende. Off to its right were throngs of people, cars, buses, and huts selling merchandise. I continued on with the other pilgrims and ended up on artistically arranged brick roads lined with sculptures, monuments, and beautifully flowering trees.
A man I ended up walking the paved road with greeted me and quickly realized that I was not a native Spanish speaker. He switched fluidly to English and we made talk about why we both journeyed. Like Gus from a few days before, this man has been walking the route yearly for many years now. I told him what I was doing in Mexico and that I am staying in Guadalajara; where it turns out he lives. He then said to me that he has a friend, a holy man of 84 years who could help me with my Spanish. He has spent his life doing nothing but praying; and that he asks for no money in return for the help in Spanish. We stopped and he gave me his phone number; and told me to call him once I return to Guadalajara and that he will link me up to the holy man. Afterwards we parted ways.
A few dozen steps later, a young girl sidles up to me and asks if I would take a selfie with her. I was caught off guard but accepted in my daze. She took the selfie with her phone, with a dazed me smiling awkwardly. She was then joined by a few young boys and one of them, in English made small talk with me. The path now turned into a street. We were now in Talpa and the pilgrims were still going. Soon, several blocks later, we parted ways as they reached their church. I explained that I only went to Church sometimes. I walked on, and soon flanked by many horsemen, floats, people in costume, musicians, dancers, pantomimes, and a whole assortment of company walking down the street in grand style.
It seems I stumbled into a parade. Hundreds of thousands of locals and pilgrims were lined along the street, simply celebrating. Storekeepers looking onwards and happily selling their wares and food upon request. I found some sidewalk to walk onward with and continued to follow the pilgrims onward. The sun had almost reached its noon-point. I was still wondering where the pilgrims were going that wold be considered the finishing point.
It dawned on me. We were heading to visit the Virgin! So obvious, yet so clueless, I was. I continued on-wards and eventually, I reached a absolutely giant square with a large Church overlooking a plaza; with twin crosses and multiple steps and pathways into the grand entrance. Pilgrims of all sizes, shapes, and states of tiredness infused with joy were lined up, ten person abreast from the edges of the square, and into the Church.
I walked around to ascertain the situation, and found a spot inside the church square to stash my walking stick, magnifying glass, phone, and backpack; did so, and got myself in line. We were proceeding slowly through the line for the next hour or so - I reached the entrance of the Church and noticed several would get on their hands and knees and crawl forward.
I had heard that the last kilometer of the journey would entail getting on all fours and crawling the rest of the way; and dismissed it as I did not encounter it on the path. I was mistaken, and the rumor was absolutely true - the last mile to the *virgin* was crawled. I thought about my knees and might scraped skinless right knee and decided not to follow this apparently ancient custom. A few were taking videos and pictures with their phones. I continued onward with the line.
The line diverges and converges a few times as we proceed through the Church. Eventually it takes a right and suddenly, I was face to face with the Virgen de Talpa. She was dressed in white, gold, and blue; her porcelain face looking downward to us; and framed by flowers and an altar made of ornaments and plants. I looked at her and knew that I had already received my message from her on the way in. The Holy Man was my next step in my journey after Talpa.
I silently thanked Her and moved on and out of the side entrance to the Church. I grabbed my stash and proceeded to one of the restaurants around the square - a family restaurant. I was famished by the time I got there and it was getting intensely hot outside. I ordered a jug of orange juice and a bowl of Birria con Chivos. The food arrived with tortillas... and I was really disappointed. The food was nothing like what I partook in on the road and I reminisced my journey on the road, knowing that next year, I will do it again, I will enjoy the food, the road, the hardships, the pain, the joys, the triumphs, the spiritual experiences again. I look forward to next year!
I silently ate my meal and simply rested. When I was done, I paid my tab, and asked if there was a place pilgrims rested for the night; and what the poor ones, of which were many do for the night. The waitress did not know how to answer me and asked around. Eventually a well dress pale lady answered me in English and said there is a street a block away that is lined with hotels and "posadas"; but I had to go to each one and ask; or if I had camping gear, simply make camp in the town square. I asked about police, and she said that they will not be a problem and that hundreds of pilgrims camp outside in the square every year due to lack of funds or lodging. I thanked her and got back to my table to ponder my next move.
Okay, sleeping in the square means two things, I need to address my restroom needs before camping. I made use of the restroom and used the sink to refresh myself - my arms, my face. I thanked the staff and left to find a spot in the square.
The afternoon was spent playing "follow the shade" along with everyone else; as we sat or stood in the shade, enjoying the rest and the lively activity in the square. It is like being in a park. Various people with merchandise walked around calling our their wares. Cotton Candy, popcorn, drinks, and finally these little contraptions made out of painted cans on a string. The vendors would swing them around, and as air went through the cans, they would hit the tassels, which would then swirl and make a whooshing noise. The cans were shaped into various things - superheroes of generic type, rockets, planes, animals, birds, anything or anyone that would fly. There were various primary and secondary colors used to decorate and the tassels were always alternating colors. I was utterly fascinated with them, as were various kids that bought and swung them to and fro as they sauntered and ran around the square.
The afternoon went on, and I eventually figured to sit on my backpack and shifted it with the shade. Eventually I was on the other side of a large shady tree and a bunch of people in indigenous looking costumes waving the 4 colors of the 4 nations on a small wheel. I asked one of them if they were indigenous; and they answered that they were simply locals in costume.
Women and girls in pink, turquoise, and silver dresses were dancing in the square in tune to various music. The afternoon marched on. At one point there was an elderly man carrying really tall feathers, and I asked about them. The birds they belong to are apparently native to the Guadalajara area.
Suddenly, an impossible rhythm of drums started up; and they were so loud and thunderous that nothing else was heard; and the drums penetrated through my very body and soul; and when it reached my heart, my heart beat with with rhythm as if it was meant to beat this way.
I felt charged, I felt alive and flowed with the drumbeats. There were many drums in groups all beating an impossible orchestration. My mind could not make heads or tails of the rhythm, I could not follow it with my mind. It was so fast.. several times faster than the smallest of musical measures. They were going at the exact pace of Nature's Metronome!
None of this mattered. My heart sang. My body danced in micro-movements. I was too tired to full on dance, and there was no room to do so. The rhythm synced to my heart, my feelings, as it did with everyone else. We were all the rhythm, the rhythm was all of us. The costumed people who I was sitting with got us, and a large space was cleared for them, and they proceeded to dance. The dance was undulating, and we were all mesmerized. There were several other dancers scattered throughout. I now noticed that there were several teams of drummers, one team for each group of dancers, and none of them were interfering with each others' rhythms - they were all complimenting each other, but it was all unconscious. The mind was not orchestrating this impossible symphony. The heart was!
At one point, I brought out my voice recorder, the one I was using to record my audio journal entries; and each time I recorded, the dancers and drummers throughout the square became a bit more pedestrian, muted, ordinary. I would record, and as soon as I stopped, the dances became more wild, vibrant, loud, extraordinary. I repeated this little experiment a few times with the same results. Nobody saw me, it is as they all simply knew. It is as if the universe knew. I finally understood something.
I always wondered why many of the spiritual events, ceremonies were rarely ever recorded, except for the more casual, mass attended ones. Now I understood. Once you get past a certain level of "spiritual seriousness", the events, dances, and experience become sacred. The videos, picture taking, the spectatorship are all activities of capture and consumption; not a participatory act in Life. The people in Talpa who were dancing were not there as merely a fun activity to garner an audience. They were there to help deliver a Divine message for all to hear and feel.
I put my recorder away and thanked the Universe for allowing me to understand this lesson. The dancing continued, the drums continue with occasional breaks well into the wee hours of the night. Indigenous costumed dancers continued and at one point, I was witnessing a bunch of barely dressed dancers in very vibrant Aztec looking garb, including peacock-like headdresses. The night came in and the Church came alive with many lights, and the twin crosses lit up in clue. The center of the plaza had a gazebo that lit up in white and framed in different colors of light. The flying toys gave way to a different variant with blue lights that were launched up into the sky, and allowed to come down while the lighted blue tassels swirled in mid-air, slightly slowing down and livening its descent.
The activity and drums continued throughout the night; and I was struck by the feeling that the Virgen de Talpa hid another personality. On the surface and for people like me who did not know except what they see on the surface, she is a religious figure that is revered. However, watching the activities, hearing and feeling the drums and watching the dancing; what became obvious was that below the surface, the Virgen is one of many of the All-Mothers, who, inclusively welcomes and encourages the dancing - this song and dance is who We Really Are - we are of the Mother Earth; we derive our physicality from Her; we have our hearts and spirituality from Her too. Never forget this no matter how diluted you might become to other cultures who do not honor or credit the Earth Mother. The Virgen serves, protects, and honors both roles equally; one obvious; one not obvious except for those who Feel.
I also felt, just from witnessing the others that many are unconscious yet drawn; unknowing, yet compelled by the emanations of the Earth Mother; delivered by the dancing and the Impossible Drums. I was awed by these thoughts and sat there; mesmerized as the night continued to progress, drums and dancing in tune with my heart.
At one point, I tried to search for an available banos, only to find none available; and knew that I would be on my own for that for the night. At around 1 or so, the Rhythm came to a stop in gradual beats; and the plaza slowly emptied, replaced with a few camping pilgrims like myself. Many chose to camp inside the smaller church square. I stayed in the plaza as I enjoyed the open air. I set up mini-camp, and fished out the bag and straw from earlier. My plan B if I could not hold my urine in for the whole night.
I fell asleep, and at some point before dawn, I had to utilize the bag. Thankfully nobody saw, and I tied the bag really tight; stowed it away in a hidden cavity amongst my things; and resumed sleep.
110.12km traveled so far, 10.2km traveled this day.
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