Saturday, November 21, 2009

Blessings From the Virgin

The Plaza in Front of El Quinche

Everyone I spoke with about my plans to go to El Quinche advised me against it. I was told that the bus would leave me with several kilometres to walk to the church, that thousands of people would crush us and Maya would be scared, that it was better to watch it on TV, that I would be stranded, that I would be robbed (gringos don't go to these festivals), that I would be thirsty, hungry, hot, cold, wet, would not see anything because of the crowds, the list goes on and on. I did not really decide on anything. We woke up when we were ready to wake up, we started out of the house an hour later and I had a coffee and read the paper. It was sunny and warm, we brought snacks and bought a few bottles of water and took the Ecovia to the terminal.

If there had been complications, we would not have gone further, but a row of buses were waiting to go to El Quinche, so we joined the handful of passengers and took a wild ride to the next valley and Cumbaya, Tumbaco, Pifo and finally El Quinche. The bus ride took over an hour and cost a dollar each, and we arrived a couple of blocks from the church, distinctive because of its blue tiled towers. The streets to the central plaza were lined with stalls selling food and candy and raw sugar cane and religious trinkets and hats and umbrellas. Of course there were pigs roasting (I did not see any guinea pigs) and fritada (fried pork dish) and choclo and aves and the usual sort of fiesta food we see everywhere. What was distinctive was the sugar cane and taffy and religious themed cookies and cakes. I did not get the sense of the faithful until we arrived at the church and followed the sounds of the mass, which was being held in a footballsize field behind the church. On our way we got a candle to light and pray to our loved ones. The mass was nearing the end when we arrived round back. We had to get through a gauntlet of ill and disfigured children and adults, waiting to be blessed, and a long line of people waiting to confess. Children and loved ones were carried in arms, on backs, in litters and in wheelchairs.

The Mass Was Held Behind the Church

We were close to the virgin and were able to touch her and see her up close as the priests and the bishop walked down the stairs from the stage to start the procession. I was glad that I was able to say the words to 'Our Father' and pretend to say some Hail Marys. The faithful held out their right arms above their shoulders to receive a blessing. I was hoping to get into the church at that time, but it was locked and we were told to join the procession. We waited to watch the parade of banners and faithful and two statues of the virgin. The onlookers threw rose petals at the virgin from above and from below and we were all showered with wonderful smelling roses. It was evident that we were the only 'extranjeros' in the crowd, and the oddity was noted. I think we 'passed' because we seemed to be part of the 'faithful' , and just as eager to see and touch the virgin as everyone else in the crowd.

Waiting to Throw Roses

Procession of the Faithful

The First Virgin

The Virgin in the Procession

When the Virgin returned to the church the doors were wide open and the mass and singing, which continued throughout the procession, got louder and more fervent. When she reentered the church , the crowds surged in behind her and Maya was a little frightened of entering the fray. We felt we had been blessed several times, and it was time to figure out how to get to Cosanga.

Watching the Procession from the Top of the Church

There were dozens of buses waiting in patient lines, and everyone I asked told me something else with regard to how to get to Pifo, where I planned to disembark and catch another bus to Cosanga and Yanayacu. We were heading off in one direction when I saw a bus coming toward us and I waved it down and the busdriver stopped and gave us time to cross the road and climb on. He was going to Pifo! We had no seats, but it was only 20 minutes or so until we were dropped off in the middle of a Y intersection and told that the bus to Tena would come. I was not sure where to wait and asked random people who came by and no one seemed to know. So Maya sat in the middle of the Y for a while with huge trucks flying by. We moved at one point, and a bus came after a bit and when I said I wanted to go to Cosanga, I was told to get on. I was so proud of Maya; she was so trusting and not at all anxious as I thought she would be about being dropped off in the middle of a road in the middle of nowhere.

We did get seats, although not together, and dug in for the two hour ride. We had taken the trip before a few times, but I kept my eyes closed as our driver whipped around turns, overtook tanker trucks without seeing further ahead, only stopping when having to wait for an oncoming vehicle get across a one lane bridge. The route is stunning, as we climb to the pass at 13000 feet at Papallacta, and then descend into the cloud forest and the jungle. A stunnning ride, made more spectacular by the most violent and bloody Thai martial arts movie I wish Maya was not exposed to.

We arrived in Cosanga alive in the pouring rain, and joined a bunch of birders identifying species flying around them in the downpour. Eric was relieved to see us. I think he did not expect us to make it to Yanayacu this weekend. Maya was happy to see her friends Lucia and Nick and the dogs she has come to adore, Beans and Rain.

I am still struggling with flu symptoms and it feels as if they have returned with a vengeance. I may have overdone things today, but I am now warm in bed with six cobijas and hoping that the blessings of the virgin will help me recover from this flu.

Back to Yanayacu

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