El Quinche is a small village north of Quito, with a famous ornate church and sanctuary dedicated to its own 'Virgen'. We have driven through and by the town several times on the way to Otavalo, and it has always been too late or too early to stop and visit. Crowds of pilgrims visit the church for blessings all year long, but tomorrow, November 21, is the biggest and most significant procession of the year. People from the Quito area will start walking tonight, and will walk all night until they reach El Quinche, where they will attend mass and seek a blessing. As many as 500,000 or more will collect at the shrine tomorrow starting at 6 AM and masses and blessings will continue all day. Truck and taxi drivers seek special protection from the virgin, but children and marriages and girlfriends and boyfriends and everyone and anyone can seek and receive a blessing from the virgin.
My plan is to take the bus to El Quinche. I cannot get a certain answer as to how far away from the shrine the bus will stop, but if it is reasonable, we will walk with the pilgrims to the church. I am told it is unlikely that we will be able to get into the church, but there will be masses on the square in front of the church and the event is well policed and well controlled.
I asked everyone I ran into today if they had participated in the walk. Gustavo, who cleans my apartment once a week, was planning to walk tonight, and his father Fidel had walked to the shrine in the past. Isabel had been when her children were small, and remembers a sea of people, but no sense of danger because they were pilgrims, with the intent to seek blessings. Amparo has never done the walk and is uninterested. I asked every teacher at Spanish school and Luis, who has seen alot in Ecuador, and not one had actually done the walk.
I could not figure out if the buses would be running or if they could in fact enter the town, or how far we will walk or if a car was better and how to get out of the crowds if need be. My impression is that we will join a sea of humanity pressing forward toward the church. It will be an amazing experience.
I may not make it. I am still very sick, perhaps worse than I was, and my energy lags. On the other hand, it may be that a blessing is in order. Maya does not like to walk far, and will resist any ambitious plan. The buses may not get near enough for Maya, it may feel too intense or too crowded. I was told the procession is beautiful and that the feeling of the faithful is palpable and that this is an amazing, unique experience. I want to go, but I want it to be a positive event for Maya too.
I will see how we feel in the morning. Eric is in Yanayacu, working with bat scientists and recording their calls tonight. He will be recording the Plain Tail Wrens in the morning and if we make it to Yanayacu after El Quinche, we will have Maya's friends Lucia and Nick and their parents there to share the place with. Eric has a few birthday cakes to celebrate a birthday with. Of course, I have no idea how we get out of El Quinche and to the road to Cosanga. There are buses going every hour and hopefully we will be able to catch one for the three hour ride. This is a very ambitious and not particularly well thought out plan, but I have been hanging on all week and not thinking clearly every moment. Perhaps a miracle is sorely needed.