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pilgrims of san juan de los lagos

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It’s only two o’clock in the morning and all you can hear besides the rumbling of motors warming is the sound of a small Mexican orchestra playing. You open the tent door to pitch darkness, and slowly realize that this musical group is standing in the dark in front of the mobile chapel. They are playing so that everyone will slowly wake up, and get ready to start the day’s march to San Juan de Los Lagos. Dogs stretch, motors warm up, and over 30 thousand people slowly start their day’s walk through the Mexican landscape. We walk in total darkness for hours and in the cold, chanting catholic hymns and the rosemary. Finally the sun slowly comes over the horizon and we all look at each other, happy to see we are still on this long journey. Families that have donated free food for pilgrims along the journey greet us. The nice canela, or orchata, or warm cup of coffee with little tamales is a welcome in the cold early morning. The first time I did this pilgrimage it was so cold everyone could see their breaths in the morning light…we all hovered together to keep warm, we barely made any stops, in fear our body temperature would again sink. This year though the sun is a warm welcome in the early morning, until noon when it’s evil and hot rays are hitting out exposed skin and leaving us no where to find shelter but in the uniformed rows of each ones group. Everyone has a different reason for making this pilgrimage. Some people do it as devout Catholics, carrying a “manda” they would like to thank the virgin for, carrying promises. Others join the pilgrimage for the experience of camping and being in nature, for knowing they will have free food enough to overfill their empty bellies, others come because it’s a great time of year to sell items and make money, and others…. come for the party, the lovers, and the drugs, all in the outdoors. Those that come are of all ages, from eight months to 88 years of age. Some are carried, while those that can see to their final destination guide others. It is a journey of thanks and giving, a time in which everyone helps each other out, watches over each other.

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