Sunday, December 19, 2010

Pilgrimage to Itape

The Virgin of Itape

Religious pilgrimages are a big deal here in Paraguay. The biggest one is for the Virgin of Caacupe which is December 8th. People from all over the country arrive in Caacupe by walking, riding a bike or taking a bus. People from really far will take a bus to a certain point, then will walk about 7 km. The second biggest pilgrimage is to the Virgin of Itape. Well Itape happens to be semi close to San Salvador. I remember last year I had just arrived in San Salvador at this time and had no desire to go with the people to visit the Virgin. Well this year I decided to join the people and walk 32 km to Itape.

We left at 5:30 pm, the hottest time of the day, and walked directly into the sun for 2 hours. Well walking wouldn't be the correct word, running is a better description of the pace we were going. About 2 km into the journey I started to hear; my feet hurt, its so hot, i need water, etc. At one point very early into the walk one woman, Mirta, was calling all the people she knew to come and pick her up. The local doctor passed by and she asked for a ride and he said he wasn't going there. Well about 2 hrs into the walk we passed by the town where there is another volunteer and picked him and his buddies up. Oh I forgot to mention, I was walking with about 6 women who are very "chuchi" or prissy.

Cynthia, Cunchi, Noelia, Maria and Me

We picked Jake up and kept on going. By this time we were walking in the shade, the sun was going down and it was finally cooling off. My face gets very red when i work out but everyone was convinced that I was sun burnt. I was soo hot, soaking wet dripping with sweat, but my spirits were still high. I had to put my game face on because the only thing I was hearing was the complaining of the women. walking along the long dirt road

It finally got dark and the mosquitoes came out. We passed by a place to fill up our waters and one woman filled her bottle up with beer. We asked the owner how far to Itape and she said 5 km. We were close! Walking, Running, Walking, Running...5 km later, we still hadn't gotten there. We could see a town off in the distance that was at least 5 km more. By this time the people had slowed down a little but not much, and we still hadn't taken a break. My whole entire body was stiff. I could hardly bend my knees and couldn't feel my feet. But I didn't express my pain to anyone wanted to keep moving. Oh yeah since I've been in Paraguay I really haven't worked out or done much exercise.

We were 1 km away and the women wanted to sit and take a break. I said "don't sit down, keep moving we are so close." We arrived at the main street that would take us to the Virgin. It was full of vendors, food and people. I felt like I was at the state fair. Of course in large crowds people get separated. But at least we had a meeting point, the medical tent. The local doctor, who originally wasn't going there, was there and the other nurses from San Salvador. It was hilarious; every person would go up to the medical tent and ask for muscle relaxers or something for the pain from walking. We finally all met up and then looked for a place to set up camp. Imagine a huge fair ground with people sleeping on every inch of the grass. There were probably about 5,000 people sleeping.

We put all our blankets on the ground and laid down. It felt soo good. There was a party but I had no desire to go dancing. We sat there and listened to the mass at midnight meanwhile trying to sleep. But not possible. At 4 am there was another mass. And at 5:30am one of the women called her husband to come and pick us up. The main mass was at 6 am but she had no desire to stay. Neither did I to be honest. So we ended up leaving at 6 am and got home by 7 am. The other people who stayed didn't get home till 6 pm, the bus broke down along the way home and no one had the energy to walk.

All in all it was a good experience, I got to know some people from my town a lot better, I was able to see the beautiful country side and see the Virgin of Itape. But I don't think I'll walk it again!

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