Tuesday, July 14, 2015

XXVIII. Llevando Santiago a La Cañada, Parte 1

Taking Saint James to La Cañada, Part 1

The procession begins in Ixtlahuacán with the faithful carrying 
the representation of the patron saint of this small city on the 
first leg of the round trip to all the churches in the parish.
A couple of weeks ago, Ruben, a really sweet guy we met up in the hills above Ajijic, invited us to a fiesta in a little town nearby called La Cañada. The fiesta, which was last Saturday, celebrates the end of a five mile procession from the parish church (Catholic, of course) in Ixtlahuacán (pronounced isht-la-wah-KAHN). 

This was the beginning of a weeks-long celebration to honor the parish's patron saint—Santiago, or St. James—and leading that day's procession was the representation of said saint who normally resides in the Ixtlahuacán church. Over the course of the next two weeks "he"—it seems discourteous to call that little doll-like fellow "it"—is taken to all the churches in the parish. And finally, back to the main church and an even bigger blowout on July 25th. At least, that’s my understanding.

The procession stopped a half dozen times along the way to 
Los Cedros—the halfway point—to let stragglers catch up 
and give the excitable a chance to set off some fireworks.
So, a small but intrepid group of gringo Hike-Queros met in Ixtlahuacán’s plaza where we joined a file of three or four hundred faithful and curious behind the little proxy saint who was borne all that way to La Cañada on the head of one or another of a dozen of the male elders of the church. They were, in turn, preceded by a cadre of faithful women carrying a banner which I did not see closely but doubtless announced the presence of the saint in complimentary language.

A small number of faithful made the 
entire journey barefooted.
Jalisco is home to the Mexican horseman, or charro, who has a much more refined image than an American cowboy. Little Santiago—the representation— is on horseback, and, at a glance, brought to mind nothing so much as something this fan of Hopalong Cassidy and The Cisco Kid would really liked to have received for Christmas about 60 years ago—a jut-jawed, white-hatted, cross-waving (well, that makes sense) hombre on a studly looking, magnificently outfitted white stallion. Definitely one of the good guys, and horses.

At Los Cedros, the procession devolved, the little saint took a 
break, others climbed into the back of their family’s pickup 
or cadged a ride in one of the little tuk-tuks like the one 
pictured above.
Some of the faithful followers were barefooted in the soggy weather. A few were singing hymns. Most, though, were wearing sneakers, pushing strollers, carrying water bottles, eating snacks, spacing out, chatting as one would on any such pilgrimage in the outback between villages. Banner and saint were preceded by the flashing lights of a police car, and another one brought up the rear. Just in front of the final policia were the real enforcers, though—a dozen actual-sized riders and mounts, modern day charros— harbinger of much, much, much more equestrian muscle to come.

There would be lots. Of. Horses.

Muchisimos caballos. 

Unless you’re imagining more horses than you’ve ever seen in one place in your life, and you live on a horse ranch surrounded by other neighborly horse ranches and everyone likes to party and bring all their horses to the parties and invite their horsey friends in other counties, and maybe even states, who have horses…you have no idea.

The procession strung out along the cobblestone road from Los 
Cedros to La Cañada. The sun came out and we passed well-
tended maiz fields.
But it was still some miles yet to La Cañada, and in those initial muddy miles, I had no idea. We were just a bunch of people being led through some kind of seedy rurality by a big toy-mounted cowboy with a few real HORSES bringing up the rear.

In Los Cedros, the halfway point, our pot-holed gravel road from Ixtlahuacán turned west into a cobblestone way, and the scenery became more lush, with high ridges on both sides of the road, green well-tended fields of maiz in between, and an occasional fancy gate and fence, decorated with an equestrian motif and enclosing a large pasture and paddock, announced un rancho grande.

The entry to a big rancho not far from La Cañada
After Los Cedros our company became larger, more strung-out (perhaps in both senses of that hyphenated word) and secular. Pickup trucks carried families in the bed. Small conveyances for the footsore that each looked like a combination smart car and moped, called tuk-tuks, were more common, and little Santiago somehow lost his place of primacy, but was still surrounded by a faithful core singing hymns in a low key.

As we got closer to La Cañada, the procession began to jam up. Saint, banners, friendly vendors, pickups, tuk-tuks, motorcycles, bicycles, families of multiple generations, guys in a hurry trying to outflank the jam by skirting the muddy verge of the road, and others loitering and chatting. All that and...HORSES. They were beginning to make their presence known.

To be continued.

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