07 December 2009

La Virgen de Guadaupe

You know who she is, even if you don’t think you do. She’s the iconic image that appears on all things related to Mexico. She is the patron saint of Mexico and of Puerto Vallarta.

Festivities to honor La Virgen de Guadalupe begin on December 1st, leading up to the feast day for Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe on the 12th.

Every evening, starting at around 5pm, one of the main streets, Calle Juarez, is closed to traffic and becomes the processional route for devotees of La Virgen.

Groups from schools, associations, neighborhoods, restaurants, hotels, and more, make the pilgrimage from around the city to Calle Juarez. They are dressed mostly in white, or white and one other color. Some wear t-shirts with a picture of La Virgen on the front, and their group’s name on the back. They carry lighted candles, balloons, and offering baskets. At the front of their troupe you might see a group of native Indian dancers or a brass band or a flat-bed-truck-float with a young girl posing as Guadalupe. Throughout their processional, they sing songs of praise for their patron saint. They parade down the street turning left at the small, half-block street that leads to the entrance of The Church of Guadalupe. As they enter the church, the bells of the tower ring out in an incessant show of acknowledgement and blessing.

Food stalls line Calle Jaurez and vendors patrol the streets selling toys, mylar balloons, cotton candy and more. I was impressed with the ingenuity of the bubble stand; they’d filled ½ pint take-out containers with colored soap water, and fashioned bubble wands out of wooden sticks and pipe cleaners. All this hung from plastic bags attached to a small, mobile cart, next to which the vender stood and demonstrated his wares.
Families are out buying food and toys, sitting on the curb getting ready for the parade. The kids are all having a blast and so are the adults. People who have apartments along the parade route sit on their balconies or bring chairs to the sidewalk. It is a very festive atmosphere.

Last Friday I arrived at around 5pm because I thought that was when the processionals began. Although the streets had been blocked to traffic, and the vendors were either out or setting up, no one started down the parade path until 6pm. I meant to go again for the past two nights but the rain deterred me. That first night out I had somehow neglected to get a picture of one of the Guadalupe girls on a float. I went down tonight, but again I was too early. There were two groups but no floats. I’ll get that picture before it is all over.

Walking around the town square, which is filled with booths selling food and crafts, I noticed that there was what looked to be chalk paintings on the ground. I walked over to a whole row of 6-foot-square ground murals. It had been raining all day yet they were still in fairly good condition and magnificent. I asked someone when they were drawn and he told me it had been this morning. I wanted to kick myself; I had walked by the square twice in the early hours but must have been on the other side of the street and not noticed anyone working.

I am told that the final day is a really big deal and I should go in the evening. I imagine it is jammed packed around 9pm and I will really try to not go out until then. There is just so much one can do alone at this sort of event and two hours seems to be my limit, which has meant I have left before the party really gets rocking.