Day 303 Arrive at the parish church at the first town in Mexico. Priest not around, group meeting for choir practice figure out the solution - a missionary nun is in a village not far away - ten minutes by car - they'll drive me there and introduce me after practice, the nun has no phone, it will be a surprise, but it's the best and only solution we have. I accept and later meet the nun who's happy to host me for the night. We go to a neighbors for tacos, then chat over decaf coffee for a few hours; Wash self and clothes in a cistern of rainwater and sleep under mosquito netting in a small concrete room bare but for a cot and folding chair. In the cool dawn, make coffee, eat crackers, take some fruit left for me and let myself out hours before the nun will arise.
Day 305 Arrive after a long slog through scorching hot humidity - filty from the sweat and grime of the jungle walk. Find the parish church, the office, no priest, a young man (Victor Hugo) arriving for choir practice. Explain, show credencial; he confers with others and came to the conclusion that I should come with him to his home for the night, wife and small children agree. Pile into the family tricycle pedaled by Victor Hugo for six blocks to the two-room hut in a family compound of various aunts and cousins living separately but together. Hand pump 5 gallons of water from the garden well for me to wash clothes and bathe quickly under attack of mosquitos. Eat 'chinese empanadas' - known to us further north as potstickers - and white rice from the local take-away. Sleep under netting on the children's bed next to the parent's bed the four occupants share for the special occasion of hosting a pilgrim.
Day 308 Fail to make it to the planned village for the day's jungle journey, not knowing the distance exactly and not having a map, relied on conversations with locals who know nothing of time nor distance, especially in the jungle where they're afraid to walk because of the 'tigres'. (I've as of yet only seen harmless little pumas as far as felines go.) Approaching darkness, find a collection of huts on a large cattle ranch and ask, almost beg, for posada. Much discussion among the ranch hands and their families, each wanting someone else to take responsibility because the wives are reluctant to talk with a stranger - really? a lone tiny exhausted woman at sunset in the jungle... what are you afraid of? Right, of course, sleep here on a spare bed a hut with a middle aged ranch hand who's a trustworthy guy, really, or here on a sofa on the veranda with a fan to keep the mosquitos away. Accept the sofa option with glee. Wash clothes and self in a cistern quickly in the near darkness. Given a dinner of fried chicken and beans washed down with a tasty beverage made from hibiscus flowers.
Day 310 Cities are difficult places to find posada - too many possibilities, each often pushing me off to another, and the dreaded homeless shelter - euphemistically called 'Albergues de Peregrinos' in Mexico. Ugh! Parish church, priest not around, helpers insist I go to the 'albergue'; ask about religious houses. Yes, only one is in town, given wrong address, ask repeatedly in the streets of the market, find the house at the Catholic high school. Ring buzzer a million times, finally arrives a Sister who opens only a little panel within the door, above both of our heads. She insists I go to the alberque, but I equally insist that it's not a good place for me because - having experience in several countries now - the other people are fascinated with the things on and in my pack and I can't get any rest because I have to guard everything, even my boots, all night long. Other difficulties, too, such shelters are no places for pilgrims. She understands but is on her way out. I'll be back at 7:30 pm, she assured me, if you don't have another option by then, return and ring the buzzer with this pattern of three buzzes, so I'll know it's you, and you can stay here. Plans fail. From 7:30 until 9:00 I stand conspicuously on the dark street, buzzing with the pattern every minute. She never arrived. Two elderly ladies walking arm in arm come to me with hesitation and explain the sisters will never open the gate after dark (this I know from loads of experience, too, but we had a plan...). I explain the situation with a bit of desperation in my voice. No fooling, I'm a pilgrim, look at my credencials, I need a place to stay, but not the homeless shelter, just until dawn, don't care about food... okay, sit tight, we'll figure something out... minutes later, they return, instruct me to come with them around the corner to a small hotel - Lupita (diminutive of Guadalupe), run by a woman from the church who's happy to give me a room for the night and dinner (you're so thin! eat! eat!).
Day 313 Excruciating heat and humidity dragging alongside a small highway... a big SUV pulls up and a jovial fella named Oswaldo insists that it's too hot for anyone to be outside, get in the air conditioned car, here, talk to my wife on the phone, she'll tell you I'm a good guy, I'll drive you to the next town. Okay, I agree, it's only a few more kilometers and a big town, a city, really, so I could use the advice on where to find a church with a priest. Oswaldo offers me the hamburger he's been eating insisting eat, eat, but I reach into my pack for an apple instead (nearly baked) It's too hot to eat... the wife on the speaker phone insisting that he stop and buy me food. Delivered to the principle church, priest gone on retreat for the week. On to the next church, priest getting ready to leave, but I beg five minutes of his time and explain my life. Oh, okay, of course you must have posada. I'll take care. Let me phone a friend... oh, okay, the friend can offer a place to stay but not until 8 at night, meanwhile, I'm off to say a requieum Mass at a private home, so stay and rest here in my office, which is also my house because there is no other... nap on my hammock, help yourself to what's in the fridge, smell everything first, some of it may be off... I'll be back in a couple of hours, and if things don't work out with my friend, you take the hammock for the night and I'll take a pew in the church. No water in the bathroom to wash; I enjoy flipping through the books on the shelf. The friend turns out to be a medical doctor, married to another doctor, three grown children all away at university studying medicine... perhaps the wealthiest family in the town. The uniformed maid takes my clothes and washes everything, I'm offered a guest room with ensuite spacious modernism, including hot running water, the first I'd seen since Colombia. At dawn, far too early for the doctor or the maid, as instructed, I helped myself to kitchen like it were my own - organic drip coffee, yogurt and granola for breakfast, fruit for the road, properly clean clothes. [A few days later, Oswaldo pulled up alongside me again in his SUV and hands me some fruit and a cold sports drink (icky) through the window, offering a ride but understanding I liked the walk. Still more days later and he drives up again, this time with his wife at his side and insists we all stop at the next roadside restaurant for early lunch so his wife can hear all about the pilgrimage first hand. Funny, unpredictable things...
,,, I could go on and on... every day's a new day, every day's different, now 320 days into this pilgrimage, it would be a long blog to describe them all. The days in between the ones I've described here were more routine, find the parish priest, offered a cot or hammock or bed in a room at the parish house, wash in a cistern of cool water, usually on a rooftop, enjoy conversation... A taste anyway of what the end-of-day is like for a pilgrim.
So close now, only 11 days left, I estimate, and have a route worked out, higher altitude, much drier climate, heat yes, but the luscious dry heat, free of mosquitos. I'm much less cranky these days =)