Each year leading up to the Day of the Lady of Guadalupe, on the 12th of December, groups of mostly young men head towards cities that have cathedrals dedicated to the Lady of Guadalupe to celebrate the event.
It’s a pilgrimage and a measure of faith as they carry ever increasingly larger statues and images of the Virgin on their backs. With help from their support vehicles they ride bicycles or jog towards the cathedrals and sleep rough along the way.
Support vehicle and other riders
We set off on our drive round the Yucatan on the 30th of November which is two weeks ahead of the celebration day and already we saw cyclists with their support trucks scattered along the way.
When eventually they reach their destination they organize a large street procession towards the cathedral where a service is held the next morning followed by celebrations. If it was me who had to run all that way I would be happy to settle for a siesta-fiesta and leave all that dancing and drinking to others. As it happens I had a few Pina Coladas in the shadow of one of the cathedrals at Campeche.
Was the fist town to be built by the Spanish in the Yucatan in the 1500s, its purpose was to function as the port from where they shipped their plundered booty back to Spain.
Being a port the old town was built on the coast which made it vulnerable to attack from the sea. For a century pirates including Sir Francis Drake would attack the town but the worst of the pirate attacks on Campeche came in the 1600s when the city was ransacked for 30 days and a third of the population killed. Following that attack the fortifications were increased and the wall was strengthened as it’s seen today. Outside the wall the old town is today surrounded on 3 sides by the new part of Campeche not unlike old and new Nicosia. Unfortunately big gaps were cut into the wall to allow traffic to enter the town, as a result some of the sections are either missing or have been reconstructed but the end product is delightful.
The bell above the one of the entrance gates and cannons on the bastions
We enjoyed our stay in Campeche as much as we enjoyed learning about its history and the pirates who came to plunder it, some of whom were even state sponsored by enemies of Spain. Unlike Valladolid and Izamel, the other two towns we visited, the walled town of Campeche felt “preserved” and didn’t reflect everyday life in Mexico. It is of course heritage listed by UNESCO which has contributed in some way to that feeling, but that is better than loosing it to modern day development.
Our next stop was a two hour drive away and the pilgrims did not let up, in fact it was now approaching celebration day and the clusters of riders and support cars increased which made driving that little bit harder. Merida is totally different, with a population of approximately one million, it’s the biggest city on the Yucatan peninsular and has none of the major tourist trappings such as beautiful beaches or quaint preserved parts of town. It does have a wide avenue in the centre of the city, the Paseo de Montejo where large colonial houses were built to capture the grandeur of its European counterparts. Somehow it didn’t do it for me.
But we did like the bustle of the large scruffy and noisy Mexican city. The buses are lethal, these no frills modes of transport rip through the city center at death-defying speeds, we did not like being in their way even when on the sidewalk.
But the center has its squares with cafes and plenty of restaurants, the best caesar’s salad with crispened cheese croutons and a dash of chipotle was at this Italian cafe below.
Merida’s main square
Merida had a bigger city feel with plenty of bustle and hustlers who are so well versed in their art that you really believe talking to them was just an accidental encounter, they chat and pass on general information which is somewhat helpful but when they get around to telling you about the Mayan co-op craft shop that is when the penny drops.
On the way back to Cancun we saw the last few pilgrim stragglers just making it into town just in time for the celebrations.