Every October 24, for the last 31 years, hundreds of gauchos (cowboys) make the pilgrimage from Morelia to Patzcuaro, nearly 60 kilometres away, called La Cabalgata (the cavalcade). They leave Morelia at 6 a.m. and arrive at the Basilica de Nuestra Senora de la Salud (Our Lady of Health) in Patzcuaro nearly 12 hours later, picking up more riders along the route.
The Basilica sits atop a pre-Hispanic ceremonial site, although the church itself wasn’t completed until the 19th century. A figure of the Lady, or Virgin, crafted from a corncob and honey paste by 16th-century Tarascans, stands behind the altar. When pilgrims claimed to experience miraculous healings, Vasco de Quiroga, the revered first bishop of the state of Michoacan, whose tomb sits just inside the main doors, had the words Salus Infirmorum (Healer of the Sick) inscribed at the figure’s feet. Apparently people from all over Mexico still make the pilgrimage to pray for their own personal miracles. In fact, the founder of the cavalcade organized this annual trek to express his thanks to the Lady for helping his son recover from an illness. Once the horses are cooled and watered, these pilgrims on horseback will attend a mass at the Basilica to offer their own personal prayers and thanks.
Click on the image above to see a slideshow of some of Rick’s pix of the event.
While we mostly pet-sit, on the rare occasion we just housesit, which gives us lots of time to take advantage of our surroundings. In September, we were based in the Lake Patzcuaro area, in the central highlands of the beautiful state of Michoacan. Following are nine slideshows of our excursions around the area, several of those we made with our friends Bill, Barbara and Kahlua who were visiting from San Pancho, Nayarit.
Kahlua kicks back in the cool mountain air of Santa Clara del Cobre, far from her hot humid home of San Pancho.
A series of fortunate events this summer led us back to San Pancho and Casa Obelisco, where we were happily reunited with Kahlua the lovable golden doodle; Valentino the whiny baby (at nearly seven years old, the descriptor stands); Pico the “wild” cat who prefers to sleep on the dog bed, especially during storms; Horatio, the deaf dude with the monkey tail; and, new this year, Trixie.
When Barbara temporarily relocated to el norte for work a few years ago, she brought Horatio with her for company. But he was sad and lonely without the rest of his posse. On a pet food run one day, Barbara noticed an adoption fair at the store. One of the orphaned cats looked just like H. as a baby, she recalls. And, since Barbara has a long history as a collector of orange cats, she agreed to foster her. She couldn’t commit to a full adoption, however, in case Horatio didn’t like her. Well. “He went nuts” for her, she says. Love at first sight.
She and Bill gave the foxy feline a stripper’s name, they say, because of the way she lolls around with a come-hither-in-the-heather look in her eyes. When Barb returned to Mexico, she brought Horatio and his trophy wife with her. The other guy cats’ eyes popped out when they saw her — hubba-hubba — but only Horatio gets to touch his treasured trollop, protected from the riff-raff behind the iron gate of her new home. Even humans don’t dare lay a hand on her.
So the pampered puss lazes around all day, snacking on bon-bons and accepting tender kisses from her man. The solitude of her harboured haven, however, has piled on the pounds. She bores easily when presented with a string or toy mouse, so our attempts at exercise are met with a yawn followed by demands for more food. Her highness spends most of her days stretched out languidly on her voluptuous form while gazing vacantly into space, as though posing for a Botticelli painting.
It’s a first for us — a cat with a do-not-touch decree — so we must give her a wide berth, on tip-toe, careful not to unduly upset her delicate psyche. Just another adventure in pet-sitting . . .
Erongaricuaro is a small town in the mountains of Central Mexico, where roughly 5,000 hardy souls call this “Place of Waiting” home. Aside from the very basic street food sizzling in ponds of oil set up around the plaza, you can count on one finger the number of restaurants (the consistently reliable Doña Mary) here. Activities and amusements are almost as rare. So when you hear of something going down, even if outside the town proper, you jump at the chance to see it.
Donald, one of the very few gringos living here full-time, rang up one day to tell us we absolutely must go to the Hippy Fair in Uranden, about 15 minutes away. Now, ordinarily, the words “Hippy” and “Fair” would spin us in the opposite direction. But since so little happens in these parts we thought, ehh, what the hell. Let’s go, if only to gawk at aging gringos who have been so off-grid for so long they don’t realize the word “hippy” had faded away with their tie-dyed head bands.
Leaving the three dogs and two cats dozing in the sun, our duties done for the next few hours, we jump in the car and weave down the winding road toward Patzcuaro. Nearly 15 minutes later, we see rows of cars parked along the street. Off to the side, in front of a terra-cotta coloured building etched with a lively mural, stood a couple of big white canopies under which crowds milled about, perusing goods for sale. We pulled onto a grassy parking area, got out and joined the throngs. Mariachi music drifted from behind tall wooden double doors next to a small silver dome. We edged our way inside, squeezing through an even bigger crowd. We stopped dead as we gaped at the walls. Every square inch was covered with paintings of garishly attired skeletons and freaky grim reapers, their bony fingers thrusting from their dark robes and clutching tall scythes. These jostled alongside images of Jesus Christ and other religious icons and artifacts. Throughout the room, full-sized skeletons were dressed in formal gowns, shiny crowns perched atop their crazily grinning faces.
Clouds of smoke drifted from the floor above, so we climbed the well-worn stairs to find its source. A long line of people stood patiently waiting their turn for an agent (of death?) to shroud them in the choking incense, apparently sending their sins up in smoke. We looked at each other and at the same time said, “I don’t think this is the hippy fair.”
It wasn’t. We had stumbled into a temple devoted to Nuestra Señora de la Santa Muerte, saint of the dead. Deeply frowned upon by the Catholic Church, this freak fest of a cult, which has seen a recent resurgence with several million followers, has its roots in Mesoamerican folk lore in which devotees believe Santa Muerte will deliver them safely to the afterlife. But we saw nothing safe or serene in those ossified faces and ghastly images that would convince us to entrust our souls to this creepy saint. There are many more such macabre shrines in Mexico City, but this incongruous temple of death out here in Santa Ana Chapitiro, in the bucolic Lake Patzcuaro countryside, was truly bewildering.
Back outside, brushing past the stands and shops selling reaper figurines, candles and incense for magic spells, we jumped back in the car in search of a more zen hippy fair to chase away the chills.
After caring for Tai in Patzcuaro, we slid on down the lake to Erongaricuaro, about a half hour away, as we’ve done several times before. Dogs Lucy, Xochi and Rigo, and cats Cosmos and Rocky, remembered us instantly. Although, cats being cats, they simply yawned and went back to their naps. The dogs, on the other hand, went berserk, especially when they remembered that we’re enthusiastic playmates.
Lucy the Lab, in particular, loves to play ball, but is obsessive. At all times she must be either 1) chasing it, 2) chewing it, or 3) sleeping with it. It’s safe to say it’s her life. Well, maybe second to eating, and the dish she eats out of. She loves mealtimes so much she’s almost chewed through her bowl. It’s become quite the work of art.
Xochi will join in the game of ball-throwing and catching, half-heartedly, only because she thinks it’s the thing to do. If her sister insists it’s the world’s coolest game, it must be. Sometimes Xochi seems unsure of herself as a species, and is constantly on alert for cues. So she’ll follow suit in activities like walks or ball-chasing. But most of the time she just goes through the motions. Sure, she’ll chase it, but half-way to retrieving it she finds a blade of grass much more fascinating. Sometimes — OK, rarely — she’ll get to the ball first, but instead of following Lucy’s lead and bringing it back to be thrown, she’ll stand there and chew on it, noisily, much to Lucy’s extreme frustration. Other times, just to drive her even nuttier, Xochi will lay down and rest her chin on the ball, with a look that asks, “What?”. Even though they’re roughly the same size (although Xochi’s long, graceful, ballerina legs put her slightly taller), Lucy will not attempt to extricate the ball from her. Instead, she’ll stand there, body tense and still as a sculpture, eyes fixated on the bright blue orb, waiting for just the slightest shift in Xochi’s body or attention, then she’ll zoom in and snatch it. Once in possession of her prize, she’ll prance away in glee, the universe unfolding as it should.
Rigo is not much of a ball guy. Well, unless they’re his own. Oh, wait, he doesn’t have any, he’s been neutered. Although you’d never know it based on his continued, tortured auto-eroticism. Yep, the poor guy still struggles with sudden, uncontrolled arousal. And now that he’s roomies with two beautiful girls, it’s, um, harder than ever to contain his feelings. Frustrated, he’ll often trot over to the wall, stand there and wait in vain for the invisible rodent that also taunts and torments him.
Cosmos has no doubts about his origin; he still thinks he’s a dog. He prefers hanging with the canines, even sleeping on their beds, whether they’re in them or not, much to their chagrin. He’s not quite the scrappy hunter of his younger years, managing to snag and present to us only one small bat our entire stay. We take pains to reassure him that’s quite alright.
Rocky is still frail and squeaky, but soldiering on in her own loner life, both belying and affirming her stoic moniker.
Eronga is the same: an oddly raucous town for its small size. Neighbourhood dogs bark through the night, roosters crow through the day, and fight club starts every night around 9, and continues to about midnight. At least that’s what I swear it is. How else to describe what sounds like bodies being hurled against metal walls, to a backdrop of hoots and hollers? It’s probably just a friendly game of pick-up basketball, but fight club fits with the edginess of the place, so that’s what I’m sticking with.
In the quiet afternoons, when the town (and the pets) slumber, we sit on the expansive lawn amid this sprawling garden of endless plant, flower and tree variety, including pomegranate, olive, tangerine, lemon, lime, cactus, pine and ash. We gaze out over the lake, to the island of Janitzio in the distance, breathe in the fresh, cool mountain air, and agree sometimes life’s greatest pleasures are the simplest. Like a rubber ball and a plastic dish.