There is still smoke around San Cristóbal de las Casas when we prepare to leave the city towards Palenque.
For two days, the region was the scene of a rekindling of the aversion that the local Mayan and mestizo population has for evangelical Christian churches and their converts, which they see as threats to cultural and religious uniformity because they are governed.
The native Mayans expelled a community they had previously banished from land near the city. The conciliatory intervention of the police degenerated once more into violence, but everything indicated that the intransigent Chamulas were once again taking theirs to the fore.
At first reluctant to accept the teachings of Hispanic missionaries, the Maya from this area of Chiapas ended up welcoming them, but only in part. They generated independent Catholic cults to which they added elements of their pre-Columbian mythology.
The San Juan Chamula community went further.
It got the government to grant administrative autonomy. Likewise, despite the Mexican Catholic Church being one of the most conservative in Latin America, no priest interferes with the indigenous faith or participates in ceremonies held in the village's enigmatic temple, which prohibits visitors from capturing images.
Edgardo Coello, a mestizo Mexican of probable Galician origin, knows the whims of the Chamulas better than the secondary roads in the region.
Even so, using irreproachable calm and courtesy, the residents are informed about the best way to avoid police barriers, to take us through alternative routes to the then besieged San Juan. And from there, descend to the lowlands of Chiapas.
Visions of Our Lady of Guadalupe, on the Way to Palenque
The mountain route we are on is the most winding since we have been traveling through Mexico for several days.
Edgardo travels it at cruising speed. For many kilometers, we hardly see a soul. An hour later, the first indigenous settlements appear at the foot of the mountain.
We catch a glimpse of Our Lady of Guadalupe on top of a van box. Decorated with rags and balloons, full of passengers dressed in the colors of the nation, the carripana moves slowly, leaning against the narrow berm.
She is chased by a young believer wearing the same costumes allusive to the Blessed Sacrament worn by the rest of the group. This young believer holds a lit torch.
The original vision of Nossa Senhora de Guadalupe had it, in 1531, on a hill on the outskirts of Cidade do Mexico. Since then, Our Lady of Guadalupe has become a crucial link between indigenous and Catholic spirituality, which is promoted by the missionaries.
As the nation mixed, it was also promoted to its strongest Catholic symbol, the Patron of Mexico and the Americas.
Along the way, we passed many more of these self-religious processions. Almost all forced the cars behind to risky overtaking.
Edgardo had just alerted us to the road drama that time of year represented, despite the government never deigning to present numbers. We didn't take long to see it.
A jeep avoided pilgrims around a bend when it was surprised by a vehicle in the opposite direction. The accident caused serious physical and material damage.
Palenque, Towards Campeche, always on the Way of the Virgin of Guadalupe
However, night had fallen. During the descent through the Lacandona jungle – the same one that sheltered the Zapatista rebels – we only found a few participants late or resting by the side of the road, with little or no sign of traffic.
Dawn offers us a new pleasant day. When we reach the entrance to the Mayan temples in Palenque, officials still open the doors to the complex.
Even so, dozens of cars, vans and carripans decorated with paintings and motifs of the Virgin are already parked in the adjacent park. As soon as they enter the complex, its groups of passengers share the ecstasy of that rare spiritual escape, climb the temple steps and exchange joke after joke.
The good mood also seems to subsist on the lack of breath and the fascination caused by the opposite historical monuments and the surrounding high forest.
From Palenque, we go back on the map. We were encouraged by the prospect of refreshing ourselves in the Águas Azules de Chiapas, a stretch of the Tulijá river with waterfalls and natural emerald dams that had also attracted countless believers.
Once again the Chamulas, now in Pilgrim Version
We came across several of their trucks. One of them catches Edgardo's attention: “See those fuzzy white outfits? It's the Chamulas!” In a kind of instant judgment, we concluded that the image was too impressive to let go. We asked the guide to reverse the path, overtake them and leave us well positioned.
We got out of the car at a stand and got ready. Edgardo, take the opportunity to buy bananas.
When the truck comes up on the way up, the guide stretches out to offer the fruit to San Juan pilgrims. We press the camera buttons and record the highlighted delegation's courier and the rest of the action in hi-speed.
Animation reigns on board the van box. Indigenous people seem to enjoy even that shameless wait. What surprises us. All of a sudden, one of them, more rigorous, restores the order of things to things and shouts at us: “If we catch you, you'll pay well for those photos!”.
The Blessed Entry into Campeche
We go to the hotel against the clock. We left for the esplanades of the Portal de San Francisco where we devoured four of the horchatas most delicious in Mexico.
Finally, the Welcome to the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe
With our energies restored, we soon found the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe. This yellow temple in Campeche had been welcoming pilgrims for some time.
From the top of the sanctuary and in all directions, ropes are projected with fluttering pennants, green, red and white.
Hundreds of bicycles with banners, mini-shrines and other artefacts were leaning against the nave's south façade and each other.
Most of the faithful retain a lasting energy and socialize. Despite playing gospel music loudly and the powerful lights from the food, drinks and food stalls souvenirs shop religious, some others who arrived slumped, are dozing on the grass around them.
On the opposite side, facing an imminent Gulf of Mexico, two competing businesses vie for the faith and wallet of believers.
Both installed colorful backdrops on luminous panels that reconstitute the apparition of the Morena Virgin. Both seek to attract families and groups of believers to photograph themselves in the company of the saint. “Two hundred pesos, friends. It's a real blessing!” promotes one of the entrepreneurs.
The priest on duty takes care of the official procedure. Every time a new group of cyclist or pedestrian pilgrims arrives at the door of the church, he sprinkles them with holy water and welcomes them into the flock.
He still takes time to move to the roadside from where, in a modality, at one of the intervals of the rite. drive through, sprinkles the hoods to dozens of cars tuning of the city and grants the grace to its owners.
The day is drawing to a close. Believers from far away lose their momentum.
We are back at the hotel suffering from this same weakness when we enter a square organized around a bandstand. There, hundreds of cyclist pilgrims improvised a shared hostel.
Many are already asleep. Others share meals, mend tires or set up small tents supported by trees or on the handlebars of bicycles.
All had completed one more test of faith.