Monday, November 11, 2013

The Patron Saint of Cowboys

Apparently even cowboys have their own patron saint and his name is San Martin Caballero.  Once a year on the days surrounding November 11th in the state of Guanajuato, Mexico the local cowboys, ranchers and their groupies unite in San Martin de Terreros to pay homage to the cowboy saint.  Although I have never participated in the festival, I have driven past it in bumper to bumper traffic on my way from San Miguel de Allende to Guanajuato.  And in my book that makes me as close to an expert as I care to be.

Our first taste of the festival began back in San Miguel when flocks of cowboys on horseback paraded around the square in the city center.  It was like they were celebrities.  Allan even posed with one for a photo opportunity.  Curious as to what was transpiring, Allan inquired and interpreted it to be that the cowboys were on a pilgrimage of sorts.  It wasn’t until later, when we were traveling from San Miguel to Guanajuato that we got the full story.

The drive from San Miguel to the state capitol Guanajuato is supposed to be a very scenic 1.5 hour drive through rolling hills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  We had hired a taxi and were expecting to sit back for a relaxing and quick trip.  Ironically the driver was commenting that the circuitous route on well paved roads might be surpassed in the future by the construction of a super highway between the 2 cities.   

To me it seemed strange that a state capital would not have a major highway to a popular city like San Miguel.  Apparently the highway project which is still in the works is being stalled by ranchers protesting that the highway would cut through what they consider to be preservation land.  At the time it seemed like an innocent comment, certainly not a harbinger to the terrible traffic we would encounter down the road.  Little did we expect that a major highway was a necessity especially on the days before and after November 11th when thousands flock to San Martin de Terreros to pay patronage to San Martin Caballero.

During the voyage we first we started seeing a lot of cowboys on horseback and packs of men on bicycles.  Then we hit the car and bus traffic.  What was supposed to be a rather short voyage tripled into a 4+ hour adventure mostly in country with no cell phone service, hence no wireless signal (i.e. little to entertain ourselves).  There was certainly a lot of see – truck loads of dark skin colored Mexicans in rather worn looking clothing, many packed into the back of pick up trucks, drinking bottles of Coca Cola, and feeding the same to their babies.  And large buses packed with pilgrims.

As we approached San Martin de Terreros off to the right the hillside was covered in trucks.  We were amazed at the number of people who come here. The taxi driver was commenting he came as a child, but that the festival had gotten so big, and he did not expect there to be so much traffic.

Apparently the tens of thousands of pilgrims visit the church in San Martin de Terreros, and pray for miracles. They leave offerings, light candles, sing and dance.  Typically it’s a one day journey to the town, where they camp outside where there are no bathroom facilities and no food, and then return home the next day.

Legend says San Martin Caballero was an ordinary cowboy on horseback who cut his cape in half and now offers half to whomever prays to him.  Others say half the cape was given to God to cover himself.  He essentially is the Mexican version of Robin Hood, who steals from the rich and gives to the poor, and now has been raised to the level of a saint, at least in the state of Guanajuato.

At present the only miracle I am praying for is to get out of this traffic before the sun goes down. We only have about a day and a half to see Guanajuato and that window of opportunity is getting shorter and shorter.  We have not moved in about ten minutes.  I will certainly chalk this up to a cultural experience. It was an interesting lesson in history and local legend, one that I would have preferred to read about in the comfort of my hotel room in Guanajuato.

Allan poses with Sugar, one of the horses in San Miguel

Eddie and his horse Sugar with Allan in San Miguel

The traffic near San Martin de Terreros. 

Pilgrims travel via horseback, car and bicycle

Packing the back of a truck seems the way to go.

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