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Posts Tagged ‘Día de la Santa Cruz’

Yesterday, I did it again!  After a year’s hiatus, on Día de la Santa Cruz I returned for the ritual pilgrimage to the top of El Picacho, the sacred mountain that watches over Teotitlán del Valle.  To avoid hiking in the worst of May’s high temperatures, our ascent began at 5:30 in the morning.  Yes, it was dark, with not even moonlight to guide our way.  Thank goodness for the flashlight app on my smart phone.  However, by 6:30 AM dawn was breaking and our artificial lights were extinguished.  Our hardy band arrived at the summit about 7:30 AM to the ritual round of handshaking that accompanies greetings and farewells in the village.

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The three crosses mark the summit

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Pilgrims perched on the rocky outcroppings that make up the peak.

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The views were spectacular no matter which way one chose to look.

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An altar greeted pilgrims at the peak.

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At 8:30 AM, an hour-long mass was celebrated and, perhaps a first, some of it was in Zapoteco.

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As the mass began, the cicadas (cigarras or chicharras, en español) began their song — one even perched on the fabric swag festooning the crosses.

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Mass over, Procopio Contreras, the young priest (first from Teotitlán) took off his vestments and posed for photos.

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Mountain top delivery of tamales de mole amarillo followed the mass.

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Along with a cup of agua de jamaica, we took our tamales into the shade, where bromeliads clung to tree branches.

After a lazy comida filled with conversation between new friends and with our strength renewed, we (3 Teotitecos, 1 Belgian, and me) descended the mountain.

While the day may be designated Día de la Santa Cruz and a mass said on top of Picacho, this day has pre-Hispanic roots in ceremonies related to the sowing season.  In the early days of May (by our calendar), prayers and rituals were dedicated to Cosijo, the Zapotec god of lightening, thunder, and rain — later to Tláloc, the Aztec god of rain — thus fertility and water for the growing of crops.  Hmmm…  On May 2, lightening flashed and thunder roared, but Mother Nature only delivered a few drops in the village.  However, on May 3, once the daylong festivities atop the mountain concluded, three hours of a good hard rain fell in Teotitlán del Valle.  The gods must have heard the prayers.

h/t  Zeferino Mendoza

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This morning, I awoke to the familiar, if startling, sounds of cohetes (rockets).  Oh right, it’s Día de la Santa Cruz (Day of the Holy Cross).  Alas, no pilgrimage hike up Cerro Picacho for us this year; we are still in recovery from our island adventure AND, more importantly, even at 7:30 AM, it is too darn hot!  Have I mentioned Oaxaca has been experiencing 90º – 96º F temperatures for the past month?  That’s 10º F above average.  Exhausting it is and sweltering we are.

However, before the sun was directly overhead, I returned to Benito Juárez mercado hoping my coffee guy would be there.  He wasn’t, but many of the stalls had beautifully decorated alters, fragrant with the sweet scent of flor de mayo (plumeria) blossoms.

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In Mexico, it is also Día del Albañil, the feast day of the stonemason/bricklayer/builder because, according to this article (en español):

Before the Conquest, the indigenous Mesoamerican related to the cross with the cardinal directions of the Indian cosmography north, south, east, west and central graphically formed the cross.

With the arrival of the Spaniards, this evocation was eradicated and replaced by religious symbolism of the Holy Cross.

Since then the celebration of this feast with the construction of houses, churches, monasteries, and other buildings with Indian labor was established.

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However, Sebastián and Leonardo continued working on my new counter.  And, yes, there will be tile!

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The sunburned shoulders have turned brown and the leg muscles are no longer sore.  I’ve fully recovered from last Sunday’s annual Día de la Santa Cruz (Day of the Holy Cross) hike up Cerro Picacho (in zapoteco, Quie Guia Betz), the sacred mountain in Teotitlán del Valle.

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All that remains, are memories and photographs from another lovely, if strenuous, day.  The cicadas (cigarras or chicharras, en español) again provided the  soundtrack, as we wound our way up the trail from the presa (dam).  The climb begins rather benignly but rapidly gets steeper and steeper.  That little speck in the lower right of the photo below is the car — and this was less than a tenth of the way to the summit!

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At 10 AM, when we began our ascent, it was already hot and experience told us shade trees were few and far between.  We were the only extranjeros (foreigners) on the trail and were frequently passed by Teotitecos (people from Teotitlán) going up and coming down and never failing to greet us with “buenos días.”  After several rest and water sipping breaks, we eventually reached our destination.

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This 2.9 mile (4.7 km) hike took us from 5,750 feet (1,752 meters) to 6,830 feet (2,082 meters).  However, once we arrived, we were immediately offered much-needed and appreciated cups of agua de jamaica (hibiscus water) and later we were fed amarillo tamales pulled from steaming pots in the makeshift kitchen.  No doubt, the gals in this alfresco cocina appreciated the newly constructed shade structure and counter that had been bolted into the side of the mountain, as I’m sure did the young man who sat down to serenade us.

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However, the best was yet to come — the spectacular views of the village and the mountains beyond that unfold when one reaches the summit.

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Even more overwhelming is the sense of oneness with the natural world and with generations of Zapotecos who have been climbing and honoring El Picacho for thousands of years.

P1090266As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, May 3 is Día de la Santa Cruz.  The committee members who organize Teotitlán’s celebration change from year to year, so each year takes on a slightly different character.  This year brought the newly built kitchen space and, unlike last year, no foot race up the mountain and the absence of massive speakers blasting music — for which we were grateful!

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Three permanent crosses can be found atop Picacho and for Día de la Santa Cruz, all were decorated with fragrant garlands of frangipani blossoms.  A cross of concrete and stone crowns an altar and two wooden crosses, which I’ve been told were carved in Chiapas, preside above the altar and look out over the valley.

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Teotitlán (Teocaltitlán, in náhuatl) means “land of the gods.”  Sitting on top of Cerro Picacho, it certainly felt as if I was indeed gazing out at the land of the gods.

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Yesterday, we returned to Teotitlán del Valle to join in their annual Día de la Santa Cruz hike up El Picacho, the sacred mountain that watches over this incredibly special pueblo.  This year, instead taking the route up the mountain directly from downtown like we did last year (and it kicked our a$$), we drove to the presa (dam) and headed up a surprisingly well-marked trail from there.  A symphony of cicadas (cigarras or chicharras, en español), serenaded us as we climbed, young people passed us, and Templo de la Preciosa Sangre de Cristo, off in the distance, got smaller.  However, after more than an hour, we sighted our first pack burro (they bring up the food and drink) and knew we had almost reached our destination.

We were welcomed at the top by the family hosting the gathering and given cups of agua de jamaica — just what the doctor ordered!  There were even more people than last year, music blared from large speakers the aforementioned burros must have carried up the mountain, a new cross had replaced the one that had been hit by lightning last year, and, of course, the views were breathtaking.

But, with spectacular views in all directions, why was most everyone looking down toward the road from the village to the presa?

A foot race!  From what we could understand, there were 3 classes of runners; one that ran all the way from mercado in the center of Teotitlán and other two “only” ran up from the presa.  Whichever route they took, as one of the runner’s t-shirt says, they were all “chingon!”

And so was this gal, who was on her way up as we were coming down.

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Muchisimas gracias, yet again, to the people of Teotitlán del Valle for another unforgettable experience.

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Basketball is big in Oaxaca and  was big news to me!

In Teotitlán del Valle, located in the valley Oaxaca, there is a tradition of climbing El Picacho on Día de la Santa Cruz (May 3).  I’d also heard celebrations also included an annual basketball tournament.  Sure enough, the sound of a play-by-play announcer, ref’s whistle, and buzzer occasionally floated up to our perch on the top of the mountain.  When we descended El Picacho via a different route, we came to a basketball court a few blocks from the village center, and an intense game in progress, with other teams waiting in the wings — in this case, the road!

Basketball game with mountain in background

Eight days later, we drove up into the Mixe in Oaxaca’s Sierre Norte for the Fiesta de Mayo in Santa María Tlahuitoltepec.  Once there, we were directed to a basketball court (did we hear correctly?) at the center of town — the mercado off to one side; church on another side; municipal buildings off to another.  We had expected folkloric dancers or ceremonial presentations, but were surprised to find a basketball tournament in progress.  It eventually ended and the expected dancing began.

Partially covered basket ball court.

According to Hoop Dreams in Oaxaca:

Any proper town in Latin America has a church facing a plaza — except the towns of the Sierra Norte region of Mexico, where Jorge Santiago is from.

“In my part of the Sierra, the basketball courts are like the zócalo in the colonial city,” Mr. Santiago said, using a Mexican word for “plaza.” “It’s really the most important part of the town. A respectable town has a church, and a basketball court in front of the church.”

Read full article HERE.

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Yesterday (May 3) was Día de la Santa Cruz and in Mexico it is the feast day of construction workers.  Crosses are erected on building sites and decorated.  The tradition has its origins with the guilds during the colonial era.

However, in Teotitlán del Valle, tradition calls for hiking up to the top of El Picacho.  A tall aqua colored wooden cross stands at the top of the peak.

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There were two crosses, but apparently one was hit by lightning a week or two ago.  It lies in splintered pieces below where it stood.

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Mountain and custom beckoned, and so we headed out to Teotitlán yesterday morning to climb the mountain.  The trek began and our eyes were on the prize as we passed by irrigated fields…

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Along the steep and winding trail, there were signs…

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in Zapoteco.

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Bromeliads and other epiphytes clung to branches.

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All along the way, the views were spectacular.

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As we climbed, grew smaller and smaller.

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And, our destination grew closer and closer.

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Almost two hours later (we stopped a lot!), we encountered the tethered burros that brought the tamales, aguas, and cervesas that awaited us at the top.

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Besides sustenance, there were fireworks…

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and expansive and even more spectacular views.

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There were parents, teens, toddlers, abuelos…

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and abuelas.

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Muchisimas gracias to the people of Teotitlán del Valle, who never fail to warmly welcome us and, again, generously offered us food and drink.

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They are very special people who live in a very special place.

FYI:  The trip down took less than an hour, I returned home exhausted, sore, sunburned (even though I’d slathered on sunscreen), and thoroughly exhilarated.

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