Adventures

Juquila, Oaxaca
An Unexpected Pilgrimage
La Virgen de Juquila

Photographs and Text by John Todd, Jr.

Authorīs Note:
The trip began as a short cut to Pinotepa Nacional, Oaxaca and became an unforgettable, almost mystical experience that has changed my life.

Map
The Different Routes to Pinotepa Nacional
A Mysterious Flyer
In September, a few years ago, I had completed a two-year construction project and knew it would be several months until the next project started.

Some friends helped me find a small house in Veracruz and I made myself at home.

Itīs the kind of neighborhood where you sometimes find weekly grocery ads and maybe religious flyers left on your front porch.

One day I noticed a roughly typed single sheet of paper bearing the title: "The Virgen of Juquila (pronounced: "who-keela") is Miraculous".

There was a story about a man deeply in debt who prayed to the Virgen for money, and his problems were solved. Another story was about a lady who prayed to the Virgin for the return of her husband, and he returned.

After taking the groceries inside the house, I began to wonder about the Virgen of Juquila. I was familiar with the Virgen de Guadalupe, but I didnīt know about the Virgen de Juquila.

Peaceful Sola de Vega
A Trip to Pinotepa Nacional
The next day, some friends began talking about going to Pinotepa Nacional, Oaxaca to celebrate an anniversary.

That evening we sat down with a map to look for the best way to get there.

One way went through Tehuacan, Puebla but after Huajuapan de Leon, and Juxtlahuaca, itīs a long, rough, but scenic road down to the Pacific coast.

An easier drive, we hoped, would be the toll road from Veracruz to Oaxaca. From there we would cross the mountains to Puerto Escondido, on the coast.

I had heard the tough part of the drive would be from Oaxaca to Puerto Escondido, yet this to be the least uncomfortable route.

We decided this would be our best choice.

Fresh Tortillas over a Wood Fire
Lunch in Sola de Vega
We left Veracruz early in the morning and the trip along the 4 lane freeway to Oaxaca was uneventful. About mid-afternoon, we took the exit ramp into Oaxaca.

By that time, we were hungry and needed to find something to eat.

We took the highway south towards Puerto Escondido, hoping for a small town restaurant where the food was authentically Oaxacan.

An hour or so later, we stopped at the little town of Sola de Vega and enjoyed a hardy lunch of tasajo(a local name for a thin delicious marinated steak).

In other parts of Mexico, this is called cecina and has meat, along with guacamole, and lots of fresh hand made tortillas.

A Village Through the Rain
Lost in the Dark
We left Sola de Vega around 5 p.m. It looked like we would reach Puerto Escondido in about three hours.

As we drove into the mountains outside of Oaxaca, we were slowed down by the repair of small bridges, and short muddy detours that slowed us down.

Before long, it started getting dark and we were found ourselves driving in a heavy fog.

Usually you find a lot of slow trucks and a heavy stream of traffic on the federal highways.

As we drove through the mountains, we began to notice a lack of traffic and trucks. There werenīt many road signs now.

Climbing into the Fog
It Had Been My Idea
The deeper we climbed into the mountains, the thicker the fog became and the air was colder.

We dodged several cows wandering casually across the highway.

I now thought maybe we had taken a wrong turn and were lost.

The rest of the guys in the car were silent.

I figured they were thinking the same thing, but didn't want to upset anybody by talking about the possibility that maybe we were lost.

Lost in the Clouds
Taking this route had been my suggestion.

The Clouds Close In
Suddenly, we found ourselves passing what looked like a construction or a mining camp.

The little houses were covered with tarps and we saw very few people walking around in the fog.

Soon after passing through the camp, we spotted a town sign, "Cerro de Vidrio".

At last! Civilization!

A Pemex gas station sitting at a cross roads materialized in the fog like a developing photograph.

A narrow road leading to the right was marked with a sign that said, "To Juquila", but the sign didnīt say how far it was. I wondered if it could be the same Juquila from the flyer on my front porch.

A Narrow Road
There were a couple of little food joints near the crossroads. Then we saw a pickup truck on the corner with about 10 uniformed policemen huddled in the cold and dampness of the night.

We stopped and asked the policemen for directions.

"Yes", they said, "your are on the right road to Puerto Escondido."

"Perhaps you might reach Puerto Escondido in another two or three hours," the policeman said,

"No, the roads aren’t any better", said the policeman.

Last year the area around here was hit hard by the hurricane that hit Acapulco and later there were two earthquakes. The roads are still being repaired.

He went on to tell us that no, the road did get any better. The year before, the area had been hit hard by the hurricane that hit Acapulco.

The hurricane damage was further made worse by two earthquakes. Under these circumstances, I realized road repair can become a lifetime occupation.

The Road to Juquila
"Well, the road off to the right goes to Juquila, seņor," the policeman said.

I wondered if he meant the miraculous Virgen de Juquila? Could this be the home of the same Virgen I read about on the flyer I found on my doorstep just a couple of days earlier?

"Yes, seņor, this is where the shrine of the Virgen de Juquila is."

He went on to tell us that the trip would be about 30 kms. About an hour's drive, if the roads are passable. We could expect the same conditions as the roads we had just travelled.

Then, he delivered good news.

"Yes," he said, "they have hotels, with hot water, too, seņor."

Juquila Early in the Morning
Juquila
We were exhausted by the time we reached the little village.

It seemed like a small piece of heaven named Juquila. None of us are very religious.

We cared more about finding a warm bed for the night. Any bed would do.

It had to be better than the miserable trip we had just endured.

We drove slowly through the fog into the muddy streets of Santa Catarina Juquila looking for a hotel.

Soon we found a couple of third class hotels, all with fancy names.
In Front of the Camino Real
El Hotel Camino Real
We chose the Hotel Camino Real. It was probably named after the swank Mexico City hotel.

The Hotel Camino Real was a family affair, and the lobby was the family living room.

The small official looking registration desk was off to one side. Everyone in the "lobby" looked peaceful.

A middle aged seņora got up from her easy chair to sign us in.

Each room was double occupancy, and the cost was $165 pesos, about $17 dollars for two.
Starting out the day

And each room had it's own bath. And there was hot water. Not bad, we agreed.

Sleep came easily that night.

Up Early
Around 5AM, a horse whinny outside our window and an answering hee-hawing donkey awoke us.

Crowing roosters, hen cackling, and the cheep cheep cheeps of their little ones dragged the sun from its bed and officially started the day.

The dull ring of a church bell summoned people to early mass.

Lady with Flowers
School children chatted in little groups as they walked past our hotel window on their way to school.

With all the noise going on outside we realized it was impossible to sleep any longer.

As we got up, we talked about how much the people here must appreciate their animals and little children, especially their flowers.

Juquila City
The narrow streets and peaceful people we met make Juquila a typical mountain Mexican village.
Ladies with Flowers
The faces of the Juquileņos reflect their Indian heritage.

We did not see the colorful clothing found in other parts of Mexico and Guatemala.

It seemed like all the women wear a typical rebozo, or long shawl, which is good for the evening chill and is used for carrying every thing from babies to the morning groceries.

The other common item we spotted are the buckets the women use to carry freshly prepared dough for tortillas.

It was time for breakfast for us, too, so we packed up and got ready to check out and continue our trip in the crisp cool mountain air.

La Virgen Grants One Wish
While checking out of the hotel, I asked the seņora at the front desk if it was true about the Virgen of Juquila being miraculous.

She gave me a serious look, and said, "Sí, seņor. She grants one wish."

Have you ever made a wish to the Virgen?

"Yes, seņor, I made a wish and it was granted."

"Since you have come so far, even if you don't believe, it is worth your time to visit the shrine. "

"You need to go," she added with a certain urgency.

A Shrine of Supplication or Thanksgiving
Even though it was early in the morning, we decided 10 minutes or so spent with the Virgen would be worthwhile.

We got directions from the lady and drove through the winding streets looking for the cathedral.

La Virgen de Juquila
I wasnīt sure what to expect, but we found a parking place and walked into the quiet church.

Despite the darkness inside the church, a few Indian women quietly arranged a multitude of flowers. A few other people sat on the hard wooden pews or kneeled in prayer.

This was not a day of celebration that any of us could recall, but it seemed like there were flowers everywhere.

The Magnificent 16th Century Church of the Virgen of Juquila

Inside the Church
The Wealth of Juquila
In many of poorest of the churches in Mexico, you can almost always find a wealth of gold and silver leaf decorating everything from the statuary to the walls.

In this 16th century church in far away Oaxaca, flowers had replaced the coatings of gold and silver.

The mass of flowers somehow seemed more precious than the gold and silver, perhaps reminding one of the temporary nature of one's own life and wealth.

A small statue of the Virgen of Juquila stood above the altar amidst the field of flowers, slightly illuminated by an unseen light in the background.

La Virgen de Juquila
One Wish
We had come to make our wish, and now we sat in separate pews gazing at the statue and the beautiful flowers.

What does do you wish when you have only one wish to make?

Although the church was dark it kind of added to the peaceful atmosphere.

What should I ask for?

I had just finished the large project and had money, so I didn't need to ask for money.

I was happy and single and didn't need to ask for a girlfriend.

La Virgen de Juquila
I Seemed to Have Everything
I had a small house, a cottage really, but I was happy with that.

I had a lot of friends and was not lonely.And I was healthy. So, what should I wish?

I found myself concerned that my wish would be solemn and serious, if only out of respect for the Virgen and this holy place.

You might believe that one should not share the one wish. Perhaps telling you about my wish will invalidate it.

We had received no warnings from the people that such would be the case.

So, I will tell you that I wished.

Almost without thinking about it, I wished that the Virgen would continue to show me the way to continue with the same good fortune I now enjoyed.

It was that easy.

Relics

Market Scene
The Market
After making our wishes, we visited the market next door to the church. There we found aisles and aisles of religious relics.

One friend bought a big portrait of the Virgen. Another picked up several post cards.

I bought 3 rosaries. I wanted to hang one from the rear view mirror of my car for protection.

Perhaps would-be thieves seeing the Juquila rosary hanging from the mirror would believe it was just another local car and not that of a "wealthy" American tourist.

With this kind of protection, I hoped they wouldnīt think about breaking into my car.

Yet I couldnīt forget about the coincidental appearance of the piece of paper on my porch only a few days ago.

How could I explain that a week ago, I didnīt know who the Virgen de Juquila was, and now I was at the shrine making my wish?

Sometimes thatīs the way it is in Mexico.

La Plaza
La Plaza
We took a walk across the big wide area in front of the church as the people set up their wares for sale.

I noticed a family selling little fruit and items of clothing. The man on the right has his 2 small bundles of garlic for sale.

To the right of the older woman are some flowers, probably in memory of another family member who used to occupy the same spot on market day.

Itīs one of those situations in Mexico where you will never know the reason why.
Old man selling garlic
Flowers on the left for the one who is absent

Back at the Crossroads
Time to Leave
It was time to go. Back across the plaza to look for the car and head for Puerto Escondido.

We had come to Juquila quite by chance, and thoughts of the flyer on my front porch were still in my mind.

Breakfast in Cerro de Vidrio
We decided to stop for a late breakfast at one of the little stands back at the main highway junction in Cerro de Vidrio.

It was hard to believe that weīd stopped there the night before in the menacing fog. It seemed like a long time ago.

Breakfast with Black Beans
A Breakfast Smile

Dirt Road Back to Cerro de Vidrio
Bad Roads in the Daytime
Bad roads travelled at night are a lot less menacing in daylight.

On our return trip, we were amazed to see the countryside we had traversed through the fog the night before.

Then we started our drive out of the mountains towards Puerto Escondido.

The Road to Puerto Escondido
Despite the road repair work, the scenery was spectacular. There were small Indian villages nestled in lush green valleys.

Waterfall on the way to Puerto Escondido
A waterfall at the side of the road enticed us to pause and enjoy the cool water.

We were refreshed. The daytime the drive from the cool of the mountains down to the tropical coast passed quickly.

After lunch in Puerto Escondido and finding our friends in Pinotepa Nacional, we drove back to Veracruz through Huajuapan de Leon and Tehuacan.

The drive was not easy, but at least the road was paved and there was no fog.

"Bless My Road"
A Roadside Chapel near Orizaba
Roadside Shrines
Nearly every day I began to notice bumper stickers on the pickup trucks driven by campesinos that read, "Un regalo de Juquila" (A gift from Juquila), or "Regalo de Dios".

More frequently, I see small roadside shrines to "Juquilita", as she is sometimes called.

Then, I noticed the portrait of her white statue in the market stalls here in Veracruz.

Suddenly, it seems the Virgen is everywhere. I guess there are more former Oaxacans in Veracruz than anyone would have suspected.

I have spoken with a number of people who have visited Juquila to make their wish of the Virgen.

Two Gifts From Juquilita
A Gift from "Juquilita"
I ask the people in the markets about their statues, or when I meet someone from Oaxaca, I ask them about their own personal miracle.It seems like everyone has had a miracle granted at one time or another.

As people share their own personal stories with me, I feel a sense of solidarity about knowing about the one wish. And, it that all started, coincidentally, with a flyer someone tossed on my front porch.

And as for my own wish, I donīt know if it is also coming true or not. I donīt have everything I want, but I do have everything I need, life, health, and happiness.

Juquila Road Update
Time has passed and the other day I was talking to one of the bus drivers on a tour guide job. I asked him if he ever takes people to Juquila, Oaxaca.

"Sure, all the time", he replied. "We get especially busy around December 8 which is the Day of the Virgen de Juquila."

I asked him if the roads were the roads still bad and tell him about my trip. He said that was several years ago when they had to take the route through Puerto Escondido. Now the road from Oaxaca has been repaired, and itīs an easy drive, at least for the roads of Oaxaca.

People have asked me if there is a Devotional for the Virgen de Oaxaca. Here is the Spanish Version: Devotional to the Virgen de Oaxaca. I am still working on an English translation.

Although I was told She grants you one wish, I see from the devotional that there are 3 wishes. I donīt know. Iīm still checking it out.

>>> Oración a la Virgen de Juquila