Dia de la Cueva, Guanajuato, Mexico
GUANAJUATO—The Coda and the Ultimate Adventure
Well I really did something amazing for my birthday…Today is the Day of the Cave, a tradition here in Guanajuato that everyone– families, groups of young guys, couples, all kinds of people, but no tourists–climbs up the mountain behind La Presa (the reservoir) and camps and parties all night there with gasoline bucket fires, sometimes tents, sometimes tequila and water. At the base of the mountain women prepare all kinds of food in makeshift tents, Corona has several stands and there’s a huge jumble of people, cars and police–very festive. I was told that there was a midnight mass at the cave, a splendid deep wedge of rock plunging into the side of La Bufa, the name of the steep cliff of rock way above town, a rock they have a myth about, a rock the city floodlights at night.
Well I took a disco nap and was out at 10:30 walking up the Panoramica Carretera, not a light or a car in sight, spooky. Then I came to the path up the mountain and people were everywhere but no lights leading up to the cave–I had this fantasy of a row of sacred candleraria–you know candles in a sand based paper bag?? Forget about it–In front of me was an open face of gravelly rock I’d scrambled up the week before– a challenge then and more so in the dark but I made it, other people nearby making it somehow easier and lessening my fear–you know I’ve never liked heights–So it is near midnight when I arrive at the cave and there are lights there, a loud rumbling generator, venders with food and water and beer but no Midnight Mass…it is to be today at “media dia” not “media noche…” as is often the case I don’t understand everything I read or hear in Spanish!!!!!
So here I am at the cave and rising way above me in glorious perpendicularity is La Bufa, its slanted mesa platform lined with fires and all the paths up and nearby rocks have clusters of people, tents, fires–the place is alive and compelling so, incredibly, I keep walking and come to the narrow, exposed path that rises steeply up to the saddle of the mountain. There in the floodlights young Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, in uniform, are manning the first part of La Bufa, a cliff so exposed that someone has installed a rope for the climb. All those smiling warm faced children beckoned me up so I do start up the steep half of the mountain. I realized that I felt fine, was in good shape–all that training I’ve been doing by walking up to the Pipila daily and disco dancing until 3am a couple of nights a week have stood me in good stead–
But then the way got steeper and there was no rope, light only from small random fires. I looked back and couldn’t imagine how I’d get down even from here. Then two young guys who were gambolling up the mountain like sure footed mountain goats started to take my hands whenever I hesitated at a big step up and somehow the way got easier. I was scrambling up a slope I would never have done in daylight and I too was sure footed. I asked the time–exactly 12:01–my birthday and here I was at midnight on the side of a near cliff–exhilarating.
We kept going and then at last there was an even steeper cliff and with no lights at all; but fortunately there were some natural cuts in the rock so I went all the way, my hands on the rock much of the way but then—astounding, I was on the slanted mesa of La Bufa, below the whole city of GTO spread out all around us, lights in every canyon and far below us. The mesa was sheer cliff on the other three sides and clusters of people were here and there at the summit. Now what? I thought hoping to turn around and go down but the guys had a tent and no intension of helping me back down until dawn–
Oh slick..I wasn’t going down alone in the dark especially down the final cliff-like ascent. They said stay–I could use the tent too-a tarp staked with rocks, the poles tree branches–no blankets– but after a while a bit warmer than on the mesa. I was okay with staying up there until it was light and I knew I was safe–this place doesn’t have any of the dangers US cities have and the guys made no advances whatsoever. I still would have preferred to get down and into my warm bed. But how? About 1am the guys all popped up from their corpse-like prone positions in the “tent” and announced, in Spanish, of course, “It’s not safe for you here any longer.” “Why not” I asked and they said “We want to fight.” Wow! I was in another world, the world of men developing bravery I suppose and not in any controlled and safe way.
By this time many people here on the top of the mesa were getting wasted on tequila and beginning to roar insults from fire to fire. At this point I definitely wanted to leave so I looked around and found a family going back down the mountain. I followed them, sometimes sliding down the sometimes wet rock on my butt, negotiating steep gravelly places, just focused on getting down, no place or time for fear. I was totally wet with sweat after we’d all made it–so much isometric control was needed on the descent. At last I came to the gravel face I’d first climbed and no one was on it and there were no lights–it seemed like the hardest part of the descent of all but of course I made it and then walked the mile of dark road home at 2:45 am–complete silence and not a car on the road–so this was my birthday. How ’bout that?
I thought I’d done ” Dia de la Cueva” last night but no, day break brought new magic—At 10 or so I was awakened by 400 cowboys riding horses by my apartment on their way up to the Midday Mass at the Cave. They had been riding from the train station by the cemetary many miles below, having come from the countryside, a “fraternidad” of campesinos, here to celebrate the Cave and the Virgin and Jesus and Guanajuato. I returned to the now traffic-jammed road and walked up to the Cave, making my way faster on foot than the stopped cars and diesel-spewing buses clogging the road who were all held up by the horses. It was a zoo—no room for pedestrians, really, especially once we were all on the trail up to the cave. But somehow we all made it and were greeted near the cave by fruit venders with artistically presented mountains of watermelon, pineapple and melon, giant vats of oil boiling in readiness to cook fresh potato chips, wheel barrows full of candy, and ice cream and nuts. At the cave a priest led the “Santos” in chanting the Mass while I ate fruit and looked at the impossibly steep mesa I’d climbed at midnight the night before. I felt blessed on this day, my birthday, though thousands of miles from home; I felt like a local by participation and trust of the Scouts and “Angels” on hand last night, a deputy citizen of Guanajuato celebrating this sacred/secular Day of the Cave.
July 31, 2006