I spent several days out of site a few weeks ago (but only now have an internet connection strong enough to post this update). But thanks to some wonderful friends, I got the opportunity to do one of the most quintessential Paraguayan traditions. I participated in the pilgrimage to Caacupe. Its hard to describe the role the Virgencita de Caacupe plays in the Paraguayan culture. In the space of about a week, around 300,000 people go to Caacupe, cumulating on the 8th of December. The majority of pilgrims walk at least part of the way there. For the rest of the year, Caacupe has a population of only 42,000, and Paraguay itself only has a population of around 6,460,000. So having 300,000 people converge on one spot is phenomenal.
For me, the most fascinating part of the experience was the sensation of walking together with thousands of other people. It’s a fun, celebratory atmosphere. We walked from 9pm to 1am on the night of the 7th. Walking at night has the benefit of avoiding the intense summer heat, and considering we are walking up one of the largest hills in the country, that is important.
Many people come to pray for a miracle, or to give thanks for prayers answered in the past year. But many people (not just Yankees like me), come merely for the experience of participating in a longstanding, uniquely Paraguayan, cultural tradition.
This photo is from a visit to the church last year. During festival de Caacupe, it was much to crowded to get past the courtyard.
I definitely want to do it again next year, and walk maybe two or three times the distance. I’m much to lazy/out of shape to do a marathon (or any sort of running honestly), but I can walk of ages! I’m also thinking about trying to bike it. Anyone want to join me?
The day after walking to Caacupe, I went to the G-31 despideda (goodbye party). I’m G-34, so G-31 was my sister G. They means they were the agriculture and environmental education group that swore in a year before us. When we swore in they had already been here a year. Now that they have sworn out, that means…. I have been in my site for a whole year, and a new Ag and EE group (G-37) has sworn in. We are now the older, more experience G! I didn’t really feel much last year when the old group swore out just as we were swearing in. After all, I hardly knew them. But this year it has been hard saying goodbye to people I have come to respect and gotten to know well. I no longer have wise seasoned Ag volunteers to turn to when I have a question (actually I still have the talented Ag coordinator). It’s the first time that a G has sworn out, and I have really felt the loss. I miss you G-31.