“If you are going by bicycle to Puerto Escondido today then you will meet many fellow cyclists” says the receptionist at my hotel. I’m a little surprised to hear that comment as I have so far only met a handful of cyclists when cycling from Mexico City to Oaxaca and the mountain road from Oaxaca to Puerto Escondido is not a very used road from what I understand. But I soon learn that the annual pilgrimage to Juquila is on it’s way and these days most of the mexican pilgrims do that 2×200 kilometer trip by bicycle.
Why do the cycling mexican pilgrims go to Juquila?
In Juquila they have a little statue of virgin Mary from the 16th century that is one of the most important virgins in the catholic church in Mexico and once a year, in december, thousands of pilgrims travel to see the virgin of Juquila and bring home religious relics they buy next to the church where the virgin statue is located.
It’s almost like Tour de France.
As soon as I get off the big road and head up the hills I see what the receptionist was talking about. Hundreds, if not thousands of cyclists are passing me in the opposite direction as they have already been to the church where the virgin is, two days earlier and they are now on their way home. It’s like the Tour de France with support cars and large groups of cyclists together, but these cyclists are not in fancy outfits and not driving expensive bicycles, but ordinary mexican village folks on old rusty bikes that they have driven 200 kilometers up the mountain with and they are now on their way back home.
200 kilometers there and 200 kilometers back is very impressive when you consider that most guys use really old rusty bicycles and most of them are clealy not used to long distance cycling.
It’s a party and I am welcome as a visiting foreigner.
The atmosphere is really nice along the road and groups of cyclists are often sitting by the side of the road, eating and drinking and I am often invited to sit down with them. This is really a trip that everyone takes part in and I see both very educated guys who speak fluent english and tells me a lot about this part of Mexico and I also speak spanish to some pretty rough guys, who I am not sure are the most clean cut guys in town, but they are on the annual pilgrimage and that turns pickpockets and prostitutes in to alter boys for the weekend.
The cycling pilgrims are almost entirely men by the way. If girls take part then they mostly do it by running part of the way with something that resembles an olympic torch that they take turns on carrying. That is also a show in itself to watch.
No problems with accommodation along the way.
Only thing that worried me when I saw all these cyclists on the road, were that the very few hotels there were on that road might be full, because of all the pilgrims, but I learned that most pilgrims can not afford hotels and stay in churches along the way or in private houses where people give them shelter, or they simply sleep under open air. I had no problems at all finding hotel rooms for the two nights it took me to cycle from Oaxaca to Puerto Escondido.
The cycling mexican pilgrims rock.