Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Pilgrimage of Death

Every March, the festival in honor of the Holy Virgin of the Rosary gets started in the tiny mountaintop village of Talpa de Allende in Jalisco state. Hundreds of Roman Catholic pilgrims walk to the shrine of Our Lady of Talpa or crowd the aging Dina buses that make the perilous trip down the winding narrow road through the mountains. In 1980, the festival was marked by tragedy, a tragedy that sadly would be repeated throughout the years.

Our Lady of the Rosary is a small figurine made of old maize and corn paste, dating back to the 16th century. Legend has it that one day, the bishop of the nearby town of Mascota ordered the Virgin of Talpa to be sent to the Mascota town church instead of the crumbling basilica in Talpa.

The next morning, the statue of the Virgin of the Rosary was gone. Down the main aisle of the church tiny little foot prints could be seen. Upon inspection at the old church in Talpa it was discovered that the statue was once again on its pedestal at the main altar.

Surely the work of pranksters the Bishop declared. The Indians who lived in the area cried miracle. Once again the statue was taken to Mascota. This time with guards outside the locked doors of the church. Once again, without explanation, the statue would be in Talpa by morning. Talpa is about 20 miles from Mascota and in the 16th century that was a long distance to travel in such few hours.

Every March, a week long festival is held in the village of Talpa de Allende in honor of the virgin. Pilgrims from near and far visit Our Lady at the basilica, the third most visited Roman Catholic shrine in Mexico.

The morning of March 20, 1980, an aging Mexican made Dina bus left Guadalajara packed full of Roman Catholic pilgrims headed for Talpa.

They didnt know they would soon meet their death.

The bus was travelling at high speeds on the curvy, rain slicked road. Right near Cruz de Romero, a sightseeing spot in the mountain, topped with a huge concrete church, the bus driver lost control of the overcrowded bus. The bus smashed into the rock wall on the side of the highway and flipped over, tossing passengers to and fro inside the metallic coffin on wheels. The bus then plunged off the highway into a rocky wooded ravine, falling 600 feet.

Bloody broken bodies, pieced of seat and luggage spilled out all over the ravine and the bus practically disintegrated into a pile of smashed steel. The few motorists on the dangerous road who witnessed the tragic accident quickly notified the Federal Highway Police and authorities in town. Talpa de Allende, being a small isolated village and lacking a proper hospital, phoned in Red Cross ambulances from Mascota and Ameca, 4 hours away.

Paramedics and police upon arrival at the accident in ravine found a gruesome scene. Bloody muddy corpses of men women and children strewn around the rocky ravine. Candles and rosarys, mixed with pictures of the Virgin and bibles littered the ground. 43 persons had died. Another 15 were injured.

Police Commander Jorge Zamudio of the Federal Highway Police via phone interview with local news informed the horrendous accident was due to "excessive speed and lack of precaution in the rain". 43 persons had died in the terrible pilgrimage of death.

Tragically as cranes were being used to lift the bus' wreckage out of the ravine, a big rig carrying watermelons also lost its brakes going down the Cruz de Romero curve. The tractor trailer hit 2 ambulances and a police car, tumbling down the same ravine as the bus, hitting rescue workers and policemen working the first accident. Three were killed, and 2 more required hospitalization.

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