Autumn is a very special time in the mountains of Jalisco. The summer rains have washed clean the faces of every leaf and blade of grass in the countryside. Imagine yourself taking a walk along a country road, portable easel, paints and brushes in hand. You might have a water bottle slung over one shoulder and a tuna sandwich in your fanny pack. You could be listening to the birds talking to each other, the crickets calling out or maybe it is your favorite music or guru on the Walkman attached to your belt. If you think you’re surely almost in Heaven, you might be in the hills around Talpa de Allende, Jalisco.
I’m not a botanist or an artist, so I can’t tell you the names of all the wild flowers that are setting the hills ablaze with different shades of yellow, pink, orange and lavender set against the background of a jillion tones of green that we look out upon this time of the year.
Talpa de Allende is a festive town in this autumn setting, and the party gets started on the first Sunday in August after the twelve o’clock mass, when the Virgin of Talpa starts Her Walk. This is not The Big Walk that happens in March, but it is called Her Walk.
Nuestra Señora del Rosario is a twenty-inch wooden figure that has become almost as popular in some parts of Mexico as the Virgin of Guadalupe. She is accredited with her first miracle in September, 1644. Today she roams the country roads for six weeks visiting ranches where she blesses the animals, creeks, cattle watering holes, corn and bean fields, and fruit orchards. She is accompanied by small or large groups of her faithful devotees. The size of her entourage depends on the culinary achievements of the rancher’s wife where she will visit at lunch hour.
An altar is prepared at each ranch house where The Little Short One, as she is affectionately called, will visit. The rancher’s wife brings out her best tablecloth to drape over a table, and decorates it with flowers plucked from her own garden or wild ones gathered in the fields. Candles are placed on the makeshift altar to be lighted when the little figure is placed upon it.
The visitors announce their arrival by shooting rockets into the air as they approach. An adult member of the rancher’s family will usually go out to meet the pilgrims and take the burden of the traveling virgin onto his shoulders for the final steps of the procession to the waiting altar. Normally, there will be one person to lead the prayers offered at each ranch house for that particular day. Once the prayers are finished, the rancher’s wife offers refreshments to the travelers before they hike off to the next ranch down the road for a repeat performance. When dusk falls, individuals in the group stand vigil throughout the night. It is considered a special honor to have the Virgin sleep over at your ranch.
The group changes constantly during this six week trek. Some drop out and others join in, but the routine remains the same until September 10, when the Virgin of Talpa is brought back to the cathedral where she is met by a previously selected group of women. They have the honor of bathing the road dust from the image and dressing it in its new dress.
The tiny dress with an accompanying cape is a sight to behold. The fabric is imported from France and, although it is more or less the same design that has been used for many years, the colors change from year to year, running in the pastel range. The dress and cape are hand-embroidered with silver and gold threads, and encrusted with precious and semi-precious stones at a cost of approximately $40,000 pesos. Families line up each year to participate in the cost of the new apparel. Salvador Aguilar, a young designer in Guadalajara, is responsible for the dresses of several of the Madonna’s images in Mexico.
On special fiesta days honoring the Virgin of Talpa, a carpet of flowers is carefully placed in intricate designs in the main plaza. This is definitely not a haphazard method of strewing flowers for her to “walk” over. Designs are copied from charts onto the sidewalks and areas of the plaza in chalk. Groups are assigned to certain areas and given boxes of flower petals to create the colorful carpet.
There are secrets to all this pageantry that everybody doesn’t know. Nuestra Señora de Rosario, the Little Short One of Talpa has her own Ladies-in-Waiting. Maybe only God and the chief cura know exactly how many replicas of The Authentic One are out there, but don’t be surprised if you run across her in Sedona, Arizona, Seattle, Washington, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico or other parts unknown. La Autentica never gets down from her throne except for four days of the year, and that is to walk around the plaza. Her substitutes do the traveling. In no way does that take anything away from the magic of Talpa de Allende, Jalisco.
The next time The Lady walks will be October 7th. That’s her birthday.
To get to Talpa
From Guadalajara, take the highway toward Ameca. Follow your nose past Atenquillo on to the intersection to Talpa. Take a left and proceed down the long steep mountain to the valley. It is a safe three hour drive.
From Puerto Vallarta, drive on past the airport and take the road to Las Palmas. Before entering Las Palmas, you will see a sign pointing to Talpa. This is a new road, completely paved, and a comfortable two and half hour cruise through forests of incredible foliage and stately pine trees.