Two friends walk, one covered in tattoos on his neck and hands. A family walks, wearing matching T-shirts commemorating a dear, lost relative. A man walks, carrying a large cross made out of wood, PVC and foil over his shoulder. Two girls walk, holding crosses of clothespins at their hearts. A young man walks, his steps contorted by a muscular disease.
First two, then four, then scores are walking on the highway shoulder. Past tables of free water and oranges and chili pork rinds. Past makeshift altars and past cheaply framed prints of Jesus and past solitary outhouses with long lines. They walk for miles. It is Good Friday.
The New Mexico sky is big, dotted with clouds. Snow covers distant peaks. We have a new nephew in California. We drive slowly past those making the arduous pilgrimage of ten or twenty or more miles. It is emotional for both of us.
Our car inches along the last three miles as we descend into the canyon that opens to Chimayó. We can’t park on the highway, but I spy a spot in the dirt, tucked between big blue collar trucks. We abandon the car, walk the remaining mile and a half into town.
We walk with pilgrims. The atmosphere is festive, familial, determined. El Santuario de Chimayó is a sacred destination and a touristic circus.
We meet CK and Susan for lunch on the patio at Rancho de Chimayó, then the four of us plus doggie walk into the heart of the town. We take photos, take in the crowd, take in the festivities, take in the warming desert sun.
AliSun and I enter the Santo Niño Chapel, an altar covered with the photos and baby shoes of children taken from their parents far too young.
We will likely return to Chimayó en route to Taos later this month. The pilgrims will have returned to their lives, closer to God and their families for the experience.