Try This Road

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Looking for the Lord of Good Death: How I took Part in Holy Pilgrimage

It’s 3 in the morning and I’m sitting in front of Carlos, a professional electrician and plumber, also known as an amateur healer and a Santeria devotee among folks from his barrio. I met him two weeks ago at the festival of Holy Death in Tepito; since then shit was only getting weirder. The Holy Death, Santa Muerte, it’s adherents, awkward situations and dodgy places became part of my everyday routine. So when I got an invitation to go on a pilgrimage to the Lord of Good Death (El Señor de Buena Muerte) to a town called Chalma with Carlos and his friends, it sounded fine to me. It seemed like everything warned me that the Lord of Good Death was looking forward to seeing me: we agreed on getting together next to the metro station Barranca del Muerto (Canyon of the Dead) at midnight on 13th of April.

The plan was to depart from the meeting point at 5am by bus that would take us to Ajusco Hill, and from there we were supposed to start our 54km walking pilgrimage to Chalma.

Carlos is tipsy. He really wants to talk, he wants to share with me every moment of his life until the day he met me in Tepito. While the only thing I’m interested in is to know how I’m going to walk that distance without even taking a half an hour nap. Carlos wants to cure people, he is sure he has enough mental power, he feels it in his hands. Carlos used to live on the streets when he was a kid, he became a member of MS-13 gang at the age of 16. I swallow hard. From a little I read about the whole Mara Salvatrucha thing, I learnt that to enter it you have to kill a rival from MS-18 gang.

I observe Carlos closely: he is tan and skinny, his hands are covered with tattoos, because of dark circles under his eyes his gaze looks deeper and sadder. Could he have killed anyone? Very possible. Do I really want to know this? Not at all.

I asked about the Lord of Good Death instead. Who is this guy? Is he real handy in finding dignified ways to die? El señor turned out to be one of the interpretations of Jesus who for some reasons, gained respect and admiration of local cholos. One of them, Enrique, just has appeared at the door. He is the goofiest and less Mexican looking Mexican I’ve met in my life: he is blond, blue-eyed, talks fast putting very little sense in his words. He runs from one corner to another circulating his nervous energy around the room. He tells the story of how three of them,  Carlos, their spiritual guide Gerardo and him, got attacked by assholes with fire guns on their way to Chalma a couple of years ago. They had to give gangsters everything down to their t-shirts and shoes. Enrique with terror in his eyes remembers how the guys even wanted to rape him: “They asked me if I knew how to fuck”. According to Carlos, the only thing that saved all of them was Santa Muerte tattoos on his body, for the reason that the bandits were Santa Muerte adherents as well.
All these exciting stories make the night slip away: at 5 we are leaving the house to join with the rest of the group. I see families with little kids, people with dogs, elderly men and also guys who have already started drinking tequila and smoking joints. In the bus I sit next to a dude nicknamed Louse (Piojo), he tells me he works for Lucha Libre and knows everyone there – I should write an article about it. I answer ok and immediately fall asleep.
Louse squeezes himself through the seat trying not to wake me up. The rays of the rising sun glance in the windows of the bus. We have arrived.

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After six hours walk by midday we finally halt, and then I realize that everyone surrounding me is dead drunk and drugged: apart from alcohol and weed, most of them were inhaling so called mona, an active solvent, on the way. Carlos hands me a sandwich with beans, but when I’m about to bite into it, somebody starts vomiting nearby me. Beautiful pine forest, birds singing, wildflower meadow, it all disappears, gets swollen by the scenery of these restless pilgrims, carriers of holy faith. If they failed to find a dignified way to live, well, at least may they be noble at death.

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Now they are done with the moveable feast and ready to move on. The meadow is blossoming with plastic glasses, bags and bottles, everything is covered with garbage. And these little cute Catholic families are leaving without picking up their shit, too. I’m getting real pissed off: “Who is gonna clean up after you, guys, the Lord of Good Death?”, I look at them and receive a slushy mumbling in answer. Fuck this. These pathetic believers who know everything about god, death, saints, spirits, UFO, magic, myths and legends; they are ready to believe in any bullshit they are being told, except, maybe, climate change. I walk away leaving them behind. I’m indeed pathetic, too, a little hippie foreigner who thinks of changing minds and waking up consciousness of those, whose only desire is to fall into oblivion. I guess sleepless night was due in no small part to existential sensibility, because I start crying thinking of how fucked up humanity is, and that none of us deserves this planet, and that it’s actually a good news that Trump and Putin are in power, and there is such a thing as North Korea existing in the world, and we all die soon, and that would be a huge relief for everyone  and…and. Then I felt better.

Processed with VSCO with b5 presetProcessed with VSCO with f2 presetProcessed with VSCO with f2 presetProcessed with VSCO with b1 presetProcessed with VSCO with g3 presetMountain weather changes quickly: after the sun it comes the storm with rain and hail; wind and cold make the adventure a bit less pleasurable. If the first 7 hours of walk was plain, now we have to climb the mountain for about three hours and go downhill setting feet on slippery mud for the next 5 hours until our knees get crooked. Carlos stops every ten minutes because of the heavy cross he carries as a part of his mission. After 13 hours I feel like I’m pushed to the limit, I can stand no more.  A woman in the group tells me that my faith should give me strengths. I’d like to share with her what exactly Zarathustra spoke about, but realize that God has never died in this part of the world. So just shut up and walk.

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Piojo reaches me complaining that he is footsore. We lost the head of expedition, their spiritual guide Gerardo, who was left behind because he is old and walks too slow. The rest of the group is getting soberer and sadder. We take a break in a small town, I tell Carlos I’m gonna take a bus or a taxi to Chalma, he smiles at me. You won’t find anything, it’s too late. I feel like crying. Then Carlos hands me a bag of candies saying it’s for kids we are about to meet on the way. I don’t see any kids, so I start tasting candies. Feeling better again.
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It’s only three hours walk until Santa Marta, a place where Gerardo rent a place to sleep for all of us. Friend of Carlos offers him to try crystal meth from Germany. Germany, really? The way these guys are destroying themselves is pretty impressive. Finally kids appear, they stand with shovels under the rain looking creepy. I give them some candies from the bag and run away. Later on I figure it was a tradition: those kids and families served as guides, carriers of good luck on the way. However, the shovels do look like a warning sign of what possibly may happen to you if you don’t share candies with these attendants.  

By 1am we have finally reached Santa Marta. There is nothing in the world that I love more than this tiled floor I have to sleep on.

At 6 in the morning we are supposed to continue our walk: today is going to be only 6 hours and everything promises to be excellent, but the day starts with drama. The spiritual guide has never arrived, Enrique whose only duty was to convoy the old man, lost him on the way, so nobody really knows what happened to him. Taking into account the slippery roads that he to had walk at night all alone, it gets pretty clear that anything could happen. In two hours we finally find out that he is safe, sound and real pissed off. For some reasons, we decide not to wait for him again.

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The ultimate part of our journey is touristy, nothing like yesterday, we are not going into the wild anymore. The weather is hot, sun burns our shoulders, however I find something delightful during this walk as well: the decoration part and merchandise they sell around are absolutely sick. Believers also get more style: there is a Lana Del Rey version of young Catholics, or devotees that seem to come out of a medieval painting:

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By midday we arrive to Chalma. The first thing I do is to elbow my way to a 5 pesos ice cream spot and potential diabetes. 2cm are maximum of private space you can get here in Chalma. The town is groovy: it goes up and down, it has a river everyone swims in and very unusual looking open public swimming pools that smell like an organic soup made of whatever a human body produces. A colonial church is indeed a highlight of Chalma, it does look pretty decent.

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Carlos asks me why I don’t want to stay with them until Sunday. They are going to eat some fish and go to the swimming pool. He says I’m gonna miss all the fun. I know I’m. Carlos feels like we are going to become real good friends. He says I came to his life for a reason. My mission is to make him read again. No, Carlos, I reply, I’m not gonna do this. Most likely we won’t see each other ever again. I have walked 54km to see the Lord of Good Death, and my only mission since now on, Carlos, is to die with style.


“Style is the answer to everything.
A fresh way to approach a dull or dangerous thing…

When Hemingway put his brains to the wall with a shotgun,

that was style.”

I wave goodbye to everyone and head for the bus station.


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