|La Divina Pastora, my second ever tweetpic|
I am not a believer, I am an agnostic and as such you need to read this photo essay, making sure that any belief you hold is not offended. And yet, the intensity of the moment with the huge crowds that one has to face can raise troubling feelings, if anything of jealously for not being able to be a believer of anything.
But I digress. I had wanted for years to attend one of these events, the easier for me that I do have relatives in Barquisimeto and I can arrive the day before to dodge the bullet of massive traffic jam on the 14 in the morning. Already I did write about this event in 2004, which by the way was the first time ever that blogger allowed me to post pictures in the blog. It is kind of fitting that 8 years after I post above my second ever twitter picture taken from my berry. Technology advances. But I digress again.
|Lara State stand handing out water and tangerines for free|
The thing is truly impressive and if you ever have the chance to attend do not miss it. It is not that it is particular beatiful (it is not) or spectacular (it is but not in your usual ways), and yet it is something quite unique that can be seen only perhaps at La Guadalupe in Mexico or maybe some Hindu festivals and pilgrimage shrines. The atmosphere, you know.
|Rooftop with tent party|
But if I am at the same time impressed and nonplussed, I cannot fail to observe the crowds, from rich to poor, from black to white, all are walking for hours in perhaps the biggest show of national unity that we can think of (La Chiquinquira and Virgen del Valle are rather local affairs even if well attended, and La Coromoto is simply too far from big cities for any good use). If more than one of you are driving you can make the round trip in the day, thus allowing maybe 2/3 of the Venezuelan population reasonable access, the more so when the 14th falls on a Saturday like this year.
|La Pastora arriving, preceded by crossed penitents|
The arrival of La Pastora becomes of course the big moment wherever it catches you. In the picture in the right you can start to see on the left side the glass canopy and one of the penitent cross (they tend to show off as close from the venerated image as possible). And you can also thus appreciate the density then. Avenida Venezuela where I am standing has 4 central lanes with an island, and two extra islands which separate 2 more slow lanes and the parking areas. All is packed. I am not sure there were really 3 millions as organizer and TV claim, but I have been in enough gigantic marches in Caracas or Washington DC to tell you that this is the biggest one I have ever been and thus the million barrier is amply crossed and I am willing to believe that the 2 million one was also crossed. In my first short clip below I am standing in the isle and filming a panoramic so you can see the flow and the variety of believers walking. That video was at least 45 minutes before La Pastora arrived!
In the crowds of course celebrities are seen. I saw two. The first one was Lara's governor, Henri Falcon, but I was not ready and I could not take a picture (try to run to catch up in such a crowd). One thing I had plenty of time to notice: he was walking with at most a half dozen people, NONE looking like a body guard (though I am sure that a couple of them must have been). The thing is that the governor of Venezuela's 4th state walks the procession in full like anyone else, un-heckled, greeted and even welcomed by anyone in spite of his supposed betrayal of Chavez. People pointed out to me that neither the Barquisimeto mayor nor big chavista wigs dare to pull such stunts these days !!!! Another celebrity that I did catch was Leopoldo Lopez below, carrying on shoulders his daughter, and surrounded by a lot of admirers though also walking without body guards or even a tight group of folks. Another one that has no problem with the crowds.
|Leopoldo Lopez and family (wife is the far white hat, I think)|
But the crowds and the identification of the regime with "security forces" also give a bad taste to the whole thing. Indeed, some form of security is needed as the Madonna circulates least overzealous worshipers make it capsize (she is carried by hand all along the way by people fighting hard to be awarded the honor to carry her a few yards). Thus you see this sorry image a few instants before she crossed in front of where I stood, a see of drab olive green (imposed by our alliance with Cuba, by the way) parting the crowds.
|La Pastora, surrounded by para-military and military.....|
To close this post two little notes. First, one of the streets parallel to Avenida Venezuela. This last one is so crowded that the two parallel streets have a steady flow of folks going to the Cathedral of Barquisimeto (campanile in the horizon). And this picture I took at least one hour before La Pastora passed by a block lower.... note, by the way, the extensive aerial electric network....
|"Local Evangelico" (click to enlarge like for all pictures)|
Correction: ALL Unidad candidates were at Barquisimeto today. On the late news I learned that even Pablo Median made the trek. The only candidates missing were the chavista ones.......