Santa Catarina Juquila
Much of the life in the Chatino mountain town of Juquila (hoo-KEE-lah, pop. 25,000) revolves around its renowned patron, the Virgin of Juquila, the object of adoration for multitudes who begin converging on the town around the first of December.
The reason for all the hubbub is a small, frail figurine scarcely more than a foot tall, which was donated to Juquila by a priest, Father Jordán de Santa Catalina, of the neighboring town of Amialtepec, in 1713. Father Jordán feared that the image, which was already locally adored, deserved a more secure home than his rude jacal. The figurine resides at the Sanctuario de Nuestra Señora de Juquila.
The love the faithful show for the Virgin of Juquila has grown over the centuries. Somehow, she strikes chords of sympathy in the hearts of Mexicans, perhaps partly because of her frailty and also because she’s a simple figurine of a native woman, not unlike a pre-conquest goddess idol.
She was first revered by the Chatino people of Amialtepec during the 16th century when she resided in the town church. But in 1633, the entire town of Amialtepec burned down, and one of the sole remembrances left intact was the Virgin, who from that point forward became a symbol of hope for Chatino people.
Juquila is accessible from the coast, north via paved but sometimes potholed Highway 131, the main north–south street through Puerto Escondido. Fill up with gasoline, then follow the winding 55-mile (88-km) route, climbing to the cool, 8,000-foot (2,400-meter) summit to El Vidrio crossing (gas station and rough truck-stop comedores). There, drivers fork left and continue another 19 miles (30 km) west to Juquila. For safety, allow about 3.5 hours for the entire curvy uphill trip.
The same is approximately true heading south from Oaxaca City. Fill up with gasoline at the airport Pemex station south of town and continue to about two miles (three km) south of Coyotepec, where you fork right on to Highway 131. Continue, winding uphill and down, past Sola de Vega (roadside hotel, restaurant, and unleaded gasoline) to the El Vidrio summit crossing (103 miles/166 km). Turn right at the fork and continue the remaining mostly paved but sometimes bumpy 19 miles (30 km) west to Juquila.
A pair of long-distance second-class bus lines serve Juquila from both Oaxaca City and Puerto Escondido. From the Oaxaca City, ride either Solteca (Transol) or Estrella Roja del Sureste to Juquila. The same lines connect with Juquila from the Puerto Escondido central bus station (tel. 954/582-0603). Note: Not all buses make the 19-mile (30-km) detour to Juquila from the El Vidrio crossing. In such a case, get off the bus at El Vidrio and catch a local colectivo for the remaining 19 miles.
© Bruce Whipperman from Moon Oaxaca, 5th edition