A Lima day trip: Witnessing religious fervor in Peru’s desert


From the different stories behind the Virgin of Yauca that I was told, I’ll select the two most common. The first says that once upon a time there were some children who, while playing in the desert, discovered a doll that looked like the Virgin, so pretty she was. The churchmen of that time decided to bring the image to Ica but to everybody’s surprise, every morning the doll appeared at the same place in the desert where she was found. They dug on that spot, and water came up. A church was built on the place to honor her and a tradition of pilgrimage started from then on.

The second version is set at the beginning of the 18th century, and instead of children, adults were the ones that found a little sculpture of Our Lady del Rosario with Jesus Child and a mother-of-pearl rosary. The figure is actually so small and tiny, that it is called the Little Virgin Doll by folks. Since then many miracles have happened and have been attributed to her.

Once a year, hundreds of devotees set off on foot from Ica for a two-hour walk as penance, or in gratitude of a favor they received from heaven. It is not a safe journey, so they say, because if you don’t really believe in the Virgin and pray to her all along the path, you may get lost in the desert or fall in one its many holes and get injured.

For three soles we got a ride through a winding road, passing by fundos, or large estates, to the little village of Arquijes, where you can taste one of the finest piscos and visit the distillery. Later on, after a 40 minutes ride on a bumpy road, you enter a barren land, where grey in all its tonalities is the dominant color. An imposing cream-white church with two belfries catches your eye as soon as you get off the bus. You can literally feel the religious fervor in the air. We couldn’t get into the church until the Virgin was lifted and led out, where hundreds of believers wanted to touch the Virgin’s image. The fervor is intense: People try to pass their offerings to the bearers of the holy image, or even the police guarding it, in order to get them in touch with the Virgin.

After the intensity of the parade, we went to relax a bit in a camp of tents surrounding the church, where you can enjoy delicious traditional Peruvian food, if you don’t have previously lost your money in the funfair opened for this festivity. I lost most of mine with the futbito (table football). But with some luck you’ll get a prize by throwing balls into a number of grooves in the tombola – I won a bracelet and a little comb with its mirror. Feeling good with my win, I tried again, throwing my luck into a glass divided into four squares, each of them containing a number from ten centavos to 2 soles. All you have to do is to throw a ten centavo coin into the glass and pray for its falling inside the square with the highest number, getting the value of it (if you are a sinner, you’ll lose). I’m afraid it is a quite addictive game. In order to recover myself, I tried churros (a strip of fried dough) filled with manjar blanco (a yummy milk caramel). Delicious! If you follow this route, also try out bizcocho, a sponge cake flavoured with raisins.      
Be kindly advised that if you decide to go and pay a visit to the little Holy Virgin of Yauca, the returning trip will surely be also a little bit disorganized and the price for the return ride quite increased. And be sure that you’ll find yourself having to fight for a place, even in the standing class.

All in all it was a wonderful day, and now I’m counting the days left for the festivities of the Señor de Luren, which commence on the Oct. 7 with the novenas, a special mass held in the chapel right in the middle of Ica city every night and finishes Oct. 16. I hope to see you there.