A Tour of The Virgin of Suyuapa

In a delightful little turn of good timing, we arrived in Tegucigalpa the day before the beginning of the feast of the Feria de Suyapa. La Virgen de Suyapa is the patron saint of not only Honduras but, as of 1982, all of Central America. She usually lives in the small Iglesia de Suyapa, but on holidays she’s brought to the fancy Basilica de Suyapa. This is not too hard of a task since she’s only six centimeters tall.

So we headed out of town to the Basilica to enjoy the festivities. We had to wander around Comayaguela for quite a bit before we found the bus stop. Once there, Michael got his foot run over by a handtruck and we were so hot that we had to buy a bag of water. The bus was crowded and the assistant kept calling everyone Mami and Papi. (“Suba, Mami!”)

We guessed at where to get off and we stood up way too early. The assistant, knowing we wanted the Basilica, was nice enough to stop us from getting off and we rode the last few hundred meters standing in front of the door. But do you think we were the first off the bus? Of course not. How about the fifteenth and sixteenth off? Silly you.

There was a large and festive crowd milling around the booths set up along the road leading up to the church. I had been worried that I was dressed too casually, and I would have worn my long sleeved blouse if it did not stink so horribly. But as we wended our way up to the church I decided my clothes might actually not be revealing enough to get into the church.

I once spent an amusing hour watching tourists in shorts and tank tops getting turned away from Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome, but Italy this is not. Break out the see through lace with the sequined spaghetti straps, it’s time for church. (Obviously this is not everyone, but it’s enough of the young women that I felt ok wearing my t-shirt.)

Inside was very casual. I was raised culturally Catholic, if not spiritually, so I feel more or less comfortable in a Catholic church in that I know what’s going on and what’s going to happen next. But this was not the case today. It did not appear to be a regular Mass though there was always a speaker or some singers at the altar and people sitting in the pews.

Outside of the pews, everyone was just chilling and hanging out, sitting on the floor, chatting. The floor was smooth and kids were playing a myriad of games involving sliding here and there on different parts of their bodies. Candle-lighting was going on non-stop. Local news photographers had their cameras up nostrils all over the church and no one seemed to mind them.

Up at the front, right-hand side, the tiny Virgen de Suyapa stood in a fancy gold display case surrounded by flowers. She was wearing real little clothes. It was tough to get close enough to really see her because that’s where the really devout were kneeling and praying and I didn’t feel I should really get up in there. But whoever designed the Virgin’s altar understood how tiny she is, and made it fancy enough to look at on its own.

We wandered around the Basilica for a while enjoying the stained glass and then went down to where the food booths were. About six or seven nearly identical grills were going, with dirt-floor tarp-covered eating areas behind them. They were all cooking more or less the same things: carne, chorizo, yucca, potatoes.

I let Michael pick since he’s the grilled-meat connoisseur and he did well. We ordered the main part of the meal (meat) and then the lady cooking hooked it all up Honduran style, with refried black beans, tortillas, cabbage salad, etc. It was all good, but the crispy-yet-chewy grilled yucca was the most delicious thing ever.

We were in a really good spot for peoplewatching as we ate. We saw this young woman and her husband and their little boy. They looked very country and nervous. He was wearing a button down shirt and jeans and she was wearing a denim skirt and a bright pink t-shirt that said “stay single.” We wondered if she knew what the shirt said.

After eating, we bought another bag of water and went back up to the Basilica. Before today I never would have considered drinking in a church, even water, but that sentiment was clearly out of place in this spot. Still, I tried not to make a spectacle of it. But I ended up losing the water anyway.

Michael and I had found an out of the way spot to sit and observe. We were trying to get a smile out of a toddler who kept creeping up to us and staring and then running behind her mother’s legs. Michael took a photo of her, but when he tried to show it to her, she wouldn’t come back out.

So we were sitting there waiting for her to peek her head around again when another little girl came up behind us. She tapped me on the shoulder and when I turned around, she pointed at my water. Taken off guard I asked her if she wanted it and she nodded, so I handed it to her. I guess I must have thought she was going to give it back since I expended some mental energy wondering if we should be drinking after each other.

But after staring at me through a few sips, she turned and skipped away. I was like, “that little girl just took my water!” Well… I gave it to her, I guess. I couldn’t stop laughing at her. We wanted to find her again, just for the heck of it, but she was long gone.

Loitering in front of a display of posters while waiting for the bus back to town, I may or may not have been hit on. I was amusing myself viewing the juxtaposition of a poster of Thalia in a bustier and tight jeans squatting next to a poster the Virgin Mary.

The poster vendor caught my attention and directed it to a poster of Tweety Bird (Central Americans love Tweety) batting his eyelashes over a giant red heart that said something like, “mi amor tu inspire.”

Michael was off doing something else. At first I thought the man was just showing me he had a variety of posters, but then he pointed at the poster again, this time more insistently, with this mute big-eyed look and I was like, wait… is he…? Well if he was hitting on me it was with much more charm than my admirer in San Salvador.

It was a good day. Later, back in our area, we had dinner at La Terrazza de Don Pepe. We chose it to finish out our day because it’s the spot where the statue of the Virgen de Suyapa once reaappeared after being stolen from the Basilica. It turned up in the men’s room, to be specific. And now that men’s room is a little shrine with a donation box and a display of yellowed newspaper accounts of the finding.

We couldn’t really understand the articles other than the general gist, but the photos of folks pointing to the toilet next to which the statue was found were pretty amusing. The food was just ok, but the music was nice and deafening. While we were there, a woman passed out (or something) and had to be taken away in a stretcher.

By Travel Writer, Megan Lyles

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