After a nearly-sleepless early start and uneventful flights, I carried, well hauled all 60 lbs of gear and myself aboard an aptly-named microbus. Once aboard the driver wryly asked the bus, “and who has the mochilita (little backpack)?” (Which they had barely stuffed under the last seat in the Toyota van). After I claimed it, we sped off. As fate would have it I sat next to a teacher (I think I’m close to 7 for 10 for seatmates who are teachers, whether in the US or abroad.)
The van passed swaying trucks, bikes with all manner of loads (extra people, cargo, even someone on the handlebars carrying a computer monitor while his friend steered), smaller cars… We blew through small towns and skirted Lake Xolotlan, with several volcanoes in the distance, including cloud-ringed, 1300-meter Momotombo.
Everything is green here in the rainy season–the trees hung with glossy leaves and ripening fruit, weeds thick and viny by the side of the road. The air blowing through the van window was moist, almost wet, though welcome.
The night I arrived, August 14th, is one of the festival days for Leon. My seatmate, Mayra, explained that Catholics of Leon believe Maria saved the city from a deadly eruption of the nearest volcano, Cerro Negro. So every year they celebrate her and her deed with La gritería chiquita, which as I understand it translates to “the little shouting” (or clamor), not to be confused with the gritería (grande) that takes place in December, also in honor of Maria.
Once settled in at my hostel, bleary but intent on observing the festival, I set out to explore. I missed the special mass at 5:30pm but at 6 the city erupted in fireworks, the extremely loud, crackling kind. Soon people poured into the streets, going from house to house in a kind of all-ages Halloween. Businesses and houses with altars to Mary opened their doors, waiting for visitors. When they arrived at a house, the people shouted, “¿Quien causa tanta alegría?” And the people inside the house responded, “ ¡La asuncion de Maria!” Then they were given candy and continued to the next house.
I actually tried my hand at the griteria at one house–the people didn’t bat an eye (it’s all in the delivery). My prize: a bag of flavored oatmeal drink.
The fireworks and shouting continued into the night and the madrugada, but I put in my earplugs and eventually fell asleep.