U.S. citizen Peter Trinh, who has made Guadalajara his home for nearly two years, may be challenged with physical limitations, but he is far from boring.
Trinh, born in Southeast Asia to a Vietnamese mother and Chinese father, has an adventurous and spiritual orientation that apparently have not been impeded by being legally blind since birth. (He lacks natural lenses and describes his vision as seeing stars and planets in the night sky.) When Facebook friends in a group of Guadalajara foreigners tried to scare him off his plans for walking for the second year to Talpa de Allende, Jalisco, but starting from a different spot and at a different time than the masses of Mexicans who make the pilgrimage to visit the Virgin of Talpa around Easter, Trinh didn’t know what to make of it.
“So many people said I would get robbed by gangsters. I was equally scared and excited, and then the adrenaline kicked in,” he admitted. He contacted adventurer and Guadalajara Reporter writer John Pint, who steered him toward a Mexican man, Sergio, who had followed a similar route, who liked Trinh’s spirit, and sent him maps, names of hills along the way and GPS files from his own trek, showing latitude and longitude points.
“But I’m not that good with GPS,” confessed Trinh, even though he frequently works as a technical consultant.
Carrying 58 pounds on his back, including a 47-pound Army-issued arctic sleeping bag, the rather slim and diminutive Trinh set off from the Primavera Forest on the city’s west side, heading for Talpa, about 200 kilometers west.
“There were challenges in the Primavera, but not from people,” he explained. “I actually wanted to hike alone, because last year, when I hiked the normal route during Holy Week, people were very friendly and talkative and I felt like I was slowing them down. Most people are hares and I’m a tortoise,” he added, explaining that he can’t see trails well and often walks off them into the wilderness, although “this year I got an app that vibrated when I strayed off the route.”
In addition, besides developing the ability to use plants as his guides, “which I know sounds kind of woo-woo,” Trinh was pleasantly surprised by other abilities that unexpectedly came to the fore.
“This year I didn’t feel the pressure from other people to walk faster, but on the other hand, I had very little help. So the big question was, ‘Do I need help?’ The answer was very profound. It turned out that when I really get into a corner, a part of me comes out that handles things like a champion!” he said, beaming.
“For example, the first night in the Primavera, I had to find a place to sleep. I discovered that 80 percent of the Primavera is actually private property that is protected with barbed wire that is very close to the trails. So I finally came to an open spot, but guess what? It was covered with sharp, black obsidian that would have been like sleeping on glass shards.”
This wasn’t loose stone that he could move away. But Trinh found that an inner voice directed him to pick up nearby pine needles.
“I didn’t know much at all about pine needles but I started picking them up and covering a small area with them so that I could sleep there. People have asked me if I was comfortable, but it wasn’t a matter of being comfortable or not. I just didn’t want to get cut up by sharp obsidian.”
Trinh’s additional example of receiving aid from inner resources came when he approached a small mountain range nearer to Talpa called Espinazo del Diablo (devil’s spine).
“It was really a tough climb for anyone who’s not a seasoned or technical climber. Last year I had help there. This year, I was alone, but just beforehand, someone was selling bandanas and I bought some and tied them around my legs as a catch, so that when I crawled up the slope on my hands and knees, they prevented me from scraping my legs and body on the rocks. And at that spot, I didn’t even know if I was on the trail. I was so relieved when I got to the end of it, and what did I see at the top, but hundreds of gravesites marked with stones, of all the people who died doing this walk!
“Actually, you see graves all along the route. It’s a reminder that not everyone can do what we can do.”
After those “peak” experiences, some of Trinh’s other tales of the pilgrimage seem almost tame – such as searching 40 hotels in Talpa and not finding one with room for him, and even being unable to find space on the ground outdoors to lay down a mat. With that he was forced to immediately take a bus back to Guadalajara.
Find Peter Trinh’s recollections of this trip and other experiences on his blog, ThePilgrimingTrinh.com.