Friday 4 Nov
Mexico City, Mexico
Dias de Meurtos
It was with much anticipation that we awaited the Day of the Dead festivities. We really did not know what to expect as every one we asked seemed to have a different opinion on it, from where to go to what to expect when you get there.
The broad gist of it is that on All Saints Day (1st Nov) and All Souls Day (2nd Nov) (however, the origins of the Dias de Meurtos date back to pre-Hispanic times) the dead come back for a brief visit. Families create altars in their homes with food (mainly sugar skulls and 'Bread of the Dead'), cigarettes and tequila for their posthumous relatives to dine one whilst they're here. We saw many beautiful examples of these shrines (see photo of Trotsky's shrine in pic album). For the main event, graves in cemetaries are spruced up with flowers and the family may go and have a picnic at the graveside in the early hours on the 2nd Nov.
However, the core sentiment of this... actually I don't know what to define it as, more than an event, appears to have got a little muddled with time, but gives the onlooker a valuable insight into the psyche of the average Jose Mexicano.
For example, inevitably Hallowe'en Americana has found its way in and what used to really only consist of skeletons and skulls to symbolise the dead now involves dressing the kids up as anything from cute little pumpkins to Freddy Kruger or Chucky. In the build up to the event the next thing that struck us was the size and frequency of the festivities (singing, traditional dancing and a massive stage being erected in the main square) that were going on for what was, essentially, supposed to be a peaceful and intimate ceremony.
Our difficult decision was to decide what we could do to experience the "authentic" Dias de Meurtos. So began the first "mini" adventure of our trip...
We were informed that Mixqic (pron. "mizkeek") was the place to head to and could be reached by simple metro and then bus ride out to the South-West of M.C. There, the "ceremonies" would start at midnight and carry on until sunrise. We managed to persuade a couple of people in our hostel to come along and after word got round there were eight of us. Before we left we checked out the "Zocolo" or main square in M.C. It all seemed a bit odd, there was no real partying, but there were thousands of people there who appeared to be doing no more than shuffling around aimlessly and eating (Mexicans are rarely seen on the street without either a tortilla, empenada or similar being shovelled into their mouths off a foam tray). The Hostel's resident womaniser (here for a year teaching English) then took us to a Reggae club (fun, but irrelevant to this tale) and at finally at 11.30pm we headed off to find Mixqic.
What was supposed to be an easy journey actually took over 3 hours and we had to get taxis most of the way as the bus we were told about did not exist. With our anticipation building we travelled through small towns and villages in the middle of nowhere, until suddenly we found ourselves surrounded by thousands of people and cars. By this time it was around 2.30a.m. We headed into Mixqic, which had turned into a sprawling market selling food and Dias de Muertos paraphenalia. We still didn't know what we were here for so we followed the crowd to the gates of the cemetary... which was shut. The police had locked it up due to the overwhelming amount of people trying to get in. We were gutted. We'd got all this way only to fall at the last hurdle. This must have been really something. We walked around the market for a few minutes and finally headed back to the taxis and lo and behold, they had opened the gates! We ran in fearing that they would be shut again letting out little cheer as we did so. People quickly caught on that the gates were open and even started pouring over the walls from a viewing gantry on the outside. Inside, the churchyard was full of graves straight out of a Tim Burton movie. They were very beautiful with crosses and the like poking out of the ground at all angles, but where was this amazing thing we were all here to see? It soon dawned on us that this was it, but we had missed the part where the families have their picnics. The people around us didn't seem dissapointed and were stomping all over the graves and having their photos taken next to the tombstones of people they never knew.
This was it. Literally tens of thousands of Mexicans were here. Apart from the gaveyard the only other attraction was a hundred or so people doing traditional Mayan dancing to drums (relevance?) and, of course, eating.
We eventually left exhausted. We were glad that we came, but now had more questions than when we started. Our best conclusion is that Dias de Muertos has morphed into something to cater for all Mexican's needs. It's worth pointing out that Mexico is the second most ethinically diverse country in the world with as many as 100 languages still in active use.
Anyhow, we're now in Oaxaca (waa-haa-kaa) and on our way to the coast. The next few weeks are much more like a typical holiday, so we may not have as much to talk about beyond how well our tans our getting on.
Una mas mezcal por favour senior!