Oaxaca is beginning to feel a bit like home. Sticking around because eager to experience if not participate in the Dias de Los Muertos (Days of the Dead) celebration, I’ve explored every nook and cranny of this colonial city within a few blocks zocolo.
The time also has allowed me to catch up on basic business such as laundry and minor bike maintenance. For example, I had used heavy duty velcro to secure a plastic envelope that I use to hold extra copies of my passport, drivers license and other important documents. I keep this under the lid of my BMW top box. However, in the heat of the Mexican desert the velcro becomes useless. I have another small Eagle Creek bag that holds nutrition bars and snacks. So I find a tailor to sew the velcro to the envelope and sack. A very soft spoken man with slightly graying hair and glasses, his office for nearly 40 years is on the second floor of a building just around the corner from my hotel. Fabric is stacked on an old wooden desk and certificates of membership for the “sastre” (tailor) association cover the otherwise blank beige plaster walls. His sewing machines are antiquated but he’s working on a suit when I enter. For the next 30 minutes we chat about his family, one of his sons is working to assist him in the shop while the other is a school teacher. Then he fights with his sewing machines. Seems the old glue from the velcro patch has gummed up his machine. He’s only able to complete one of my “projects” and apologizes but doesn’t want to damage his machine. So I leave there but he refuses any payment. A quick stop at a auto parts store yields me with new reflective tape that will increase the visibility of my bike. I’m also excited to find a wireless internet cafe.
One of my travel partners had to take off this morning. Jeremiah’s Mexican visa and his temporary motor vehicle import permit expire on November 3rd. So he’s going to miss the festivities here in Oaxaca. That leaves Sacha and me to dig into the culture of Oaxaca and experience Dias de Los Muertos.
In Oaxaca it’s called Todos Santos Fiestas de Muertos. This is a nearly week-long celebration where little angels and the souls of All Saints and the Faithful Departed return to their homes to enjoy meals and goodies set on the altars of the dead in the homes, shops, restaurants, churches and cemeteries of Oaxaca. While the festivities last from October 27th to November 2nd the biggest days are November 1st and 2nd. Roaming the streets of Oaxaca the vendors sell colorful orange and yellow flowers, sugar cane and special bread, Pan de Muertos, all for the local people to create an altar to honor the deceased. In the main baroque church on the zocolo an alter features a couple bottles of corona and a pack or Marlboros. In some cases photos of the dead are placed on the alter surrounded by flowers, food and decorations including miniature figurines carrying caskets and lots of candles.
Unlike Halloween in my country, I find new meaning in ghouls and goblins as this is a day to remember those who’ve passed. But rather than mourn and fill oneself with grief, the Oaxacaños celebrate with parades and dancing in the streets, create “sand rugs” made of sand and flour, great alters and march around in costumes.. Not unlike sidewalk paintings we see in the states, these “sand rugs” grace the dining rooms of homes, plazas around town and walkways in the cemeteries. While kids are treated to the special pan de los muertos and hot chocolate, the celebrations are more than candy and pumpkins. The streets are alive with music, the cemeteries lit with candles and spirit of the festivities is found virtually everywhere.
But my inside look into the Oaxacañan culture wouldn’t have been possible if we hadn’t noticed a BMW F650 motorcycle parked in front of a small store near our hotel. Once again our motorcycles distinguished us perhaps from the hordes of tourists from America, Germany, Canada and elsewhere that flock to Oaxaca for the arts and the Todos Santos festivities. But Roberto, a small chubby man of 30 years left his wife and their one and a half month baby home to take us throughout the city and its streets choked with traffic, pedestrians and vendors to experience the cemeteries, parades and altars of Dias de los Muertos. Sacha and I struggled through the evening with our Spanish as Roberto shared his city and all its glory with us.
Photos: (1,2,3 & 4) dancing in the streets, children relish in the festivities; (5) street vendors sell the beautiful flowers of yellow, orange, white and red for the muertos alters; (6) small figurines carrying a casket – a part of an alter; (7 & 8) alters for Dias de los Muertos in Oaxaca City Mexico; (9) flour and sand painting outside cemetary in Oaxaca; (10) candles glowing the tombs of the dead; (11) our Oaxacaño guide, Roberto trying not to watch Sacha slobber as he eats an empañada outside a Oaxaca cemetary.