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Latin America Travel & Tour Information

01 mayo 2014

Searching for the dead in Patzcuaro - Mexico

Searching for the dead in Patzcuaro - Mexico

I heard about this day called the Day of the Dead the first time I came to Mexico but beyond the fact that skulls and skeletons were decorated everywhere, I hadn't a clue what it meant. I thought it was a glorified Halloween. So I did some research and found it to be a joyous day and culturally important for Mexicans, not the tacky morbid day I thought it may have been. To get a better picture of what the day meant, I headed to Patzcuaro, in the Mexican State of Michoacan, where it is reputed to be the centre of tradition and festivities for the Day of the Dead.

Once in Patzcuaro, to get to the heart of the ceremonies, you must take boats to the island of Janitzio on lake Patzcuaro. The wharf was crammed with people trying to get to the island and I could just imagine how busy the island was going to be. True to my beliefs the island was a sardine-fest but the approach was spectacular. The whole lake was pitch-black except for the great mound floating in the middle of it lit up like a Christmas tree.       

Once on shore it was hard to know what to do and what to look for, so I thought 'if I was dead where would I hang out; in the cemetery offcourse'. On reaching the cemetery or pantheon rather of Janitzio I was filled with mixed emotion about what was going on. There were many families perched around their ancestors graves but there were also a lot of people like me to witness this. Unfortunately the crowd was swelling and people were stepping on gravesites, some were drinking, and tourists were snapping away at folk who were obviously in reflective thought amongst those who meant a lot to them while alive.       

I was determined not to join in the carnival atmosphere and sat myself down to observe this sacred tradition with the respect I thought the dead and their families deserved. Despite the revelry, there was a surreal feeling to the pantheon, almost eerie; but then again I was in a cemetery late at night what should I have expected? Bright marigolds adorned the graves and families sat around them in the candle light. A great fire of burning copal was ablaze drifting smoke and scent over the graves and one could almost feel centuries of families being reunited on that spot.       

I noticed one elderly man taking great pains to stop hoards from walking over his parent's place of rest, politely asking people to go around with a smile. I asked him if it troubled him that so many people came and treated it like a spectacle, he replied: 'No, we love people here to celebrate the returning of our families, it is a happy occasion'. With these words to dwell on, I realised as the cemetery bell continued to call the dead back to join the living that the thousands on that island with me that night, were not being disrespecting by creating a party atmosphere, rather just joyfully celebrating those past by enjoying the present.        

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