According to Matador Network, a popular travel site, the NUMBER ONE place to celebrate Day of the Dead is in Patzcuaro, Mexico.
Since this would be my first time celebrating Day of the Dead in Mexico, I OBVIOUSLY had to check it out for myself. 😀
Friday afternoon, a co-worker dropped me off at the bus station and I was on my way to the state of Michoacán. In this state, I will visit the city of Morelia and also Patzcuaro for Day of the Dead.
Apparently EVERYONE had the same idea that I had. I wasn’t able to take the first bus at 4pm, since it was already full, and waited 2 hours to board the 5:30 bus to Morelia. It was OK, since they gave me a sandwich, cookies and juice plus WiFi to keep me entertained while I waited. 🙂
I arrived in Morelia at 8:30PM and it was ABSOLUTELY FREEZING! HAH. I assumed that it would be warmer, since it was closer to the coast. WRONG! On the contrary, the city is high in the mountains, which makes the temperature a lot cooler and the altitude much higher. The pressure change caused my ears to pop during the trip and my feet also looked like swollen puffballs when I got off the bus. HAH.
After arriving, I jumped into a taxi and headed to my hostel.
TEQUILA SUNSET HOSTEL
The accommodation was $14 per night and included breakfast. The beds were very comfortable and the interior was very rustic. NO MICROWAVE. They had clay pots and dishes for cooking meals, which I thought was very cool.After shoving my items into a locker, I met my friend Paulina at the cathedral in Morelia. She was part of my CELTA family in Mexico City and she was eager to show me around her city. 🙂
The Cathedral in Morelia is absolutely jaw-dropping. The quarry stone called “Cantera Rosa” was used to construct the cathedral and many other buildings in the city. The stone emits a beautiful pinkish hue when light reflects upon it and is unique to this region. Here is even one of the many “Catrinas” walking the street on Halloween.Absolutely stunning!After admiring the outside, we stepped inside the cathedral to view the interior. Inside the cathedral there was a spectacular orchestra performance. I had to make a short video, since it’s beauty was completely indescribable.
After the cathedral, we stopped in to admire a few historic hotels in the main plaza.One of the hotels had a rooftop bar with an AMAZING view of the cathedral, so we stopped in for a drink. Another delicious michealada. 🙂Paulina was a great host and we had a nice time catching up. She is also teaching 5th and 6th grade, so we were able to share tips and ideas for the school year. She also gave me a few recommendations of places to sight see the following day. Here are the highlights of my sightseeing adventure. Come along with me as I hit the streets of Morelia. 🙂The Temple of San Diego was one of my favorite sights. It was constructed from 1708-1716 with a magnificent interior of plastered floral designs using various tones of pink, red and gold.I was also able to take a stroll down La Calzada, which is a famous street in Morelia. They had an exhibition of altars for Day of the Dead. Some of the altars commemorated animals lost to animal cruelty or to environmental pollution. Some altars also honored famous historic figures like Frida Kahlo.
While walking La Calzada, I encountered a few zombies doing parkour. Parkour is a physical activity, where people perform tricks off obstacles in an urban environment. The goal is to quickly move over walls and benches in a graceful and artistic way.
In the region of Michoacán, the strongest indigenous influence is of the Purépecha people. In the park in Morelia, I found a group of people trying to preserve the traditions of this pre-Columbian civilization by performing indigenous dances.Since I love animals, I even went off the beaten path and headed over to the zoo in Morelia. The coolest part of the zoo was the river that flowed through the exhibits. Visitors can rent paddle boats to get an up-close and personal view of the animals.No worries on this warning! Hah.The most bizarre thing I noticed was that there were barely any stop signs or traffic lights in the historic city center. You heard a lot of beeping as the cars approached the intersection to warn others that they were passing through. It sounds like a recipe for disaster to me! Hah. Also, the public transportation was not of buses, but of small vans that carried passengers from place to place. Very cute and personal. 🙂After a long day of sightseeing, I needed a pick-me-up. I went to the museum of sweets in Morelia to try some regional specialties. This is Rompope and homemade caramel. Rompope is similar to eggnog, made with milk, egg yolks, sugar and rum. DELICIOUS!Now my plan was to head to Patzcuaro for Day of the Dead. I had heard that it could be very crowded and slightly dangerous, so I decided to join a tour in order to have secure transportation. 🙂
I found a flyer at the museum and decided to call the number to reserve a spot. They asked to meet me at the cathedral to secure the reservation. A van pulled up outside the church and I hopped in to talk with the tour guide. Despite seeming a little sketchy, the couple was very friendly. The man was actually from Minnesota and his wife was Mexican. They ran many tours in the area and offered a pretty impresive package.
For only $40, we were offered secure transportation from Morelia to Patzcuaro. We would visit three historic towns, three different cemeteries including one cemetery located on an island on Lake Patzcuaro. The tour began at 7PM and ended at 5AM, plus it included dinner and alcoholic beverages. 🙂
7PM: Meet the group and journey to Patzcuaro.
I immediately began chatting with fellow travelers from all over the globe. A couple from England, girls from Belize, a group of students from Germany, and a solo traveler from Sydney. Since there were over 50 people in the group, it was difficult to organize everyone, and our van didn’t end up leaving until around 7:45PM.
9PM: Arrival at Tzurumutaro cemetery in Patzcuaro.
This cemetery was obscurely located off the side of a highway. We had to walk through the town and cross a bridge over the freeway to get to the spot. We arrived to witness masses of people surrounding the graves. The families had elaborately decorated each grave with orange carnations, candles and memorial items to remember their loved ones. Many of these families don’t have a large income, but I learned that most spend 2-3 months salary to properly decorate the graves of their deceased family members. They arrive early to decorate the grave and spend ALL night sleeping next to the graves in order to properly welcome them home.Watching everyone sitting on buckets and blankets waiting for their family to come back from the dead was a life-changing experience for me. The way they view death and commemorate the life of their family members is very inspiring. I am sure they view death differently as well, since they imagine that every year they will be able to return as spirits to enjoy their favorite foods and visit with their family. Death may not appear as scary or unknown.
10PM: Let’s Eat!
We were able to feast on pork pozole, two types of tamale and atole. Atole is a sweetened corn drink and this variety was made with chocolate. The red pozole was made with pork and white corn, then garnished with lettuce, onion and lime juice. Yum! Everything was served in traditional clay dishes.I stuffed the tamales in my backpack for a snack later, but ended up feeding them to some street dogs. No pictures, but the dogs were sure happy. 🙂
11PM: Arrival in Cucuchucho.
We were able to watch some traditional dances of the Purépecha, try some street food and purchase local artisanal crafts. Here is a shot of a few girls from the trip. One customer service rep from Belize and a nurse from Minnesota.Here are delicious gorditas with a variety of fillings.Traditional woven wooden baskets made from trees near Lake Patzcuaro.
1AM: Arrival in Ihuatzio cemetery.
2AM: Boarding a boat to La Isla Pacanda on Lake Patzcuaro.
Here is a new friend that I met from Sydney. Such a nice guy!This cemetery was by far my favorite. At 3AM, and on the middle of an island, this spot was the most tranquil of all four. You could really appreciate the moment and historic tradition.
Overall I feel very blessed to witness this event. It was wonderful speaking with the families to hear about their loved ones and this experience in Patzcuaro will be a long-lasting memory for me.
We arrived back at the van to shots of almond liquor. At 4AM, all I could think of was sleeping, so I passed on that experience. Hah. We arrived back in Morelia at 5:30AM and I tried to get some shut-eye. Great bargain and a highly recommended tour for anyone that is interested in this experience.
Now that I have returned back home, I am ready to take on another busy week. The kids will be presenting a skit on intercultural communication for their parents in a few weeks, so we will need to begin planning and practice. I will talk more about that in the next blog. Until then, goodbye for now. 🙂