Welcome to this week’s Postcard From – the feature where I chat to some lucky explorer about their recent travels.
This week’s postcard is all about the Day of the Dead in Oaxaca, Mexico, and it comes just in time for the 2013 Day of the Dead this Saturday 1st November. Ruben Reveles – who runs Manifesting Forms – was lucky enough to experience the festival last year – and is going back again this year with friends. He’s taken some incredible photos, so I’m really excited to share his postcard with you…
Hi Ruben! Where did you go?
I wanted to see the tradition of Dia de Los Muertos first hand. So I booked a flight, grabbed my camera and travelled to the city of Oaxaca; a beautiful city with beautiful people. Walking through the city… eating, looking at the art, people watching in the Zocalo, listening to the music and talking to warm strangers who made you feel so welcomed. I didn’t know what to expect but it was a wonderful experience. I’m going back this year because it was the most spiritual/fun experience I’ve ever had. It opened my heart and eyes to things I would have never thought of. Here was one of my nights:
On October 31 I took a cab to Xoxo to see the preparations for Dia de Los Muertos. It was a small town outside the city of Oaxaca. The cab driver dropped me off as the sun was going down. I was amazed at the set-up they had outside the cemetery: a stage for dancers and bands, people selling artwork, and a food court with the best of Oaxacan street cuisine to feed the people. Since I got there early there were hardly any people outside and I was wondering who would come here tonight. As I was waiting around for the people start coming, a man approached me and asked me where I was from, I answered him Sacramento. He then invited me over to his mother’s grave and begun to tell me how built this wonderful metal altar for her. You could see his eyes how proud he was and how much he missed his mother. He told me that soon his sisters would come with flowers and gifts, and how the whole family would be coming to celebrate her life. He was so open that my defences went up and it took me some time to realize that this is how it is here in Mexico. This man I never met before opened himself up to me and it was among the most beautiful and unique experiences I’ve ever had. Soon it was time to say goodbye and I thanked him for his stories. I walked around to look at all the other altars that people have built for their loved ones. As the night fell and the candles lit up the cemetery I saw smiling faces, people laughing, people drinking and maybe one sombre face. The people started pouring in and soon the celebrations started. I wish I could show you the visuals, I wish you could hear the sounds, I wish you could be there for the experience.
It sounds incredible – I wish I could have seen it! Where did you stay in Oaxaca?
I stayed at a place fairly close to the Zocalo named Casa Cue. It’s was reasonably priced at 550 pesos per night. It was a nice place, nothing fancy. My intentions were not to hang out at the hotel for long and only use it as a place to sleep and rest. It was two blocks away from the Zocalo and one block from the market. The staff were friendly and the rooms were clean. It was a bit noisy at night due to how close you are to everything. That was ok for me but I could see someone not liking it.
A tricky question – what were the highlights of your trip?
In Oaxaca there are so many things to see. Just walking around the Zocalo and people watching could have taken up my whole time. I love city walk sightseeing and one of the best place to do it is the street called Andador de Macedonia Alcala. This street runs throughout Oaxaca Centro. You can walk all the way down from Church of Santo Domingo to the Zocalo: lots of street food to try, souvenirs, restaurants and shops. I love walking this street at night. Also while your there go to the Church of Santo Domingo. It’s just beautiful. While in Oaxaca I would recommend to take a tour of the towns outside the city, especially if it is your first time. The art is crazy good and the little towns are beautiful. They will take to to the top of the mountain to a place of ruins called Monte Alban where the first Zapotecs once lived. It’s such a calming place and if you close your eyes you can feel the spirits of the past. Another place right outside the hotel were the markets. You can buy anything here and see anything. The food is amazing, the flowers and veggies from the region, the crafts that the people bring from all over Oaxaca is something that I just loved.
What I came here for was Day of the Dead and of course I loved the cemeteries. I have never been to such a fun and spiritual place. It was just beauty to see all of what the people had done for their past loved ones. How open they were to me about this special time. As I walked around to look at all of the people celebrating and laughing in the cemetery I realized how lucky I was to be in this moment in time. Where else can you see three bands of musicians walking around in the candle light and Michael Jackson’s Thriller blaring in the speakers all the while people are toasting with their departed love ones…In Mexico of course.
Where was the best food?
There is a pretty simple answer to where the best food was…It was in the streets.
The restaurants were good and some of the food simply amazing but I still would rather eat what the locals were eating. The flavours were so rich, so much creativity that goes in your mouth. Try the spicy grasshoppers because as legend goes if you eat the grasshoppers in Oaxaca then you will always come back. I have eaten them every time I gone and now this will be my 3rd time going. I’m sure it works.
So, make us jealous in freezing England! How was the Mexican weather in November?
The weather there was in the 80’s and nice. It would cool in the evenings but I only wore a coat once while I was there. I would bring a light jacket and sometimes it would rain for about a half of an hour then return to normal.
Were there any embarrassing moments?
It was actually the time I got to the airport and they had told me that I had missed the flight. I told them it was impossible because I was 3 hours early. The looked at me and said that my flight left yesterday. I read the wrong date but lucky for me they put me on the next flights!
Do you have any advice for anyone planning a similar trip?
Being a person that doesn’t like to study much of where he is going and letting things happens as I go. Just open up to the possibilities of running into moments that are there for you only. As a photographer the spontaneous moments of nothingness and the reflection of life. There is so much to do and so much life, art, music in this city and the surrounding towns. Just book a flight and go.
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And finally… what’s the most useful bit of Spanish you used on your trip?
The word would be gracias and donde esta.
Always ask for directions.
NB – all images are owned by Ruben Reveles.