The Day of the Dead - The Life of each Day


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North America » Mexico » Oaxaca » Oaxaca
November 3rd 2008
Published: November 5th 2008
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Day of the DeadDay of the DeadDay of the Dead

One of many dedications to loved ones for The day of the Dead

I soon realized that no journey carries one far unless, as it extends into the world around us, it goes an equal distance into the world within.


~ Lillian Smith



It really should have come to me as no surprise that it is only now, a year plus into my journey, in a non-English speaking country, soon to arrive in Peru, lost camera, broken laptop, spring cleaning my own bag to minimise my possesions and no-one but me to rely on, that I feel like I am only begining to travel.



After saying goodbye to the group from Gap and leaving Cancun as soon as I could (god awful tourist resort) I headed back to Oaxaca for a course in spanish and to witness the Day of the Dead festival, or, El dia de los Muertos. The whole thing started with a pain in the ass of a woman who ran the Pochon hostel. Despite having soken to her on the phone and emailing to confirm my arrival, she stood on the door of the hostel at about midnight and told me that she had given my bed to someone else, not even letting me in to use the internet to find another hostel. Words dont quite suffice to what I wanted to do to her. Keeping my cool I
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Floor sand sculpture in the squares hall
managed to pursuede her to phone me a taxi and I went to another, much cooler place to start my first week in Oaxaca.



Now I dont´t want to take anything away from New Zealand, don´t get me wrong, I have had one of the best (if not the best) years of my life. The people I have met and have the honour to call my friends and whom will stay with me from now on are fantastic. OK so with technology now and the ease of Facebook, you end up with loads of people on your friends list whom you might never see again, but there must be a good twenty to thirty folk that have inspired me and I will stay in close communications with for many years to come. The things I have done in New Zealand too, swmming with dolphins, Night time kayaking, caving, parasailing and the ultimate rush I´m ever likely to have (unless I win the lottery and book my seat with Virgin Galactic!) was to fly with Ivan in the Red Bull stunt plane. These activities are so memorable and to have them all listed down in my blog so that when I´m old and losing my memory I can refer back to it all and relive it all again, is awesome. Moving around NZ in Freedom, the ups and downs of her, breaking down and getting her from Auckland to Queenstown and back was a tremendous feat and my last trip in her, with Saoirse was one to never forget. All this included and aside, It feels that it is only now, being submerged in the Mexican culture, that I am really travelling.



The first week in Oaxaca gave me the chance to pause, beathe, take in my surroundings and asses where I was, where I had been and where next was too. It was actaully really needed and gave me the chance to realise a lot of things. I did however, also realise that I cant drink on my anti malaria pills and what would have been the usual start of a night out in NZ, ended up in total confusion, the end of my night rather early and a broken laptop that wont be repairable until I find a large city to stay in for a good week. Really quite annoyed! 😞 For week
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Sculpture at the cemetary
two I decided to go to a different hostel for variety aswell as starting my spanish course. Second Hostel no as good, a week of cold showers will certainly wake u each morning quite fast. The course proved to be so good for me that I decided to do a second week and push myself that bit further and stay with a family too, ensuring that I had to force myself to speak spanish. I also decided that depite being right there, right when the Monarch butterflies were due to make their four generations of travel into the Mexican hills, that I couldn't wait any longer to scratch my ten year itch to be in South America and booked my Flight to lima, without seeing their arrival. It was a shame but the best time to see them is in february and even if I were to see them now, I wouldn't be in Peru until December. This would drastically shorten an already 8 month behind schedule even further, which I didn't want to do.



It is only now that I realise what all the feelings of being in Mexico were, that I am finally out of
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The cemetary we visited
my comfort zone, and really travelling. NZ was wonderful, but this is travelling. Limited belongings that will fit into your bags last minute if you have to stuff them in and dont have to wrestle it closed. Places that you have to work and push yourself in order to understand and get the best from your time and experiance. Loss of technological possessions and more back to basics, cold showers, uncomfortable beds, little sleep, mosquitto bites and strange illnesses. Not being able to ask the most simple of questions because you 've forgotten how and make an idiot out of yourself trying to ask in an alternative way, assisted by hand gestures. Not knowing what´s in the food that you have asked for, hating it (Damn you corriander!), but eating it anyway while you thank the street vendor with an unapeasing smile. The unpredicted upset stomachs and the survival instincts kicking in to find a toilet before the potential embarrasment happens. Feeling loanly, being alone, not having anyone to talk to when ever you need and relying on your survival instincts again to keep you going, devouring book after book, photo after photo, working on your language skills, drawing and
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Lady's son!
so on. I wonder often at how so many people might crumble under this scilence and loanliness, away from everything they know and have, depending soley on their own intuition, insincts and will to keep going. Now, ok, I may have just portrayed the darker side, but like life, travelling isnt easy, its an adventure, come rain and shine. As in life, there will be moments of despaire along the road but they will be outweighed by the moments of discovery, joy, self realisation and wonder. It has been an interesting few weeks discovering this and learning how to quiten the mind, body and soul. Finally shutting out the noise of life and opening ones eyes to their surroundings, is like spring cleaning the soul. I am the lucky one.



The spanish course has undoutably been a great idea. Ok so my club-foot pigeon-spanish is now to that of just pigeon spanish, but I do have to say that for a sky rat, I sound pretty good. Its not just water mellons I can now ask for! 😊 yeh, I could do with another two weeks but I'm already in abetter position than I was before the
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The dedications were everywhere, even on display in resturants.
clases and that can only help me in South America.... yes, God those two words sound good... South...America. Ten years in the waiting and only 5 days away. So, as I mentioned the other reason I came to Oaxaca was to witness the day of the dead festival. I had veen told so much about it and knew that here was the best place to come for it. I had no idea what to expect of the Day of the Dead but had submerged myself into the understanding of it prior to its arrival. At the school where I was studying we met on the friday night for a lesson in it before going onto the cemetary to visit and be a part of the celebrations. The Day of the Dead is originally pre-hispanic and even though it has had much influence from the spanish, it remains ultimaly pre-hispanic. The believe is that there are as many as nine levels of death that one must transcend through before entering the next stage of life, be it what you would call hevean or an after life, and what you did in life and death would greatly influence at which stage of
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Two crosses, shadow and light
the levels you would start on to be tested in order to transcend through them all. Now there are many different interpretations depending on your tribe or where you came from, which is why the spanish found it so hard to conquor mexican religion, because there were so many different believes as to what exactly happened in life and death. The Day of the dead is celebrated over 4 days and again, depending on how you died now, depends on which day you celebrate and how. Families will make a shrine in thier house, hotels in their entrance halls, resturants on their terraces and people in the streets for the 4 days. They will be aligned with so much colour, flowers and foods that the specific people liked, their favourite drinks and possesions and the families will come and sit by their grave and interact with each other with the persons favourite past times. If they liked cards, they´ll play cards... It is truely a time of celebrating life and being thankful for theirs and your own.



Today I woke, in quite some pain, and hobbled down stairs to have breakfast with my new Mexican family. Hobbled
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Celebrating a husband and wife
because my mind is so much more willing than my body and playing football last night I took a little bit of a groin strain. It is a little strange living with a family and having limited communication with them. I have my own room and can spread out, wash my clothes (I hope) and sleep comfortably. Although, I was woken by that awful high pitch whining buzz that you know only too well to be a mozzy hovering above your ear. They seem lovely, Mariavigen is the grandmother, Norma the mother and two kids, with, and yes, some of you will find this funny, two handbag sized dogs. 😱 The idea is I pay for bed and board, breakfast with conversation and lunch with conversation after classes. The rest of the day is mine for whatever, reading, study, internet... So far a breakfast and a lunch and all great. Being in this position, I have no choice but to speak and that should help me over the next five months or so in South America.



The Day of the Dead did take an unexpected turn for me too. I had the assumption that I would be
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The angel under where we sat and watched the celebrations
a spectator and onlooker from another culture to marvel at this celebration. As part of one of our classes we went to the local market and bought offerings for the schools own shrine. This was to help us practically but to also get the students involved. In the market I paused when I came accross some calli-lillies, they were the favourite flower of a dear friend of mine, Nadine. Our teacher had ealier encouraged us to add a photo, possesion or name of a loved one on the schools dedication and seeing these flowers the Day of the Dead suddenly began to take on a whole new meaning for me. I could´t but help being caught up in the emotion of this development and spent the rest of the day in some silence. I have been carrying two photos that Nadines amazing and wonderful mother, Gerti, had given me before I left Scotland and decided that this was the place for me to put them. I had written two poems in the past for Nadine so, along with the Calli-lillies and poems, I laid the two photos down on either side of the dedication. For interest you can read these
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One of many guises all around
poems here Poems They are titled "Dream catcher" & "Nadine" So, along with the rest of the school I pasued for reflection for loved ones, before we headed on to the cemetary to enjoy the celebration of life for those we knew.



The cemetary was mobed. Music and dancing, costumes galore, sculptures everywhere and people singing. It was something I had never witnessed before and was awesome to be involved in. We all got split up inside as it was so busy, people pushing and queing, bands playing, it was too intense at times and to be honest I was kinda releived to be outside again after an hour of the madness. The next day I returned with people from my hostel and felt like I was 15 again, drinking Mezcal in a graveyard and at the age of 30 now! I had expected to see more in the way of street parades, and where there were some, I had hoped for more. But it was a fantastic event and one that I can add to my list of increadible things seen and participated in, in this amazing part of my very fortunate life.


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Sculpture in the mai9n hall

And so, with a fresh new and somewhat raw outlook and start of a journey new, I look forward to this, my last week in Mexico and next, My second first week in South America. A new culture to submerse myself in and explore in Peru, the Nazca lines, the Inca trail and Lake Titikaka before ventruring into Bolivia (good thing i´m not American or might have to give it a miss!) Where after that is uncertain, I have ideas but will allow the influence of each day to determine just how and when I move on next. And so, from the day of the Dead, to the life of each day, that I am so fortunate to have.


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