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Published: November 15th 2019
In Mexico the 2nd November is a huge celebration known as ‘El Dia de los Muertos’ which literally translates as ‘The Day of the Dead.’ It’s a time when families come together to celebrate, honour and remember those who have passed but instead of this being a day of sadness and grief, Mexicans use it as an opportunity to celebrate the thin veil between life and death with music, song and dance, offerings of food and flowers and coming together as a family. As the tradition grows and develops, so do the celebrations. For example, we weren’t expecting to see any Halloween type things but on the 31st October while we were in Isla Mujeres, the main square was full of kids trick or treating, dressed up in Halloween costumes and oddly Disney costumes as well(the most scary off course)Being so close to the US, it’s no wonder this “tradition” has filtered into Mexico and been adopted. One slight variation was that instead of saying “Trick or Treat”, kids go around saying...are you ready? “Trick, Treat or Money” lol.
We had chosen to spend Day of the Dead in Merida because we didn’t want to be in a
super touristy place where the celebrations might have been inauthentic and catered to tourists. Plus, we needed to be somewhere with a massive cemetery as that’s where the real celebrations take place. Once the sun goes down, thousands of people gather with music and food, twinkling lights and the festivities begin. We were so excited to be part of this that we planned our first few days to coincide with local events. We had seen online that each square in the city of Merida had its own festivities including re-enactments of Mayan traditional games, folklore dancing and so on. We asked around which cemetery to go to and were pointed to the biggest one in the city that was about a half hour walk from our Airbnb. The website said the procession would start at 6pm once the sun had set so we planned our day around this. During our morning run we saw some beautiful altars around the city and later learned that there was an altar competition to see who could come up with the best and most abundant altar of offerings dedicated to the Dead. Our favourite one was one inside the supermarket that had black and
white photos of a man and woman and whose offerings included beer, Coca Cola and tequila! Subtle marketing tactics 😉 The genuine offering is one of a sweet sugary and fluffy bread called ‘Pan de los Muertos’ which means ‘Bread of the Dead’ and so we bought some too to try and to join in.
Fast forward back to 6pm, we had been walking for 30 minutes but there was yet no sign of the cemetery or the thousands of gatherers...we asked around a bit, saw lots of street dogs until eventually we saw a police truck (there is A LOT of policing in this part of Mexico - there’s even a whole department called Tourist Police). So we headed towards the bright police lights and into the grand entrance of the cemetery feeling excited to have finally found it as our Google map was sending us elsewhere where. We spotted three other lost looking tourists but other than that...not a soul in sight. How could this be? Where was the party? Where was the music? Where were the Mexicans?!?! It started to drizzle...we walked around a bit and saw another two tourists...was this a tourist trap?
I said to Marco that we should ask the Tourist Police since they were just there not doing anything. We asked the dude and he seemed unsure or didn’t understand us so we continued walking until we saw a florist packing up and asked the ladies there. They smiled sweetly in a way that seemed to say “the party’s over kids, the procession was the day before yesterday and the two thousand people you were looking for were here yesterday...you’ve missed the boat.” Gutted. Marco had seen that the procession started at 6pm...but perhaps he’d been looking at the wrong day 😉 we don’t know!
Obviously we were disappointed because when we walked back into town there were no celebrations either in any of the squares dotted around the city which is when we realised that we had well and truly missed the boat. But we were in high spirits nonetheless and decided it was a good reason to come back to Mexico again and actually make it to the party next time! I am super glad we went to the cemetery as I love visiting them - to me they are like an open air museum
with a really magical energy that brings deep peace and calm. I have been to many of the world’s best known cemeteries including the big 6 in London, Le Pere Lachaise in Paris and the main Cemetery in Buenos Aires where Evita Peron is buried but I’d never seen such a beautifully joyful and colourful cemetery as this one in Merida. It was so quaint and cute at once, each grave a colourful little home with a glowing tea light inside evoking a sense of homeliness for those inhabiting its walls. It was like Portobello Road Mexican style! I really loved it and if I could bring something back to implement in Europe it would be this along with the celebrations for the Day of the Dead.
We walked home that night in the quiet streets of Merida until we passed a cool little bar with live jazz music. This was our final pit stop for a Mezcal and Tequila cocktail before heading to bed excited about the arrival of our friends Michelle and Enrico the following day. Marco had already been around the supermarkets in search of Barilla pasta as “I have to have pasta at
least once a week during this trip”. He had cheekily brought with him on the plane some Italian salami and Sardinian Bottarga to make a pasta for when our friends arrived. We also bought two bottles of red at the airport; a really good one for about £20 and a classic Campo Viejo for £8 that would accompany the meal. Little did we know that the minute Marco’s bag went on the undercarriage of the bus that one of the bottles would smash. We’d barely been in Mexico five minutes and already had a wine disaster outside the central bus station. Thankfully for us, the pricy bottle withstood the shock and so we would still have our posh wine with our pasta alla bottarga 😊
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