After my trip to Monte Alban on Friday I took a wander around the city and enjoyed the festive atmosphere. The sand paintings and decorations are very eye-catching.
Later in the evening I had a couple of beers and quite a few shots of mezcal, the local drink somewhat similar to tequila, with a group of other travellers in the courtyard of the hostel, and so had a slow and easy start yesterday.
I set off late morning to try to find my way to a nearby town called Tule, again on the advice of fellow traveller Rebecca. I tried for some time at the crazy, run-down bus station to find the right bus, but my poor Spanish provided confusing results at best. Eventually I gave up and jumped in one of the shared taxis with a group of locals, and was pleasantly surprised that the 13km journey only cost me 8 pesos (about 70 cents).
There isn’t much to see at Tule, other than the spectacularly huge Arbol de Tule, a tree estimated to be well over 2,000 years old, and still doing well. It absolutely dwarfs the church whose grounds it stands in. It was nice to sit in it’s shade, and contemplate the history that has happened during it’s lifetime.
Back in Oaxaca I took some photos of the large sand paintings/sculptures in the Zocalo, the main centre square of the city, while it was still light, then later met with Rebecca, Mark and Karen, and another five travellers, and we set off for Panteon General, the main city cemetery. On the way we came across a comparaza, a big parade of people in Halloween costume, accompanied by an exhuberant marching band, and joined them.
The cemetery itself was lit by candle light, and was very atmospheric, and preparations were being made for a concert later that evening, as an ochestra and choir made their preparations.
But I had read a lot about a cemetery further out of town in a place called Xoxocotlan, (pronounced Hoho-cotlan, or simply Hoho, with a throaty Spanish accent on the h’s!) and was very keen to go there. Most of the rest of the group were happy to stay in town, and in the end only myself and Finnish traveller Essi went to find a taxi, which was much easier than we had expected.
We entered through the gate of the cemetery, and were quite awe-struck. The scene was quite beautiful, very much as I had imagined it might be. As far as you could see there were graves covered in intricate flower decorations, and lit with candles. Family groups sat around many of the graves or tombs, all ages represented from oldest grandparents to sleeping toddlers.
At many graves the mood seemed to be quiet and reflective, but elsewhere celebrations were in full swing. Fireworks would shoot into the air, bands played, and there was much laughter and cheering too.
I talked for a while to one guy sat with his family at his father’s grave, and he explained that they came to be with their relatives, and let them know that they were still cared for, and on this one occasion each year were welcomed as they came back to join their family once again. Many people bring the deceaced relatives favourite food or drink for them to enjoy, and there was plenty of mezcal being drunk.
I found it all quite emotional, at times saddened and reflective, but at times laughing and clapping along with others as one of the bands played favourite tunes around a grave.
We wandered until around midnight, and then went into the thronging little market area for a bite to eat, heading back afterwards to wander some more.
The whole experience was fascinating and thought-provoking, the different attitude to death, and celebration of the lives of people who have passed on being very interesting to consider.
My thanks to Essi, who was a perfect companion for the evening, sharing my thoughtful and reflective mood, and I was very pleased that she had also wanted to make the extra effort to visit this touching event. I think it would have been a bit more challenging and confronting to be there alone.