There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning. Thornton Wilder
October 24-November 6 2017
Following our stay in Mexico City, we took a short flight south to celebrate Dia de los Muertos and all of the festivites that surround the multi-day holiday in Oaxaca City.
Originally an indigenous holiday celebrated by the Aztecs and other Meso-Americans thousands of years ago, the newly-arrived Spanish moved the holiday to coincide with All Saint’s Day (November 1st) and All Soul’s Day (November 2nd).
It is believed that the veil between the living and the dead is at its thinnest during this time, and the spirits of the dead can come back to visit. Families make alters for loved ones and decorate their graves to invite and welcome them back.
It was both fascinating and beautiful to witness the Day of the Dead celebrations because it’s a totally different way of looking at death than most Americans are used to.
Since Dia de Muertos is such an important celebration for the people of Oaxaca, nearly everyone goes to the market to buy the things they need to make their altar, and the special foods that are prepared at this time of year, like chocolate, tamales, day of the dead bread (pan de muerto) and black mole sauce.
Another Day of the Dead tradition we witnessed was the Comparsas. A comparsa is a carnival-like procession of people in costumes, with music and dancing. These took place in many different neighborhoods of Oaxaca, with the ones in our neighborhood lasting until sunrise on the 2nd.
Besides the celebrations, we found Oaxaca to be a charming city. The main business and culutral center for the state of Oaxaca, we found quaint streets full of brightly colored buildings- housing everything from coffee shops and boutiques to pharmacies and bulk gooods. It felt smaller then it actually was, and was surrounded by hills, sitting at the top of a large valley full of agricultural activity.
Walking around we noticed that that there were a lot of dentists and doctors, and found out that the city serves as a growing destination for medical tourism, as well as providing the education needed to become a doctor or nurse. Unplanned, we actually got to find out the quality first hand the day after the towns festivites ended. Maggie was diagnosed with a blood clot in her leg when we stopped by a pharmacy for some medicine since she thought she may have pulled a muscle. Next thing we know she was put up in a local hospital when the diagnosis was confirmed and our stay in Oaxaca would end up being extended.
Luckily, the treatmeant she received was fantastic, and the cost was way less then we could have imagined. Maggie ended up spending 6 nights total in a small 12 room colonial hospital with a large open courtyard in the middle, taken care of by nuns and nurses and being checked on by the doctor several times a day. Any risk and further growth of the clot was disapated and she was released, prescriped blood thinners for the next several months. We were lucky to be in a good place when this happened, and we are thankful that it was caught.
A little less exciting, but still interesting during out time in Oaxaca was the amount of art throughout the city. Museums, galleries, and a world renowned textile industry offered a lot to see and do, but our favorite by far was checking out the dozen or so printing shops run by local artists, all cooperatives and with a strong political and culture message. Around town you could see the works on many buildings, displaying a message through public art.
We got a strong sense of political activism all around town, from the printing cooperatives, the trade union assembly halls, and an ongoing teachers strike that has occupied the cities main square for over a year. Banners and canvassers working on behalf of various causes were a frequent occurance for this mostly indigenous state in one of the more disadvantaged parts of Mexico.
Overall we enjoyed our visit in this wonderful city full of art, culture, and some of the tastiest Mexican cuisines yet. Maggie’s experience leading to a hospital stay was a scary experience, but the outcome couldn’t have been better. Being a part of the Dia de los Muertos celebrations was a once in a lifetime experience (of course we would love to do it again), and the city itself even without the hospital visit or celebrations taking place was a beautiful colonial town full of bright, vibrant, and active people.
After Oaxaca City, we headed further south for the Oaxacan Coast, staying in Puerto Escondido and Mazunte for some sun and ocean, which you’ll be able to check out next.