DIA DE LOS MUERTOS – BEYOND TRADITION
By Rigo Galvez
Patzcuaro, Michoacán. Nov/2008.
Several months ago, I booked my trip to Michoacán, to be present at “Dia De Los Muertos”, where I honestly believe they still observe the true meaning of this ritualistic tradition. People from all over the world know about this small picturesque town, so rich in history and peasant-like native people. The tricky part is that those who come to this community to “observe”, come with a different but specific purpose in mind: To Party.
The locals don’t mind what the foreigners do, as long as they leave their money there, and they leave happy and come back again. That’s the new tradition.
Traditionally, the day of the dead, has been set aside to honor the loved ones who have gone to the other side, and for as long as one can remember the “calaca” (a skeleton) has been the main symbol to mark each event. Each region maintain it’s own “flavor” and displays it’s own interpretation, allowing commerce to flourish during the last week of October through the last week of November.
Why Patzcuaro? Maybe because the magic of going to tiny island with peaceful people and plenty of amenities, at the same time so rich in culture and delicious treats, not to mention plenty of Molcajete and Metate, Churipo and Charanda, that the Purhépecha merchants in Janitzio offer to every newcomer. “Older folks” (anyone pass their late twenties is considered to be “vetarro”), also find this historical city (with churches dating back to the XVI century) a great source of artesanias, including performing arts like “la danza de los viejitos”.
I did not make it to Janitzio on the night of the dead, instead I waited until the next early morning, I got to the small Puerto San Pedrito before the sunrise, and found lots of intoxicated young adults happily coming back from what must had been a true celebration. Many tour-style busses were waiting for their groups of young people to return, some read “Guanajuato”; “Morelia” and “D.F.” - To my surprise the boats were filled with people going both ways, with a greater tilt towards people coming back from the Island.
There was a strong presence of military personnel, with metal detectors, patting people upon their arrival, apparently there had been “terrorist” bomb threats, similar to the ones heard in Morelia a couple of months ago. The round trip ticket for the lancha was thirty-five pesos, a cup of ponche, atole or café negro, was ten pesos. A small amount of charal was ten pesos.
Once on the island, I made my way towards “el mono” or the statue, also known as el mirador on the tip of the inclined hill, trough a series of serpentine steps. I asked how many (steps) when a half drunk guy said: “son un chingo de gradas” meaning a lot of f** steps.
At one point on a flat area the size of a basketball court, there were many tents, some still inhabited by passed out people in their early twenties or late teens. Music was still sounding with techno and rock en espaniol. When I got to the top, still huffing and puffing, it was around six thirty in the morning, and some locals were already sweeping the area, next to the statue. There were empty bottles galore, and all sorts of waste like cups and used clothes. The line to get back to Patzcuaro kept constantly about three blocks long, filled with youngsters clowning around and having a “good time”.
Too be young again….Maybe not?