I went all the way from Canberra, Australia to Guadalajara, Mexico for the Day of the Dead (Dia de Muertos). The time I spent in that beautiful city (Guadalajara, not Canberra, which in comparison is on the duller side, but you know it has many more kangaroos than Guadlajara, so there’s pluses and minuses) in the last week of October was one of the most memorable of my 40 odd years on this Earth, not least of which was because I had a woman named Jan with me. I met Jan (aka senorita Mariposa) in Guadalajara and she showed me many of the sites of her city.
Jan is the one who took most of the photos on this page by the way, which is why they are more stunning (and more in focus) than those I usually have on my site. Sometimes you just need that woman’s perspective on the world. Her and I are pictured below (along with some random photo bomber), smiling in the reflection of the mirror from a Day of the Dead memorial shrine in Tlaquepaque (pronounced tla-ke-pa-ke), Guadalajara.
But this isn’t about Jan and I, it’s about Day of the Dead in Tlaquepaque, Guadalajara. Tlaquepaque is about a half hour taxi trip from the central area of Guadalajara, which Jan wondered why I was staying out given there’s so many other nice spots in Guadalajara, like up around the hip dinning area of Av. Chapultepec.
Tlaquepaque is an arts and crafts district. It also has many nice restaurants and cafes. I bought a nice leather belt there, which I was very proud of thinking I had a genuine Guadalajaran cowboy style belt that made me feel like a real hombre. The I read the label when I got back to Canberra and it read ‘hecho en China’… Still you’ll find other genuine Mexican items about the area.
The actual Day of the Dead is November 2. It was a bit confusing for me before I went because I was researching on the internet and some sites tell you the Day of the Dead is on 1 November and some say it’s on 2 November (really internet, you just need to get your story straight, ok). What’s a little confusing for us foreigners is that there’s memorial days on 1 November commemorating deceased children and road accident victims and then there’s the Dia de los Muertos (or just Dia de Muertos as it’s written on my coffee mug that I got from Guadalajara airport) on 2 November.
But really, having been there in Guadalajara on both days (though I will admit I was only flying out on the 2 November) I would suggest from my white gringo perspective that the Day of the Dead is an event that includes the days leading up to 2 November. Just like Christmas Day is proceeded by a Christmas type atmosphere, and decorations and the such, there’s prominent signs of the Day of the Dead in the whole last week of October. I even found this in Venice Beach, Los Angeles, where I was a few days earlier, where the local school had a Dia de los Muertos festival day (what we Aussies would call a fete), which had traditional dancers from Jalisco, the state Guadalajara happens to be in. At the time I didn’t even know I was going to go to Jalisco and I only ended up going there because of Kurt’s bad back. The whole trip had an air of fate (as opposed to fete) about it.
Anyway in the days leading up to the Day of the Dead, Mexicans paint their faces like Catrinas (not all of them, but you don’t have to g far to see it), erect Catrinas, and build shrines to loved ones which include marigolds and things the dead people liked, like tequila and fruit. For example, when I die I will have some Peroni beer, some vegetable seeds and, I would like to think, the reflection of Jan and I in the mirror.
Catrinas are the skeleton-like statues pictured in many of the photos on the page (more on catrinas aqui, they are a really important part of the Day of the Dead).
But wherever you go in Guadalajara you’ll see signs of the day of the dead. Hotels have shrines, waiters and waitresses in cafes and restaurants have their faces painted and Dominos pizza even sells the pan de muerto, the traditional bread for Day of the Dead.
The waitress below is from Casa Luna, a wonderful restaurant in Tlaquepaque, Kurt and I had eaten at two nights earlier (probably the 29th of October) when the Day of the Dead shrines were just starting to be erected. By the time Jan took this photo of her, I think she was almost over having her photo taken as every second person asked her to pose, but she was very gracias. The rest of the waitresses and waiters also had their faces painted in the days leading up to the Day of the Dead. They also had some pretty awesome food, I had pollo con mole de poblano I think. The night I went with Jan I had a wonderful pollo con mole de queso y spinaca which is apparently a Oaxacan (pronounced wah-ha-kan, hence why I didn’t put an ‘an’ in front – see how clever I am for a gringo) dish.
I’m not sure if Casa Luna is always done up so nicely, but the inside was also stunning, and the candles leading into the place, as pictured below, just set the scene for the awesomeness inside. Kurt thought some of the waiters were quite cute as well, which they certainly were. He got me to take a photo with him and one of the guys there. I won’t embarrass him by putting it on (for now).
When you go to Tlaquepaque around the Day of the Dead, you can just wander around for hours looking at the shrines and the people, grab a beer, a hug with a loved one, and, like everyone else, take heaps of pictures.
For me travelling 5,000 KMs, or something like that return, for one particular day seemed at times a little crazy. But trust me, Mexicans do traditions much better than anybody else in the world, and they are obviously very proud of their Mexicanous (I think this is a new word but I think it is fitting).
The shrines, which in Tlaquepaque are just down the middle of the paved areas between the building, are really works of art. They are totally exposed to the elements, yet, like the one above the pictures can include combinations of rice, beans and marigolds. I don’t know what happens if it rains, guess they make it again. It is again to the sand mandalas Tibetan Buddhists make, here today, gone tomorrow – just like all of us.
The other thing you’ll find when you go to such festivities in Mexico, or any event really, is the strong family connections Mexicans have. While the gringos are at home watching TV with the kids in bed, the Mexicans are out with their kids in the late evening strolling around, admiring the catrinas, and eating sweets with their faces painted and doing little dances. Like the cute little girls above.
I’ve not more to say about Day of the Dead. I wanted it to remind me about immortality, the fleeting nature of our existence. Instead I learnt more about life and living. In no small measure was this due to the open heart of my dear friend Jan.
I came to experience death in Guadalajara, but, well, I ended up leaving my heart in the place. Whether I’ll find it again I’ll just have to wait and see…
*gracias Señorita Mariposa for the photos – thank you for reminding me what butterflies feel like