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Chiapas: Día de los Muertos

On November 1st, while Americans were all busy recovering from their previous night’s sugar binge, Mexicans were waking early to haul crates of flowers, food, photos, instruments, crosses, candles, and streamers to the altars and graves of their dead family members.  In addition to walking around the different altars set up in San Cristóbal, we got to go to the cemeteries and churches of two indigenous communities nearby, San Juan Chamula and Zinacantán.  Unfortunately for this blog, the gente of these communities believe that photos taken of people steal a part of their soul and on top of that, my computer somehow managed to delete all of the photos I took from October 31st until now, so I will try my best to describe the festivities without the ayuda of photos.

The cemetery of San Juan Chamula was a medium-sized field bustling with people.  Pine needles and flowers were sprinkled on each grave and on top of that, photos of the dead were placed by colored crosses along with heaps of the foods and alcohols that the person liked so that when their souls came back, they would have their favorite things.  The living drank coke and other sodas all day long to burp all of the evil out of them and cleanse their souls and bodies.

The church of San Juan Chamula was surrounded by pine needles that nobody was allowed to walk on.  Inside, large patterned banners hung diagonally across the high ceiling.  Billowing smoke from incense and fires was caught in the rays of light shining in from the windows and drifted upward to hang faintly at the crest of the church.  Colored candles lined the rows of saints along each wall.  Down the center of the church was a procession of men carrying saints on pedestals and flags, playing music with guitars, trumpets, drums, harps, and accordions.  Outside, the church bells rang along with the music and fireworks went off like gunshots disappearing into the pale blue sky.

The cemetery of Zinacantán was at the top of a mountain so we got a nice hike with a breathtaking view on our way up.  The cemetery was small and purple.  Everywhere, people were dressed in bright purple and pink flowered shawls; purple flowers covered the gravestones.

The atmosphere on día de los muertos is as different from American funerals and cemeteries as possible.  Instead of dressing in all black and mourning the dead, wearing glasses to conceal crying, playing somber music, and then having to mourn privately after the funeral, here people dress colorfully, play festive music, and celebrate the lives of the people who have died, acknowledging that death is part of life and that their spirits will return to celebrate with them each year.  It is a much, much healthier attitude towards death in my opinion.  Two of the girls in my group made their own little alters for their fathers in the lobby of our hotel which was beautiful.

Yesterday morning I went on a boat ride through a huge canon, covered with trees and waterfalls, surrounded by birds and alligators, absolutely breathtakingly beautiful and now totally photo-less.

I just got back from the 13-hour bus ride from Chiapas, sad to leave San Cristóbal and return to school, but surprisingly comforted by the smell of the humidity that greeted me as I stepped off the camión.  Now I’m back for just enough time to take a test and do a very necessary load of laundry before I leave on Friday for Cuba where I’ll be traveling for ten days!!!

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