El Día de los Muertos
This past week my parents flew out to visit me during La semana de Antropología, which is the week that the foreign exchange students don’t have school. We decided to go to Oaxaca for El Día de los Muertos as there are still many traditional events that take place in the cemeteries throughout the city and the nearby towns.
I grew up on road trips and enjoyed the fact that I would get to go on another one. I really feel that road trips teaches and exposes you to much more of the country than flying ever can. When you drive, you get to see how the geography of the country changes, and in turn how it affects the way of life of the people. It’s beautiful.
Our trip was amazing. We ended up driving almost 2000 miles over six days. Somehow we survived without any hiccups stuffed together in a tiny Dodge Atos.
Leaving Mérida, we passed through the open, sprawling savannah of Yucatán and Campeche and into the jungly mountains of Chiapas. The weather shifted drastically from overbearing humidity to a fresh, crisp fall night.
While everything drawls on in Yucatán, there is a lively, upbeat pace to San Cristóbal, Chiapas. The vibrant colonial town is home to an enchanting mixture of Ladinos (people of Spanish decent), Mestizos (a mixture of Spanish and indigenous decent), and Mayans. There is an obvious separation between the groups, yet despite the division, there is a charm and comfort that envelops the region.
Before heading off to Oaxaca, we stopped in Chumula, a traditional pueblo where the Mayan culture is very much alive. While there, we entered their church – a captivating mix of Catholicism and their traditional religions. The church is open 24 hours and at any moment you may find Chamulans inside the church praying over candles to the saints of their choosing.
In Oaxaca, we discovered a dry region full of red rock, scrubby brush, and the occasional cactus. Huge mountain ranges surrounded all sides of the Oaxaca valley. For the first time since I arrived in Mexico, I saw people dressed in jeans, button-down plaid shirts, boots, and sombreros – my stereotype of everyday clothing. In the centro of Oaxaca, people were friendly, yet unlike Mérida, did not haggle tourists. However, because we only stayed downtown, I did not get a chance to get a very comprehensive understanding of the city.
Coming home we drove through Veracruz and Tabasco, both of which were being hit hard by a huge storm. Rivers overflowed in Tabasaco, leaving tens of thousands homeless. Cars crawled through the flooded streets spraying dirty water onto the sidewalks. Pemex is the main employer in the region, and in the mornings busloads of people wearing bright orange jumpsuits hurry off to the petroleum plants. Closer to the coast, the people in the little pueblitos weigh out the day’s catch of fish, shrimp, and octopus.
All in all, it was a wonderful trip that provided me with a wonderful opportunity to see the striking beauty of the Mexican countryside as well as the many cultures that make up this intricate country. The more I travel and see, the more I realize that Mexico has many faces and is impossible to stereotype. Each region has its own unique culture and it is useless to try to simplify its complexity into one national culture.