I will never forget the sights and smells of Dia de los Muertos. Locals dressed in costumes, vendors, and tourists flooded Alcala at the beginning of the week. Banda music rang throughout the cobbled streets and people joyfully danced throughout the night. It was honestly a wonderful sight to see and experience.
Our group had the amazing opportunity to enter into the local alter making competition at the local cemetery, El Panteon General. We decided to honor the railroad workers who gave their lives to build the railroads.
We traveled to two different markets to buy the necessary materials for the altar—a local market in Teotitlan and El Mercado de Abastos in Oaxaca. The local market in Teotitlan was so beautiful. Golden, magenta, and purple flowers decorated the area. The fragrances of fresh bread, smoky incense, and sweet chocolate danced around in the air, mixing with the beautiful languages of Spanish and Zapotec. El Mercado de Abastos was also full of people, colors, smells, and sounds. However, there were a lot more Western influences—there was a specific section in the market filled with scary masks, props, and costumes.
Mercado in Teotitlan:
Mercado de Abastos:
We spent that night stringing manzanitas and peanuts together, de-stemming flowers, and creating/decorating a sugarcane arc. The next day, we stuffed all of the materials into taxis and rode to El Panteon General. The cemetery was huge but also very peaceful. The vibrant blue sky contrasted beautifully with the stones and trees. Many different families scuffled around carrying bundles of marigolds (among other flowers) and buckets of water.
We worked on our altar and tapete for a total of 8 hours or so. Everything came together very beautifully. Everyone helped each other out and worked together. It was a great bonding experience and I enjoyed every minute of it!
Later that night, we visited El Panteon General to see our altar as well as the others. It looked a lot different in the dark. However, the beauty remained the same. Rows of lit candles lined the walls and emitted an orange/yellow tint. The earthy scent of marigolds and incense drifted among the visitors who were packed into the hall.
We also visited a cemetery in a pueblo 20 minutes from the city (Panteon Atzompa). This was a lot more different. It was a lot more emotional to me. A live banda played on a stage at the corner of the cemetery. Light from the candles dotted the darkness and lit the faces of those remembering their loved ones. Although the upbeat banda music rang throughout the cemetery, it could not disguise the solemn atmosphere.
We all experience the pain of losing someone. However, we cope with it in many different ways. Participating in the traditions of Dia de los Muertos was a HUGE blessing and honor, and it was a beautiful experience.
We ended up winning 2nd place in the competition!
Here are some pictures of the other altars: