Sinaloa to Michoacan
Colonial towns dotted the serpentine road around a luscious landscape: hills, mountains and volcanoes covered thickly with trees and bushes. Fields of sugarcane and blue agave; palms and cacti… everything grows and in abundance. The air is thick with moisture and billions of insects and butterflies.
Every village with its own specialty: Noni juice, honey, dried shrimp, a style of bead art or ceramics… no village the same, no product repeated even if the places were but 50 miles apart.
Every town now looks like it was built from one 450 year old colonial blueprint: main plaza; church on one side, a park with a pavilion in the center; arched single or double story buildings, one of which is the municipality, on the other three sides of the plaza.
The verisimilitude is great because I need not bother to stop. Mexican states vary greatly from each other, but internally one or two towns are generally representative of the rest of the state. And so Sinaloa, Nayarit and Jalisco flew by. I gave Tequila its due by sampling some fine, aged tequila – which duly blew my mind – I never knew tequila could be so delicious: it had all the silkiness and complexity of a fine cognac. As I was in a hurry to make it to Patzcuaro in Michoacan for Dia de los Muertos, I stayed in Guadalajara (the capital of Jalisco) for only a few days. I regret that decision to this day.
In three days Guadalajara managed to entice and excite me to the point that I would think of it every week for the rest of my 6 months in Mexico. Every day there was live music; on the street, in bars and on the October Festival stage. The streets were filled with delicious food and beautiful women. The festival provided a great variety of music, from traditional Mexican music like Mariachis, to pre-colonial, to a modern folksy pop. People dancing and singing along – a great joy was spread throughout this international hub. It was hard to leave, but I could not miss the Day of the Dead in the place where Mexicans form every corner of the country come.
Dia de los Muertos
I got to Morelia just in time to drop my things off and rest for the night. The very next day, about 30 couchsurfers and hosts from around the world and Mexico boarded a van and a bus to go to Lake Patzcuaro and the surrounding villages for Dia de los Muertos.
The party started right away and we drank and sang and laughed. I met a Russian with whom I could talk – it felt so wonderful to speak Russian again. I always feel so comfortable with people who speak Russian, and so quickly. Kostya’s grandparents were forced from a border area in Korea into Russia at the start of the Second World War, and have lived there ever since. It was a buffer zone created by the Russians for the war with Japan. Yet another example of how horrible Russia is, and yet we feel so good when we find each other abroad – no matter our background.
The day of the dead is not a sad time, or so I‘m told. There are many tourists who flock to see the graveyards decorated with marigolds and deep red flowers, fruit, bread, candy and candles. People sit vigil all night at the graves of their loved ones. They answer questions and tolerate the tourists, but I did not see joy in their faces, I did not feel festivity in their souls – only in the drunk tourists who abounded. I’m told one thing, but I see another. I’m told it’s festive, and yet the people there did not seem so. I felt intrusive, and sickened by the presence of drunk tourists taking pictures. I did not see any disrespect for the grave sites or towards the locals, yet I could not help but feel that we did not belong, that we should not be there. Though most of the tourists were Mexican, I still feel as though this is no way to intrude upon others. If you do not want to go to the graves of your family, then stay in the city – party, get dressed up, paint your face, have a good time. Why bring the hoopla to a sacred place? You want to see the beautiful decorations, come the next day, or the next night when the families of those past are not there. I know that we have a different tradition in Russia (and in the U.S and as Jews), and that I should understand and accept others – and I do, but I cannot reconcile what I am told and what I saw. We did not belong. Mexican or otherwise, we should have been somewhere else.
I did my best to stay out of the way, I did not laugh or sing or take pictures or disturb the people there, and perhaps that is a happy medium, but I still felt like we should have just stayed on the bus and gone to the city for a good time in the streets and bars.
A Magic Moment
A few days later I again found myself in the magical city of Patzcuaro, sitting in a hotel lobby, full from soup, simmered pork, rice, pasta and tortillas (all for $2). The rain was coming down yet again. I don’t remember a day without rain since I have gotten to Michoacan.
I wrote to some couchsurfers in and near Patzcuaro – to no avail. A friend from Morelia tried to contact his friend in the village – nothing. It got dark, the rain was still coming, and I had nowhere to go. I decided to walk around the market again because sitting in the open hotel lobby was too cold and waiting for nothing makes no sense. I picked a lane in the market and started walking, looking at all the beautiful crafts brought from many parts of Mexico for the holiday. As I looked up from yet another table of brightly colored skulls and skeletons, I saw a familiar face. Not familiar in that we have met, but in that I have seen it somewhere before. Right away the name Lupita came to my mind and I came up to her. “Lupita?”, “Sii…” she responded with a bit of shock since she has never seen me before. She was the person to whom I wrote on couchsurfing weeks ago asking if I could stay with her for the holiday. She had to decline because she had too many requests as it was. I explained who I was, which put a beautiful smile on her face, and she offered for me to stay with her! I went from wet, cold, nowhere to go in the dark, to a clean bed in a rustic adobe house near a tiny village on Lake Patzcuaro!
Another magical moment in Mexico!