Día de Muertos

Several years after both of my parents had died, they both appeared in my dream one night. The dream was nothing special: we were milling about doing normal things in my final childhood home. No words of wisdom were spoken or cryptic message divulged. I woke up so happy as though both had visited me after so many years apart. That is Día de Muertos.

Final Christmas

Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) is actually celebrated on 2 days in Mexico – November 1 and 2 – and is when the path between life on earth and the afterlife is open. This allows the dearly departed to return to earth to visit their living family. The living entice their dead relatives to visit by setting up altars (ofrendas) in their homes dedicated to their beloved – their pictures, favorite foods, mementos, sugar or candy skulls (calaveras), pan de muerto (sweet bread with a cross of “bones” on the top), candles and flowers. Or you can try to entice the famous – we were told of ofrendas for JFK, Marilyn Monroe and James Dean, among others. Marigolds provide the dead a path back to the living and are everywhere in the days leading up to the holiday. November 1 is the day for departed children and November 2 is for adults. Families will celebrate in their homes or in the cemetery where their loved ones rest. Unlike Halloween in which the dead are feared, Día de Muertos is when the dead are welcomed. And who wouldn’t want to see their deceased loved ones, if only once a year? Matt and I did not make an altar this year as we didn’t fully understand the holiday, but next year we will be inviting our deceased loved ones to pay a visit.

Catrina on Our Door

A new tradition for Día de Muertos in Mexico City is a fantastic parade. Spawned by the James Bond movie, Spectre, which (apparently) begins with a (staged) Día de Muertos parade in Mexico City, the municipality now sponsors a parade. Matt and I headed into the city early on Saturday to check out the scene and get a good spot. We were rewarded by happening upon the staging area and getting a good look at the floats before the parade began.

After wandering around for 3 hours, we secured our spot an hour before the parade and were not disappointed. What an amazing spectacle! It began with a moment of silence and a moving tribute to the earthquake victims and rescuers.

The next part of the parade, “The Living Dead,” was a walk through history and began with Mexico’s pre-hispanic roots.

Next up were the Spanish Conquistadors and the Widows’ Altar.

The colonial period was represented with some great dancing and costumes.

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A devil chasing an angel provided some comic relief and some interesting, but inexplicable (to me and my Spanish teacher) costumes followed.

Revolutionaries put on a show and then the press got a nod.

The next part of the parade – Carnival of Skulls – continued the fun.

Carnival of Skulls

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A wonderful introduction to Día de Muertos and a great celebration.

A Great Good Friday in Quito

I was having flashbacks to my Catholic school upbringing. I had stumbled into the courtyard of the Basilica del Voto Nacional on Good Friday and discovered a live enactment of the Stations of the Cross. It was odd – tourists were crowded about, taking pictures and videos, teenagers were cracking up over the fake whippings with ketchup used as blood, no one seemed to be relating the spectacle to the event. But as I watched longer, it seemed appropriate – a crucifixion was entertainment in its day, not unlike the horrific public stonings or executions in other countries in the present day. Or maybe that was just my excuse so we could take pictures too.

Welcome to Good Friday in Quito, Ecuador. A mix of sacred and carnival, Quito has a Good Friday Procession, Jesus del Gran Poder (Jesus of Great Power), that draws thousands for the 4 hour event. Many of the faithful dress in the purple robes and cucuruchos (cone hoods) of the penitent. Others dress as Jesus or Veronica, the woman believed to have wiped Jesus’s face, or Roman soldiers. Many carry crosses, some whip themselves with stinging nettles or have them wrapped around their bodies, the red welts apparent, and others have barbed wire wrapped around themselves, eating into their flesh. The parade also includes priests broadcasting sermons and prayers and marching bands. It is quite a spectacle.

View of the Procession and Virgen De Quito from the Cathedral

View of the Procession and Virgen De Quito from the Cathedral

Many of the crosses are huge and carried by several people. They stagger a few yards with the cross before dropping it with a thud.

Over halfway through the procession, we saw this father and son on a side street getting dressed to join the procession.

Also notable were the number of children in the parade. Just what did they have to be so penitent about?

This man also seemed to have suffered enough in his life.

Injured Cross Carrier

Amputee Cross Carrier

After the procession we enjoyed another Semana Santa (Holy Week) tradition: Fanesca. A special soup made only for Semana Santa it contains 12 grains and milk and is served with salted cod, boiled egg, fried plantains, slices of peppers, fried empanadas, fried empanada dough (masitas) and fresh cheese. The proprietors of the restaurant in which we ate were very friendly, eager to explain the special nature of the soup to us and concerned that we were happy with our meal. We were – it was delicious and filling.

One Parade Too Many – Cajamarca Carnival Part 2

I hate parades. I like the crowds, merriment and people watching before the parade, but I get bored silly sitting on the sidelines and watching endless streams of paraders. Until attending Markesan’s June Dairy Days parade became a cottage tradition that I was shamed into by my young niece and nephew, I had managed to avoid parades for a good decade. Then we moved to Cajamarca. There are parades for Saints, Patria (Independence), Carnival and endless other reasons, or so it seems. Because we want to participate in cultural events, we have gone to most of them. For Carnival alone we attended 3 parades, the paint parade and two “normal” parades.  We were under the impression that Sunday and Monday’s parades were distinct, but with the exception of some floats, generally carrying the barrio (neighborhood) queens and princesses, Monday’s parade wasn’t much different than Sunday’s parade. On Sunday, Matt, Mistina and I went to the parade early and managed to get a good standing spot near the beginning of the route. The vendors were hawking everything from food, toys, super soakers and plastic, hats and umbrellas to protect from the super soakers, balloons and pails of water that are customary at all of the Carnival events (including the burial of the Ño Carnivalón!).

After waiting about 1 1/2  hours, the parade began and even I was impressed.  The costumes were fantastic and so different from what we have in the US (or at least at June Dairy Days).  The only major irritation was that despite staking our spot for 2 hours, we were battered by people shoving past us. We lasted at the parade for about 1 1/2 hours before I got bored.

We then went to two teachers’ house for additional festivities that included throwing water balloons off the balcony at departing parade attendees. Note: there was major retaliation when a guy threw a bucket of water at us and then a flatbed truck spotted us and drove down our street to douse us with water. We also had the special treat of a homemade Cajamarquino meal: Chupe verde (my favorite herb soup with potatoes, egg and fresh cheese), chicharrones (fried pork), sweet potatoes, yuca, corn and delicious Peruvian condiments.  Dessert was fresh cheese with honey.  Delicious!  As if the food wasn’t amazing enough, we also had very pure cañazo, 14 year old beer and chicha de mani (a peanut based liquor) that had a smell reminiscent of Chinese food and an interesting smoky flavor. After eating, the karaoke machine was set up and we listened to our friends sing Peruvian songs. Then the dancing began and we got some salsa lessons. Honestly, I think Latin Americans are born knowing how to salsa; I clearly was not as I am usually thrusting the wrong hip!

On Monday we were off to another parade, but this time we were prepared.

Prepared to Play Carnival

Prepared to Play Carnival

Mistina, Sarah, her 2 1/2 year old twins (Emma and Beau), Matt and I went to the parade route and after a block of scoping out the crowds decided that paying 20 soles each ($7.20) for front row seats was worth it!  Later we realized that a front row seat with a plastic roof might have been a better idea.  We were generally exempt from intentional water attacks due to Emma and Beau so we didn’t get to use our balloons as that would have prompted an attack that would have certainly involved the kids.

And then the parade began and apart from the floats and the fact that some of the marchers looked like they had been drinking all night (and probably were), it was just like the parade the day before!  We lasted about 2 hours (after waiting 2 hours) and then decided to leave.  Little did we know that leaving was not easy as access to the route is blocked off by viewing stands, makeshift structures, trucks and the like.  We walked several blocks before there was a small opening that we were able to climb through, with the help of many kind strangers, to get out. The parade lasted several more hours, so we were all happy we left when we did. Next year, two parades will definitely be my maximum and one might even suffice.

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Today we have another Carnival Celebration: the Davy College Unsha.  A tree is erected and then you have a party to chop it down!  Last night we watched a tree get dragged down our street and then a few hours later Mistina and I walked down the block to see what the commotion was.  With the world’s dullest ax they were cutting branches off the bottom so that the tree would fit it into the hole in the middle of the street.  I was not convinced the power lines were safe so we left as they erected it.  Apparently these trees are “planted” in the streets all over the city!

Ding, Dong the Ño is Dead – Cajamarca Carnival Part 1

Cajamarquinos know how to party! Cajamarca is the Carnival Capital of Peru and the official Cajamarca “Programa Carnaval” has events beginning on January 23 and ending on March 9. To the uninitiated (us) it was a little hard to figure out what is Carnival related and why, but here are the main events that we experienced.

Water, Water everywhere.  This phenomenon actually began before January 23 when my friend Mistina and I were on a walk and got sprayed with water from a passing vehicle.  She bore the brunt of the attack and looked at her soggy clothes with a shocked expression . “What was that?  Is this water?” We decided to assume the best, that it was water, but were confused by the experience. We had never encountered any anti-American animus but wondered whether something had happened while we were on Christmas break that would lead to random, anonymous aggression. A couple days later I was walking my usual bike path route when WHOOSH!  A bucket of water was thrown at me. Thankfully, the aim was off so I was merely splashed with the aftereffects. I turned and yelled at the passing vehicle (maybe even made a nasty gesture, it was instinct, I swear) and the guys in the truck bed were busting a gut. Matt did some investigation at work and learned that water antics are a part of Carnival and start sometime in January. So attacks with water balloons, super soakers, buckets and hoses are all in good fun, condoned and to be expected. Despite this, we didn’t have too many other experiences with random acts of water until the parades this past weekend. Matt inadvertently stumbled into a water fight in our neighborhood last week, but as some of the participants were his students they respectfully gave him a pass. The same thing happened this weekend as we were walking from one of the parades.

Ño Carnavalón.  This guy shows up everywhere and can best be described as the Life of the Party (or, in this case, Carnival). For awhile I understood him to be a demon but I am not sure that is the case although he was dressed like a devil when he got married to the Doña Carnavalón in Baños a couple of weekends ago and he generally looks pretty scary. Saturday’s parade was the Ingreso de Ño Carnavalón (Arrival of the Carnival Ño), the event that really gets the party started. Sunday and Monday’s parades featured the Ño (or various versions of him), last night was his wake (yep, he died. Probably from too much partying) and today was his cremation in Baños. RIP until next year Ño Carnivalón, and maybe we can finally get a full night’s sleep! Last night the music started in Baños at 11:30 pm and this morning on Matt’s 5:30 am walk to work he passed three guys, one holding up his friend, who was holding a beer, and the third playing a snare drum. The party never stops!

The Ño and Doña Arrive

The Ño and Doña Arrive

Ño and Doña

Doña and Ño

Ño cremation

Ño cremation

The Paint Parade.  “Stay home,” we were warned, “It’s dirty. People are out of control.” Saturday’s parade, while technically called the Ingreso de Ño Carnavalón, is locally known as the paint parade. Apart from the truck carrying Ño and Doña, the rest of the parade is comprised of gangs of people, who sing, dance, drink and throw paint at everyone and everything. People, cars, houses, the police – nothing is sacred. We were invited to our friend Maribel’s house, which is conveniently located on the parade route, for breakfast and to enjoy the parade.  And by “enjoy” I mean lob water balloons and, when those ran out, buckets of water at the parade participants from the roof of her building!

Not that we were safe. First, I will never engage in bomb making as I managed to soak myself (and Matt) by overfilling balloons. Kiera, Maribel’s niece, was worse and changed her clothes 2 times before we even began (of course, she is only 8). Then the neighbors decided to wage water war on us (and they were slightly higher up and had better throwing arms) and finally, this truck was in the parade to retaliate against roof watchers like us.

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After the parade passed we had a nice, traditional lunch of fried trout, corn and rice and then decided to join the fray. I was a little nervous given all the warnings, but wasn’t going to be the party pooper. So 8 of us packed into a sedan cab (9 counting the driver) and buzzed off to the fun.  And was it fun!  Being conspicuously paint free, we were quickly accosted and painted. People literally surrounded us and slapped, threw, dabbed or dumped paint on us. And then they offered us shots! We were invited to tag along with one group and at every turn they would herd us along with them. It was hilarious – singing (the same endless tune with different verses, which Matt and I faked knowing as people urged us to sing), dancing, drinking (okay, I declined the shots for the most part as I think the bottles had as much paint as alcohol in them). Eventually we ran into some friends of Maribel’s and we ditched our first gang and joined our second one. We ended up in front of someone’s house and the carousing continued, including the homeowners bringing out chicha de jora, a traditional corn beer, cañazo, distilled sugar cane, and a pan of rice and sausage. Apparently these street parties are common as we saw many of them.  Of course, now that we were part of the parade, we were doused with water, which was karmic payback, no doubt!  After a couple of hours, the crowd was getting drunk, it started raining and we decided to call it a day on a high note. The paint parade got two thumbs up from Matt and me and was our favorite parade of Carnival.  To get a complete feel for the event, check out Matt’s blog where he posted videos of the day. http://mattgeiger.blogspot.com/2014/03/carnivales-2014-day-one-videos.html

Clean Up

Clean Up