After a restless night of sleep… if you’re new here, this is a theme when I travel and will take a toll on me through this trip since it’s the longest trip I have taken since I stopped sleeping well outside my own bed.
After a restless night of sleep, I headed out with my new friend K who I ment the night before to explore the city. After a quick meal, I was in need of coffee, so we headed out from my hostel, a few blocks from the Angle of Independence, and started to walk to the heart of the city, to Zócalo. On our way, I took in the city’s feel, passing street sellers, the Palacio de Bella Artes, and street after street of beautiful architecture. When we reached the Plaza de Santo Domingo, we both needed coffee with the jet/travel lag. So we stopped off at a cafe in the historic plaza.
Well caffeinated, we began to explore the plaza and its display of Ofrendas for the Día de los Muertos celebration. Día de los Muertos or The Day of the Dead, is a marrriage between Cathlioc and Indigeonous Mexican traditions. On this day it is believed that the souls of the dead roam the earth families create ofrendas (elaborate displays/alters with offreings) to their loved ones spirits with marigolds, food, and objects that were significant to their loved ones. Many people also decorate the graves of their ansestors and have a meal at their grave with all their loved one’s favorite foods.
Although this day is celebrated privetly with family I expected to see some beautiful offrendas to famous people on display in public. I did not expect the heart-wrenching display of sorrow and anger in protest of the government that I saw at Santo Domingo Plaza. I was ill-prepared emotionally for the public drama on display in the plaza and I caution you on some of the photos you will see below may be triggiring.
The people of Mexico City came together and created ofrendas in memory of those gunned down 50 years ago (1968) at the Plaza de las Tres Culturas in the Tlatelolco Massacre.
On October 2, 1968, about10,000 high school and university students gathered along with citizens from around the city in the plaza to protest the continuing reign of the authoritarian government and for the expansion of political and civil liberties. When you look up the massacre, many accounts say it was in response to the upcoming Olympics in Mexico. However, this movement’s foundations were more significant than just being against the Olympics. The Mexican government spent an enormous amount of money to hold the Olympics instead of spending it on infrastructure and the expansion of social programs which the country needed.
Throughout the day, armed forces (military, police, and special secret police created for the Olympic games) tried to intimidate the protesters. Around 5pm, flares were released from tanks and helicopters. With the distraction, shots were fired, and the outbreak of violence began. The armed forces blocked off all exit points from the area throughout the night while they hunted down protesters. By morning, records showed 44 people dead and 200 arrested. In retrospect, historians believe that 300-400 people died that day, but because the government has never released its record of that day, we will never know how many lives were lost.
These ofrends were protest in of themselves. By being vocal about the massacre, the Mexican people were showing the continuing anger of injustice and political corruption towards the Mexican government.
At the end of the plaza was the catholic church Santo Domingo de Guzman, a beautiful baroque-style church and definitely worth a peek if you’re in the area.
We continued to wander around the area to get a feel of the city. We happened upon a few more ofrendas before walking through a wedding market to the famous Plaza de Garabaldi, which is known for its mariachi bands. I didn’t expect the plaza to be quiet and empty. I didn’t realize then that Dia de Los Muertos is a holiday spent with family. Hence, the city is quiet over the holiday. What added to this is that many people leave the city for a few weeks; the plaza was quiet around this area due to water access.
Caution to the traveler wanting to go to Mexico City for Día de los Muertos; the time of year, CDMX does major repairs to their water system. Watter across the city gets cut off for one or more weeks. Most restaurants and hotels will get water pumped in, often limiting water use as much as possible, but many public restrooms will be closed.
From the plaza, we wandered back towards the Palace de Bella Arte. On our way, we found a beautiful park devoted to sustainability in the city. It had a rain collection system to show and teach people how Mexico could become more sustainable and slow down the rate at which it’s sinking (50cm or 20in per year). CDMX is built onto a massive water reservoir, and the city draws more from that reservoir than it can replenish annually. Remember CDMX is the 5 largest city in the world by UN classifications and is expected to sink between 65-100 meters over the next 150 years. This area we found was really informative.
After a photo op with the decorations in the park, we headed to see the infamous Palace del Bella Arte, home to the Ballet Folkloric, the national traditional Mexican dance company, and some of Diego Rivera’s most famous murals. I do have to say Diego’s murals were well worth the small fee. If you’ve never had the chance to get unclose and personal to his work, know that a photograph can’t compare to the in-person experience. When looking at his murals from a distance, you get the sense of a story being told. You see beauty and movement of colors and shapes. As you get closer to it, you can see all the details. You realize that he has created many stories in the form of small vignettes intertwined with nature or industrial objects that add to the overall theme and story of the painting. How he captures each vignette, moment, and person in his image provokes emotion and catharsis in the viewer.
We had an eventful afternoon, so we returned to our hostel to freshen up and relax. Here, K and I met another solo female traveler Z who was up for an adventure. We decided to go out in search of a famous cemetery that was supposed to be open with families decorating graves and eating with their decided loved ones.
We first headed toward Xociemilco after our hostel said that’s where they think some activities should be. On later reflection, the people running the hostel didn’t celebrate the holiday. They didn’t know too much about what was going on. Even though the holiday is a public holiday, many Mexicans no longer celebrate it. I assume that this was partially due to its deep indigenous roots and ties to All Souls Day, a Catholic holiday. When I went, only a few villages and towns in Mexico that could hold onto their traditional ceremonies had public celebrations.
We wandered around Xociemilco and saw many people dressed up, public Ofrendas, and street food and activities for children. Here we found out that busses to the town of Mixquic were sold out for the weekend, so we hailed a taxi and found our way 45 minutes out of the city to a closed cemetery. This was when I realized that some of my research was off. Everything I read said the holiday ended on November 2, so I had assumed from that and my experiences with the holiday in the states that celebrations would take place on the evening of November 1.
Well, I was wrong; it’s the evening of November 2 when people go to the graves of their ancestors. All was not lost. We ended up finding the address to a nearby church that was supposed to have festivities. We paid our Taxi driver for half our fair, and he decided he would wait two hours for us to explore, which I thought would be enough. I was wrong. As soon as we turned onto the main street in the town, we were greeted with street-food vendors selling masks and traditional crafts and a small parade of locals dressed up. They were playing music and dancing. It was truly something spectacular to witness. Part of the procession was holding a coffin I thought nothing of until a little girl dressed as a skeleton popped up and started dancing before falling back into the coffin.
The cemetery was not lit up in front of the church but seeing everyone gathering around and celebrating the holiday was really cool. Eger to stay but unsure how we would make it home since Uber was unavailable this far from the city, K , Z and myself made our way back to our taxi to head back.
Despite the mishaps, the day was very eventful and enjoyable, filled with many street tacos. I still look back on this day, and some moments feel unreal for me. Maybe it’s from being dazed by exhaustion and excitement. Perhaps it’s from the wonder that, for the first time in my life, I was achieving a dream that had o ties to my success or advancement in the world. This dream was for my joy, only no one else, which made all the mishaps worth it.
Places to see
The Angel of Independence– Av. Paseo de la Reforma, Juárez, Cuauhtémoc, 06500 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico
Plaza de Santo Domingo– República de Brasil, Centro Histórico de la Cdad. de México, Centro, Cuauhtémoc, 06020 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico
Church of Santo Domingo de Guzman– Belisario Domínguez S/N, Centro Histórico de la Cdad. de México, Centro, Cuauhtémoc, 06010 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico
Plaza de Tres Cultures– Seminario 8, Centro Histórico de la Cdad. de México, Centro, Cuauhtémoc, 06060 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico
Zócalo– P.za de la Constitución S/N, Centro Histórico de la Cdad. de México, Centro, Cuauhtémoc, 06010 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico
Plaza de Garabaldi– Eje Central Lázaro Cárdenas 43, Centro, Cuauhtémoc, 06000 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico
Palacio del Bella Artes-Av. Juárez S/N, Centro Histórico de la Cdad. de México, Centro, Cuauhtémoc, 06050 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico
Xochimilco– Av. Tlahuac 4331-1, Lomas Estrella, Iztapalapa, 09890 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico
San Andres Church Mixquic– Av Independencia, Los Reyes, Tláhuac, 13610 San Andrés Mixquic, CDMX, Mexico
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