As everyone is packing up and heading to wherever they are headed for Thanksgiving, I thought I would post some final photos from our Día de Muertos excursions around Mexico City. This year we finally got down to Xochimilco to see the ofrenda at the Museo Dolores Olmedo. It was pretty spectacular - the photos don’t really do it justice. The good news if you haven’t been yet is that it will be on display through the end of the year.
This was my first time at the museum and it lived up to its reputation. The grounds are beautiful, complete with roaming peacocks and lush gardens. I will be making a trip back to see the permanent collection and to eat at the restaurant, which looked and smelled delicious.
On the night of November 2nd we went down to Coyoacán with friends for some tacos and mezcal and to see the crowds. You might remember that last year we went to Coyoacán and the Casa Azul during the day to see the ofrendas, which was a much different experience. At night the square and the surrounding streets were packed with families dressed up in costumes. Most were more gory and scary than I am used to seeing in the US, even the kids. Everyone just seemed to be out to see what everyone else was dressed as. It was pretty great.
Here we are with one of the many people in costume who were posing for pictures [for a few pesos, of course]. What you can’t see is the back of this guy’s jacket. It says “Policía Federal.” Would be funny if it weren’t so sad…
For the first time this year I put up an altar for Día de los Muertos. It’s pretty modest, but I think it is pretty good for my first time! I had tons of cempazúchil (marigolds) and pata de león (lion’s paw, I actually don’t know what these flowers are called in English) that I arranged on the altar and all over the apartment. I added a sugar skull, a giant pan de muerto, candies, a bottle of mezcal, velas (candles) and photos of our loved ones who have passed. I have some papel picado that I might add because, when it comes to altars, more is more. And if I were going to be really true to the tradition and include things that the deceased loved in life, I would add some beer and a couple of packs of Pall Malls.
So what do you think? Anyone else putting up an altar for the first time?
Check out some amazing altars I photographed last year around town here
Special thanks goes to my husband who went to the tianguis and got all the supplies to make this happen while I was out of town.
- I’m seeing more and more Dia de los Muertos stuff in DC this year, like this festive window display at Paper Source in Georgetown. Although I must say, trendy sugar skulls and papel picado are MUCH more expensive in the US than the real deal in Mexico.
- I am such a sucker for cute dog costumes this time of year - look at these amazing bulldog lions!
- Alcohol sales are now banned in Plaza Garibaldi - I read this article in disbelief! I understand the rationale, but I can’t imagine going to Plaza Garibaldi without buying a giant michelada and walking around the square.
- I am headed home to Mexico a day early to avoid the Frankenstorm on the East Coast and to start my preparations for Dia de Lost Muertos. We have everything ready for our altar and I’m really looking forward to setting it up - are you making an altar? What else should I be sure not to miss in Mexico City during Day of the Dead?
- Finally - I voted early in DC this week and it was such a great experience. The poll workers who devote their time to making sure the process is easy and fair are saints and should all get medals. I hope that everyone - whether in the US or an expat abroad - remembers to VOTE!
Happy fourth anniversary to my wonderful husband! I love life with you. We are four years married, 11 years together, with many many more to come. I think this year holds great things for us.
See my anniversary posts from years past:
When we returned to Oaxaca this summer we told everyone we were going to see La Guelaguetza - and we were. We had tickets for the show and enjoyed it immensely. But to say that it was the reason for our trip was a little bit of a white lie. The real reason? I still had more shopping to do. Our first trip was a little overwhelming. Markets! Pueblos! Alebrijes! Where to start? We did a little bit of shopping, mostly for rugs, and returned to Mexico City.
The more I paid attention to the Oaxacan artesanías that you find here in the capital, the more I realized what an opportunity I had missed when we were in Oaxaca. You see, there is nothing from Oaxaca that you can’t find somewhere in Mexico City. But the variety and quality of those same things are just so far superior when you are local. So back we went, with pesos and patience. This time I paid attention to our favorite shops so that I could share them here, for anyone else who has only a few days in Oaxaca and is looking for some tips.
I should note that we did most of our shopping in the city rather than in the surrounding pueblos, where you can find even greater variety and lower prices. We found that the casas de artesanías offered the best combination of quality and efficiency. Also, the markets of Oaxaca are not to be missed - the Central de Abastos and the Mercado 20 de Noviembre are must sees and the best place to grab lunch or a mid-shopping taco.
With that - here are my recommendations for places to spend your pesos in Oaxaca. You can see that my money went toward barro negro, rugs, and juguetes.
I was most interested rugs, and on both visits found the designs and colors I liked the most at the following two places. I bought at least one rug from each and have been impressed with the quality. Oaxacan rugs are 100% wool and made with natural dyes [most often vegetable or cochineal dyes]. At the Mujeres Artesanas de las Regiones de Oaxaca you can actually see rugs being made on the loom. In both shops, the families who make the traditional rugs are involved in sales and are happy to tell you about origins of different designs and about how the rugs are made. I wish we had made it out to Teotitlan del Valle, a pueblo known for its weavers. If you’ve been, I would love to hear about it.
Mujeres Artesanas de las Regiones de Oaxaca (MARO) - Cinco de Mayo 204
Teotitlan Rug Store - Adolfo C. Gurrión con Andador Turístico (right next to Santo Domingo)
CLOTHES AND TOYS
There are many boutiques around Oaxaca that sell pillows, dresses and other textiles fashioned from vintage huipils. I loved the dresses and shirts at Silvia Suárez, and I especially loved their selection of handmade toys from Chiapas - they make great baby gifts.
Silvia Suárez - Adolfo C. Gurrión 110
This black pottery is what a lot of people go ga ga for when they go to Oaxaca. I liked the more delicate patterns that I found at these casas de artesanías, but you can find black pottery all over town.
Casa de las artesanías de Oaxaca - Matamoros 105
La Plaza Artesanías de Oaxaca - Matamoros 103
I could do an entire post about the Central de Abastos, but I’m sure that has been done before. If you are interested in Mexican cuisine it is fascinating to see the range of ingredients at the mercado, not to mention the cooks shopping there. It’s not just the food though, you can find anything and everything here. I recommend spending a while just wandering around. The baskets and kitchen utensils are particularly good buys. The Mercado 20 de Noviembre was a bit more manageable and had amazing leather goods - my husband found a great cinturon piteado there.
Oaxaca experts - let me know what I missed. Happy shopping!
Once upon a time, a long long time ago, we visited Oaxaca and took a half-day trip to Hierve el Agua. When I saw the rock formations in this video I knew I wanted to see them in person. What I didn’t know was the adventure we would have getting there. Don’t we look so happy and relaxed here?
We rented a car in Oaxaca City, which was a comedy of errors in its own right, and headed out of town in our only partially functioning vehicle in the direction of Mitla. Now, we knew mas o menos where we were headed, but we definitely didn’t have solid directions. So, when we saw the first sign off the highway that said “Hierve el Agua” with an arrow pointing to a dirt road we followed it. This dirt road wound through a tiny pueblo with a couple of last chance taco and beer stands and some cows. We waved to a couple of farmers on the side of the road who were probably thinking, “stupid gringos,” and kept on our way. Pretty soon we were climbing the side of a mountain with harrowing switchback turns in our partially functioning vehicle, pulling over every couple of minutes to let some burros or a truck full of locals pass us.
You can sort of get the idea starting at about 1:28 on this video of our trip. I don’t know how long it took us to get to the top, maybe an hour, maybe less, but it felt like years that I was holding onto my seat belt for dear life and trying not to look out the window at the sheer drop.
Finally, we reach the end of our harrowing journey and pull into the very large very paved parking lot at Hierve el Agua. We look around and see dozens of cars, taxis, even giant buses. We certainly didn’t see any of these people on our dirt road, and their cars are way too clean and too big to have come the same way we did. My husband wandered over to a taxi driver to get the story, and he informed us that there is a very nice paved two lane highway that goes all the way up the mountain - you just have to pay 40 pesos [less than 4 dollars].
After we visited the bathroom and our legs stopped shaking from our drive up the mountain, this all seemed very funny. And we happily paid the 40 pesos to take the paved road back down.
And the point of the whole adventure - we enjoyed the views from Hierve el Agua and stood right on the edge of the rock formations just like everyone else. Lots of families had packed food and swim suits and were spending the day enjoying the fresh water springs at the top.
We climbed around taking [not so graceful] pictures and bought some nieve before we piled back in the car and headed back to town.
My advice? Hierve el Agua is an easy drive outside of Oaxaca City and is definitely worth the trip - especially if you stop at Mitla or a mezcal distillery on the way. Just be sure not to pay attention to the first hand-painted sign you see on the highway, wait for the real sign to the real highway.
see the rest of our photos from hierve el agua here
- I was interested to see an article in the Washington Post this week on swimming with whale sharks all over the world. I was especially interested in this letter that talks about the different experiences one couple had in Cancun and Isla Holbox [albeit years apart]. Our experience was much more like the one described in the letter in Holbox, but I can certainly see how without proper regulation it can quickly get out of control. Hand feeding the sharks in the Philippines and some of the other activities described in the article are sad to read about and I hope that in Mexico and elsewhere making and enforcing regulations will be a priority.
- If you’ve ever spent any time in Mexico City you’ll know the sound of every tamale vendor rolling down the street -“hay tamales oaxaqueños, tamales calientitos!” We’ve long wondered about where the tape that all tamale vendors play comes from, and this week I came across the answer! The interview is pretty priceless.
- Can you believe this picture of Cancun in 1969? I’ve seen so many of these old photos and they always blow my mind.
- This fictionalized account of Frida’s life was released for sale on Tuesday. I’ve really enjoyed reading about the cover design process, a collaboration between Anna Dorfman and Lisa Congdon, on Anna’s blog Door Sixteen [one of my favorites] and am thinking of ordering the book before my next plane ride.
- I think we are planning on a slow weekend - going to the tianguis for my favorite guacamole and maybe a trip to Xochimilco - what are you up to?