Sunday, November 6, 2016

San Gabriel Chilac

San Gabriel Chilac is a town near Tehuacan that has held the traditions of the Day Of The Day close to the core. It is famous as one of two towns, the other being Oaxaca, where people travel to for this important festival in the Mexican calendar year. Every cemetery in every Mexican town would be having celebrations on November 2 which is the actual Day of the Dead. We were heading to Chilac on the night of the first for the spooky night time experience. Panteon Cemetery is where it all goes down, or in the case of the spirits, they all rise from their deathly existence. I love fantasmas.

Light reflections or spirit orbs? You be the judge
The spirit world was working with us this night as our guide Alma arrived a little over an hour early and we did not miss out on the opportunity to leave school by dumping off students into classes with teachers that were not coming or had other plans to arrive later. Thanks suckas!! Oh, I mean yes it was an inconvenience for the students to have to move to other classes and not be with their teacher or continue with existing lesson plans. Yeah, that's what I meant.

We all piled into the crowded and cozy combi with lots of excited chatter. There were the exception  that appeared to have anxieties about not having a cold beer right after work. They just stared eerily and quietly out the window. We roared through the city down Reforma south and once we left the city boundaries were greeted by the scents and aromas of the county side. I had been eating beans and rice for the better part of a week so this gave me a chance to "blend in aromatically" with my surroundings or so I thought. It did not work.

5 Members buried in the same plot
There was quite a bit to learn and experience to be sure. One of the first things I noticed was multiple crosses on various grave sites. In Mexico they do not have a plot for each family member. As another person dies they bury that body on top of the previous and so on. I do not know where it stops though as I did spot graves with 11 crosses that included small crosses for children. What I did notice was the grave was not flat and even but a mound of earth which is what you would expect when there are multiple burials in the same plot of land.

The Day of the Dead is celebrated by creating an offering alter at your families site. Offerings include fresh fruit and vegetables, candy, the deceased favorite food and beer. These items are placed in and around the grave as an honor to their memory. Families stay at the grave and literally party with their dead ancestors with roving live Mariachi Bands. The flowers are spectacular and the occasion is quite joyous.

There was a carnival atmosphere that was suppose to surround the entire experience of our night time visit but to our regret we arrived early, much too early. Vendors were just setting up, tents were being erected, no bands were warming up but there was beer to be found and our lost soul soon disappeared only to reappear shortly with a smile and a few tall cans of Corona.

We wandered around the cemetery and it was quite eerie even with the building crowds of families with skeleton face painted children. Many graves appeared freshly dug and the dark night was only illuminated by the glows of sporadic candles. Somewhere in the distance a few dogs howled as the do here adding to the growing nervous feelings. That did not really happen but it sounded good in my head.

As with most Latin American cemeteries there are also countless vaults some of which have the clean appearance of small bachelor apartments. Most vaults have doors to lower levels which house both historical and the evenings offerings. Wrought Iron gates give way to that end at candle lit lower rooms that are well maintained. Graves and Cemeteries are a serious family tradition here both because of pride and the kinship of family. You could go down into the vault but nobody dared. It was safe to observe from solid ground. None of us were "scared" and nobody believed in spirits or ghosts but none of us were taking any chances.

No trip is ever complete without conversations and a little fun with random people. This couple were selling various oils and our conversation went from teaching English (both her and I) to my destroyed left shoulder that needs some doctors TLC when I get back to Canada, to smoking pot, to massages and happy endings to me deciding that I wanted to now live in Chilac forever. Lucy walked by and heard parts of our random musings, stopped and asked "are you talking about happy endings?". She then laughed her great "Lucy Laugh", shook her head and walked away.

Starting in a cemetery during the Day of the Dead celebrations and finishing with a Mexican English teacher talking about smoking pot was not what I was expecting that's for sure. However when you smile, start a conversation with random people and act a little silly you never know where it can lead. In this case all roads certainly led to hell.

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