Thanks in part to the success of this Mexico Premiere web site, I was invited along on a press trip to Oaxaca for the annual Day of the Dead ritual, hosted by the Mexican Tourism Board and their excellent travel PR/Marketing firm, Newlink Group, based in Miami. It was a small group, four women and me, headed by Newlink’s Senior Account manager in charge of the MTB account, Sybelle Demarco. I’ve been on many Press Trips throughout the years, and this was clearly one of the best. Sybelle knows how to make death, faith and skeletons fun, no easy chore since I have no religion and hate death…mine or anyone’s.
Our accommodations were at newly renovated Los Pilares, a beautiful, serene boutique hotel located about a 15-minute walk from the historic zocalo, in the old cobble-stoned Jalatlaco barrio. The colonial building has a long history and was the site of a tanning factory for many decades. I can recommend Los Pilares for anyone visiting Oaxaca if you want to escape the more busy traffic near the touristy center. Start the day with a filling breakfast from their excellent kitchen at a sunny patio table.
Sybelle kept us busy from early morning well into the night, but that’s because there is so much to see in the area. She had the foresight to hire a great tour guide, Diego Cruz, owner of Ayuso Travel, an engaging local who knows his history and has a deep appreciation and fierce pride in his people.
Instead of repeating what so many others have already written, I suggest this essay by Maria Diaz for a good overview of what The Day of the Dead is all about. From a personal view, I was surprised and relieved to find a general sense of happiness and fond remembrance by the locals who, it seems, all honor the occasion in the traditional way. Although, I confess to feeling a bit intrusive walking about the gravestones at night as the families gathered to welcome the return of the deceased. They didn’t seem to mind the awkward tourists, in fact smiles and greetings were common from these gentle people. The scene was movie-set perfect with colorful altars, tears and laughter here, a mariachi band over there, a guy offering mescal shooters everywhere. To describe it as magical would demean the aura. It was more than that, and although I remain an unrepentant faithless skeptic, I gained a deep respect and understanding of what it means to so many fine people. The experience was a highlight of my many Mexico travels, ranking up there with the best sunsets I’ve witnessed over the Pacific, nestled in nature’s awesome jungle, at the end of a perfect day spent in the ocean. These are the times that challenge my stubborn views.
Of course, Oaxaca has much more to offer than a yearly ritual. The archaeological sites at nearby Monte Alban and Mitla are some of the country’s best, giving you a deep understanding of the advanced cultures that thrived in the Oaxaca valley centuries ago. And there are the many nearby villages populated by 16 different ethnic groups, each with their own language, that produce some of the world’s finest pottery and textiles. And on the southern coast, on the Pacific, are the beautiful bays of serene Huatulco, the quirky town of Puerto Angel, the nude beach at Playa Zipolite…a throwback bohemian hangout, and the epic waves at Puerto Escondido, still undiscovered by most Mexico travelers, but well-known to the surfing world elite.
So, if you’re wondering where you should go next, where you can fill every day experiencing something you have never done, for a price you can afford, give Oaxaca a try. Day of the Dead is celebrated fron October 31 to November 2, and the rest of the country is open for business year-round.