Categoría: Bitácora de viajes

Day of The Dead in Mexico

Expedición fotográfica México 2016

In 2016, I was lucky to join a photography expedition to document the Día de los Muertos in Mexico. I spent nearly a week starting on October 29. We visited the central region of Michoacán, which is mainly inhabited by the Purépecha indigenous group. Tzintzuntzan city, Lake Pátzcuaro and Janitzio island were some of the places we roamed. That’s how I could see people getting ready for this big event in its most traditional way, as well as the whole celebration.

The ghost

Pino real
Pino Real

Perhaps this part may sound a bit fantastic, I know, but my travel mates were witnesses to this ‘paranormal’ encounter and can confirm what I experienced. We were staying in a beautiful cabin we had rented in the outskirts of Morelia city. One night, coming from a visit we paid to the altar decorations in Pátzcuaro, I saw how the knob of our private bathroom’s door was spinning as if someone was coming out. Suddenly, the door went open, but no one was there. I screamed out loud in fear. My husband reported seeing me walking backwards with an expression of utter horror in my face. Needless to say, I couldn’t sleep that night and left the lights on till dawn. A few weeks later, I found out the house belonged to the owners’ deceased grandmother. I guess this ghostly encounter was the perfect prelude for this adventure. Wasn’t it?

Mexican Tradition

Altar in Quiroga.

You might have probably seen animated movies such as The Book of life or Coco in which there is an amazing display of colors and music, and whose main theme is the celebration of the Day of the Dead in Mexico. What might be a bit surprising is that The Día de Muertos is a syncretism between an ancient Aztec indigenous tradition and the All souls’ Day holiday brought to Mexico by the Spanish, back in the 16th century. Ever since, this celebration is observed on November 1 and 2. However, families start preparing and decorating the altars a few days before.

Beyond the popular Catrina skulls and the parades, I came to the realization that local people’s beliefs about getting reunited with their beloved ones during one night a year, is the very core of this festivity. 

Personally, I could experience lots of mixed feelings while watching a collective euphoria: families staying the whole night by the decorated graves and altars, honoring and awaiting for their beloved ones or as Mexicans call their deceased relatives –“los que se han adelantado”- the ones who are no longer here.

My own perspective on life and dead

people with catrina face paint posing in front of a tomb in day of the dead in mexico
Tzintzuntzan cemetery

As the no-nonsense person I am, I reckon that my views about life and death have always been influenced by the concept of detachment. That is to say, that our journey through life as we know it is temporary; I believe nothing material really belongs to anybody, not even our body. Nonetheless, there’s something that will always remain no matter what, the soul. This eternal energy transits from a physical existence to the most profound realm which is the so-called death

From a more conservative view, death is something extremely sad you always need to grieve. And a cemetery is a dark and mournful place to be. Therefore, entering a graveyard at night, hearing excited and joyful people playing music while staying by the lit tombs, was quite revolutionary to me. It gave me a melancholic light of hope about feeling my granny’s presence on Earth again. 

Before and after

Atardecer en el lago de patcuaro en mexico michoacan dia de muertos
Pátzcuaro Lake

I must admit that my prior preparation for this trip was really poor. I was so caught up with the day-to-day situations at work and home that I had just seen some videos of the celebration and had barely read some historical facts about it. But after experiencing this festivity myself, I came to the conclusion that rather than a morbid depiction of death, as some people may think about it, this traditional Mexican celebration shows the thin line between this human experience and the afterlife; perhaps the latter is a way to continue with the former. 

In my humble opinion, this is a life-changing experience you should live in order to have a better understanding of our Latin American culture.

A dream called Türkiye

Some time ago, more than a decade to be exact, I embarked on a journey that would forever change my whole vision of life. It was not only my first professional exchange, but also my first travel abroad and on top of that, my first solo trip!!!! You’ll discover this story is full of firsts.

Before traveling to Turkey, even though I knew I was going to be a different person when coming back home, little did I know what it really meant.

Pamukkale hot air balloon ride

How it started 

As a Modern Languages undergraduate student, I had committed myself to become a culturally sensitive teacher which led me to envision a life touring the world and getting to meet different people. That is why during my last year of college, I came across an international student association called AIESEC. I joined the organization and became an active member. 

After some months of preparation, quitting my job at a private school in my hometown and getting a match to a language academy, I found out I was going to spend the next 12 months teaching English and Spanish in a small city in the Anatolian peninsula of Turkey.

Back in time, I was a very tender and almost naive girl, and when I said I was going to live and work in the Middle East, people were puzzled. However, I was so willing to see the unknown that I had the courage to leave the life I had just begun to build as a young adult and my family behind. 

My arrival

After an emotional and weepy farewell at the airport, I boarded my first flight. I remember I was utterly nervous and had a lot of confusing thoughts in my mind; my heart was full of hope, though. It took me exactly two days to make it to my final destination. To start with, I flew from Bogotá to Caracas, then I took a transatlantic flight to Rome, had a few hours layover and a three-hour-delay until I finally landed in Istanbul otherwise known as Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine empire. But then, I had to take the shuttle to Taksim (downtown Istanbul) in order to meet some of the AIESEC members who would help me to catch a bus to my host city. 

Five hours later, I arrived in my beloved Eskişehir. I got off the bus at a very snowy stop; it was a chilling winter morning. While I was enjoying the sight of the snow I was thinking: ‘oh wonderful this girl who seemed to be fragile was so brave to get this far from home’. That moment I knew the best was yet to come.

Winter lights in Eskişehir

First weeks

Within the first days of my arrival, I had the fortune to be introduced to a lovely Turkish family, and ever since I met them, I moved to their place and became their third member. That was a game changer.

Adapting to my new world was relatively easy. I was literally like a toddler in candyland. Everything was so exotic and novel, for instance the ezan (the call to prayer), the sights, the flavors, even the smells. That made me go into an ecstatic honeymoon stage from the so-called cultural shock. I reckon harnessing every single moment, and living life to the fullest was my motto at that time. 

In spite of knowing some survival phrases I had previously learnt, Turkish was so different that I struggled to grasp the true meaning of words and make sense of the language per se. The fact that I could speak in Spanish, and almost no one could understand a word of what I had said was almost a mystic experience. All that made me challenge and reshape my teaching style. Yet, it was wonderful the way I could also communicate with the closest people with no words. I think the universal language is certainly the one you express with the heart.

Göreme National Park © Laudi Martine
Göreme National Park

Getting ‘Turkified’

The fascinating culture, the tasty food, some odd facial gestures and the non-verbal communication were getting imprinted in me, little by little. I began to understand the language system better and tried to speak, I recall once I was mistaken for a citizen from Trabzon, a northern city by the Black Sea, due to my Turkish accent, I supposed hahaha. A couple of friends and I made up a hilarious tradition that consisted of giving our Turkish friends and students Spanish-like names and thus, I got to be called Turkish Leyla -one of the protagonists in the poetic love story Leyla ve Mecnun-. 

Dancing halai for fun, eating cucumbers and black olives for breakfast, saying phrases like ‘Kolay gelsin’ (‘have a good work’), ’ellerine saglik’ (health to your hands) or ‘afiyet olsun’ (enjoy your meal) became so natural and were just part of my daily life. 

Needless to say, I enjoyed every single bite of the Turkish cuisine delicacies I could taste: baklava, gözleme, kumpir, dolma, manti, tarhana soup, börek and simit, to name but a few. And it was in one of those long weekend afternoons when I used to roam the streets of my host city Eskişehir with my foreign friends, eating leblebi (roasted chickpeas), that I came to the realization that I had inevitably become one of them. I had been Turkified.

My second home

As time went by, other local and international interns were coming and going, but I always stayed. Even though I was a foreigner, I felt like a host in Eskişehir. In Turkish language, eski means ancient or old and şehir means city. I felt as if I had been living in that city for as long as it has existed, which is approximately 4000 years. There, I met people from the five continents (I even got to know that Georgia was also a country. I feel sorry about my ignorance at that time). Some of these AIESEC members and my students remain dear friends to me, and I’ve had the chance to see them again in different parts of the world including my hometown, Bogotá.

I was extremely impressed by Turkish people’s hospitality. Particularly, I still have the honor to call my former roommate Deniz ‘kiz kardeşim’ (my sister) and her mother ‘Türk annecim’ (my Turkish mom). They were incredibly welcoming and warm to me. I’m forever grateful to them, and all the people that kindly opened their doors and made me feel valued, loved and at home.

Porsuk River and Adalar Street
Porsuk River

The reverse weepy farewell

During the year of my exchange, I had the opportunity to go on road trips around the country, every month. And although I have been twice more and have visited some of the most important cities, historical places and landmarks, Turkey is such a beautiful, interesting and large country that I still miss many more sites I need to discover. 

All in all, this experience has been by far one of the best years of my entire life. I have countless happy anecdotes, and some funny and hilarious ones, as well. It was a whole transformative adventure, and I think it has positively impacted me at all levels. I cherish and hold numerous memories dear. Hence, I call this journey ‘A dream called Turkey’. I would never cease being awed in that country.

Hagia sophia, Istanbul
Hagia Sophia, Istanbul