El Día de los Muertos on Isla de Janitzio

Trip Start Jul 04, 2010
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Trip End May 10, 2011


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Where I stayed
Posada de la Rosa

Flag of Mexico  , Michoacán,
Monday, November 1, 2010

Visiting Isle de Janitzio - 20 minutes by public boat

The excitement mounted as car and bus loads of tourists streamed into town. People filled their arms with marigolds and other flowers for the elaborate decoration of altars at homes and businesses or at gravesides. Church bells rang and large and small bands showed up all over town often with girls dancing in beautiful traditional dress and their hair in braids adorned with colorful ribbons. Their blouses and aprons exquisitely embroidered with bold flower patterns. At around 10 am, we hopped on a combi, one of the many transport vans, to the dock. We expected a long wait in line at the boats but we were able to get right onto the next boat leaving for Isla de Janitzio. We waited for 40 other passengers to board.

As a Mariachi group boarded, the gate was closed and the boat pulled away from the dock. The boat puttered out of the protected cove and the band started to play. We knew they would be passing the hat soon and Dave whispered, "I'd pay them to keep quiet". He was just joking of course. This kind of thing adds to the fun atmosphere. We spotted the island glistening in the sun. It is a large mound protruding out of the lake with red tiled roofs and whitewashed houses. And on top of the mound, is a 40-meter monument of Jose Marria Morelos. Our boat paused near the Island as a group of seven " fisherman with butterfly nets" showed us how they catch fish with their large nets suspended from huge hoops. This method is unique to this lake and we were happy with the demonstration. Our other option to see it would have been to get up at the crack of dawn and witness these fishermen really fish.

Once on Isle Janitzio, we followed the crowd through the steep narrow streets lined with souvenir shops, stands selling alcoholic beverages and girls rattling off (with the speed of an auctioneer) the delicious dishes their restaurant has to offer, one of them being the delicate whitefish, unique to Lake Patzcuaro (although much of it is now raised in fish farms.) Dave's intestines were gurgling and he decided it would not be prudent to eat anything. He watched Michelle polish off lunch at a small restaurant with a nice view of the steady stream of boats arriving with more tourists. Dave perked up a bit after a cola and we continued our climb. We stopped for a peek at the small cemetery perched on a ledge. Some of the graves were adorned with flowers but not much else was happening. We expected much more commotion in the graveyard by now. At the top the island, we found a park and plaza and the number one attraction became clear. Liquor! There are numerous liquor stands advertising cheap Micholadas, beer and other spirits. Several backpackers were in the process of setting up tents on small tufts of grass. We walked over to one corner of the plaza when we heard the music for "The Danza de los Viejitos" emanating from a gazebo. It is 'the Dance of the Old Men' and is typical of the State of Michoacan. This is the 3rd time we have seen the dance and they are all very similar.

We purchased our ticket (6 pesos) to climb into the imposing 40 meter tall monument/statue of Jose Maria Morelos, a great hero of Mexico's independence. We take in the scene outside and started up an interesting conversation with a lone traveler from Santa Monica, California. Kelly has rented her house out for 2 years now and is traveling to interesting places around the globe while house/dog sitting. http://www.housesitmexico.com/ Kelly told us that she is writing a book that can be described as the "Eat, Pray, Love" of Politics, ... without the noodles. An interesting lady. I hope we stay in touch.

After our nice little chat, Dave and I entered the statue and walked along ramps and stairs spiraling to the top where a final 15 narrow steps took us into Morelos' right arm. The inside walls on the way are covered with 50 murals depicting the life of Morelos. At the top of the final 15 steps, we poked our heads, gopher like, out of slots for the spectacular 360 degree view. It took us 2.5 hours of standing in a slow moving long line to get our turn at the top. Most people took less than 4 minutes to see the view. We stretched that a bit.

With our feet back on terra firma, we doubled back down the hill to a restaurant that displayed great looking fish. It is the famous white fish unique to lake Patzcuaro. Michelle picked a big one and asked them to pan fry it, "dorado". It did not disappoint, it was delicious!

As night fell, we made our way past the cemetery again. It was now closed to tourist but we could see flickering candles on the graves from afar. We could see silhouettes of women placing more candles. It was too dark to see anything else. Four boys with jack-o-lanterns carved from watermelons cornered us and Michelle snapped a few nice night time photos and dropped in a few pesos.

Further down the hill, at an outdoor basketball court, a local cultural event was in progress. The ninos (children) performed a dance about netting fish and giving them to the girls. Another dance featured the girls doing a traditional dance. At the edges of the 'stage' local foods and drinks were being made on the spot. One lady making the blue tortillas would slap the tortillas to form them. The slapping echoed though the stands. Her timing was good, because she started a round of applause for the ninos’ performance. She was oblivious and the crowed did not realize who had really gotten the round of applause going. And then it happened again.

Streams of new arrivals continued to came to the island in droves. All we could imaging is there was going to be all-night binge drinking in the plaza on top of the island. We had had enough and made our way back to the dock and hopped on the boat. Arriving back at the Patzcuaro dock, the ‘butterfly’ fishermen were demonstrating night fishing with fires in the boats to provide the light. Pretty cool looking in the dark.

The combi bus let us off near the plaza instead of inside it. The plazas were closed to vehicles and they were swarming with people, many with drinks in hand. Bands were playing. Any honoring of the dead for these partiers would be put on hold till later…
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