Experience: Michoacan and Day of the Dead

Our trip to Michoacan was remarkable and not soon to be forgotten. It was the first Spanish and Go trip we took, where we had our first AirBnB experience, and one of the most notoriously dangerous places in Mexico. To tell you the truth, a couple of weeks before the trip, I was starting to question our decision of going there. I asked friends on Facebook who had been there for advice and at least four of them told us not to drive there or simply, just not to go.

Michoacan is a place in Mexico where violence has risen over the past few years and, even though it is a place with great history, in the news you mostly hear only about the bad things happening in the area.

The Cathedral in downtown Morelia, Michoacan

The Cathedral in downtown Morelia, Michoacan

We really wanted to go for two reasons: 1. The Day of the Dead celebration, which we have heard was one of the prettiest in the whole country and 2. The monarch butterflies. Unfortunately, early November is the time when the monarchs are just starting to settle in and there aren’t as many as in future months, like January or February. With this in mind we decided to check the Day of the Dead and go back in a few months for the monarchs.

We rented a car from Hertz at the airport in Guadalajara and started our way to Morelia. It was a four hour drive on the highway where the only other traffic was hundreds of butterflies which kept crashing on our windshield every couple minutes. Sad, I know.

When we got to the address of our AirBnB there was no one in the house. We got in touch with our host and waited and waited for the person who was going to give us the keys. After almost an hour of waiting we decided to go eat something and came back a while later to find a filthy house. This isn’t what we were expecting for our first AirBnB but we didn’t have another option since the whole city was booked due to the celebration of the Day of the Dead so we stayed there. We tried to ignore our less than ideal living quarters and focus on the beauty in the city.

While in Morelia we visited some very interesting museums and tried some local food we had never heard of before. For example, “uchepos” which are corn tamales with sour cream and cheese and “corundas”, very similar to tamales but a little softer and in a triangle shape. My personal favorite was the “gazpachos”, a fresh and delicious mix of fruits like jicama, mango, pineapple, papaya, watermelon, among others with orange juice, hot sauce, chili pepper, and lime juice. Next time I’ll remember to ask for no hot sauce.

Morelian Corundas with refried beans.

Morelian Corundas with refried beans.

GAZPACHOS with a lot of chile!

GAZPACHOS with a lot of chile!

During the celebration of Day of the Dead, the most important plazas of the city or town get decorated with altars students from different schools make. It is very common for schools to host contests for the best altar and they always display them in the plazas so people can look at them. We got to interview some students from different high schools and colleges who were participating in altar contests.

Altar full of offerings in a cathedral in Janitzio, Michoacan.

Altar full of offerings in a cathedral in Janitzio, Michoacan.

On October 1st, we drove from Morelia to Patzcuaro where we took a boat at the dock (muelle) to the island of Janitzio. The island of Janitzio is world famous for its celebration of the Day of the Dead, which attracts more than 100,000 tourists from places like Mexico, The US, Canada and Europe. The main economical activities of the island are fishing and tourism; and the best time of the year to visit is the end of October and the beginning of November.

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The monument dedicated to Jose Maria Morelos on the island of Janitzio.

The monument dedicated to Jose Maria Morelos on the island of Janitzio.

We walked through colorful paths all the way up to the Monumento a Morelos (a monument dedicated to José María Morelos, Mexican Independence hero). People from the island put tables outside their houses displaying whatever they sell. You can find things like handmade clothing, jewelry, shoes, toys, souvenirs from the island, all kinds of foods and drinks, an much more. I was delighted by the colorful streets and children running around with their faces painted like sugar skulls.

After the monument, we followed the signs to the cemetery. The view of the graveyard is absolutely breathtaking. Most graves are very modest consisting of only a cross and the name of the person buried there. Thousands of flowers were arranged all through the cemetery with candles and ofrendas (offerings consisting of mostly food people bring to their deceased family members) which made for an astonishing view. Some of the natives to the island even sleep in the cemetery during the day of the dead celebration.

The famous cemetery during Day of the Dead on the Island of Janitzio, Michoacan.

The famous cemetery during Day of the Dead on the Island of Janitzio, Michoacan.

Tombstone in Janitzio's Cemetery.

Tombstone in Janitzio's Cemetery.

If you plan on visiting Janitzio for the Day of the Dead, I would recommend you to take a nap and be well rested before going there. You are not going to want to miss anything, but sometimes it seems impossible to do/see it all. Go well prepared with comfortable shoes (you are going to do lots of walking), bug spray (there are millions, maybe billions of mosquitoes in the island!), a coat, and an empty stomach. Make sure you get to the island right before sunset so you can take pictures while there’s still some sunlight, spend some time in the open theater where inhabitants of the village present some of their traditional dances, read poems, and tell stories all related to the dead, and make sure you eat a little bit at as many of the stands as you can.

traditional-food-in-janitzio

Food in Janitzio is amazing! There are lots of vegetarian and some vegan options as well. But with so many options it can be overwhelmingly difficult having to choose just one thing. We started to get hungry just as the temperature began to drop, so I had a hot ponche first (a traditional drink made with cinnamon and fruit, usually served around Christmas time). We walked around the food stands and after a few minutes we had an awesome quesadilla with the best salsa we have ever tried (after my mom’s, of course!), later we tried huitlacoche for the first time (huitlacoche is a type of mushroom which grows only on corn). When we were starting to feel tired we had a cup of coffee, Jim had veggie enchiladas and I had a buñuelo, which is a big piece of molded flour tortilla, fried and served with a hot sweet syrup.

Chiles Rellenos on the island of Janitzio.

Chiles Rellenos on the island of Janitzio.

Fried fish on the island of Janitzio.

Fried fish on the island of Janitzio.

Jim and I were ready to go back to Patzcuaro so we started our way back down the hill to the dock. We noticed a huge line starting almost at the entrance of the cemetery but we had no idea why these people were standing there so we kept walking. Later we learned that the line we saw when we starting our way down was of all the people who were ready to go on the boat back to Patzcuaro. We did some last minute shopping, went to the restrooms and proceeded to wait in line for 1 hour! Yes, the line was moving so slow it took 1 hour, (or maybe even longer) until we were finally on the boat on our way back to Patzcuaro. If you go to Janitzio for this celebration make sure you bring your coat because it can get very cold when you are on the boat. People come prepared with their winter hats, gloves, boots and some even bring their ponchos. I was glad I had carried my bulky coat all day long in my backpack. If I ever go back to Janitzio for Day of the Dead, I will make sure I also have a scarf and gloves, too.

A mother and her son during Day of the Dead. Native Purepechas inhabit the island and celebrate the lives of their deceased loved ones here.

A mother and her son during Day of the Dead. Native Purepechas inhabit the island and celebrate the lives of their deceased loved ones here.

We got to Patzcuaro and to our surprise, there was a huge party in the whole town! Banda groups were playing their happy music everywhere, people dancing around the bandas, hundreds of food and souvenir stands in the main plazas, and along the streets, and what seemed to be like thousands of cars kept coming in to the town when we were leaving. It was very easy to return to Morelia since the traffic was mainly going on the opposite direction.

People gathered in the streets of Janitzio buying food and artisins made by the locals.

People gathered in the streets of Janitzio buying food and artisins made by the locals.

In our last couple of days in Morelia we took some time to organize our footage, visited museums and did some more recording and picture taking. We had such a delightful time in Michoacán. We never felt insecure walking down its streets, nor did we witness any kind of violence whatsoever.

The Virrey de Mendoza Hotel in Morelia, Michoacan.

The Virrey de Mendoza Hotel in Morelia, Michoacan.

During Día de Muertos there is a feeling of celebration in the atmosphere throughout the whole country, but there is also a feeling of sorrow. Day of the Dead is something as Mexicans we celebrate as part of our culture knowing that one day it is going to be us who are the ones being remembered by our friends and family. In life we can dance, cry, and be happy, but in the end we are all going to die, so we might as well celebrate and enjoy life while we are still part of it.

jim-and-may-spanish-and-go

Overall, with the car, Airbnb, food, and all, we spent:

  • Car rental (5 days)................................$71 USD
  • Tolls from Guadalajara to Morelia……..$38 USD
  • Airbnb (4 nights)....................................$110 USD*
  • Food, and everything else………….…..$150 USD
  • Total expenses…………………………..$369 USD (-$110 from the Airbnb = $259 USD)

*We got the $110usd from our Airbnb reimbursed because not only was the house filthy, the fridge was broken, the kitchen was gross, all faucets in the house were leaky, which made water puddles outside the bathroom, the whole house was covered in dust and the worse part... the last day we were there, we found jumpy bugs on the bed which appeared to be fleas. Yuck! We sent pictures and all the evidence to Airbnb but since we stayed the 4 nights in the house, they were only able to reimburse in dollars half of what we paid and for the other half we got a coupon for future reservations.

Have you had any bad AirBnB experiences? Would you ever stay the night in a cemetery? Have you ever celebrated Day of the Dead? Let us know in the comments! We love to hear from you!

 

Day-of-the-Dead-Pinterest

May Larios

May Larios García is a Mexican English and Spanish teacher who grew up in a small town in the state of Colima, Mexico. She graduated from the School of Foreign Languages in Colima in 2010. She has been teaching English and Spanish as a Foreign and Second Language since the age of 18. She has worked with students of all ages and hopes to be able to keep helping others learn around the world.

    May enjoys visiting new places, meeting new people, and she can't wait to show you all the awesome places where Spanish is spoken. When she is not working, you can find her in the kitchen creating vegan recipes, sharing laughs with her friends, or at the closest tiangüis or mercado looking for the freshest produce.