Day of the dead is a Mexican celebration that occurs once a year on the first and second day of November, celebrations and ways to honor the Pre-Hispanic tradition are different throughout the country of Mexico.
Among the many different places we can visit to see how this day is celebrated, there is one where we can feel the atmosphere of the traditional celebration, while we see the classical architecture of the small indigenous towns built in Mexico and feel the authenticity of this day that has inspired movies and made more than one foreigner feel connected to the spirit of the celebration.
The place we describe is a small island called Janitzio in the middle of the lake Pátzcuaro in the state of Michoacán in Mexico.
In this place during the evening of the first of November and the dawn of the second, we can see the people of the island decorating the graves of their relatives with flowers, photographs and candles, praying, talking, singing, and showing not only their respects to the people they saw in life and now might hear their voices but also that they have not forgotten them and they are happy to honor them in many different ways.
Entrance to the island is free and any person can go and see, listen, take photographs and buy souvenirs, you only have to pay the boat ticket
at the docks of the town of Pátzcuaro to go there; the price of a single ticket is of approximately three United States Dollars. Boats leave each 30 minutes. Once you have arrived to the island, you can walk the different narrow streets that compose the small fishing village that occupies most of the space of the island.
Then have a traditional Mexican hot drink, snacks, some food or going upstairs to see the cannons that are at the base of the statue of Morelos
(one of the Mexican heroes in the independence war), from there you can have a better view of the lake and neighbouring towns. However, if you want to have an even better view you may opt to go inside the statue and climb the stairs. It might be crowded depending on the hour you decide to go and if that is the case, you probably will have to wait about half hour to see the view from the fist of the statue and then go down after some minutes, as many people also want to look.
After 8 pm on the night of the first of November people from neighboring towns and tourists tend to go to the island to take pictures and have the experience of seeing the traditional celebration, making the small streets crammed with people that is buying, browsing, eating and taking pictures.
Climate becomes cold when the night advances, therefore, is recommended that people visiting the island wear gloves and jackets.
Around midnight women and children leave their houses with torches, candles, food, flowers and go to the cemetery
where different altars and ornaments were set to remember dead family members. After some time the cemetery has its own light from the candles and even torches, making it a mystical encompassing shadows, aromas and prayers in Purépecha (one Mexican indigenous language).
The celebration of the Day of the Dead in Janitzio is completely open, and all people no matter their origin, ethnicity, religion or language can enter and be part of it,
everyone is welcome to celebrate, have a drink, talk to the people, enjoy the traditional food, visit the graveyards and listen to the songs and stories that the families give to all who want to hear them.
Nonetheless, we have to clarify that as the island and the surrounding towns are not strong touristic places most of the people there will only speak Spanish or Purépecha. This may cause some people to feel uncomfortable as they cannot speak freely and be understood, however people there will do their best to understand and attend the tourist.
Arriving to the island might be a complicated task if you decide to use the public transport, the best for having a smooth journey is to rent a car
and drive to the town of Pátzcuaro. However, it might take some time to find a car space since many people would be traveling to the small town.
Traveling to Janitzio is recommended to live the experience of celebrating the Day of the Dead in a more traditional way, and connect with the ancient tradition of the indigenous people living there. The disadvantages are the deficient means of transportation, signs, number of hotels and hostels nearby together with the language barrier and the remoteness of the island from other big Mexican cities. The recommendation then would be to rent a car, plan a long journey including the neighboring towns of the island, reserve in advance the hotels as they fill fast in case a staying is desired and
be prepared to stay awake and see the celebration on the very first hours or the second day of November.
For me as a Mexican it has always been a great experience to go, enjoy and remember a part of the past of my culture, and I would definitely recommend it to people with an adventurous spirit searching to experience and see another side of Mexican traditions.
Written by Clinton Nateras Tello