Posted on October 30, 2011 by Jessica Seba
Thanks to Jessica Seba, expert on all things Mexico, for contributing the following post as the October 30th Featured Travel Instigator. Stay tuned for a post and Q and A from a new adventurous female traveler the 15th and 30th of every month!
Ever since I was little, Halloween was always my favorite holiday. Haunted houses, trick-or-treating, orange and black galore, I always loved the spooky feel. Fall was always my favorite season and our Michigan Indian Summers made for the perfect weather for the skanky costumes I found myself wearing in college! Somehow along the way Halloween became more of a whore show than a horror show and I’m pretty sure the Halloween party scene from Mean Girls sums it up best (you know which one I’m talking about!) By my Senior year of college, I was disappointed with what the spectacle had become and thought to myself,‘instead of spending hundreds of dollars on some barely-there costume, parties, and drinks, why don’t I buy a plane ticket to Mexico to learn about Dia de los Muertos!” …..and 30 minutes later after this brilliant idea, that is exactly what I did!
I’ve always had a strong attraction to the Mexican culture and I had a general understanding about the Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) tradition but I wanted to see it first hand and learn more. I conveniently had an *ahem* latin lover that I had fallen for earlier that summer during study abroad and with thoughts that we would never see each other again when we parted, I surprised him with “Hey, I’m coming to Mexico! Take me on a trip to see Dia de los Muertos traditions!” …..and well, so it was!
Dia de los Muertos is celebrated all over the country as it has religious and indigenous origins. There are a only a handful of cities that are really known for keeping true to the traditions and colorful celebrations. I researched incessantly where exactly I wanted to go. There was Aguascalientes, that annually holds Festival de las Calaveras (Skull Festival),Pátzcuaro, where fishermen set out on rowboats with torches to light up the lake and Oaxaca, which is famous and regarded as the most authentic in their celebrations with the colors, fragrances, and food.
Day of the Dead is actually celebrated on November 1st (All Saints Day) and November 2 (All Souls Day), so I booked my plane ticket to cover those days, Thursday to Wednesday (eh, screw class!) A several hour drive south of Mexico City, I chose Oaxaca as my Dia de los Muertos destination. What I learned and experienced was beyond my expectations and simply captivating.
We went to the cemetery where families adorned the graves with vibrant colors of Mexican Marigolds, candles, incense, and photos. Food, drink, and sugar candy skulls are left out as offerings. I learned that they believe the souls of the deceased return to earth to be with their loved ones. They also create altars and shrines in the same way, absolutely stunning to see as they were lined all over the city center. People were praying and singing in front of them while some enjoying a mariachi serenade. When night fell, the cemetery transformed with all the illuminated candles. We watched a mesmerizing play: an abstract representation of Day of the Dead that the city had gathered for.
Oaxaca prides itself as one of the main destinations in Mexico that always preserves its customs and traditions. During this holiday the community expresses their beliefs that death is nothing more than another stage of life and embraces the opportunity to share this idea with others. The impulse decision to travel here and experience this was one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life (not exaggerating!) I learned much so about a culture different than my own and was able to observe and appreciate celebrating death. Dia de los Muertos is something truly magical to experience and I will never forget the trip! And oh, if you’re wondering what happened between my once latin lover and I, that trip sealed our official anniversary as an official couple!
Q and A with Jessica Seba
1. You fell in love with Mexico at the age of 12; from a child’s perspective, what did it have that you didn’t have at home in Michigan.
Growing up in the suburbs of Metro Detroit, Mexico was a whole other world. People just seemed more humble–children were outside playing, people walked around everywhere, and it appeared that people appreciated the simple things in their life.
2. To which city would you send a first-time Mexico tourist?
Depends on the person. I call the Cancun/Riviera Maya area the “gateway Mexico destination”. It is a good place to start for those who have misconceptions about Mexico. It depends what the tourist is looking to do- beach, sight see, shop, travel the unbeaten path, etc., but for a quick snap shot of all those things, Playa del Carmen in Riviera Maya is the place to go.
3. What do tourists never think to do in Mexico that they absolutely must?
Eat street tacos! A lot of tourists that flee to the beaches don’t normally step outside their comfort zone and they are missing the whole Mexico experience. You won’t ever know the taste of an authentic taco until you eat where the locals eat!
4. What misconception about Mexico irritates you the most?
It irritates me when people think of Mexico as one big beach. It is so much more than that and that is what I want people to know. Yes, there is lots of beautiful coastline, but the discoveries and culture that lie between them are absolutely dazzling and magical.
And of course, the misconception that ‘ all of Mexico is dangerous’ also annoys me. Like anywhere in the world, there are safe places and not so safe place, just use common sense and be aware of your surroundings.
5. What’s one Mexican cultural tradition that American’s could benefit most from learning/appreciating?
Dia de los Muertos is truly spectacular. The significance behind their custumes and understanding that death should be celebrated is something I think everyone could appreciate.
6. Be honest, do you hate American spring breakers under the age of 21?
Ha, I’ve seen 5 “spring breaks” in Cancun so I think it would be wise to regulate my honesty! Addressing the stereotype, I don’t hate them, I just don’t understand them. I’m not sure what makes someone think that just because they are in another country that they can act completely out of control.
7. In college you specialized in Commercial Recreation/ Leisure and Tourism, Spanish Language, Hospitality Administration, and Event Planning. Did you make your friend’s feel bad who were still “undecided”?
No, never. My first year I had no idea what I wanted to get into and I took tons of random classes until everything ‘clicked’ in my Intro to Recreation class. I was lucky. I was in such a hurry to graduate because I was eager to start doing what I love. Now it’s all over, I realize, there is NO hurry! Even though I’m “living my dream” there is no rush to figure everything out. Milk that in-school deference as long as you can! If you’re still undecided after 2 years, go travel. I bet you’ll find some clarity.
8. Victors in Puerto Vallarta always brings me a free shot of tequila with a Corona. Why isn’t the rest of the world this awesome?
Mexicans are known for their warm hospitality. I haven’t traveled overseas, but here in Mexico they understand how important tourism is in their country and they embrace it.
8. Which is better American reality t.v. or Mexican soap operas?
Nothing can replace Snooki!
9. Say something sexy in Spanish.
Dame solo un beso que me alcance hasta morir.
10. Favorite Mexican Dish?
Chilaquiles and Sopes. Also Oaxaca Cheese Tostadas are heaven.
Want to hear more from Jessica?
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