Destiny Part Four: Blind or Blind-sided?

” The moment we want to believe something we suddenly see all the arguments for it, and become blind to the arguments against it.” George Bernard Shaw

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 Destiny Part Three; Blind or Blind-sided

May 2014

Months had passed since I’d last seen Tony, when he contacted me on the Sunday before Memorial day with a lunch invitation. Happy to hear from him, I dropped what I was doing and headed over to his apartment in uptown. Within the hour we were headed to our favorite Greek restaurant in the suburbs. During lunch we caught up on what had been going on in each others lives. It sounded like he was doing well, shooting concert photography for an online site with the new camera he bought. On the drive back to the city the usual topic came up; getting back together. It had been three years since we broke up. We have had this discussion many times but failed to come to an agreement on how to fix what went wrong between us. We were still friends though; actually he was one of my closest friends. The conversation always went the same; I’d say let’s  go on a few dates and see if we can get along and his response was always let’s just book a trip and travel like we used to!

But this time his tone was a bit more serious; “Things were so amazing between us, all the places we went, the things we did, you have to admit we had such good times. It has never been the same alone or with anyone else. We are so good together, both photographers, both Italian, same interests…”

Hey remember that time in Vietnam, that we spend an entire night taking pictures of that bridge on the lake and we forgot to even eat? Most of the restaurants were closed by the time we remembered!

“Hoan Kim Lake!” I said excitedly, “that was so much fun. remember, I wanted you to return my food because it was cold and the waitress yelled at you in Vietnamese! Sorry but that was funny!”

“Oh yeah.. good times” he added sarcastically.

“Well…yeah the best of times and the worst, like when you went crazy in Venice and I had to follow you around St. Marks on New Year’s?  I’m sure you didn’t forget that one.”

Cutting me off he said; “Can we stop talking about the past? How many times do I have to apologize? I keep trying here “.

No argument, no excuses, this time was different; “I love you, maybe I just wasn’t ready to try in the past but I am now, and you are the only person I want to be with. I think of you a lot and it is hard to find what we had with anyone else.”

Expecting my typical skepticism; “You are really going to regret this one day, taking what we had for granted, it is not that easy to find you’ll see.” A warning I did not take seriously at the time.

“Ok, Tony, you’re right we are good together, maybe we should try again.”

“Perfect Asia is it – we haven’t been to China yet or…”

I had to stop him. Tell him. I had just booked a trip to India with my friend that I could not cancel-It was in two months. “I can’t go to China until next year at least, I am going to India in two months”.

Silence filled the car for the rest of the ride back. He always hated when I went on trips without him.

Once back at his place, he invited me in to look at some photos he took when he was in India. I couldn’t help but notice the art that filled the walls of his one-bedroom apartment,  every single piece representing that amazing trip we bought it on.  The 6 foot-long painting of the Buddha from Thailand’s Chatachuck market that hung above his bed, the classical Greek vase from Athens that he spent hours negotiating price with the shopkeeper, the collection of venetian masks from a  famous mask maker in Venice,  and the painting one-talented elephant named Sula, made for us in Chiang Mai. Memories quickly came flooding back… both good and bad. It was fear that prevented me from getting back with him.  So many times I fell for this tactic; he would pour on the charm, pay a lot of attention to me, suggest an exotic destination and I was hooked. Except that once we booked the trip, like clockwork within about a month the relationship would fall apart and we’d have five difficult months to force ourselves to get along until we left.

After a little while, the conversation began to unravel. Hoped for plans failed to fall so easily into place with news of my India trip, we started to argue about everything; dating, past arguments, not hanging out anymore. I decided it might be best to go, while we were still on somewhat good terms. It was important that we end this on a good note if we were ever going to try to work this out.

“We  can still get back together-I just can’t book anything until after India”, I said half-heartedly.  But I could see my offer was met with disappointment. “That is a long time away”, he said, with his head down, “I was hoping we could plan a trip for this fall”. I sat next to him and kissed him on the cheek and awkwardly hugged him. A strong sense of uneasiness filled the pit of my stomach, as I got up and turned down the dimly lit hallway towards the door.  I looked back at him for a moment; there he sat in his back leather couch, flipping through photos on his camera, I wished he would have stopped me from leaving, jumped up and said don’t go, but he did not look up. I wanted to tell him I loved him too and that we would work this out. But I didn’t.

We will have another chance to work this out, we always do; I shut the door quietly behind me and left.

Unfortunately, there was not that one last chance. This was the last time I ever saw Tony.

Next…Athens; Chasing Shadows. 

 

Destiny Part Three; The Greek Islands; Blue Skies and Wind Swept Beaches

Arriving in Santorini is a magical experience, well worth my two day excursion; The village of Fira consists of an outcropping of white-washed houses, neatly stacked on top the dramatic seaside cliffs that overlook the midnight blue waters of the Aegean. 

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Destiny Part Three; The Greek Islands; Blue Skies and Wind Swept Beaches

It was 6:45am when I finally arrived in Santorini, a full day later than expected. Although I was tired, the warmer weather was refreshing and I was excited to finally start my vacation! Upon landing I immediately texted Tony, but he did not answer. I had the address of the hotel in the village of Fira, so I wasn’t too worried and jumped in a cab. My cab driver was a nice older gentleman who spoke only broken English. The car flew down winding roads through dark empty streets and climbed to the top of the city along a narrow winding road,  when finally we pulled over. He turned toward me and nodded towards a little set of stairs that climbed further up into the village. There- he pointed.  “Umm, …I should just walk… up there? I said staring out the window-It was dark out, it thought. “No road”, he added. Within a second he jumped out of the car and offered to help me to the hotel. How nice, he even carried my bags. He mumbled something about it’s not busy at this time of the year, so it is not as crowded as usual.

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We were both out of breath when we reached the top of the three flights of steps leading to the hotel. He rang the door bell and after some noticeable commotion, an older man appeared, the hotel manager, I assumed, obviously half-asleep, after exchanging a few words in Greek, the cab driver patted me on the back and ran down the stairs. Bye thank you for all your help…The hotel agent shoved a key in my hand and pointed to a set of doors about a half-flight up, he mumbled something about going back to sleep, before shutting the door in my face.

I’m here,  I announced once inside, but Tony was sound asleep in bed. As I climbed into bed, he briefly asked about my trip, before falling back asleep. All my worries melted away now that we were together -I had made it to Greece.

Next… Blind or Blind-sided?

Destiny Part Two; Holidays and Trip Delays!

The problem with running away from home is that…. the problems follow.

Destiny Part Two: Holidays and Trip Delays!

Finally it was Christmas Eve and after a short but busy day at work I was finally ready to leave for Greece. My brother John drove me to the airport, during the drive he he got one last last chance to warn me about the recent protests in Athens. Over the last few weeks he had become obsessed with the riots, and spent a considerable amount of time on putting together a complete timeline of the events. I reminded him that Chicago is the murder capital of the United States, so I think I can survive a few protesters.

Ignoring my comment, he started, “you know why the riots and protests started right?”

Yes, John…I know.

“Well just a few weeks ago on December 6th, a student Alexandros Grigoropoulos was killed by two cops. His death started an immediate rash of demonstrations that rapidly erupted into rioting and violence.  Have you been watching it on the news? Students walked out of classes, buildings in central Athens were burned down, and Molotov cocktails were launched.”
Wow! That’s a nice little Christmas story but you already… Cutting me off he excitedly went on; “and less than two weeks ago the violence escalated when about 4,000 angry students threw firebombs at the riot police. The next day when the students attacked the police again, the riot police fired back tear gas in response.

A couple days later, a large group of demonstrators gathered in peace outside the Parliament building and the police again used tear gas on the crowd. At the same time on the other side of town in a neighborhood called Exarchia, a smaller mob of about a 100 firebombed the police station near where the student was killed. Maybe the two events were staged as the police weren’t prepared for this second attack”, he said shaking his head.

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“Then…he went on dramatically, last week the Christmas tree in the main square was ripped down by an angry mob of 150 protestors and at least three reporters were injured by the police. Just yesterday, thousands of protestors marched through the city when…” Seeing the look of utter horror on my face he trailed off and then added,  “oh I’m sure you will be fine.”

“Are you totally insane?” I asked, staring at him. You were just dying to tell that that little story weren’t you?
He switched to a more friendly tone; “Sorry, anyway what time are you getting into Athens?” I promised myself that I wouldn’t let his story get to me, and focused on the trip. Once at O’Hare airport, I hugged him goodbye, hopped out of the car and added. “Oh, I will text you when I get to Athens and let you know if I survived the protests!”
Security and check-in was quite smooth but unfortunately the flight was delayed due to the weather. Not a complete surprise during winter in Chicago,  I checked in with the desk about the delay and they assured me I would get rerouted to Athens if I missed my second flight. However, not sure I would make the third flight to Santorini but I prayed for the best, there was a slim chance I could still make it. After a three hour delay, we finally boarded the Alitalia flight to Milan.  The Christmas Eve flight was uneventful and I wondered what how my family was celebrating at home.

Athens street Art

Eight hours later in Milan’s Malpensa airport , representatives from Alitalia split us up into groups to figure out who was delayed and to where. It was incredibly disorganized, but we were all eventually reissued tickets. While waiting, I called Aegean Airlines to see when the next flight was but they didn’t quite understand what I was asking. I decided to wait until I got to Greece to work through the flight details. It turned out to be a very long wait for the next flight to Athens. Once I got to Athens it didn’t even make sense to set out into an unfamiliar city that late at night; as it was about 11:45pm. I would have to spend Christmas in the airport alone.

After some duty-free shopping and a bite to eat, I decided to camp out on some benches I found in a remote area of the airport until my 6am flight to Santorini. Sitting at the airport alone and tired, the excitement of the past few weeks was replaced with a creeping feeling of depression.  The problem with running away from home or your life is…. the problems follow you. Changing the context of my life, my environment, didn’t..couldn’t change my feelings and thoughts.  I was definitely not over Mark yet, the break up was really bad to say the least, and it dragged on for months. Maybe even a year, before it fell apart completely. I was carrying around these bad feelings like over-stuffed luggage.  I felt like things we had closure but the feelings were still there.  Not sure how to lighten the load or if it was just a matter of time. I fell asleep on my make shift airport bed wondering if Tony or a trip to Greece would really change anything in the long run. 

Next… The Greek Islands; Blue Skies and Wind Swept Beaches

Destiny Part One: Escaping Athens

“Detached, distant, and depressed… holding my breath waiting for something to happen. I think my story is similar to many; you get divorced or out of a bad relationship and it takes some time to get the bad taste out of your mouth and get back on track with your life. I was so bored and unhappy! That’s it I am running away from home. Well, not really but did pack my Swiss army luggage, grabbed my camera and booked a ticket to Greece.”

Escaping Athens:
It was about 6 years ago over the Christmas season that my friends and family decided I was having a  breakdown of sorts. I can understand why, it was shortly after I broke up with my boyfriend of ten years that I announced to my co-workers, friends and family, that on Christmas Eve (which was in three weeks) I was going to Greece with my new boyfriend Antonio! I tried not to let their concerns wear away at my excitement. Who is Antonio and where did you meet him? Over Christmas-who goes on vacation on Christmas? Is he crazy? Are you crazy? As I assured them of my sanity and his, I realized it was crazy but also exciting and scary- at the same time.
“Antonio is an amazing travel photographer; he is totally normal and really nice!” I assured them. The reality was we were barely even dating, after a few dates he had impulsively invited me to tag along on his trip. I hesitated-I didn’t even know if I liked him. I had not even mentioned him to anyone except my best friend Tracy.

The plan was to meet in Santorini; the most romantic island in the world for a week and then spend the second week and New Year’s Eve in Athens. It sounded too amazing to pass up. So I did it-I booked the ticket! It seemed so romantic- spending the holidays with a handsome Italian photographer!

A trip to the Emergency Room:

The weeks went by as the holidays approached. Although it was busy at work, it was so hard to focus! There was so much to do for the trip. I was counting down the days; In just two days on Christmas Eve, I was leaving. Sure there was a nagging thought that things could go horribly wrong- spending two entire weeks with a total stranger, but I managed to block out these negative thoughts and focus on travel plans. Anyway, I was fascinated by Antonio, he had been to over 30 countries and he had a lot of great deal of exciting stories about travels to exotic locations. His photos were amazing and just getting into photography made that especially appealing.

I had not actually seen him since we booked the trip but we texted daily to discuss logistics and details; how to get to into the city by bus, changing money, what to pack, what to do! It was so exciting. He was leaving one day earlier than me on the 23rd because to get the same flight, booked three weeks out was too expensive.  I tried not to worry about traveling alone to an island to meet him. But then during work on the 22nd,  I received a series of strange text messages that sent me reeling into a panicked state.

“I am in the emergency room”; “I am having a heart attack”. Followed by photos…one with his arm hooked up to an IV and the second a partial shot of him in a hospital bed.

I ran into my friend Nicole’s office. I’m going  to Greece alone! Tony’s in the hospital! I think he had a heart attack. It seemed so unbelievable as I said it out loud!

“Isn’t he like 37”,  Nicole asked in disbelief?

The random messages from him continued throughout the day without any real explanation of what was going on. I followed Nicole around all day projecting worst case scenarios. A nagging suspicion kept popping up –was he really was in the hospital or did he make all this up? It was all too much to deal with. After work I spend the evening on the phone with first my Mother and then Tracy. Panic finally drove me to confess the truth of how I actually met him; I don’t even know him that well! He emailed me from an online RSVP for a photography event. I have only gone out with him a few times; maybe he’s  a crazy artist. What if he isn’t even going and I am going to Greece by myself?

Finally late in the evening, Tony texted me to say he was on the “L” headed home. That’s it, no explanation, everything was fine. What about the heart attack I asked? Why didn’t you call me?

Still worried, I told him I’d drive him to the airport in the morning but he said he was fine. I imagined me sitting on a beach in Santorini alone and abandoned. But the next morning he texted me and reported he was getting on the plane and to text when I landed in Greece. Everything’s fine I announced to everyone, false alarm-he’s ok…  I ignored the concerned looks of my friends and family and told myself over and over -this would be an adventure…one way or another.

Next: My romantic night in Santorini turns into a lonely night in the Athens airport.

“Destiny; a Pre-Ordained Course of Events Holding Irresistible Power”

“What is it called when a chance encounter with a total stranger changes your life forever? What does it mean when you have a strong affinity with another? I am still trying to understand the underlying meaning of this story but for now I will assume it’s destiny.”

Meet Me in Santorini

Meet Me in Santorini

It is rare but occasionally a random occurrence turns into such a life altering event that you feel compelled to explain it or write about it.  Years ago I met a someone that changed my life, one of my best friends; Antonio. I don’t mean he was interesting or fun, although he was, I mean meeting Tony opened up a whole new life for me, altered my perception to such a degree that I have been changed forever.  I usually write travel tips and give advice on budget travel; I’m not comfortable writing memoirs but in telling this story I hope to better understand the events that happened, or at least remember them and hopefully remember him.

Next: Escaping Athens

Red Line…Blue Line…What? Chicago’s Public Transportation System

Red Line… Blue line…what? Ask a Chicagoan for directions and your bound to get a number of cryptic responses. Get on the “L” and take the Blue line to the Red line and get off at the “Loop” and just walk over to the “Bean”.

Chicago!

Chicago!

Warm weather, beaches and fun festivals; Summer is the best time to visit Chicago!  Must see for visitors are Millennium Park, Navy Pier, the Jazz Fest and of course the Taste of Chicago. Currently hotels in Chicago are offering a number of discounts and specials to draw visitors to this great city. When deciding on where to stay in Chicago, transportation options and what you want to do while on vacation are important factors to consider. For example, staying out by O’Hare Airport might save some money, but be prepared to take a 30-40 minute train ride into  downtown. But don’t worry with some careful planning and a basic understanding of the transportation system visitors will be able to pick the right location for their visit and check out all of Chicago’s main sights-no stress involved.

The Chicago Transit Authority Bus and “L” System for Tourists

Ask a Chicagoan for directions and you can get a number of cryptic responses. Get on the “L” and take the Blue line to the Red line and get off at the “Loop” or walk over to the “Bean”.  Once you learn the lingo-the system is actually quite easy to follow. The “L” is Chicago slang for the Elevated trains that run North and South to various points in the city. The colors correspond to the lines and its destinations. There are actually 8 different “L” lines, but most tourists will probably only use the Blue Line, the Red Line and the Brown Line trains. The Blue Line starts out on the far North side at O’Hare airport, heads South through the downtown area and ends at Forest Park. The Red Line, which runs from North Chicago starting at Howard through the downtown area and ends in South Chicago at 95th. This line hits both major ball parks: Wrigley Field (Addison exit) and US Cellular Field (Sox-35th exit). The other frequently used line is the Brown Line which runs between Kimball on the North end to the Loop Downtown.

The "L"

The “L”

How to Get to Chicago from Midway or O’Hare Airports

The “L” train is also the cheapest and often fastest option for travel to and from both airports into Chicago. Taking a cab is the most expensive option. Expect to pay $30.00 to $50.00 for a taxi depending on which airport and your final destination. The “L” is the best deal at $2.25 a fare!

From O’Hare, visitors can easily take the Blue line into the city. If you arrive at terminals 1, 2 or 3, look for the signs that say “CTA Trains” or “Trains to City.” These will take you straight to the “L” station. From airport terminal 5 you will have to take the Airport Transit System (ATS) to Terminal 2, and then simply follow the signs to “CTA Trains” or “Trains to City.” Travel from O’Hare to Downtown takes about 45 minutes.

For tourists flying into Midway, the Orange Line offers a direct route from Midway into the downtown area of Chicago. Once off the plane or out of baggage claim area, look for the signs labeled to “CTA Trains” or “Trains to City.” There is also an orange line painted on the ground that will take you directly to the train station by enclosed walkway. The train travels Northbound around the Loop (downtown area) and then heads back South to Midway, passengers will need to transfer depending on their final destination. The trip into the Loop takes about 20-25 minutes. The Orange Line does operate daily and holidays but does not offer overnight service so it is important to check the schedules.

Chicago Bus and ‘L” Passes and Rates

Cost per ride either Bus or “L” is reasonable at $2.25 per single use, if you pay in cash each ride is 2.25.   Transit Card Vending Machines are located in all “L” stations and at the airports and accept both cash and credit. You cannot purchase Fare cards on the actual bus; cash is only accepted.

There are a number of day passes ranging from 1-3o days, that might be a better value if you are using public transit during your whole stay. CTA Pass Machines are located at both Midway and O’Hare airports, the Chicago Cultural Center, and CTA’s Lake, Roosevelt and Adams/Wabash rail stations downtown, they accept cash or credit cards and dispense a variety of passes including 3-Day, 7-Day, and 7-Day CTA pass. These types of passes allow unlimited rides for one person starting at the first usage. Most stations also have an attendant to offer assistance.

Train service on the Blue and the Red lines runs around the clock; including holidays. The Brown Line has limited hours and stops running around Midnight or 1:00am. Visitors should check the hours on the CTA website.

Chicago Bus Tracker for Tourists

To supplement the “L” trains, the Chicago Transit Authority has an extensive network of bus lines available too. Buses are easy to use in Chicago as they typically follow a straight path along one designated street as opposed to some other countries where the bus follows a route. This makes the buses in Chicago easy to use and bus stops are located on almost every main corner in the city. Keep in mind the suburbs have totally different system called “Pace.”

The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) has a great program accessible to any traveler called the CTA Bus Tracker by logging on to this site online or via mobile phone passengers can view exactly where their bus is and when it is coming. A great tool for those who have to endure waiting for the bus during the grueling Chicago winters.

Another great tool is the CTA Bus Tracker by Text. Users can receive texts with the estimated arrival times for their specific bus. Instructions are now appearing on all posted CTA bus stops. Basically locate the site ID located on the bottom of the CTA sign you are at, then text ctabus [stopID] to 41411 to receive the bus arrival time. Some buses do have limited hours so check the schedules posted on the CTA website. Both bus and “L” line maps can be printed or accessed online making sightseeing in Chicago easy and fun. Check out the CTA website for how to guides and schedule/route information.

Chicago is a world-class city filled with an endless variety of options for fun and entertainment. So whether you are heading over to Navy Pier, Millennium Park, Lincoln Park Zoo or Oak Street Beach, don’t stress-hop on an “L” or a bus for a fun day in a great city.

A Guide to Navigating Dia de los Muertos; Oaxaca, Mexico

Sugar Skulls

Sugar Skulls

Every year Oaxaca Mexico comes alive for the colorful Dia de los Muertos festival, also called the Day of the Dead. Strongly rooted in Mexico’s indigenous traditions, this festival honors and celebrates the relatives and ancestors that have passed on. During the period from October 31st to Nov 2nd, elaborate altars are constructed for the dead, parades and live music fill the streets, traditional moles are prepared, and late night vigils are conducted in the cemetery.

Aside from the festival, Oaxaca’s center is filled with colonial-style churches, a car-free main square, trendy mezcal bars, and many traditional restaurants.

What is the Day of the Dead?

Although the Day of the Dead festival occurs at the same time as Halloween, the two holidays differ significantly. Halloween tends to focus on ghosts and trick or treating, whereas Dia de los Muertos is a celebration and remembrance of relatives who have passed on, inviting them back into the lives of the living for one short week before they have to depart again into the afterlife. Although the Spanish linked the holiday to the Catholic All Souls Day in an effort to colonize Mexico, it’s no secret that Dia de los Muertos is strongly rooted in the local indigenous traditions of pre-colonial Mexico.

Even with its strong emphasis on honoring the dead, this is not a sad event; don’t expect tearful vigils by gravesites, or people in mourning, this is a fun celebration marked with feasting, parades and live music!

Shopping and Markets in Oaxaca

A fun way to get involved first hand in the Dia de los Muertos is with a visit to a local markets: check out Benito Juarez market, 20 de Noviembre market, or further afield is the massive Abastos market. During the festival week these markets become increasingly crowded with shoppers purchasing colorful decorations, costumes and ingredients for traditional dishes.

The excitement is contagious at the 20 de Noviembre market, children pour through booths filled with devil masks and skeleton costumes, laughing and picking out their attire for the kids parade. Stalls and tables are overflowing with grave site offerings (ofrendas) and altar decorations such as fragrant copal incense, bright orange marigold flowers called cempasuchitl coined flor de muerto (flower of the dead), candles, and religious statues.

Kids Parade

Kids Parade

The market is also a great place to buy purchase inexpensive souvenirs and decorations to take home. Many vendors sell wooden Day of the Dead boxes; these colorful scenes depict skeletons poking fun at everyday life and human existence. Typical scenes may include a skeleton mariachi band, a skeleton riding a bicycle, or two skeletons getting married. Other fun items to purchase are the hanging ornamental metallic cut-outs of male and female skeletons and devils in festive clothing. Sugar Skulls are an iconic image as well; many stands and carts are filled with dozens of chocolate or sugar skull candies in all shapes and sizes, some with names written across their foreheads.

Creating the Altar

Creating the Altar

Benito Juárez is the main food market located just a couple blocks south of the main Zócalo. This is a great place to sample and purchase traditional food items that are central to Oaxaca. Mole is a popular holiday sauce or paste that comes in many varieties like Roja (red) or Verde (green). But the main staple for the holidays in Oaxaca is Mole Negro, a dark paste made with chilis, freshly ground chocolate, garlic, tomato, herbs, cloves, and many other seasonings usually served over chicken, turkey, pork or enchiladas. Another popular holiday item is Pan de Muerto (bread of the dead); visitors will see dozens of large displays of these big round loaves or some formed in the shape of bodies with skulls baked into them.

Snacks at the Market

Snacks at the Market

Adventurous eaters can try some chapulines; this crunchy salty snack is made from grasshoppers and insects seasoned with chili and salt. Visitors will see many chapulines vendors with overflowing baskets and carts filled with these crunchy snacks.

Chocolate lovers will be in heaven in Oaxaca. The chocolate sold is locally produced, freshly ground and minimally processed. For a delicious treat at the market try a creamy hot chocolate made with milk or water served with a side of mini pan de muerto. Afterwards head over to Mina Street, coined chocolate street, to visit one of the local purveyors of chocolate. Visitors can watch as the cocoa beans are ground in large grinders into a rich creamy chocolate paste to later be made into bars or mole. This is a great place to purchase fresh chocolate bars for souvenirs or to eat.

Shopping at Abastos Market in Oaxaca

The bustling Abastos market is another major market on the outskirts of Oaxaca. Navigating this humongous market can be tricky, especially on the days during the festival. But it is worth it. The market is packed with food vendors selling fruits, vegetables, chocolate, cheese, meat, and fish. In addition, there are huge sections selling furniture, religious goods, clothes, shoes, rugs, birdcages and pet products. The handicraft section is overflowing with hand-made baskets and clay and glazed pottery.

The streets leading in and out of this daily market can get extremely crowded, especially during the holidays. Because parking is an issue, it is not advised to rent a car to get there. The most convenient and affordable way to get to Abastos is by public transportation or private taxi.

Constructing a Day of the Dead Altar

Many shops, businesses and homes will have a large altar set up for Dia de los Muertos. The tradition of setting up an altar has a dual purpose: to pay respect and honor the dead and also to invite the deceased back to visit. Most altars contain pictures of loved ones, Cempasuchitl flowers (marigolds), candles, offerings of fruit, chocolate, incense, sugar skulls and candies. Usually people place favorite items their loved ones enjoyed while alive on the altars. If the deceased drank or smoked, one will place a shot of Mezcal or a cigarette on the altar.

A trail of marigold flowers, candles and sand leading from the door to the altar will help show souls the way back home. Copal incense has a heavy flagrant scent and is burned as an offering to the deceased and to help purify the souls of the dead so they can safely make it back to the afterlife.

The Xoxocotlan Cemetery in Oaxaca

The Xoxocotlan cemetery comes alive (pardon the pun) with an almost carnival-like atmosphere on October 31st with live music, clusters of food vendors serving delicious traditional foods and partying crowds that spill out of the cemetery onto the streets. The atmosphere is contagious – order a giant foot-long stuffed flour tortilla filled with ground meat, cheese, beans and hot peppers, and wash it down a cervesa fria (cold beer).

Xoxo ( pronounced ho-ho) cemetery is divided into two sections: the pantheon Viejo (old) and pantheon Nuevo (new). Each area exudes its own atmosphere and experience for the all-night gravesite vigil. The old side offers a more traditional and quiet approach. Families quietly sit around the dimly lit decorated graves and share stories of their loved ones. In the center of the pantheon Viejo is the Capilla de San Sebastián; this old church structure is a sight to see. It was built in the early 1500s by missionaries and has been damaged by multiple earthquakes.

The new area of the cemetery is louder and filled with a younger partying crowd. Many children and adults wear costumes, and the graves are elaborately decorated with statues, candles and sand art displays. At the pantheon Nuevo the music, drinking and partying go on well into the morning hours. Although there is a fun, festival nature to this holiday, it has deep spiritual meaning to its participants. The cemetery is not a tourist attraction, so it is essential to be respectful when viewing and walking through the gravesites.

XOXO Cemetery

XOXO Cemetery

Dia de los Muertos Events

Many of the main events are centered around the Zócalo or city square. This tree-lined square is filled with restaurants, cafes, churches, and shops. Many of the comparsas, or traditional parades, originate and end at the Zócalo. These are not scheduled events so check with your hotel for more information.

During the course of the week, dozens of people are busy constructing large scale sand art displays in the center of the Zócalo. These intricate colorful works of art depict skeletons or scenes typical of Dia de los Muertos. Another fun sight are the dozens of giant decorative skulls that line the main streets surrounding the Zócalo. These colorful six-foot tall paper mache skulls are elaborately constructed with colorful themes and artwork by local artists.

Fun Events in Oaxaca!

Fun Events in Oaxaca!

 

Tours in Oaxaca Mexico

Many tour companies and taxi services are available in town to help visitors navigate and make sense of this event. Norma Hawthorne of Oaxaca Cultural Navigator offers small group size photography expeditions to the festival in both Oaxaca and Teotitlan del Valle. The most valuable part of her tour is her personal expertise on the culture of the area.

Another option is to visit Oaxaca on your own and use private taxis or guides, easily arranged upon arrival. Oaxaca is a safe city, sheltered from the violence prevalent in the border cities of Mexico. Once in Oaxaca, most of the sights and events are within walking distance from the main square and the historic center.

Dia de los Muertos is a colorful festival full of fun activities and events not to be missed. Visitors to Oaxaca are often captivated with its old-world charm, its gourmet restaurants, trendy bars, amazing markets and colonial churches.