When Julia and I first booked our tickets to Mexico City, we hoped to catch the Day of the Dead parade. Unfortunately, we learned the hard way that the parade takes place the weekend BEFORE November 1st. So if you’d like to see the Day of the Dead 2019 parade, come the weekend of October 26th. You’re welcome.
To experience the Day of the Dead on the actual days (November 1st and November 2nd), Mexico Underground invited us to join them on two of their tours to get the full experience! We started the morning walking around the Jamaica Market. If you have been reading and following along the Mexico Underground blog series, you’ll know that we have visited quite a number of markets...but none of them were like Jamaica.
As soon as we stepped into the market, I could feel the positive energy. We saw people buy arms full of Cempasuchiles (Mexican marigold) and Pata de Leon (Cockscomb). People were buying food, spices, snacks and decorations to put on their ofrendas (alters). Flowers were being transported within the market from one hanger to another by men pushing carts and stunning flower arrangements were being made right on the spot. Everywhere you looked there was something going on, something being made, or something being eaten!
Seeing all the food vendors around the market, we started to get hungry (and thirsty), so we made our way to a restaurant nearby the Jamaica Market to experience some traditional Huaraches and Pulque.
When we got to the restaurant we saw the long line up and could smell the huaraches from the outside. Thankfully Ubish managed to get us a seat inside without having to wait. We had no idea what Huaraches were, but Ubish explained to us that they are an oval shaped fried maiz dough that has refried beans in the middle. The menu was so vast because toppings options are endless. We topped ours off with mushrooms, avocado and crema. It was delicious! Writing about this is making me want another one, but I’ll have to save that craving for when I’m back in Mexico City again. Lunch was so great, we were even serenaded by a band!
Our next stop was for pulque. When we got to the local pulque bar, it was closed but we got the VIP treatment once again and they let us in. Ninelth and Ubish told us all about the origins of the pulque. The drink dates back to the Tolteca people that came before the Aztecs and the Tepanec people. Pulque was considered sacred, only the governors, religious leaders and high ranking warriors were allowed to drink pulque. The art of making it was almost lost when the Spanish conquered. They introduced beer, and created strict laws against making and selling pulque.
Ninelth and Ubish described it as a probiotic shot that is constantly fermenting. Pulque is made by extracting nectar from the center of the maguey plant. . The maguey nectar is then mixed with already fermented pulque to activate its fermentation, like you do in Kombucha. They let that ferment for twelve hours and at the end you get pulque.
After all their explanation, we were a little hesitant to try but it was a pleasantly surprising drink. You’d never think that fermented nectar would taste this good. They now mix it with many fruit flavours, called Curados, so you can ask for essentially any fruit! We recommend the red berries and peanut pulque.
After a tasty morning, we headed back to our hostel to get ready for the evening tour in Xochimilco and graveyard visit. We were so inspired by all the people walking around with their faces beautifully painted, that we bought some traditional flowers to decorate ourselves. Ninelth managed to find us a makeup artist from the hostel and explained the whole history of La Calavera Catrina.
Xochimilco and Graveyard visit
Ubish and Ninelth had everything ready for our cultural tour. The tour bus picked us up and took us to our stop in Xochimilco where we had a beautiful candlelit boat dinner through the canals of farmland called ‘Chiampas’.
Laura, our guide in Xochimilco, shared with us her project of trying to help the farmers on these lands. She explained to us how the ‘Chiampas’ are a unique agricultural technique that allows farmers to cultivate seven different crops at one time on the small rectangular lake beds. Laura created tours to showcase the Chiampas as a way to help farmers with revenue who have a hard time getting their produce to be sold in shops. It was beautiful to know that the dinner that we had, was made with the crops from the Chiampas. Even though it was a chilly night, we kept warm with the coffee, laughs and Pan de Muerto (the traditional bread for the Day of the Dead).
Once we were off the boat, we made our way to the last stop of the night, the graveyard. Walking around the graveyard, we got to see all the different things we had seen on the other tours come together; like the cempasuchiles, the candied meals, the bouquet arrangements, the papel picado, the incense, and most notably the families. We learned that Day of the Dead -- Dia de los Muertos-- are the days of the year (November 1st for kids, November 2nd for adults) when the deceased are believed to cross over from the underworld. The deceased are guided by the bright colourful flower of the cempasuchiles (marigolds) that decorate their graves and the smoke from the incense. The graves are also outfitted with a portrait of the deceased, so they know they have arrived at the right grave. The ofrenda that decorates the grave is a display of the deceased’s favourite things.
The graveyard was filled with families sitting around the grave having dinner, or having a quiet moment with their deceased loved ones, or even requesting deceased’s favourite song to be played by the rent-a-mariachi bands. Every family receives their loved one in their own way.
This experience left me torn. Being able to witness such a beautiful ancient tradition prevailing through modern times was amazing, but it felt intrusive to watch families as they had a special moment being with their loved ones. If you go, be mindful and respectful that these families are there to be with their loved ones that have passed.
This full day experience was beautiful, unique, and unforgettable. I have to thank Mexico Underground, Ubish and Ninelth, for giving us the opportunity to have such an authentic experience. If you’re in Mexico City and looking for genuine tours, or need help planning out your trip check out Mexico Underground.