In case you missed it, read Part One here.
That evening, I broached the subject of making the journey to the old town of Santa Maria Huatulco carefully with my Mum. My Day of the Dead obsession had taken us over 2,000 KM across the country already, Mum had gotten sick in Oaxaca city and we were all exhausted, so getting in the car again for another drive up the mountain seemed like a big ask.
Of course, Mum said she didn’t mind, so we bundled in the car again with the hope of experiencing a local Day of the Dead celebration. We drove through the dark for half an hour, thankful that Google maps had finally estimated the journey time correctly.
We parked the car on a cobblestone street and took off on foot through the town, looking for the center. In Mexico, if you find the church you find the square, and if you find the square, you’ve found the town. We spied the dome of the village church first, then the coloured lights and flags strung across the square above the heads of what seemed to be every single person in Santa Maria Huatulco.
Tyrhone looked at me to see my reaction.
I smiled widely, dazzled by the lights, the people, the music and the smell of crepes covered with sweetened condensed milk.
“Instant happiness!” Tyrhone declared, throwing his hands up at the scene before us. After traveling together for seven years, he knows the ingredients for the intricate recipe of my contentment.
A string of lights in an old town, by the way, is one of them.
The entire town turning out for a Fandango, complete with costume parades and dancing performances from little girls as young as 3 dressed up as grave diggers, skeletons and witches, and I’ve died and gone straight to traveler’s heaven.
My favourite little grave digger, complete with her very own coffin and shovel.
There aren’t many rewards for being a control freak with high expectations of every experience, let me tell you. For some, traveling with me is a total nightmare – I’m not exactly a ‘let’s just see what happens’ sort of gal. I want the heart and soul of a place, and I will reach through it’s chest and retrieve it beating and bloody, if I have to. I don’t believe in sitting back and waiting for a town, a city, or a country to reveal itself. Local traditions are held like a closely guarded secret, and their telling is earned, not won.
Sometimes this attitude pays off and sometimes it doesn’t. I’m not easily pleased (in case you haven’t noticed), and since expectations are the seed of disappointment, it’s something I’ve become familiar with.
What I really traveled to Santa Maria Huatulco for, you see, was a cemetery experience. Flowers, candles, music, food, the whole bit. Not that I was scoffing at the Fandango, I wasn’t, I just hoped that after the costume prizes were handed out and the interpretive dances by young boys in long, white underwear were finished, we would all proceed to the local graveyard and party the night away with the spirits of the dead.
I had a vision of being the only gringos at an ancient, pre-hispanic ritual; the culmination of thousands of miles traveled over bad roads; our pilgrimage across Mexico made complete.
They started packing up.
We retreated to a second-floor restaurant overlooking the square, hoping for some inside knowledge and directions to the cemetery. A friendly young girl greeted us and we were the only customers in the place, aside from a table of decidedly under-age boys (like, waay under-age) who drank beer from a jug and puffed on cigarettes like old men.
Tyrhone and Mum, mustering enthusiasm...
Families strolled away from the square along dimly lit paths; food stalls were dismantled and carried away on tricycles; teenagers congregated on concrete benches like birds on a wire, punching buttons on their plastic Nokias.
I could feel my Day of the Dead dreams slipping away as the last of the fiesta lights were extinguished.
We ordered club sandwiches (easy, safe) from the almost deserted restaurant in the now deserted town, and I asked the friendly waitress-slash-cook if there was anything happening that night at the cemetery.
“No, manana!” she answered, grinning.
It was a long wait for the club sandwiches. The town had gone to sleep by the time they arrived.
We were leaving the next morning to make our way home, which as it turned out, was November 2, the actual Day of the Dead. I’d planned a whole trip around a celebration I knew very little about, least of all the actual date of it, and I could do nothing else but laugh at the sheer comedy of it all.
Only someone set on something as much as I was could miss the whole bloody thing. I knew there was a lesson in there somewhere; the lesson the universe is continually banging me over the head with in a million different ways; Let Go, and trust that whatever happens is exactly as it should be (though Tyrhone thinks the real lesson is that I should always listen to him).
Do you know what is really good for developing trust? Hindsight and perspective. I can look back at every single thing that has happened in my life and know it’s been exactly what I needed; know that the small stuff I sweated, or even the big stuff, all turned out right in the end. But at the time, I was a train smash.
I’m not likening missing out on a party at a graveyard as a major life event or anything (or maybe I am. I know, it’s silly), but my reaction to everything that happens in my life, big or small, is always the same – I want what I want, when I want it, the way I want it, despite the fact that I’ve come to believe in a greater, higher power at work in my life which does a much better job of things than I ever could, and leads me to places I would never volunteer to go on my own but which inevitably teaches me who I am and what I am actually capable of.
The club sandwich was surprisingly delicious.
We left the friendly waitress-slash-cook a large tip, feigned concerned looks for the children drinking beer, then giggled about the bizarreness of the evening all the way back to the car.
I may not have gotten my Day of the Dead cemetery experience, but what I did witness, among other things, was a Fandango-worthy interpretive dance performance which I am not likely to forget in a hurry, and for this feat of choreographic brilliance I will always be grateful: