Oaxaca Day of Dead 2

Throughout Oaxaca during Day of the Dead festivities, flowers are abundant, especially marigolds and cocks combs.  Flowers are used extensively on altars but are also used to create images on the ground and to create pathways to the altars.

In a large plaza several huge flower pictures were displayed.

During our first evening we witnessed a city full of fun pageantries, serious reenactments, dance contests, Catrina beauty competitions, food vendors and throngs of people having a grand time!  It was like New Years Eve in NYC!

And more Catrinas.

In the markets we discovered special D of D items such as brightly decorated sugar skulls, many of which are placed on the altars.

Papel picado (pierced paper) folk art flags with skulls and Catrinas.

And special breads.

We visited a gallery with a D of D art exhibit.

And then, for two nights in a row, we visited very large cemeteries, one in the city and one on the outskirts.  There we encountered people visiting family graves that were decorated with flowers, lit with candles and lanterns, and where offerings were placed.  Families sat around the graves most of the night picnicking and listening to recorded music or music performed by roving mariachi bands.  Occasionally we saw “live” skeletons.  (my camera was not good with night-time photos without using a flash.)

Outside one of the cemeteries, there were vendors with flowers, lanterns  and candles, etc. along with food vendors that contributed to a lively atmosphere.

There was nothing morbid about our whole experience.  Instead, it was an on-going fiesta morning, noon and night!

Oaxaca Day of the Dead 1

I am reposting images of a trip that I took several years ago to experience the Day of the Dead in Oaxaca, Mexico.  I am reposting because the original posting was on a blog site that has since been taken down.

I traveled with Charlotte, my travel buddy and high school friend, and we stayed in an apartment in the heart of the city. We arrived several days before November 2 so as to discover pre-celebrations.  Three days ahead of the Big Day, parades started taking place with people in costumes and face makeup and lots of musicians, all in a festive atmosphere.  Even people not in the parade wandered the streets in makeup while gringos looked on and snapped photos.

The theme of death might seem gruesome, but the Mexicans embrace its mysteries though elaborate ancestral traditions that include parades and costumes, food, decorations, altars, images, prayers, mourning, and offerings. The celebrations are full of remembrances, nostalgia, and respect for those family members who have passed on.  The souls of the deceased return on October 31 to reunite with the living which is both a sad and happy occasion.  These traditions have roots in Pre-Colonial Central Mexico.

An image that has come to signify the Day of the Dead is La Calavera Catrina, meaning “Dapper
Skeleton.” It originated from an etching by Jose Guadalupe Posada, an early 20th satirical artist.  The image depicts a skeleton in an elaborate hat as a way for the artist to mock the indigenous people who took on the life style of European aristocrats.  The popularity of the image also connotes the Mexican outlook of making fun of death.  (Painting faces white and black emphasizes the features of a skull but also references the French use of white makeup to lighten the appearance of their skin and Posada’s distain at its use by Mexicans to deny their ethnic identity.)

One of the art schools had a contest for students to create Catrina bridal outfits from recycled material and paper.  Here is the winner.

Many of those in the parade did the zombie walk.

There were also skits demonstrating that no one escapes death.

Also, coffins were plentiful as were references to Satan.

Throughout the city were altars decorated with photos of the deceased, their favorite foods and items such as cigarettes or playing cards.

More in the next post.


People of Israel and Jordan

All of the people we met where welcoming and congenial (except for the Russian hotel staff at the Dead Sea.) English is spoken wildly and taught in the schools, so communicating was fairly easy.  We also enjoyed people-watching because of the cultural diversity of dress.  Here are some people that were not mentioned in earlier posts.

I chatted with this young women in Amman while we were sitting on steps eating street food.


I observed these women from Saudi Arabia in a restaurant.  They were all on their cell phones.


This fellow was selling incense in the Old Town market in Jerusalem.


Here is his frankincense and myrrh.


This fellow was a chatty juice vendor.  He prepared fresh pomegranate juice for the group.


This fellow was mending a carpet in one of the markets.


This is Abraham, our Bedouin guide, on the Jeep tour of the desert.


This is Betsey who chatted with a charming donkey driver at Petra.  We agreed that he looked like Johnny Depp.


This is the mule driver that we hired for our retreat from Petra.


This is David Miro, a coppersmith and an Iraqi Jew. David was one of many who fled to Israel from Baghdad after the 1941 pogrom called the Farhud. Almost 800 Jews were killed. The Grand Mufti and Hitler were linked to the Farhud. After the Farhud, life became unbearable for the Baghdad Jews. By 1950 they were allowed to leave. Many of them went to Israel and continued their business of copper work. (Photo by Rick Dallin)


David works in copper and silver plated copper.


This was our guide in Bethlehem.   Hasraf told us that his father was Orthodox and his mother was a Roman Catholic.  To avoid conflict, he said was an Arab Christian.


This fellow, a Hasidic Jew, entertained us in a plaza in Jerusalem.


This is Sandra.  She shared with us the story of her family during the Holocaust.  She was a child in Poland and separated from her family – her father was taken to a camp and her mother disappeared when Sandra was three.  She was hidden by a non-Jewish Polish nanny, then taken to a refugee camp, then to a school in France in preparation for being sent to Israel.  After the war, she was reunited with her father, but became estranged from him.  She immigrated to the States where she had three daughters.  The whole family now lives in Israel.


This is Luna. She was our guide at the kibbutz and showed us around the complex. She  described her experience living there and how, over the years, the rules and guidelines have evolved and have become more liberal.


This is Doris who hosted us for lunch in Jaffa. She shared with us her life in Israel as a Christian Arab Israeli who was born in Jaffa and whose family originally immigrated to Israel from Lebanon.  She is a vivacious, former Israeli beauty pageant winner who demonstrated to us that she is her own person!


This couple, Connie and Joseph, told us about their life style as Ultra-Orthodox Jews. Joseph explained his beliefs to us and answered questions about his study of Jewish texts and how they are raising their children.  They were a delightful couple.


This Muslim family entertained us in their home in Amman, Jordan.  Omar is in 11th grade and planning to study engineering when he graduates from high school.  His sister, Sarah, (standing next to him) is attending law school and wants to specialize in civil rights.  Jasmine, the little girl, was very sweet and somewhat shy.  Teg, the mother, is married to a tour guide.  The woman to the left helped serve the meal.  They all spoke English very well, including Jasmine, and were a really fun family!


This is Firas, a Palestinian Muslim, who talked to us about the Israel – Palestinian situation and how each area, the Golan Heights, East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza, have different histories and unique politics and how complicated the issues are. There are no easy solutions, but he is optimistic that little steps forward can eventual resolve the conflicts.

This is Revital, our outstanding guide in Israel.  She made the trip fun, interesting, and educational!  She had the challenge of trying to teach us the complicated history of Israel going back 3,000 years up to the current present.  And she was up to it!

And here is the group of 16 well-traveled members of our tour group who came from all over the US.  We were traveling during the mid-term elections, and not one peep was uttered about US politics.  We put congeniality before political opinions – well done!  We had lots of laughs along the way and made great memories together.

To sum up, it was a fabulous trip, rich in cultural experiences.  Unique to this trip for me was learning how the complicated history of the Mid-East impacts current times. It was a tour packed with activities and lots of walking and climbing steps, and although I gained weight, my legs are stronger than they have been in a long time!

Here is a map of my incredible three-week journeys in Jordan and Israel.

Now I’m thinking about where I want to go next.




Markets of Israel and Jordan

Driving through the towns and cities, I noticed the storefront signage.  I found the characters and fonts visually interesting as patterns.  I have no idea what these signs say, some are in Arabic and others in Hebrew.


We visited markets in both countries.  Some markets were modern with food, cosmetics, hardware, clothing, and places to eat – just like our malls.  And they had modern malls as well. Other markets were traditional markets that carried mostly food items.  In some markets we discovered tourist souvenirs.

We visited this modern market in Jerusalem where our guide took us on a tasting tour.


Here we are being giving samples of various spice/herb mixtures by an enthusiastic salesman.


This is a traditional shop in Jordan with narrow aisles.


This is where I discovered at lot of tiny eggplants.


We tried jack fruit. Smelly, but a mild, sweet flavor.



We saw lots of candy shops with bins of brightly colored gummy treats.  They all looked like they would taste the same.



And lots of spice and herb shops with huge bags filled to the brim.  I don’t know how they can sell that much product!  Betsey and I admired the pyramid of herbs in this fellow’s shop. If I lived there I would probably buy from him just because of his display skills.


More for sale.




Many flavors of halva.


Other merchandize included yarmulkes in many styles.  You can get one with the insignia of your favorite sports team, Disney character, or political saying.  Notice in upper right, there is a “Trump, Make America Great” yarmulke!


There were candles and ceramics galore as well as jewelry.



And scarves, including lots of keffiyeh in a variety of colors.


Next, some of the people we met along the way.




My clothes fit tighter! It was really tough trying to resist tasting everything. A typical meal began with multiple dishes of salads served family style accompanied with pita or other bread.  Then the main course of fish, lamb, or chicken, beef less frequently, served with either potatoes or rice.  And large servings! Then a dessert.  On a number of occasions, we ate at buffets with generous varieties of salads, main dishes, and desserts.  All of our breakfasts were buffets.  And all delicious!  And hummus at every meal including breakfast! The food was a combination of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean.

Here is an array of first course dishes. Enough food to make a meal just of the first course.

Some main courses.

Roasted chicken and pilaf.

We had hummus in many variations.  Because pomegranates were in season, they were used liberally in many preparations.

Our first meal in Jordan was at a famous falafel restaurant, famous because it was a favorite of the King of Jordan.  The pita was freshly baked and we built our own sandwiches.

This is part of a breakfast buffet. Salads of herbed veggies, slaws, rice, marinated veggies, hummus, and baba ganoush, etc. plus breads, eggs, fish, cereal, fruit, juices, and yogurt. In Israel, the meals were usually Kosher, so there was no meat at breakfast.

This is the meat roasting for shawerma, an Israeli version of a gyro.

Desserts included a variety of Middle Eastern sweets, dripping in honey.

This was a semolina pudding with whipped cream, honey, and pistachios.

Besides pita, we had a thin, crisp flatbread, western style breads, croissants, and huge bagels.

Betsey learned how to manipulate a banana so she can entertain her grand kids!

In this photo, she is still wearing her $4.50 watch.  It gave out on day 5.

Next, some of the markets we visited.




Dead Sea

On our way to the Dead Sea we drove through the Judaean Desert. It is a very barren place. The limestone mountains have eroded producing deep ravines (wadis) that make the landscape appear very rugged.

Then we drove along the coast of the Dead Sea and saw sink holes that have formed in the last 20 years because, due to global warming, the desert is drying out, the water level of the Dead Sea is decreasing, and the sandy rock has become less stable.  This area used to have recreational areas along the coast. Now because of the danger of sink holes, there are fences and warning signs everywhere.

While we were driving along, we had a rain storm that came and went very quickly.  We later learned that not long after we had passed by, a flash flood caused a section of the road to collapse. We also learned that when there is a storm in Jerusalem, the water runs to the Dead Sea which makes sense since the elevation is 1412 ft. below sea level – the lowest place on earth.  This was the same storm that caused flash flooding in Petra.

Here is a video of the hole in the road:


Right next to the Dead Sea are mountains and on the top of one of them is Masada, a fort and palace built by Herod in 30 BC.  He built it because he had a lot of enemies and wanted a place where he could get a way and be safe.

The top of the mountain is a plateau measuring 1,800 ft by 890 ft. Herod built a wall around the top of the mountain with many towers, and the fortress included storehouses, barracks, an armory, two palaces, and cisterns that were refilled by rainwater, as well as baths.  The large palace he built for himself sits at the north end where the cliffs are very steep.  The palace was built on three levels.

We got to the top by cable car.  One member of our group hiked up.  It took him about an hour and 15 minutes to walk a very steep path.

Left: For scale, the arrow is pointing to a group of hikers who are wearing red shirts.

Right: The arrow is pointing to a rectangle at the base of the mountain.  It is what remains of a Roman military camp.

Some of the ruins of Herod’s palace.

Herod died in 4 BC. and the palace was abandoned. In 70 AD the Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans and the Jews were run out of Jerusalem.  The Romans were intent on getting all Jews out of the whole area and many fled to other parts of the world.  There were still some Jewish resistance, and a group of dedicated resisters settled into Masada.  There they discovered food stored away in Herod’s storerooms,  enough food to last for 7 years. And they had Herod’s system of trenches and cisterns for collecting water.

Herod’s fortified structure, surrounded by steep cliffs, protected the resisters and their families, numbering 960, from the 15,000 Romans who built 8 military camps at the base of the mountain.  But there was one cliff that was not as high, so the Romans, used Jewish slaves who had been captured in previous battles, to construct a ramp to the top.  It took 2 years to construct the ramp and tons of rock.  In the meantime, the Romans could not understand why the resisters didn’t die of starvation since the could not leave the fort to obtain food or water.

Then in 73 AD, the Romans brought in a huge battering ram, dragged it up the ramp and breached the walls. Legend has it that all they found were dead bodies, except for two women and five children hiding in a cistern.  The story goes that the resisters decided that they did not want to be taken captive. Since Jewish Law forbids suicide and the penalty is no afterlife, they killed each other, including their families members, and picked by lot, the person who would be the last, and he would sacrifice an afterlife and kill himself.  The story goes that the women told the Romans what happened and it was recorded.  Since there is no archaeological evidence to document the event, it is disputed by scholars.  At any rate, Masada was the last stronghold of Jewish resisters which began the Jewish diaspora.

In the chamber that is identified as the resister’s synagog, we observed a bar mitzvah taking place.  The young man and his family were from New York. (photo by Revital)

In the museum at Masada I saw tiny oil lamps that dated back 2000 years.  I bought a reproduction of one in the market in Jerusalem as a souvenir.  I was very proud of my bargaining skills when I haggled the price down from 50 shekels to 15 ($4.30) until I left the store and saw them at another shop marked 10 shekels!

At the Dead Sea we stayed at resort/spa hotel where most of the guests were Russian.  Most of the staff was Russian as well.  They are very serious people.  Our guide, whose mother is Russian, admits that they can be very pushy. The popularity of the area for spa treatments is because there are a number of factories in the area that produce beauty and skin products with minerals form the Dead Sea.

The water of the Dead Sea is a beautiful turquoise color, not a deadly color at all!  Of course we bathed in it and the buoyancy of the water made it bouncy!  I felt like a coke bobbing around! Once I got the hang of it, floating was very relaxing.

It was hazy while we were there.  Across the water are the mountains of Jordan.

Before we left the Dead Sea we took a Jeep Tour of the desert.  17 of us piled into 4 Jeeps. The sky was hazy which made the landscape look dreamy.

We stopped to examine the large deposits of salt in the rock.  I was fascinated with the rock patterns created by erosion.

The ride through the desert was bumpy as the trail curved and had lots of ruts. Our guide discussed the current controversy of the future of the Dead Sea.  On this map, the larger sea area is naturally formed.  Below that is an artificially made sea where water from the Dead Sea is piped into evaporation flats where industries harvest chemicals including potash, magnesium,  and bromine. The industries date back to the 1930s, before Israel was formed, and they are privately owned.  A large amount of the chemicals go to Asia for fertilizer.  The companies are taxed, but they still make a lot of money for the owners.  They also employ a lot of workers and most of the resort/spa hotels are located along the shores.  The problem is that the level of the Dead Sea is decreasing with global warming and the piping of water out of it for the industries isn’t helping.  The industries also cause pollution, and the foundations of the hotels along the artificial sea are corroding, and it is extremely expensive to repair and stabilize them.

There have been talks of constructing a pipe line to bring in water either from the Mediterranean or the Red Sea, however, there might be problems with these waters chemically mixing with the Dead Sea water.  Also, it would be enormously expensive to pipe in water for the industries.  Not an easy solution – save the industries, hotels, and jobs for private companies at public expense or save the Dead Sea and the environment by closing them down.

Evaporation flats.

Chemical factories.

Stay tuned for food and people of Jordan and Israel.










The map shows our travels from Haifa to Jerusalem in blue.

While in Jerusalem we visited a number of Christian sites that are also important to the Muslim faith. Some of the sites have some archaeological evidence, whereas the only evidence for other churches is that they were built on the ruins of earlier churches marking a Holy Site.

First we visited the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the place where it is believed Christ was buried and resurrected. The tomb is surrounded by an enclosed chapel.

Another church we visited was the Catholic Church of Gethsemane, also called the Church of All Nations because it was built with funds from Catholic Churches from all over the world.  It is the disputed site where Christ prayed and his disciples slept the night before he was crucified.  It is located at the base of the Mount of Olives and is the church in the foreground.

Next to the church is a garden of very old olive trees, one of which dates back to the time of Christ.

We visited Mount Zion and the location of the Last Supper and passed several locations of the Stations of the Cross. Since it is the height of tourist season, the Old City was packed with people from all over the world as well as the local people going about their everyday business. We also saw many large groups of religious pilgrims.

We visited the archaeological site of the City of David, the oldest part of the city near the Mount of Olives which is now a Jewish cemetery.  Look for the figure on the path at the bottom of the photo as well as the large tour buses to get a sense of scale.

As for museums, we visited the Historical Museum of Israel and the Holocaust Museum.  I could not take pictures at the Holocaust Museum so these photos are from the internet.  The museum is designed with triangles and is filled with displays of personal materials belonging to those lost as well as testimonies of survivors.  I was amazed by the amount of photographs documenting events, both historical and personal, that were on display along with movie footage.

The goal of the museum is to collect as much material as they can and to document every person lost.  The search for identifying people and collecting materials is on-going. They are also making an effort to identify non-Jewish individuals who protected and aided Jews at that time to recognize them as the “Righteous Among Nations.”

We drove by the US Embassy, now located in Jerusalem.

Betsey and I spent a day visiting some of the various quarters in the Old City: the Muslim, Jewish, Armenian, and Christian (Orthodox and Catholic) areas. The streets were narrow and a great many were markets filled with locals, tourists, and pilgrims. We strolled through very crowded market areas as well as narrow lanes with only a few people.

We noticed that some walls had dots and symbols painted on them and learned that these were the homes where Muslims who had made Hajj, a pilgrimage to Mecca, lived.

We met a shop keeper on one of the narrow streets who invited us to climb some stairs that led to roof tops with some great views of the city.

We did not visit the Dome of the Rock because to go to the top of the platform meant standing in a line for more than an hour. Also, non-Muslims cannot enter the mosque, so we viewed it from a distance.

Bethlehem was a side trip from Jerusalem. There we learned that Jesus was not born in a barn, but a cave.  The stable that we picture as a wooden structure does not exist in Israel because they do not have any wood.  Instead, everything is built of stone.  In Bethlehem, people lived in caves, naturally formed and then expanded on by hand.  Our guide explained that people back then slept in upper levels and used the ground level for cooking, eating, and housing animals.  So when Joseph and Mary were told there was no room in the inn, it meant the upper level was full.  They then settled for the ground level which was made up of multiple chambers.  He took us to see what one of these caves looked like.

And the manger, a feeding trough for animals, was not wood, but stone as well.

We then visited the Church of the Nativity, built over the place where Jesus is believed to be have been born.  This is the unimpressive facade of the church.  It originally had three large doors, but the door on the left is covered with a wall buttress that was built to add support and the left door is hidden by part of a monastery that was built later.  The center door was once quite large, but was made smaller to keep camels and horses out.  But the arched door was still used by horses, so they made it even smaller.  It is called the Door of Humility since everyone had to bow to enter.

The interior has been undergoing a lot of restoration. At one time, the floor was 2 feet lower than it is today, where 4th century Byzantine mosaics were found.

There was a section that was tented over while restoration continues.  We were able to find a peephole and saw an archaeologist at work.

The church is Greek Orthodox so the altar area was quite elaborate.

There was a huge line of people waiting to go down to see the birth place, so we decided not to wait.  Instead, we viewed the church and entered the church next door, only to be have our guide lead us down to the cave from another entrance.  He took us to an adjoining part of the cave where the stone was still original.

From here we could look through a tiny hole in a door and see the chamber where the birth took place.  It has been decorated to the hilt and does not resemble a cave at all.  I took this photo off the internet.

The church next door, St, Catherine’s, is where Christmas Eve services are televised.

Before we left Jerusalem, we visited the Dead Sea Scrolls Museum.  Again, photography was not permitted so here are more images from the internet.  The scrolls were found in jars with covers and the roof of the museum was shaped like one of these covers.

The interior is round with display cases around the walls as well as on an elevated platform.  This photo was taken when President Obama visited the museum.

After we left Jerusalem, we visited Qumran, the site where the scrolls were found.  They were written and copied by a group of highly religious men who objected to the way Judaism was being practiced.  They withdrew and isolated themselves in the desert east of Jerusalem.  There they created a community that is now an archaeological area. It is believed that when they felt threatened, they hid their archives in caves in the mountains.  Some were discovered in 1946.  Researchers have assembled a collection of some 981 different manuscripts – discovered in 1946/47 and in 1956 – from 11 caves

Notice the dark spots in the mountains.  Those are the caves where they were found in ceramic jars.

Next, the Dead Sea.