Category Archives: Culture

Exposing yourself to different cultures is the key to not being an asshole. Well….one of the keys.

Dia De Muertos in Oaxaca

Ok so lately I haven’t been doing as much research about the places I go. Fuck it! I’m trying to let things unfold organically and just go with the flow.  Less Stressful. I like to tell myself. So I only googled ‘dia de los muertos oaxaca’ a few times before my trip. Not much came up, but I  thought I had a basic idea of what I was getting in to. Turns out I did not. Have any idea what I was getting in to. I like solo independent travel. No groups, no tours. Authentic experiences only. Well in Oaxaca over dia de muertos those are REALLY hard to come by.

The hotel I stayed at had a tour desk offering Dia de Muertos tours. (It’s Dia de Muertos FYI…not Dia de los Muertos). I didn’t inquire because, like I said, I’m not a tour person. I thought I could do it on my own and I wanted an authentic experience. But once you get there you realize the area you’re dealing with is large and spread out. There are a shit ton of villages and there’s a lot going on. But nobody seems to know exactly what is going on where and when. So there’s no fucking way in hell you’re gonna be able to have an authentic experience on your own unless you speak to EVERY single taxi driver/person you see and ask if they know what celebrations are happening that night. See if you can get a general consensus and use that info to plan each night.

The celebrations start on October 31st and go through November 3rd or 4th depending on what village. There are a few very popular ones that you will hear about that are supposed to be ‘the best’ (like Xoxocotlan), but EVERY village has a celebration and there are a million villages so there not only are a shit ton of options, but there is quite a bit you will miss out on. And BTW Xoxocotlan is a shit show. Tours go to it. It’s VERY well decorated, but there’s a million people. I went by myself. Took a taxi that told me I’d be fucked on the way home ’cause there aren’t any taxis out there. So I panicked and rushed through the old cemetery (there’s an old one and a new one – which I completely forgot)  before I was stranded in Xoxo all night. before Only to find out it was all LIES! I asked a vendor and they told me there were group taxis (different than the yellow ones) around the corner and I got back to Oaxaca just fine around midnight. The other place that celebrates on October 31st is Atzompa. But in my panic about getting stranded in the middle of nowhere I forgot to write that down and missed out on that one. Damnit! Next time.

The next few nights were spent following a list that I found on line that listed a few other villages that celebrated on different days. The list was wrong. I took taxis to various villages and each one was a bust. The celebration was either the night before or the night after. But after that happened on November 2nd my taxi driver took me about 35 miles outside of Oaxaca center to a random village that was having their comparsa (village parade that lasts all night) which was absolutely amazing. I spend all night driving from village to village taking part in any comparsas we could find. It was an amazing experience. One that I will never forget.

And forget about asking at the ‘Tourist’ kiosks. They have pamphlets for the activities happening in town that are geared toward the 50/60/70 year old crowd that’s in town for the holiday. There wasn’t a single thing on their pamphlet that seemed authentic or was something I’d be interested in.

So short story boring. If you wanna do Dia de Muertos independently:
++Pretend you want to go on a tour and ask about which cemeteries they go to THAT night. Then…
++Find a reliable taxi to take you, wait, and drive you around all night. – BE CAREFUL WITH THIS ONE. I HAD VERY GOOD LUCK, BUT I DID MEET 2 YOUNG KIDS WHO’S TAXI THAT WAS SUPPOSED TO RETURN TO GET THEM NEVER CAME. IF I HADN’T HAVE COME ALONG THEY WOULD HAVE SPENT THE NIGHT ON THE SIDE OF A RURAL VILLAGE ROAD OR IN THE CEMETERY WITH THE FAMILIES I SUPPOSE. WE WERE THE ONLY TOURISTS THERE.
++Ask around as to what’s going on and where. And be prepared for a few misses. There is SO much going on. You might not necessarily get to where you wanted to go, but you might just end up having a better time if you are open and just roll with whatever comes up.

Have fun and be safe!
p.s. Oaxaca is the safest state in Mexico so use common sense but don’t be paranoid. Or scared. Or nervous. Or….

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Coney Island, Brooklyn.

Get out of Manhattan! Come on you can do it! Go spend the day at Coney Island. It’ll be amazing. Take the D, F, N or Q train from midtown. It takes about 45 minutes to an hour on the train, but it’s like another planet. The journey is worth it.

Coney Island is at the very very bottom of Brooklyn and it has its own very unique vibe. There’s no other place like it. It’s very popular in the summer when Luna Park & the beaches are open (#shitshowcentral.com), but I like going out there in the fall and winter when there’s hardly anybody around and it’s much MUCH quieter. During the winter I think they do a polar bear swim every Sunday around noon. Crazy fuckers. And Tom’s on the boardwalk is open all year round. So do brunch at Tom’s and then go watch the Polar Bears. Then go drinking.

There are some great dive bars in Coney Island that are open all year round. Ruby’s on the boardwalk is a classic. They also have food for sale. Peggy O’Neill’s is another classic located under the baseball stadium on Surf Ave. They have good bar food and a great jukebox.  And the Coney Island Brewery recently opened right near Peggy O’Neill’s at 1904 Surf Avenue.

In between a walk on the boardwalk and bar hopping you should check out the Coney Art Walls and stop by the Coney Island Museum on Surf Avenue and see what’s going on there. They have quite a few OnlyInConeyIsland programs (Circus Sideshow anyone?) and they have a bar!

The hour on the train is totally worth it. Just do it!

 

 

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St. Roch Cemetery, New Orleans.

There are SO many beautiful cemeteries in NOLA! Every time I’m there I try and visit at least one. On my last visit I stopped by St. Roch cemetery for the first time. It’s in the St. Roch neighborhood; which is north of St. Claude just opposite the Marigny. And it’s dedicated to…..St. Roch 🙂 (pronounced rock). He is the patron saint of invalids and is often is invoked against pestilence and the plague.

It’s your typical above ground burials – New Orleans style cemetery, but in the middle there is this small chapel dedicated to…. you guessed it. And inside the chapel there’s a shrine chock FULL of all kinds of ex-votos (offering to a saint or divinity given when your prayer is answered). The assortment is quite interesting. There are artificial legs and leg braces, plaster hands and feet, at least one red plastic heart, silk flowers, an old camera, several old rusted crutches, old shoes, back braces, all sorts of things left by those seeking St. Roch’s help and by those who’s prayers have been answered. Even the marble bricks that make up the floor of the shrine are inscribed with words of thanks.

When I visited I was the only one in the chapel. And once I made it past the slightly unnerving gaze of the giant St. Roch statue, it felt very peaceful….and maybe a little creepy at the same time. But I always feel like that when I’m the only one in the cemetery. Definitely check it out if you’re in the ‘hood.

St. Roch Cemetery  #1 & #2 are located at 1725 St. Roch Avenue.

Oh and this article on the cemetery is fantastic.

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Necrópolis Cristóbal Colón

The beautiful and expansive Necropolis Cristobal Colon located in the Vedado district of Havana, Cuba was built by the Spanish architect, Calixto de Loira, in 1871. It’s one of the largest cemeteries in the world (The largest in the Americas)  and it’s the final resting place for many of Cuba’s historically and culturally important figures.

The most visited tomb in the cemetery is that of ‘La Milagrosa’ or ‘The Miraculous One’.

If you can't find her ask anybody that works there and they'll point you in the right direction.
If you can’t find her ask anybody that works there and they’ll point you in the right direction.

Amelia Goyri de Adot and her husband had waited years to get married as they were from different social classes and her family wouldn’t consent to the marriage. That is until after he obtained the rank of Captain in the war and they deemed him worthy enough to marry into their family. Shortly after their marriage she became pregnant, but in her 8th month of pregnancy she developed preeclampsia. And on May 3rd, 1901 Amelia and her unborn baby died.

Her husband, José Vicente,  was inconsolable. He was completely and utterly heartbroken.  Every morning he would bring her flowers and spend time with her. He would sit and talk to her, tell her how his life was going and knock with one of the four brass knockers to try and wake her up. When it was time to go he would walk away backwards as a sign of respect.

Years later when the grave  was opened not only were both bodies discovered to be incorrupt (which Catholic’s believe to be a sign of divine intervention), but the baby was now in its’ mother’s arms.

As this incredible story spread through out Havana the faithful started visiting La Milagrosa’s grave to ask her for help in making their wishes come true. To this day she is revered as a saint to Cubans and many have called for her to be canonized by the Catholic Church. Thousands of people come from near and far to bring her flowers or other gifts and ask for favors.

The tradition is to greet her,  knock on the grave with one of the four brass knockers, ask for something, lay down a gift (some coins will do), circle the grave, and walk away backwards never turning your back.

A lone palm tree

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This article in the Radio Rebelde has more info on ‘La Milagrosa’ if you’re interested.

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A long weekend in Memphis, TN.

I really liked Memphis! It’s gritty and kinda run down. A little scary at times :/ In some areas I felt like I could get mugged at any moment in broad daylight because I was the only person on the street, nothing was open and there were several, what look to be, abandoned buildings on the block – JUST a little sketch. But I dig that shit. There’s a lot of old beautiful buildings & vintage neon signs and it’s full of history and character.

Before I went there EVERYBODY I talked to (even people who live there) told me to be extra careful and to most definitely not take the bus or I would be murdered. Seriously? Come the fuck on people! They had me kinda freaked out. I mean…what gives? I wasn’t at all sure what to expect, but it turns out it’s very cool. AND I didn’t get mugged OR murdered. #GoMe What these fearmongerers SHOULD have said was ‘There are pockets of really bad/poor neighborhoods so it’s not really a walkable city (that Walking in Memphis song is a LIE!). And for the same reason don’t take the bus. Use a bit of common sense. Keep your head up. You’ll be fine! JUST LIKE EVERYWHERE ELSE. Have fun!’

With that said….here are my recs:

Where to eat:

Have breakfast at Brother Junipers. It’s touted as the best breakfast in Memphis. They make everything from scratch and it really is the best breakfast in Memphis. I should have gone there every day, but I didn’t! There’s a bit of a wait on the weekend, but they do a thing where if you call ahead (with in 15 minutes of your arrival time) they’ll take 15 minutes off your waiting time once you check in upon arrival. I had no idea who Brother Juniper was so I had to ask. I was told that Brother Juniper was the cook for St. Francis of Assisi. You learn something new every day.Brother Junipers.

If you don’t feel like waiting in line for 2 hours for breakfast every day check out Cafe Eclectic. I visited the midtown location and I liked it very much. Good coffee, fresh food, good vibes… The have several vegetarian options and breakfast is served all day!

I don’t eat meat so trying to find somewhere good to eat lunch and dinner was a struggle. Especially since everybody and their mother recommends Central BBQ and Gus’s Fried Chicken. But I did find a great Mexican type spot in Overton Square call Babalu. It looks pretty vanilla from the outside, but it’s kinda cute inside. They have a nice bar area and patio and the tacos and guacamole made table side are to die for. Deliciousness.

What to do:

You must visit the Civil Rights Museum. It’s located at the old Lorraine Hotel where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed on April 4th, 1968. I’m not a big museum fan, but it’s a must . You should come away with a better understanding of the civil rights struggle and what it means to be African American.Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel.

 

You also must do Sun Studio followed by Graceland.  In that order. This is an all day affair. The first tour of Sun Studio is at 10:30am. They don’t take advance reservations. But if you arrive and the tour is sold out there should be space on the next one so no worries. You can chill in the cafe (they make malts!) or explore the the neighborhood. Sun Studios is located in the Edge District which was my favorite area of Memphis. It definitely has an edge to it 🙂 On a Sunday it was pretty vacant. There was nothing open. But some of the buildings are just gorgeous and I found a few alleys with graffiti and street art so I was happy to spend an hour here wandering around.Sun Studio.

The Edge District where Sun Studio is located.
The Edge District where Sun Studio is located.

After Sun Studio hop on the free shuttle bus that leaves every hour around 20 after the hour from Sun Studio. It stops at Beale Street and then Graceland. TIP: I highly recommend buying your ticket for Graceland online before you leave home/get to Graceland. Buy it for the first tour the day you want to go then you can show up any point after that and go on the next tour. If you wait to buy it upon arrival there’s a chance that the next tour (and the one after that) will be sold out. And you’ll be tempted to spend the extra $40 on the VIP ticket just to avoid hanging around East Memphis for 3 hours. It’s a sketchy area and unless you like fast food and souvenir shops there’s fuck all to do.

I wasn’t really a big Elvis fan before I went to Elvis Presley’s Graceland. But I had to go. And I’m really glad I did. I enjoyed every minute of it and I have a lot more admiration for his legacy. The way it’s set up is very tech savy. They hand out headphones while you’re waiting in line and when you get on the shuttle bus to go across to Graceland they give you an iPad. Fancy! It’s fantastic because your tour is not only self paced, but narrated  by John Stamos. A+

One of the rooms at Graceland. #love
One of the rooms at Graceland. #love

For a list of what’s currently on in Memphis check out the I love Memphis blog. She’s got a ton of good recommendations.

Where to stay:

If you can afford to stay at the Peabody stay at the Peabody! I wanted to, but it’s a bit out of my price range :/ It’s located smack dab in the middle of downtown and it’s a Historic Hotel of America. Fancy!

I ended up staying at an airbnb near Overton Park. It was my first Airbnb experience. Lets just say I learned a lot! For instance I learned that I need a place to myself :/ Or at least a place where the hosts don’t wake up at 6am every day. I also learned not to book solely based on reviews. This place had really good reviews. And my experience really wasn’t that good!

My name is not Justin. Nor is it Kelly :/
My name is not Justin. Nor is it Kelly :/

How to get around:

Uber. By far the cheapest/best way to get around. The Taxis were overpriced and shitty. I stupidly took a taxi from Graceland back to the Overton Park area and it cost me $25!!! If I would have taken an Uber it would have cost around $13. Don’t take a taxi! They suck!

 

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