The engine of the lancha that will bring us to Janitzio, the island in the middle of lake Patzcuaro, rumbles into life and we move a few feet away from the quay where we have been waiting for 15 or 20 minutes for the boat to fill up, but then the guy still holding the rope on the wooden quay pulls us back again, another family is hurrying down the steps towards our boat, anxious to catch this one. Then the captain manoeuvres the long boat out from the others we were anchored in between, reverses once and then gives full throttle when he gets the boat in position to head out to the lake. There are about 40 people on board, mostly Mexican tourists and locals living on the island. "The boat leaves when they have how many passengers?", I had asked the girl in the ticket office. It is Monday morning and I don't want to spend an hour or so waiting before we leave. "Ten", she says, after checking with somebody else. Well that was just to get me on board, because the crew quietly waits until it fills up, which in the end doesn't not take that long.
I arrived in Patzcuaro yesterday afternoon from Queretaro after changing buses in Morelia some fifty kilometres from here. The central square, Plaza Vasco de Quiroga, was filled with Mexicans enjoying a sunny Sunday afternoon. There were big crowds at the two ice cream stands, Mexicans love their ice cream and it shows. Children were playing in the centre of the square and extended families having long lunches on the terraces lining the square. The village looks different: the top part of all the houses is painted white and the bottom part reddish brown. The signs for shops and businesses all have the same format: first letter of each word in red, the rest in black - it does help to give the village more of a homogeneous look.
I'm interested to find out a bit more about these iconic skeletal dolls that you notice in shops as soon as you arrive in Mexico. It is some kind of custom and here in Janitzio and other villages around the lake, the Dia de Los Muertos is celebrated extensively.
It takes the boat a good half hour to cover the distance to Janitzio and we circle the island before we dock in the small harbour. From a distance the statue of Morelos, another Mexican independence hero, that tops the island, looks a bit like the statue of liberty, but getting closer it turns out to be a rather lumpy creation in cement. Still it is on top of the island and the only road climbs in winding turns to the summit where it stands.
The views over the lake and the surroundings, after climbing the 48 metre high statue on the inside, are beautiful and since you are on top of the statue that does not spoil the views either! Inside the statue, alongside the winding steps which become rather steep at the end, murals tell the story of Morelos. He, like Hidalgo, was a Mexican priest and took over from him as leader of the Mexican revolution after his execution in 1811, until he himself was captured and executed in 1815. The city of Morelia, where he was born, was renamed after him.
I am hoping that the Museo De Artes Populares can fill me in on the Day of the Dead festivities. They have all the pottery from the area you want, but no word on the festival, so I rely on the people in the shops to tell me a little bit more. The Aztecs already celebrated their dead ancestors and this indigenous custom has merged with the All Souls' Day celebration in the Catholic Calendar. In the villages around the lake extensive festivities last for over a week with the 1st (Day of the Little Angels, for deceased children) and 2nd (Day of the Deceased) of November as the high points. The elegantly clad female skeletal dolls, the Catrinas, that play an important part in the celebrations, are much more recent, initiated by the writer Posada as a parody on the fashionable French outfits fancy Mexican ladies in Porfirio Diaz' time preferred. Nowadays the skeletal dolls can depict all kinds of figures, even (a comment on Mexican marital life?) brides and grooms.