The first week of November just flew by, and what a difference it has been from a year ago. With a cheesy horror-movie-kind of title of what I did last summer, this comes to mind: I went out with some friends on a photowalk to one of the largest cemeteries I have ever seen. I almost never say no to visiting a cemetery, particularly if they allow photography. They are usually beautiful, rarely sad, most are fascinating, and all carry rich histories, but none had prepared me for the sight of the Cementerio de Nueva Esperanza.
Our group had a minivan to take us, as we had timed it with the Día de los Muertos, the day of the dead, observed in Peru on Nov 2. From a kilometer away, we could see the crush of people. It being the pre-Covid era, we hopped off and melted into the crowds.
Día de los muertos is a special day that the Limeños pay homage to their ancestors, and they do this by spending the day by the graves of their families. They make it a family fun day out, with flowers and paints to give the graves a facelift, and have picnics with music and dancing and food, of course.
The opportunities for commerce are plenty on this day; large scale food and drink, balloons and umbrellas, repurposed PET bottles as flower vases, and the usual array of sales people giving it a fairground atmosphere.
For those that struggle uphill and into the distance there are tuktuks for transport.
As cemeteries go, the Nueva Esperanza may not be the ‘prettiest’ but it is breathtaking.
Far into the dusty hills, situated on little plots of land are the final resting spots of hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of people. All those little colorful, multi-tiered structures dotting the hills are graves. Up and down the slopes, narrow paths crisscrossing, varying styles and colors, for miles ahead all you see are graves. On the day of the dead, however, the cemetery is alive with families dressed in their best, bringing fresh flowers, bright umbrellas, adding sparkle and cheer to an otherwise dull and hazy environment.
With a time-bound schedule, I did not want to be lost in the labyrinth, and only explored the hill nearest the gate. It was a steep hike up the hill, and the view was worth it. Would you be as fascinated by the haphazard layout of the cemetery as I was?
There were a few awkward moments where I slipped (trying to get odd angled shots) and needed a hand from random strangers. Chatting with some people along the way, peering at headstones and making up stories in my head, watching folks go about their rituals, that was a photowalk more enjoyable than I expected it to be.
This year, due to the pandemic, the cementerio stayed closed and nobody was allowed in on día de los muertos.
Living in the bubble that is Miraflores, you tend to forget that majority of the population of Lima lives in crowded, dusty areas. Even with our week of Covid, months of lockdown, living far away from family, we realize that we have it better than most. I love the bubble, and I enjoy the occasional heat and dust, and this was a good day to be thankful for both.