Make a Wish at Hidden Altar Caves in the Oaxacan Mountains
New Year's is far from a one-evening, countdown affair in Teotitlan del Valle. Celebrated with the traditional 12 wish grapes, ample bottles of local, aged mescal and a bonanza of fireworks, the 3-day new year is nothing short of impressive. The small town of Teotitlan flocks to Cuebito, a beautiful spot along the river, where the road from town ends and the mountains look out over the valley of Oaxaca. Caves in the mountainside transform into glowing altars, decorated with peso bills, candles, flowers, cacti, confetti and hand-written notes. A small church houses another altar and provides some warmth for the men who stay up all night on the 31st, signing hymns and giving praise. Another outpost up the hill shelters the women, who gather in rocking chairs, draped in blankets, to pass the night into the new year. Vendors cluster closer to the road, offering fresh elote, aguas, frutas and mescalitos, but most importantly, fireworks, which manifest in every shape and size imaginable: dragonflies, rockets, mice – you name it. Even the locals don't know what they'll do when lit, but they are keen to find out as they fill bags to the brim. As soon as dusk settles over the mountains, booms, sparkles and whizzes fly through the night air and the whole mountainside lights up with millions of little flames. Families set up shop for the night with blankets and barbecues – some even camp out, lovers take a stroll and the devout continue singing their sweet songs of prayer.
By Natasha Blum