A night­time crypt visit for the mor­bidly cu­ri­ous

Antelope Valley Press (Sunday) - - Valley Life - By GON­ZALO SOLANO

QUITO, Ecuador — It’s a chilly night in Ecuador’s cap­i­tal and the small group of men and women vis­it­ing the city’s old­est ceme­tery are un­der­stand­ably ner­vous.

Led by guides in black hooded capes, they nav­i­gate a maze of crypts as voices call out ex­is­ten­tial ques­tions into the night.

“What are you do­ing so that some­one re­mem­bers you af­ter you’ve died?” one asks. “What are you do­ing so that you’re not for­got­ten?”

They’re there to get a taste of death while still alive — spend­ing part of the night in a dark crypt at the El Te­jar ceme­tery, the lat­est ex­am­ple of the so-called “necro tourism” trend lur­ing those with a keen­ness for the macabre.

“The idea is to make peo­ple re­flect,” says Alexan­dra Ortega, direc­tor of Quito Post Mortem, the com­pany that ar­ranges the grave­yard tours. “In ceme­ter­ies, life and death can be found. Life is ephemeral and death the only cer­tainty.”

Latin Amer­ica has long har­bored a mys­ti­cal, up front fas­ci­na­tion with death. Few vis­its to Buenos Aires are con­sid­ered com­plete with­out a visit to the Reco­leta ceme­tery where lu­mi­nar­ies like iconic for­mer First Lady Eva Perón are buried. Mex­ico’s Day of the Dead pays homage to the de­ceased with fes­tive foods and dec­o­ra­tive skulls.

“Death is very much present in the Latin Amer­i­can sen­si­bil­ity,” said Peter Sa­ni­patín, a psy­chol­o­gist in Ecuador. “These ac­tiv­i­ties al­low us to con­front an imag­i­nary death and come out tri­umphant, at least for the mo­ment.”

In many cities across the globe, tourism groups have be­gun en­cour­ag­ing vis­i­tors to take a step to­ward the dark side as an op­por­tu­nity to re­flect on the past and the very na­ture of hu­man­ity.

“Imag­in­ing that sit­u­a­tion helps us con­front some­thing that scares us,” Nathan Digby, a phi­los­o­phy and re­li­gion pro­fes­sor, said of the surge in ceme­tery tours.

The idea for Ecuador’s night­time ceme­tery vis­its arose as Ortega was in­ves­ti­gat­ing out of the box tour ideas for her tourism stud­ies the­sis. As a twist, she de­cided guests would be com­pletely blind­folded and spend time ly­ing in­side a crypt.

“Do­ing it blind­folded in­ten­si­fies the ex­pe­ri­ence,” she said.

On a re­cent evening, 13 vis­i­tors ven­tured into the ceme­tery, which is filled with blocks of tombs stacked four or more lev­els high. Amid the grave­yard si­lence, guides asked ques­tions and made nerve-rat­tling sounds by clash­ing metal ob­jects.

One young woman who is part of the tour com­pany touched guests on the arm and begged not to be left alone as they en­tered an un­der­ground crypt.

Then the thrill-seek­ers were led into empty ce­ment niches where cas­kets are typ­i­cally placed and asked to think about what their rel­a­tives would say on the day of their fu­neral.

One woman pan­icked, re­fused to par­tic­i­pate and left the group.

As­so­ci­ated Press

Blind­folded tourists walk through El Te­jar ceme­tery, in down­town Quito, Ecuado. They are there to get a taste of death while still alive, spend­ing part of the night in a dark crypt at the El Te­jar ceme­tery, the lat­est ex­am­ple of the so-called “necro tourism” trend lur­ing those with a keen­ness for the macabre.

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