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Tulcán Cemetery. Playing with Death

Cemeteries and churches are not my favourite places. Less from a fear of ghosts and ghouls or displeasing the gods and more from the dustiness of death and the stagnant sadness that seems to surround them. Sitting in a cold towering church or drying out in a barren box underground are not appealing prospects to me. So visiting a cemetery would not normally be something I’d put on my to-do list.

But Cementerio de Tulcán in Ecuador is different. They’ve found an ingenious way to make visiting long passed loved ones or picking out your own patch of afterlife feel more like a day out.

Hedge sculptures.

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Walking into the cemetery feels like stepping into a beautiful park. It’s hard to remind yourself not to run through the maze-like passages, or to look too excited while you secretly are.

Among the towering hedgerow characters waiting out their existence as cemetery watchmen, are whitewashed walls of graves. Each tomb is decorated with it’s own personal homage of pictures, flowers and saints, bestowed upon the dead by the living left behind still loving them. Many photos lie faded behind their glass enclosures adorned with trinkets; dwindling memories of times long passed.

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The dedication to the dead is clear here, if not by the number of people tending graves in the early hours of a Monday morning, then by the endless trails of flowers lining the paths.

Working hard to collect the rapidly wilting blossoms, one man appeared to be employed solely for this purpose. He piled crumbling bouquet after crumbling bouquet into an already overworked skip and as they spilled out across the walkway, turned to the garbage bins for a solution. It seemed an endless task, perpetually required, and a poignant reminder that everything dies, no matter how beautiful.

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The huge hedge creations stand in strong contrast to the perfect blue sky of Ecuador’s tiny border town. With green topiary figures of bulbous animals, well-endowed women and undeniably phallic forms standing proud against the mountainous backdrop, it’s impossible to imagine anyone without a great sense of style and humour being buried here.

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Cementerio de Tulcán is like no other. It’s beautiful, intriguing and clearly an important part of the town’s culture. I’ve never seen a cemetery like it and for the first time in my life, it made me excited to be in one.

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