Blue hearts and ghost-bikes – ways to remember the dead

As we travelled south from Quito along the Pan-American highway, it dawned on me that the front of the bus might not have been the best choice of seat. As if to demonstrate their machismo, the Ecuadorian bus drivers specialise in overtaking all other vehicles, preferably up hill and into the oncoming traffic. Every so often we could see blue hearts or Corazon Azul, painted on the road to mark where someone had died in a car crash. Sometime we would see a group of four or five together – large ones for adults, smaller ones for children. They are part of a campaign by the government in Ecuador to make people aware of the dangers of reckless driving.

A similar initiative, but this time springing from the cycling community, are the ghost bikes which first started in St. Louis, Missouri in 2003. The small bikes are painted white and chained to a site near where a cyclist was killed to create a memorial and a reminder that we all have a right to travel safely. Now the idea seems to have spread to many countries throughout the world, to judge by the information on the Ghost-bike website. The internet allows us to share in the memory of those who have died – it’s no less personal but can reach a wider audience.

In Greece, you’ll be hard pushed to drive along a winding coast road, without passing several small shrines by the side of the road. If you look inside you will see a religious icon, perhaps a candle and posy of flowers, and often a photograph of the person who has died. The Greek way of marking a death doesn’t stop at the funeral – services are also held on the 40th day and annually thereafter. When I visited my sister in Greece last summer, she seemed to be regularly off to a memorial service with a bunch of flowers in hand – if you can’t go to every service, you still send the flowers. Floristry is a good business to be in in Greece.

In England, the family often ask for no flowers but their own at a funeral, but that friends instead give donations to a favourite charity. Yet who can forget the sea of flowers outside Kensington Palace following the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, each with its own personal and heartfelt message. But for a more lasting tribute, the family will sometimes dedicate a bench. Visit any park or beauty spot in England and you will find wooden benches, each with a small brass plaque dedicated to someone who loved this spot too. The one that made me almost envious of the lucky recipient was the stone bench and table I saw, on the Cornish cliff-top at Treyarnon, facing out to sea, dedicated to Nick and engraved with a motorbike. Did this have any part in his untimely death aged 27?

Despite the different ways that people round the world mark an accidental death, the message from the grieving is the same. The memorials seem to say;

Stop and think as you go about your business. This person was important and will not be forgotten. It could happen to you…

For more on the last goodbye
You can find more tales on how people say goodbye around the world in the articles under Fatal attractions and the podcast entitled Terminal Travels on the Lonely Planet website. Favourite quotes from the podcast;

Death and cremation in Bali and Lombok
And where does the soul go after cremetion? Why to a heaven that is just like Bali.
Sky burial in Tibet
Giving one’s body as food for the vultures is regarded as a final act of generosity to the living world and provides a link in the circle of life.
The Day of the Dead in Mexico
Rather than fearing death, a Mexican chases after it, mocks it, courts it, hugs it, sleeps with it; it is his favorite plaything and his most lasting love.
A funeral in Sulawesi
The grandaughter Marianna, wore a bright blue sarong, pretty racy for the occasion, and there were droplets of blood on her raven hair.

Thanks for the photos to Erin Mcsherry for her blue hearts photo. You can see her post about the Corazon Azul here. Thanks for other photos from Flickr to Vlad Lazerian and Steve Wilde.
Related Posts
My top three beaches on Zakynthos
Banksy and Plastic bags
Blue fishing boats on Zakynthos
Saving the Caretta Caretta Turtles on Zakynthos

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  • Reply
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    […] What was the blue bike doing there? My first thought, was it didn’t seem very road worthy that it was a variation on the ghost bikes that are left to commemorate someone who has died while riding them – read my article about the ghost bikes here. […]

  • Reply
    Mark H
    January 7, 2010 at 7:56 pm

    I doscovered this article from Barbara’s excellent Hole in the Donut blog (http://holeinthedonut.com/2010/01/05/ghost-bikes-memorials/). The idea of marking the road with a blue heart is a quiet and respectful way to remember someone’s family member or friend and hopefully to prompt safer and more careful driving.

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