Cuisine and Culture of Sinaloa

One of the key attractions of Mazatlán, beyond its incredible natural beauty and its amazingly friendly and resourceful people, is its food. We all love our ceviches, aguachiles, shrimp and fish in garlic or chile sauce or barbecued (zarandeado) over an open fire, our pollo a la plaza. Thus, I was eager to attend the presentation Thursday evening April 11th in the Gallery Peralta, “Cuisine and Culture of Sinaloa.” Though mis-named, the talk was quite interesting and focused primarily on the cuisine and culture of Mexico. It was organized by CULTURA Mazatlán as part of the initiative to formally include Mazatlán in UNESCO’s “Creative Cities Network” as a “city creative in gastronomy,” a decision that will be taken during meetings in November.

The main speaker for the evening was Maestro José (Pepe) N. Iturriaga, who was introduced by Maestro Jaime Félix Pico, President of the Gastronomic Conservatory of Sinaloa (Conservatorio Gastronómico de Sinaloa A.C.) as the “foremost professor of gastronomy in Mexico.”  According to Félix Pico, Mazatlán “has met all the conditions to be formally included in the Network of UNESCO Creative Cities.” Our entering the ranks of the 180 cities that have identified creativity as a strategic factor for sustainable urban development, would, indeed, be welcome news.

Iturriaga seemed a bit confused about where to begin his remarks, rambling and repeating himself for the first half hour. He explained that “we are what we eat;” that food is a key part of Mexicans’ national identity—way beyond just a method to gain nutrition; and that what makes Mexican cuisine unique is our triumvirate culinary staple: corn, beans and chile. He told the audience that other Latin countries also eat corn and beans but asserted that chile is unique to Mexico. Together this trilogy, according to Iturriaga, provides a very balanced diet. Beans are legumes with quality protein, very nutritious. Corn is a “cereal with carbs and a bit of unusable protein,” while chile is a fruit with vitamins and minerals but which also contains a substance that makes the nutrients of corn (protein, sugar, starch and fat) absorb better.

Iturriaga has recently written a book that shares the title of this conference, Cocina y Cultura de Sinaloa. He reported that the book is to be published by UAS (Universidad Autónoma de Sinaloa) but has been languishing there unedited. Perhaps the lack of a book was the reason he seemed so lost as he started his presentation. At the conclusion of the evening, Maestro Papik Ramírez, Director of the Sinaloan Institute of Culture (Instituto Sinaloense de Cultura—ISIC), assured Iturriaga that his book would be edited soon by UAS and ISIC.

The most fascinating portion of Iturriaga’s presentation was when he explained to the audience the history of Mexico’s successful process to be named the only “World Heritage Cuisine” by UNESCO in 2010. According to Iturriaga, the effort began in 2000 and took the better part of ten years. He told us that key factors in Mexico’s successful bid to become a World Heritage Cuisine include antigüedad, continuidad and actualidad:

  1. Antigüedad: Mexican culinary tradition is antique. Corn was domesticated 8000 years ago from wild grass over a period of one to two centuries—thousands of years before the pyramids of Egypt were built.
  2. Continuidad: Mexican culinary culture has continuity and is an important part of the lives of people of all socioeconomic levels. It has no “high” and “low” cuisine. Even the richest Mexicans eat chilaquiles or enchiladas for breakfast, celebrate with a good mole, and pozole will be served in the wee hours at the most exclusive of wedding receptions. Mexican food is healthy and built huge empires; it is not a third world food, Iturriaga said, somewhat defensively. It is the food of kings as well as of the people.
  3. Actualidad: Mexican culinary culture is alive and well today, passed on from grandmothers and our mothers. We experience this long tradition in Mexican homes, as well as in fondas, mercados and street carts, within the country and in nearly every country worldwide. Mexican cuisine has great regional diversity, as well as great commonalty and shared tradition. According to Iturriaga, the over 30 million Mexicans residing in the USA typically share three cultural traits from their homeland: Mexican food, Mexican music, and the Virgen de Guadalupe.

According to our speaker, other countries do not have cultural traditions around cuisine, an assertion to which I as an interculturalist take great exception. Iturriaga repeatedly emphasized that the USA, for example, “has no endemic cuisine or regional culinary traditions that are not imported.” While I greatly understand and empathize with his pride in Mexican culinary culture, his habitual effort to put down other world cuisines, including those of France and China, dumbfounded me. Mexico can be rightfully proud without insulting the cultures of others.

He advised those attending that Mazatlán’s proposal to UNESCO should focus on the culture of Sinaloa’s gastronomy, not on the gastronomy per sé. UNESCO is a cultural, not a gastronomic, organization, and they will be interested in history, anthropology, ethnicity and literature surrounding our bid to join the Creative Cities Network.

Iturriaga then shared a few interesting statistics, noting that the beauty of Mexican food culture is a combination of both its ingredients and the cooks. He stated that:

  1. Mexico ranks fourth in the world for its biodiversity, after Brazil, Colombia and Indonesia. My research does not necessarily agree with this ranking, though the main point that Mexico is biologically a “megadiverse” country is very true.
  2. Mexico ranks second in the world for its cultural diversity, behind India and ahead of China. Iturriaga went on to explain that his ranking counts the number of currently spoken, living languages as a measurement. India, according to him, has 65, Mexico 62, and China 55. I love this idea, but again, as an interculturalist I cannot imagine where he got his data from; Ethnologue has very different statistics for living languages by country. I do agree that language is a solid litmus test of cultural diversity, as it’s fragile and very easy to lose, so is a sign of cultural cohesion and dynamism. Iturriaga said that 12% of Mexicans are indigenous, with the rest regional variations of mestizaje, mentioning Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, German and French.

The key point is that there is a huge diversity of cultures within Mexico, particularly regional diversity. When you combine the diversity of its people with the biodiversity of its flora and fauna, Mexican cuisine has a huge natural advantage in this world. Yet another reason for Mexico to become a better steward of its natural resources as well as its people.

Turning finally to the culture and cuisine of Sinaloa, Iturriaga explained that our long coast here in Sinaloa is one of our strengths, as it is in Veracruz. The Tropic of Cancer dissects Sinaloa and is an important climactic marker, adding to our biodiversity. The state has an incredible variation of climactic zones from east to west, mountains to ocean, also. Iturriaga said that 13% of our state is conifer forest, and our estuaries are natural (I would add quickly disappearing) aquariums. Sinaloa’s biodiversity reflects that of the country as a whole.

Sinaloa is Mexico’s biggest producer of corn, tomato and shrimp—33% of the national production of the latter. Sinaloa is also an important producer of chile and beans. Referencing Sinaloa’s cultural diversity, Iturriaga said that in the 16th century there were 38 aboriginal groups in the area that now comprises Sinaloa. He went on to say that the Aztecs migrated from what is now Culiacán to Mexico City, another fact that sounds great but which my research shows as far from agreed-upon among academic experts. Most texts say the origins of the Aztecs are uncertain, though they did originate in northern Mexico. Mezcaltitán, just south of the modern-day Sinaloa state border, also claims to have been the original home of the Aztecs. Iturriaga told us that his upcoming book has a list of 30 fruits that are endemic and unique to Sinaloa, largely unknown outside our state. Very cool!

After this short interlude on the theme of the evening—Sinaloan culinary culture—we returned to Mexican culinary traditions. Iturriaga told the audience that:

  1. “Tomato” comes from Nahautl, the Aztec language—tomatl. Where would world cuisine be without these wonderful, originating-in-Mexico pomodoros?
  2. Guajalotl, or in Spanish guajalote, turkey—what would Thanksgiving look like without this Mexican gift?
  3. Chocolatl, so important to the economies and culinary culture of Switzerland, Belgium and France, among many other countries.
  4. Not just chocolate but vanilla also originated in Mexico—a key ingredient in several national dishes worldwide.
  5. Finally, Iturriaga told us that 95% of the world’s chiles are Mexican. The popular habanero is not; it comes from the Amazon, but even bell peppers, from which Hungary’s famous paprika is ground, originate in Mexico. We wouldn’t have goulash, curry or Szechuan food without Mexico’s culinary contribution!

Iturriaga concluded his formal remarks by talking about pre-Hispanic religious traditions. One of these included making idols of corn. He asserted that Mexicans may also have invented the practice of “communion,” now well-known in Roman Catholic and some other Christian churches, because pre-Hispanic priests would break up the cornmeal idols so that the community could share in the power and energy of the god represented by the idol. Tamales were and still remain a common religious offering. The Tarahumara (they prefer to be called Raramurí) make their beer—tesguino—from corn and then offer it to the four cardinal points. He went on to share with the audience that May 15th is the Day of San Isidro, Farmers’ Day; the cathedral in Culiacán has an altar to this saint and many people from the pueblo mestizo make offerings on that day, also bringing in seeds to bless before planting them. In conclusion, he assured us that gastronomy is cultural as well as religious.

After the talk, CULTURA generously shared with those attending canapés and yellow squash tamales made the traditional way in Palos Blancos, El Rosario municipality. CULTURA stressed that in Sinaloa, from Teacapán to Los Mochis, from tamales barbones (shrimp tamales) to huacavaque (beef stew), we can see the fingerprints of pre-Hispanic Mexico and the mixing of the races, even in modern dishes that rely on technological production methods and a desire for innovation.

All in all, I was glad I went downtown for the early evening. The talk was interesting, and I am happy to support this Creative Cities’ effort. If you are interested in learning to cook Sinaloan food in your home, you might wish to read about Doña Cuca’s cookbooks.

Must-See Secret in Vegas

James-Turrell-Las-Vegas

Photo from Turrell’s website

If you happen to travel through Las Vegas you really need to see Akhob, an incredible light art installation by the renowned James Turrell. Photographers, designers—anyone who works with light and color—as well as anyone interested in perception, psychology, brain science or spirituality will delight in this space. It is amazing, completely immersive and otherworldly, and it’s free. But you will need a reservation—only six people at a time are permitted into the installation every half hour.

Photography is not permitted once you’ve entered Akhob, so photos in this post are borrowed from the Internet—if they are yours please let me know so I can credit you! Two-dimensional photography does not do justice to this multi-sensory experience that bathes the visitor in gentle yet vibrantly colored light. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

First you enter a very dark reception room, designed to let your eyes calm and adjust. Two attendants dressed in white provide brief instructions such as don’t touch the walls (they stain easily), no food or drink, no photography, and ask you to sign a three-page release of liability form.

From there you walk down a dark corridor to a foyer at the base of a staircase. There is a round portal at the top of the staircase, making it seem like the entrance to a temple. Six chairs along the wall, three at either end, are where you will leave your belongings and remove your shoes, putting disposable shoe covers on your feet.

One at a time, you will be asked to ascend the stairs—there is no handrail—and enter the installation. One attendant goes first, and the second brings up the rear. Each person can begin going up once the last person has stepped over the portal. It’s eerie entering the chamber, hard to see the step into the portal, and hard to know how deep the step over is.

Once inside the portal the floor is flat (though it did feel angled), so walking around is easy. There are three chambers, Turrell calls them “ganzfelds” or “light fields,” each with a circular passage connecting it to the other. At the far end you look into the third chamber: a drop off into what seems to be a void. Of course no one may step beyond the second chamber. There is a sensor in place that, we were told, is hooked up to an alarm, to prevent people from falling.

Most people seem drawn to that second chamber, from which you marvel looking into the third. Subtly changing colors of blue, green, pink, red, orange, purple and yellow envelop you in the illusion of fog, provide you the experience of flying or floating, of peace and stillness, of being in the womb, in heaven or in space. Walls, floors and ceilings disappear and reappear; space and distance bend and blend. It is disorienting and liberating, relaxing and energizing. For me the experience was very much like meditation.

The color comes, apparently, from three places. Inside the round doorways of the first two chambers are circular lines of light that change color, while there is also an unseen light source from the third chamber. They blend together seamlessly to make edges and distinctions disappear.

From that second chamber you can also look back on the first. I would have sworn that the door at the top of the stairs, the one through which we entered, was closed. It was black and flat, locked off. But when I approached it to verify, it was, indeed, still open. I could see the stairway, the chairs and our worldly goods below, right where we had left them.

W Magazine describes Akhobin this way:

“For decades Turrell has created meticulous environments where the interplay of light and space renders basic perception a transcendental experience. Monumentalized as a master of quietude and subtlety, his work is surprisingly at home in Sin City. As a neon playground awash in a sea of nothingness, the extreme juxtaposition of barren beauty and unchecked consumerism affords his destabilizing projects maximum impact on over-stimulated tourists.”

Visitors are requested to maintain silence inside Akhob. The silence and stillness are a powerful aspect of the experience. You will be standing the entire time; I can see that chairs would ruin the visual cleanliness, and staying mobile adds to the full experience.

You’ll find Akhobon the upper level of the Louis Vitton store at Crystals at City Center—very private and secret. To make a reservation, call (702) 730-3150. Address is 3720 Las Vegas Blvd. S. NOTE: Reservations are normally booked six to eight weeks ahead, but they do have occasional openings if you’re lucky. They are open Thursday through Monday, 11:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., closed Tuesday and Wednesday. Children under age 15 are not allowed.

We had seen and enjoyed another Turrell installation, The Way of Color, one of his numerous Skyspaces, at Crystal Bridges in Bentonville, Arkansas a couple of years ago. Akhobwas night and day better. While the Skyspace plays with your perception and is fascinating, Akhobfeels much more transcendental, transporting your mind and spirit to other realms.

If you can’t get in to see Akhob, you can view another Turrell exhibit at Crystals, built into the ceiling of the monorail platform. You can view the rotating light on the platform itself, or from inside the shopping center through the geometric Libeskind oculi that are cut into the walls.

As for me, the next place I want to go is Roden Crater, once it opens, located in the Painted Desert of northern Arizona where I grew up. Turrell is transforming this cinder crater into a light, color and sky-viewing space reminiscent of the ancients but updated with modern technology.

Mazatlán’s Largest Employer and World Leader

mostazaLovers of fresh seafood enjoy living in Mazatlán. We can go down to the boats or visit the pescaderías and be blessed to eat fresh fish nearly every day of the year. The only downside can be that what is available depends, of course, on what was caught that day.

There is a new market in town, however, that ensures that we can always have fresh tuna on hand to use as sashimi, in a tasty ceviche, or to sear as steaks for unexpected company. A month or so ago Greg and I happened into Dolores Market at Rafael Buelna #20 (between Valentino’s and Soriana on the south side of the road) to check it out. There we found flash-frozen-on-the-boat, sashimi-grade tuna at very good prices, tuna pre-cut for ceviche, minced tuna to use for meatballs or paté (or pre-made paté that is delicious), tuna pre-made with veggies on kabobs, pre-formed tuna burgers, canned tuna premixed with seasoning and veggies for an on-the-go lunch, as well as tuna chorizo and ham. I am glad to have Dolores Market so close to our house, as it provides me an easy way to make a healthy and beautiful meal in just a few minutes! Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

Then, out of the blue, a book club friend called to say he’d taken on a new job in charge of Dolores Markets and would love to have us tour the production facility to see what it was all about. It turns out that Dolores Market is part of our local and world-class Pinsa group, owned by Leovi Carranza (PezAzteca, Tamara Trucking, ProNova, Estrella del Mar). Pinsa, founded in 1990, is Mazatlán’s biggest employer with over 4000 team members, and one of the world’s most important tuna plants. Their brands include Mexico’s best-selling tuna brand, Dolores, MazAtún, El Dorado, Portola and Brunswick. They produce over two million cans of tuna per day! The market on Rafael Buelna opened in 2016, though the original store in Parque Bonfil (the commercial fishing port) has served Pinsa employees and the public for five years. There are also Dolores Markets in Monterrey, Guadalajara and Culiacán, with plans for major expansion.

Our beloved Mazatlán is not only home to México’s largest tuna fleet—Pinsa has 26 tuna fishing boats and is certified “Dolphin Safe”—it’s also home to our adopted country’s largest and most state-of-the-art tuna processing and packaging facility—Pinsa Congelados. Greg and I were fortunate to tour this factory and felt very proud to learn that Mazatlecos have built, run and work in such a world-class facility resplendent with certifications: Global STD/SQF System, Socially Responsible Company, ESR, HACCP, GMP, Clean Industry, FDA… They have Ministry of Health certification to export to the European Community, the USA and Canada, and elsewhere worldwide. They wouldn’t let me take photos inside the factory, so the pics below are from the offices, and an official video below shows the production line.

Our economic diversity is part of what makes Mazatlán such a terrific place to live. We all see the fish packing, canning and processing facilities in Parque Bonfil as we drive to and from the airport. Touring, however, was quite an eye-opening experience. I worked for years in the semiconductor and food industries, so am very familiar with cleanliness and sanitation standards. Pinsa takes these to a new level. Greg and I were both instructed to empty our pockets, remove any makeup or hair products, as well as any jewelry—like airport security on steroids. We then put on freshly-washed (at the on-site laundry) white sweatshirts and sweatpants, white rubber boots (also freshly sanitized), a hair net, fabric face mask and a full burka-like hood—with only openings for the eyes. We looked like snowmen or players in some futuristic, sci-fi version of Arabian Nights. Sadly, photo taking was prohibited, so you are spared from seeing the evidence, but the video below will show you the garb, the factory and the process. The warm clothes help workers because the warmest area of the plant is 10 degrees C/50 degrees F.

Upon entering the 17,000 square meter plant we had to clean our already clean boots—lifting our legs up into motorized boot brushes moistened with sanitizer-filled water. A guard checked our entry badges, ensured our pockets were empty, and sent us through a metal detector.

We entered onto a long hallway, with numerous swinging doors leading to rooms on the left and the right. The left side of the hallway is the “natural” side, where tuna fish flash-frozen on the boat are cut up and packaged for sale. The right side is the “mejorado” or “improved” side, where tuna is injected with salt to cure and give it color before being processed and packaged. We stepped into a pool of sanitizer each time we entered or left a new room, and we wore rubber gloves.

On the left side, tuna fish are first sorted by size—60 kg and up, 40-50 kg, 20-30 kg—into large bins in a room kept at -9 degrees C/-4 degrees F. In the second room the heads and tails are cut off the frozen whole fish. Next, they are cut into quarters, removing the spine and entrails and leaving two stomach quarters and two back quarters. Finally, the skin is removed. Workers stand with knives along conveyer belts to remove any remaining blemishes. Quarters go through x-rays to be sure no foreign material is inside the fish; the machine ejects any piece of fish in which metal is detected. Vacuum sealing is automated: stomach quarters are shorter and packed right on the conveyer belts; back quarters are longer and are packed into vacuum-sealed bags on a separate line.

From here the tuna flesh takes different routes. Some is destined to be cut into medallions/steaks. The leftover pieces will be shaped with a knife, packaged as “pieces” and sold at a cheaper price, but still perfect for sashimi or searing. Smaller or irregular pieces are cubed for kabobs, cut up ceviche-size, or minced for burgers and sausage. At each stage the fish pieces are meticulously weighed and inspected. The skin, entrails and odd pieces go to the flour mill, also run by Pinsa, to make pet food.

On the right side, the “improved” tuna rooms, the frozen quarters are injected with the salt solution to cure them and give them a nice rich color. As the quarters travel around conveyer belts the excess saltwater runs off and into a tank for recycling. Next is a room with huge thawing space, where the tuna quarters are left for a couple of days to cure.  The plant processes over 66 tons of fish—including 27,000 tuna medallions—on every shift; up to 240 tons per month! The cold storage facilities are huge.

The plant is amazingly clean. Nothing is on the floor, anywhere. We saw many lines in full production, and several on pause while workers ate lunch. All were spotlessly clean. I cannot believe that fish processing can be clean and not smelly!

Locally,  Dolores Markets has plans to branch out before Semana Santa to offer fresh food cooked to order in addition to their retail products. So, while listening to banda and side-stepping the crowds, there might not be carne asada on the grill, but fresh tuna steaks courtesy of Dolores Tuna. Qué rico!!!! Their website is full of recipes (in Spanish), so for those of you who love to cook—or just eat good, healthy food—be sure to check it out!

 

El Recodo’s 80th Anniversary!

DSC_3357©Last night, Wednesday February 27th, Estadio Teodoro Mariscal filled with over 22,000 incredibly eager fans ready to celebrate six-time Grammy-winning music legends Banda El Recodo de Cruz Lizárraga, on their 80th anniversary. OMG was it ever a party!

What a huge gift El Recodo gave their home city! Free tickets for everyone, general admission or VIP. There were smiles on everyone’s faces, joy in their souls, dance steps in their feet and bodies. The crowd included young and old, rich and poor, united in their love of this Madre de las Bandas. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

I had expected lines at the stadium from early morning, in the vein of the coronation ticket lines, but no. We went over there about 1:00 and there were no more than 20 people in line. By 2:30 when we went, there were several hundred people in line. The doors, however, were scheduled to open at 4:00 pm and by then the crowd was more than ready to run through the door! Everyone entered, found a seat, and then started phoning one another, texting, and waving their hands to find the rest of their group. The crowd was festive and happy.

new cd

Music started at 5:00 pm and continued until about 12:30. El Recodo has always been innovative: Don Cruz’s vision to have a big band/orchestral sound for banda started that. They have long played banda music as well as jazz swing, classical and Latin dance tunes. Wednesday night’s lineup was incredible, as in addition to best-in-class banda music we had some super reggaetón, pop and ranchera. Performers included some of those on the band’s new CD: 80 Years of Music Between Friends (80 Años de Música entre Amigos). The spectacle was telecast live and internationally. The night’s lineup included:

  1. DJ Clássico
  2. Virlan García
  3. Chyno Miranda
  4. Ulices Chaidez
  5. Mau y Ricky
  6. Remmy Valenzuela
  7. Edith Marquez
  8. Reik, who showed up late supposedly due to the crowd not letting them through, and played a surprising acoustic set.
  9. Ramón Ayala
  10. Gerardo Ortíz
  11. Mario Quintero

Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow:

I was standing in the press zone down by the Carnaval royalty when Chyno Miranda, one of my favorite Venezuelans, took the stage. You should have seen the queens, even the infant queen, go completely went nuts for him! He was happy to oblige their adoration by kneeling down to pay them full attention.

The capacity audience sang along happily to all the acts, dancing in the aisles of the stadium and ingesting huge amounts of beer and junk food. The lines for the porte-potties on the lawn were unreal—so glad I used the indoor bathrooms!

Sadly, just after 10:00 pm the crowd outside the stadium decided to break down the gates. The video I’ve seen make it look very dangerous. I do feel for people, because there were so many who had tickets, but apparently too many tickets had been given out or copied that there weren’t enough seats for everyone, so they closed entry. Thousands stormed through the gates and into the stadium, broke down the fence to the VIP area and filled the hundreds of unused seats down there. I was glad they were able to get in to enjoy things, but what an uncivilized way to go about it.

One of the remarkable realities of the night was the apparent lack of security. There were some guards and military cadets, and volunteers. But there was no metal detector to go through, no frisking, people brought in bags of refreshments—yet the night passed without any apparent incident. What a terrific testament to Mazatlecan affability and love for El Recodo.

Monitor Latino was on hand to recognize Banda El Recodo for 80 years of transcending regional music and taking it throughout Mexico and the world (five continents,  if you count the Americas as one). I wish that someone from Videorola or Bandamax would have been present to salute them as well.

One of the high spots of the evening was giving an award of recognition to German Lizárraga, Poncho and Joel’s half-brother, who was a member of El Recodo for 44 years. It was great to see the two brothers playing clarinet together on stage and putting past bad blood behind them, even if for a bit. Another favorite awardee was Julio Preciado. El Recodo was the first banda to put a singer out front and center, and it was young Julio. During his stint with the band it grew enormously in popularity. Julio went on to have his own stellar career, of course.

Thank you for such an incredible evening, El Recodo and Familia Lizárraga!!!! Mazatlán so very much appreciates your hospitality and generosity!

7 Tips So You Don’t Miss the Best of Carnaval de Mazatlán!

There are a couple of things to know about Carnaval de Mazatlán. First, Mazatlecos are born with Carnaval in their veins; it is part of their DNA. They can critique a Carnaval float like no one else, knowing exactly what makes it work or what it’s lacking. That is part of the reason why it is said to be the third largest in the world. Work and school pretty much come to a halt during the days of Carnaval; it is time to party before the reflective season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday.

Second, Carnaval here is a festival of the pueblo, the people. It is an intergenerational family affair. Despite what some outsiders might perceive, it is most definitely NOT a beauty contest, or at least not primarily. And it is not the festival of drunkenness and debauchery that you see elsewhere, though of course it there are people who make it that. The biggest pride for the people of Mazatlán this year is that the King of Carnaval is an ordinary guy from the barrio, a single father to two daughters, who  labors for a living and performs lots of community service work. They will go wild to see him dancing on top of his Carnaval float during the two parades this year. Carnaval includes more upscale activities like classical music concerts, awards for poetry, art and literature, but the beating heart of the week-long event is the mass revelry, where you’ll celebrate with grandparents and children, as well as teenagers and adults of all ages.

Carnaval Calendar
The official calendar of Carnaval events is above, though it is missing a couple of key events such as the Gastronomic Fair (below) and the Lunes de Mascaritas or “Masquerade Monday,” new this year in an attempt to revive an storied city Carnaval tradition. Below are my tips for making the most of your Carnaval experience, in chronological order for the week.

  1. Banda El Recodo’s 80th Anniversary Concert: This year we get an extra day of Carnaval, thanks to it being the 80th anniversary of our beloved, nine-time-Grammy-winning Banda El Recodo. People around the world are so very jealous of those of us who live here in Mazatlán, home to the first Mexican band to perform in Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, North and South America. They even have two stars on the walk of fame in Las Vegas. Greg went by their offices today to pick up our credentials for the concert (Wed. Feb. 27th in the stadium, doors open at 5 pm), and he was AMAZED how many people came by and waited at the door, explaining over the intercom that they had taught Poncho or known Joel when they were kids, asking for concert tickets or to talk with a star. Talk about super fans! It is wonderful to have home town heroes with international fame! The band gave out thousands and thousands of free tickets to this huge concert, which will include loads of other stars paying tribute to the Madre de las Bandas. If you have not joined in the excitement of this major event, you are missing out! You’ll see people dressed to the nines and others in jeans, boots, cowboy hats and rhinestones. Heck, just people watching will be a treat!80-Aniversario-de-la-Banda-El-Recodo-2
  2. The Coronation of the King (Thu. Feb. 28th in Sister Cities Park, starting at 8 pm) is always an exceptional concert and it’s always free! This year it will be headlined by another famous local son, Chuy Lizárraga! The coronation of the king has traditionally included much less pomp and circumstance than that of the queens, but it’s still a whole lot of fun—and much rowdier. You’ll most probably see some cool dancing, video effects and staging, as well as a killer fireworks show during the coronation, followed by a stellar concert. I highly recommend attending. Take a portable seat if you need one, and perhaps a cooler of beer, though no doubt there will be vendors galore. This concert attracts a huge crowd. The coronation tends to start on time or perhaps up to an hour late (which here can still be considered “on time,” with the new city administration it’s hard to know what will be different), but the headliner probably won’t play until 10 or 11 pm. Be sure to take a hat and jacket, as the park is right along the malecon, which can get cool and breezy at night. Dress will be casual. Wear closed-toe shoes as there will be a crowd.48391285_2419783844760448_4227020501060419584_o.jpg
  3. See a coronation—of one of the queens! You absolutely must. It will include a world-class concert, but also colorful, spirited dancing by local costumed children and professionals, impressive staging and media effects, and fireworks. My recommendation is that you attend the Coronation of the Queen of the Floral Games (Fri. Mar. 1st in the stadium at 8:30 pm) or Child Queen Coronation (Mon. Mar. 4th) are best, because it will leave your Saturday night free to catch the fireworks and burning of bad humor downtown. It is nearly impossible to see the Saturday coronation and get to Olas Altas in time to see the fireworks, due to the huge traffic jams during Carnaval (and the security line to get into the Carnaval zone). We have tried. The queen and the governor can do it, but they’ve got police escorts. The coronations require tickets, which are still available online at the Cultura Mazatlán site. Lots of people dress NICE for the coronations, and it’s fun to get into the spirit of the event. High heels tend to mean tough walking on the turf of the stadium, however. Be sure to take a jacket and hat, or even a blanket, as the stadium can get damp and cold depending on the day’s weather. You can take binoculars for a better view and, of course, your camera.P1250966©
  4. Saturday of Carnaval is my second-most-favorite night. I spent well over a decade in Japan, and consider myself a connoisseur of good fireworks. The traditional Combate Naval fireworks show (Sat. Mar. 2nd at 10:30 pm in the Olas Altas party zone) is super; I trust it will be this year. The event, however, is attended by 500,000 or more people in a cramped area of town, so be ready to be swept up in a human wave. Honestly, you can quite literally be swept off your feet and taken with the crowd, so be prepared. Besides the fireworks, I encourage you to show up early and walk along to watch the Burning of Bad Humor (Sat. Mar. 2nd at 8 pm at the Deer Statue in Olas Altas). This little-talked about event is a WHOLE lot of fun. It’s a traditional Mexican custom to burn a piñata loaded with a whole lot of firecrackers, an effigy, of some well-hated person from the previous year. If you’ve never seen it, you owe it to yourself to go. Just follow the fireworks (single-shot fireworks that denote a parade route) or wait at the Deer Statue. Rumor has it that this year they’ll burn EPN—Enrique Peña Nieto, Mexico’s last president. There won’t be an official announcement till the day before, and the burning is preceded with a poem that roasts the “effigy of honor.”Combate Naval Rosa
    Best bets to see the fireworks are:
    • At this point in time, if you don’t have a reservation (see below), I’d plan to arrive plenty early in Olas Altas on Saturday (maybe 5 or 6 pm) and find a seat on the malecón wall. Plan to hold on to it for dear life. You’ll have to take turns going to the bathroom or picking up refreshments in order to maintain your prime seating. We have done this several years and absolutely loved it. It is an “of the people” experience. There’s great conversation and revelry, and the views are the best ever. Remember there are often fireworks launched from the beach in front of you, and from at least two different barge locations in the bay.
    • My second recommendation to you, if you don’t have a reservation, is to reserve seats on a boat. There are loads of party boats that will head out into the bay to watch the fireworks. The best ones include live music, most will have bars, some have food as well.
    • It’s late, but you may get lucky enough even at this late date to get a reservation at an Olas Altas restaurant or bar. You will have to pay in advance to secure your reservation. Puerto Viejo often opens their roof, as does the Freeman, and all the places along the malecón will be full of people.
    • Get invited to a private party. We have had the pleasure of witnessing Combate Naval from some absolutely breathtaking locations thanks to the generosity of friends. I always say, I’m happy to share my photos of the fireworks in exchange for a great viewing location 😉
    • Make a reservation at one of the hotels in the area—the Belmar, La Siesta, Casa Lucila or Casa de Leyendas. For this year you are probably waaaay too late, but hey, it doesn’t hurt to get ready for Carnaval 2020! Wouldn’t it be wonderful to party on the balcony of your own hotel room?
  5. The Parade!!! The ABSOLUTE FAVORITE event of Carnaval for most mazatlecos, including us. The main parade is the first one (Sun. Mar. 3rd leaving the Fishermen’s Monument and heading north at 5:30 pm). The parade continues to Valentino’s, where it will turn on Rafael Buelna so that the royalty and others can get off the floats. The parade is comprised of quite a few different sections (current royalty, past year’s royalty, and 25 and 50 year commemorations), each of which includes dance troupes and live music, plus incredible floats. People will put chairs out on the malecón 2-4 days ahead of time, staying 24 hours a day to guard their space. Others rent a seat from one of the hotels along the route, or join friends on the pool deck or a balcony of one of the condo buildings along the route. The entire parade route becomes one huge party for several days ahead of the big day. Expect the parade to last until about 10:00 pm. You will need to plan to secure a good viewing spot, though you can crowd in and see it from the back of the pack, too. Bring a chair if you want to sit and don’t have one reserved. The parade is not as horribly crowded as the Combate Naval fireworks. There is a pre-parade that departs about 4:30, when commercial floats toss out lots of freebies to the crowd._DSC1596©
    If you want to see the floats in a more relaxed setting, go to the malecón north of the Sea Lion Statue on Tue. Mar. 5th anytime after about 1:00 pm and before 4:30 pm when the second parade starts. This is prime photo-op time as the dancers are getting ready, putting on their makeup, loosening their muscles, and the royalty will be boarding the floats. The second parade heads south from there to Olas Altas, so you have much more space along which to set your chair and enjoy the parade. This parade is not nearly as crowded as Sunday’s._DSC3428©
  6. The Muestra Gastronómica or Gastronomic Festival (Sun-Tue. Mar. 3rd through 5th from 1-7 pm in Sister Cities Park) is historically a free event, but this year will be a benefit for DIF (municipal family services), Sister Cities Park and The Lighthouse Nature Park. What I love about it is they’re converting it from an upscale affair in the Machado into a family-friendly event in the park! Over 20 local restaurants will participate, there will also be live music, games, face painting and bouncy houses for the kids. You may want to bring your costumes and Carnaval masks and attend the gastronomic fair on Monday, because afterwards the city is rescuing the beloved mazatlecan tradition of Lunes de Mascaritas or “Masquerade Monday,” where young people asked one another, Mascarita, me conoces? or “Masked one, do you know me?” Prizes include a motorcycle and other major goodies, so be sure to give it a shot!52151453_10214065139442926_5662494469413404672_n.jpg, free.
  7. Finally and most obviously, do not miss a night in the Party Zone in Olas Altas! Entrance to the  zone this year is supposed to be free. Normally it was a small fee, to make it accessible to everyone and yet not an even crazier free-for-all. There you will find loads of food and drink, stages with many different kinds of live music, from dusk till the wee hours of the morning. You can’t say you attended Carnaval de Mazatlán if you don’t dance in the street in the party zone at least once! It will be open Feb. 28th to Mar. 5th. I recommend you dress casual, avoid jewelry and don’t take a lot of cash; it’s safe and a great time, but there are pickpockets who come special from out of town, and it’s quite the crowd so easier pickings.P1100271©