Festival of Lights 2018

DSC_0726©You know I love fireworks, and my favorites of the year here in Mazatlán tend to be the Festival de la Luz, because TEN THOUSAND fireworks are launched 300 meters into the air from FIFTEEN locations over FOUR KILOMETERS along the malecón, lighting up the city’s boardwalk. These fireworks normally take place during Maratón del Pacífico, but they were delayed this year. This tenth annual event included 2-1/2 TONS of 20 different kinds of fireworks at a cost of 1,300,000 pesos, and lasted a full thirty minutes. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

This year was a challenge photographically. High tide during launch meant the beach was off limits. Brisk wind meant that shooting from the south was out of the question—that is where the smoke headed. So, I set up north of the viewing area, which was less than ideal for a good view.

I was blessed to be joined by a good friend and three visiting Colombian artists, so we enjoyed a good time. I set up both my cameras, though my intervalometer decided not to work, so having two cameras made for a busy viewing. I won’t be repeating that anytime soon.

I trust you were able to enjoy the show. Many, many thanks to José Ramón Manguart Sánchez, Tres Islas Hotel Association, Secretaria de Turismo Sinaloa, and the municipal authorities!




Inside Scoop on Tonight’s Fireworks

Ready for Combate Naval!

Yes, the huge Carnaval fireworks show, Combate Naval (click through to see photos from 2017), has been moved north this year. It will take place between Casa del Marino on the north and the Monumento a la Vida/dolphin monument on the south. And it won’t happen till 11 pm, in hopes that people (normal, un-police escorted people) can make the show after the coronation.

But stop worrying about the view. You won’t have to crane your neck to see any of the gorgeous fireworks that are normally launched from the beach, nor those incredible aquatics; all fireworks this year will be aerial. Meaning, they will launch high up, from one of five barges in the bay, so that all can see. We will all, regardless of where we are standing or, if you’re lucky, sitting, be able to enjoy the show!

I got a behind-the-scenes look while Lux Pirotecnia set up the barges today, with help from Big Bang Fireworks out of Calgary. You may remember my full behind-the-scenes explanation last year. In 2018 I got up and personal with the barges and the crew putting it all in place. While I was there, the first two barges were complete and undergoing final testing; three barges remained to be finalized. Yet the fishermen were waiting anxiously, saying that the barges needed to be pulled out now while the surf was calm, because the later in the afternoon it gets the surf will get higher and the fireworks equipment loaded on the barges in more danger of getting wet. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

Crew member Mike Toth gave me a brief tour of what they were assembling on the barges:

It can take from two hours to a full day to program just one minute of a fireworks show, depending on how complex it is. Every single firework is labelled with “Mazatlán Carnaval,” the event and date, and then it has a number. That number indicates where the charge goes, and in what order; the “choreography” or design is listed out in a black waterproof folder and constantly consulted by the crew as they assemble.

Everyone has their role and they know what it is; the coordination among them is pretty incredible. They are all assembled in order, then wired and connected to black boxes. If something is not connected properly, a light shows up on the control panel, and an error shows in the computer. I found myself very welcome on the barges this afternoon, until, barge by barge, the fireworks were connected and ready. Once everything is set, I was not allowed to board the barge with the finished and ready to go fireworks, nor was anyone besides Jorge and his “number one.” Thank goodness, as at that point they basically could fire off anytime.

Big Bang owner Dan Roy spoke to me about how our Carnaval fireworks are world class, one of the biggest and best shows you’ll find anywhere on the planet. This same crew did Mexico’s bicentennial in Mexico City, so he knows big shows!

I also interviewed crowd favorite, German Klaus Ulrich, the flame expert. You’ve seen and felt his flame throwers during the coronations and during the fireworks shows:

We will be attending our god son’s wedding this evening, and I will have to miss my favorite night of the entire year. Please, please take photos and videos and share them with us! I will be forever grateful. Enjoy!

Miss Universo Carnaval 2018

God bless you, Thalia! Last night was the BEST EVER Miss Universo Carnavál (Gay Carnaval Queen) pageant, full of trans-gendered and trans-sexual pride and pure human joy.

I was born into this world with a whole lot of privileges. I’m white, I’m straight, I’m fairly intelligent. While born into a working-class family, we had a solid home and food, and all our necessities. I’ve received a good education.

Despite these facts, I’ve had my share of identity crises, as has most anyone. I’m sensitive, so at times I’ve listened too much to what others have to say, rather than following my heart. I have worried about how I appear, how I look, that I live in Mexico as a woman and don’t regularly put on makeup or dress up. I’d like to think now, at 57, I’ve reconciled most of these identity issues. I’m happy in my own skin. But, still… that triple chin, those extra kilitos…

Thus my complete and utter admiration for these drag queens born into our hetero-centric world, many of whom have had to struggle with gaining acceptance from family and friends, say nothing about themselves. Their identity questions were so much more fundamental than my own comparatively trivial ones, and most of them seem to have come out of that challenge more beautiful, confident and resilient than I could dream of being. When we are a bit different from the dominant “norm,” we are presented with loads of possibilities for exploration, creativity, and love, if we can find the presence of mind and strength of heart to see them. Click on any photo below to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

The gowns! The dresses! The swimsuits! The makeup! The hair! The shoes! The guts! The maturity! The confidence! The strength!

We saw chubby queens and skinny queens, buff queens and those with a roll or two. We saw cross-dressers and those who have undergone reassignment and cosmetic surgeries. In the dressing room we saw queens stuffing themselves into girdles and support hose, balancing fake boobies and butts, and those who’ve survived the pain of implants. I congratulate each and every one of you. You have more joie de vivre and bravery than I could ever aspire to have (and that’s a high bar, lol)!

Last night the money collected went to pay hospital bills for a local lady who is ill in the hospital in Culiacán. Thus, this fun event is actually a labor of love by the members of “Belleza con Propósito,” “Beauty with a purpose.”

This event always takes place just prior to Carnaval. Put it on your calendar for next year. I always announce it on the VidaMaz Facebook page. The last few years it takes place at Castillo de Lulu in Playa Sur. The event is BYOB: bring your own drinks. A lady sells hibiscus tea/agua de jamaica and tostilocos (chips with ceviche), but other than that, bring your snacks. Entrance is usually 60-70 pesos and goes to a good cause, and donations are gratefully accepted.

The pageant includes self presentation, dresses, swimsuit, evening gown, and questions. In between stages of the pageant we enjoy entertainment by dance troupes and drag queen performers, this year including Cher. I’m guessing the crowd last night numbered about 150-200, a good mix of locals and internationals. The judging table always includes local celebrities and politicians as well as members of the international community.

The organizer of all this is Thalia Fedorova Chequer-Zahap. I can not imagine the work that goes into this, the details, the pressure. And she pulls it off with incredible grace and beauty.

May we all grow more tolerant, more accepting, more respectful, of ourselves and others. May we all reach out to help a fellow human, today and every day. And may we all enjoy life to its fullest!

Oh, and CONGRATS to Miss Colombia, Yeimi, our Miss Universo Carnaval 2018!


Carnavál 101


The 2018 dates of Carnavál de Mazatlán are February 8-13.

People worldwide—from Russia, Croatia and Turkey to Angola, Cape Verde and the Seychelles; from Italy, Germany and the Netherlands, throughout North and South America and the Caribbean—celebrate the public street party and parade most popularly called Mardi Gras or Carnavál. It is thus quite natural that Mazatlán, with our rich immigrant heritage, would be blessed with a Carnavál tradition that is the oldest in Mexico, dating back at least 191 years to 1827.


Photo from the CD of the Friends of Viejo Mazatlán

Tourists frequently feel confused by the fact that Carnavál doesn’t take place on a set date each year. Carnavál in most parts of the world is traditionally held during the week leading up to Lent; it’s the last big blowout before the Christian season of fasting and reflection. Fat Tuesday, the last day of Carnavál, precedes Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. Calendar dates change annually because Lent is the 40-day period prior to Easter, a religious holiday based on an ecclesiastical calendar and celebrated on the first Sunday after the Paschal Full Moon.

In its first few decades Mazatlán’s Carnavál was a spontaneous “celebration of the people” during which revelers would decorate buggies, burros, horses, bicycles and eventually cars for the big parade and dance at masquerade balls and street parties. Carnavál de Mazatlán became an official city event with an organizing committee and budget in 1898. Which means that in 2018 we celebrate 120 years of our official fiesta máxima. Carnavál became official because it had grown in size and popularity and required coordination. The story behind that reality, however, is quite interesting.

You may be familiar with the tradition of juegos de harina or throwing colored flour and water during Carnavál, much like Holi in the Hindu tradition. Cascarones, filling egg shells with flour or confetti and then breaking them on people, are part of this tradition, too. The custom seems to have originated in Spain, and is popular throughout many of the former Spanish colonies. Well, those “flour games” (not to be confused with Floral Games) became very popular in the 1800s in Mazatlán—so popular that by the latter part of the century there were two “camps” of Carnavál revelers who annually “warred” with each other, rather similar to the “warring tribes” in New Orleans. According to historian Enrique Vega Ayala, the Abastos group held the territory between 21 de Marzo and Zaragoza streets, while the area belonging to the rival Mueyes went from 21 de Marzo through Playa Sur. People from these two camps would regularly decorate floats and ride them into “enemy” territory, bombarding anyone they could find with flour bombs. For years city officials and upstanding citizens tried to ban such over-the-top revelry, but without success. People like to have fun. Once Carnavál de Mazatlán became official, however, the city began funding the purchase of confetti and serpentine streamers, and the tradition of the “flour wars” receded into a distant memory.

Winnie Farmer

Winnie Farmer,                     Mazatlán’s first Carnavál Queen

For decades Mazatlán has had three queens each year: Queen of Carnavál (since 1900), Queen of the Floral Games (since 1937), and the Child Queen (since 1968). Historically, however, the king predates the queens. The first Carnavál King was crowned in 1898, two years before the first queen. The King of Joy was originally called the Rey Feo, or Ugly King—the title was changed in 1965. Mazatlán’s very first queen way back in 1900 was not Mexican but was born in Maine, USA: Winnie Farmer. She grew up in Mazatlán, was crowned at 17, moved back to the US in her thirties, and returned to Mazatlán in 1956—aged 64—to ride a float in the Carnavál parade once again.


Maestro Rigo with me in his taller

One of my greatest thrills for many years was joining local legend Maestro Rigoberto Lewis in his workshop to watch him finish up the carrozas alegóricas or royal floats. Maestro Rigo always told me he was born during Carnavál and had it in his blood. He designed the Carnavál de Mazatlán floats for 54 years; those intricately decorated, classical floats, very tall, were his signature style. Maestro Rigo died in 2014, just prior to Carnavál.

Smaller than the revelry in Rio or New Orleans, Mazatlán is said to have the third-largest Carnavál celebrations in the world—remarkable for a city of its size. Our local tradition is a family-friendly one; as far back as 1900 a ball was held for children, and young people city-wide practice their dancing and instrument playing for months before the big day. Along the parade route you will see thousands of families, many of whom put chairs and tents out to guard their viewing area days before the two parades. Most every family in Mazatlán has at least one if not several members who have been in comparsas or dancing troupes in the parade, and many proudly have several generations that have run for Queen or King.

While Carnavál no doubt began among the city’s foreign immigrants, it quickly grew to include people from all strata of society and all walks of life. The five main days of Carnavál include four coronations with concerts (Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Monday), two major ocean-side parades (Sunday and Tuesday), a Burning of Bad Humor (firecracker-laced giant piñata on Saturday), a food show, a carnival with rides and games for the kids over by Sam’s Club, and an incredible fireworks spectacular (Saturday). The last few years they’ve also added a Monday night concert, usually banda Sinaloense music. Party central is the Carnavál zone, which this year they are moving several hundred meters north in order to protect the newly rehabbed Olas Altas. Cultura has reported that the party zone will begin at the deer statue in Olas Altas and extend along Paseo Claussen as far as Casa del Marino. There are usually nearly a half-dozen stages or so set up, each with a different kind of live music playing from evening through the wee hours of the morning: tambora or banda sinaloense, los chirrines (ranchera and norteña), boleros, rock, mariachi… you name it. You’ll find lots to eat and drink, and plenty of vendors selling hats, masks, eyelashes, wigs and lighted toys. More importantly, you’ll laugh and dance the night away! Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

The activities surrounding Carnavál begin months prior to the main events. Candidates for Carnavál royalty are presented in early October, along with the theme for the upcoming year. Aspiring royalty conduct their fund-raising campaigns including parades (manifestaciones) and ballot-counting in October, November and December, while various dance groups or comparsas city-wide also raise funds for costumes and spend lots of time rehearsing their moves. Excitement builds and most everyone in town is involved in some way or another in this máxima fiesta of the year.

A month or so before Carnavál we usually get an unveiling of the monigotes (1, 23) giant sculptures along the malecón and in the Plaza Machado. A couple of weeks before Carnavál there is an official election of the royalty that takes place in the Angela Peralta Theater. A poetry contest (Juegos Florales or “Floral Games”) has been held since 1925, and there is also a literature prize (since 1965) and one for painters as well (since 1996), with the winners celebrated in a Velada de las Artes concert and performance in the Angela Peralta the Friday before Carnavál.

One of my favorite aspects of Carnavál de Mazatlán is that there are queens and kings from every district of the city and every strata of society. Schools and clubs all over town, including community centers with lots of elderly people, choose a queen or king to dance and revel in the parade. I absolutely love cheering on the grandmas and grandpas each year, some of whom are in their 80s and dance the entire parade route. We are also regaled with the anniversary floats—those queens or kings celebrating their 25th or 50th year since being crowned.

While not “official,” there seems to be an annual “song of Carnavál” that most of the dance troupes play over and over again. We kept track for a few years. Back in 2009 it was Te Presumo; we were blessed that Banda El Recodo was the King of Joy that year. In 2010 it was Julión Alvarez’ La María; in 2011 Chuy Lizárraga’s La Peinada; in 2012 Gloria Estéfan’s WEPA; 2013 was Enrique Iglesias with Pitbull on I Like How It Feels. Let me know what you feel were the most popular songs the last few Carnaváls, and I’ll update the list.

The key thing to remember about Carnavál is: You’re in the right place! Carnavál de Mazatlán rocks, there are loads of activities of every type to enjoy, and you will be welcomed with open arms and lots of dance moves.

Tips for Enjoying Carnával De Mazatlán

  1. Buy your tickets to the coronations! These are spectacular, world-class events full of pomp and circumstance as well as pyrotechnics, dancing, music and a concert. Everyone should go to at least one, at least once. I’ve known several tourists who didn’t realize you needed tickets for these major events, but you do.
  2. When you travel to the Carnavál party zone:
    1. Don’t wear clothes or shoes that you don’t want to get dirty; your feet will be stepped on and beer may be spilled on you.
    2. Do not take valuables as the huge crowds tend to bring out pickpockets.
    3. There is a limit the last few years to the number of people permitted into the party zone at any one time. Don’t worry if you wait a while; you will get in eventually, and it’s for safety reasons that they limit entry.
    4. Remember also that in the zone there are so many people that cell phone networks get overloaded. Don’t rely on texting or calling to stay in touch with your group; name a rendezvous spot and time in case you get separated.
  3. If you want to see the spectacular Combate Naval fireworks, which recreates a sea-to-shore battle between Mexico and the French, be prepared to be in a human wave/near-million person crowd of revelers; view it as part of the fun. If you don’t want to stand, make your reservations at a restaurant or grab a seat on the malecón Those living in homes with a view will hold parties, if you’re lucky enough to be invited.
  4. Realize that you cannot attend the coronation of the queen on Saturday AND see the Burning of Bad Humor and Combate Naval fireworks unless you are hugely blessed. The people who do attend all three tend to have official escorts (e.g., royalty and elected officials)! The coronation takes place in the stadium, the fireworks are in Olas Altas, and the traffic in between the two is untenable. You will arrive to slow entry lines and possibly a party zone at maximum capacity. If you plan to see the fireworks, it’s best to attend the other coronations on a different day.
  5. Hotel rooms overlooking the party zone can be fully booked up to two years ahead of time, and quite a few hotels require a three-night minimum during Carnavál. You’ll see that many people set up whole party spaces along the parade route. The city usually puts up bleachers for the public to use, so if you get to the parade early enough, you might be able to find a seat.

Annual Carnavál Infographic

We’ve got some amazing entertainers, world-class fireworks, two incredible parades and a whole lot of merriment coming up for Carnavál de Mazatlán—the oldest Carnavál in Mexico! Things may be a bit different from prior years due to the construction on the malecón and throughout the city, but we know that 2018 will be a Carnavál to remember!

You can choose “Carnaval” under “Categories” on this site or search these pages using keyword “Carnavál” to read some of the many in-depth stories we’ve written over the years about this terrific event.

Enjoy the infographic!

Carnaval2018 infographic2.png