¡Viva México! ¡Viva Mazatlán!

The Grito de la Independencia—“shout of independence” or “cry of Dolores“—is a traditional Mexican affair that you owe it to yourself to participate in at least once while you live here. We’ve done it a few times both here and on the 200th anniversary in Guadalajara.

In Mazatlán it happens every 15th of September at 11:00 pm in the Plaza República. The Mayor comes out on the balcony of city hall to ring a bell, shout the official words, and lead the crowd in the national anthem. Most of the country shouts at midnight, but since we’re an hour earlier here on the coast, we do it to coincide with them. Before the mayor’s cry there is folkloric dancing, singing (this year was Heidi Herrera) and other performances, and there’s always a name act that plays after the grito. The first time we went, that act was Chuy Lizárraga, who due to sound malfunction sang right over the national anthem. Click on any photo below to enlarge or view a slideshow.

 

This time we read in the paper that the fireworks were going to be fantastic, put on by the same group that does Combate Naval‘s Carnaval fireworks— Lux Pirotecnia (Jorge Márquez) of Mexico City. That was more than reason enough for me to want to go! I love fireworks (5, 4, 3, 2, 1)!

Poor Greg was tired as he’d just driven us from Wisconsin to Mazatlán, plus he had a cold, but when two girlfriends cancelled out on me, he agreed to go despite my assurances that I could go it alone. I was excited to try out my new camera with a brighter lens!

As it’s new, I’m not that good with it yet, so I missed many of the photos I wanted, and I overexposed a few because we were so darned close to the action and you just can’t predict how bright a firework is going to be. Plus, the cathedral wasn’t really lit up, and I wanted it to appear in the shot without having to do a composite.

 

All in all, though, I’m happy. I did get a few good pics; hope you agree. Greg got a great one of the flag and the cathedral; congratulations, sweetheart! And the view we got of the grito itself (above) is sure a different one than the press photographers took.

 

If you’ve never done the Grito, or if it’s been a long while, be sure to do it next year. This year was much less crowded than usual, I guess because the main act wasn’t as popular as other acts we’ve had. There is also a major parade on 15th September every year, including military, police, fire and first responders, and school children. Many children dress up as heroes and heroines of the War of Independence, so attending the parade or visiting a school on the 15th can be very much fun.

HoliFest Mazatlán 2017

17492362_1914048385496522_7744330507028052607_oYou will remember the “oohs” and “aahs,” the wonderment and joy, and the expressions of “it was so incredible!” from HoliFest Mazatlán last year. Kirana Yoga‘s Karina Barcena has, in three short years, grown Mazatlán as Mexico’s largest and best-attended HoliFest, out of the 19 such festivals held on the same day, at the same time, throughout the country.

HoliFest Mazatlán is a family-friendly cultural festival and a WHOLE lot of fun! It is also free of charge! Participating last year were groups of friends and work colleagues, extended families including grandparents and toddlers, able-bodied and people in wheel chairs; Mazatlecos, nationals from the interior, expats, snowbirds and tourists—all united in hope, love, equality and peace. We celebrated life, spring and our desire to bring a healthy lifestyle and sane values to our community.

Save the date!

Sunday, 23rd April from 4-8:30 pm
On the lawn in front of the giant mosaic
At the Mazatlán International Center (Convention Center)
Free admission

Please wear comfortable clothing so you can move and meditate easily.
Come early to get settled and enable things to start on time.

The tradition of Holi—the Festival of Colors or the Festival of Love—is grounded in Hindu legend, though which legend seems to vary by geography. I had always heard that Holi represents the triumph of good over evil; the story involves Vishnu-workshipping Prahlad’s triumph over his father, the demon-king Hiranyakashyap, and his evil aunt. That story is dark, however, and I much prefer the version Karina shared with us.

She told us how Lord Krishna and his lover, Radha Rani, painted one another in colors so they would look alike. The message of Holi then becomes, “I am you and you are me,” we are all one. Artwork of these two lovers, along with a song, can be seen in the video below.

Today Holi is celebrated worldwide as an expression of love, unity and respect. I am thrilled that Mazatlán is part of this international event, and encouraged that HoliFest is one more way we can build community, health and safety, fighting isolation, depression, anger and anxiety.

The colored powders will be sold at the event site. They are organic, non-toxic, non-irritating and washable; have no fear that they’ll be staining your clothing. Basically, they seem to be colored sugar. But throwing them over one another in a field of nearly 2000 people—that is a most wonderfully exciting, celebratory and love-filled feeling!

This year we can look forward to entertainment by Jazzpango—a world-renowned musical group that fuses huapango with jazz. Martin Zarate from Sadhak Yoga in Monterrey and Daniel Mesino from the Buddhist Center of Mexico City will join event organizer Karina Barcena in a yoga class as well as a group meditation. The event is inclusive of all physical abilities and all levels of practice; don’t worry, you are welcome! Dancers from two local dance schools, Dance World Center (Linda Lydia Chang) and Danzabel (Sergio Burgueño), will also provide entertainment. And there will be surprises! I am told that one of them will be tightrope walking!

2017 HoliFest Mazatlán Schedule

4:00      Welcome (please come early so you can have your space and be settled)

4:30      Jazzpango (music)

5:00      Group meditation

5:30      Yoga sequence

6:30       Countdown to the powder throwing, followed by more music and celebration

8:00 or 8:30 Closure. Please plan to stay and socialize with the community! We have over 10,000 square meters of lawn on which to enjoy ourselves.

The Convention Center lawn will be lined with booths, as it was last year; food and drink will be available for sale or you can bring your own (no alcohol please). You are welcome to bring a yoga mat, blanket or beach towel on which to sit in meditation and practice yoga. This year there will be a photo booth, plus a variety of local enterprises will showcase their offerings. A photo contest will be conducted in conjunction with the event, so look forward to seeing an exhibition of the 25 best photos when you attend.

I encourage you to let schools know about this event; children and their families should definitely attend. Groups of seniors would enjoy this event, as would any groups of athletes, artists or friends. Pass the word and let’s build positivity and connection in Mazatlán!

HoliFest Mazatlán 2017 is still accepting sponsors, so if you are interested in supporting this incredible community effort, please contact Karina at kbarcena@hotmail.com.

Carnavál Fireworks: Behind the Scenes

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Mike Toth on the right, our connection Ted Allen on the left

I just love how social media and blogging work. Somebody commented on one of my photos of this year’s spectacular Combate Naval fireworks, saying, “My friend is down here from Canada helping with the show.” Really? How cool is that?! So I wrote back, “Please introduce us, and I’ll interview the person.”

Turns out that  Mazatlán’s annual fireworks show, put on when Raúl Rico is head of CULTURA by Lux Pirotecnia (Jorge Márquez) of Mexico City, involves not only Canadians but a German expert as well. Want to know the story?

Mike Toth, the gentleman I interviewed, works for Big Bang Fireworks out of Calgary, one of Canada’s top five fireworks outfits, owned by Dan Roy. Mike’s pyrotechnic journey started out like many of us; he lit off backyard fireworks that gradually gained in size and grandeur. Eventually he had to take a one-day safety course and become licensed. That was ten years ago, and he’s been learning on the job ever since. In Canada his fireworks job is pretty much May through September, plus Christmas and New Year’s.

He tells me the crew here are like brothers to him; they have a whole lot of fun together. They stay in touch throughout the year on WhatsApp and Facebook, despite huge language and culture differences. Two of the crew, Mauricio and Ramses, speak English (as do the three team leads), but most do not. Rodrigo comes from Durango: he’s a cowboy through and through, and César is evidently quite the comedian. Mike shared a few snapshots of his visit with me, below. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

Mike’s technically not down here in Mazatlán working, but rather on vacation—hanging out with the pyrotechnists who are. But he did bring down with him a bunch of equipment: $40,000 worth, more or less. He brought seven panels and even some modules. Why? Well, fireworks equipment is expensive, especially the computerized kind that syncs music and explosions. Thus, Lux and Big Bang often collaborate in order to pool their resources and put on bigger and better shows.

Jorge (Lux) and Dan (Big Bang) are good friends; Jorge’s equipment often helps out during Canada Day (when Big Bang might have 30-40 shows in one day) or Edmonton Klondike Days (10 straight days of fireworks), and Dan’s equipment supplements shows in México during events on Constitution Day, Independence Day and Carnaval. I love fireworks, I’m all about collaboration, and this story is intercultural, so I find this trifecta of my passions very cool!

dsc_0211How does a fireworks show—our Combate Naval, for example—come to be? Jorge designs the show and its accompanying music and scripts it on paper, indicating the type and size of each firework, it’s color combination and time delay. I’m sure CULTURA is involved in some way at the design phase, too, though of course Mike doesn’t know about that. The shells are fixed into a string of ten or so and then put carefully into mortar tubes. There is no wasted space. Inside is an electric match; when the button is pressed, it launches.

Lux Pirotecnia is responsible for four major shows during Carnavál: the three coronations in the stadium, and the Combate Naval on Saturday night. I forgot to ask Mike about the crowning of the King of Joy. The fireworks are stored on a rancho just north of town.

Combate Naval 2017, for the first time ever, involved five barges; this allowed us to see the fireworks closer than we would if shooting exclusively from a ship in the bay. To me it was a HUGE improvement in the show! Unfortunately, however, one barge flipped over before the show due to the heavy waves. We ended up seeing fireworks from four barges or platforms. The barges are first put into position, then the pyrotechnicians go out in small boats to wire them up and turn them on. There was also a ship out there—yes, a real ship. Mike tells me they set up what looked like a helicopter landing platform on the deck of the ship, and from there the fireworks are launched. The capsized barge was rescued after the show, though of course the fireworks were ruined.

Wide-angle shot of Combate Naval

Wide-angle shot of Combate Naval

The main fireworks panel is just above where the Queen and the VIPs sit: at the Pedro Infante statue. All the music is precisely choreographed to each burst of the show, as we all know and so thoroughly enjoy each year—it’s computerization converting gunpowder into beauty for all our enjoyment.

Just how many people are involved in Mazatlán’s Carnavál-related fireworks? There are the three bosses: Jorge, Juan and David, from Lux. There are ten shell crew members, and ten one-shot crew members. There are also three drivers: two trucks and one van. I get a total of 26 fireworks technicians involved in Carnavál. How much does such a show cost? Again, Mike doesn’t get involved in that, and he can only quote Canadian pricing, which averages $1000/minute.

And where does the German connection come in? That would be Klaus Ulrich, the flame expert. If you attended any of the coronations in the stadium, you felt the heat as the  flames reached from the front of the stage towards the sky. That was Klaus’ work. We also experienced the heat of Klaus’ flames from the barges in the bay during Combate Naval.

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Innovative round or wheel-shaped fireworks: crane wheels, with some of Klaus’ flames coming off two of the barges in the bay.

While I love my photos of multiple bursts at once—sort of the panoramic view, Mike’s favorite photo of mine, he says, is that of the crane wheels. Crane wheels? He explained to me the names for some of the effects that we saw in Mazatlán during Carnavál 2017:

  • The most common fireworks effects are often called by flower names, just as they are in the original Chinese and Japanese:
    • Peony (most common)
    • Chrysanthemum (peony with a spark trail)
    • Dahlia (peony with fewer and larger stars)
  • There are also a couple of effects named after trees, including:
    • Palm: Rising tail that bursts at the top with large tendrils.
    • Weeping willow: long-burning stars in a dome-shaped, weeping willow-like arrangement.
  • Aquatics: fireworks that fly into the water and then blow up. Mike says everyone has them. Jorge’s are 8-inch Kamuro shells: a dense burst of silver or gold stars that leave a glitter trail.
  • Camaros: double dome-shaped weeping willow with twinkles that fall to the water or ground.
  • Crane wheels: a one-shot wheel that can shoot sunbursts or a wheel shape. About one meter round, clamps to a plate. One set of fireworks is set at an angle to rotate the wheel, the others are set for the display.
  • Fountains or Gerbs: a thick-walled tube with a narrowing in the tube that produces a long-lasting jet of sparks. We saw these in the stadium and during the Combate Naval.
  • Horsetails: heavy long-burning fireworks in the shape of a horse tail that only travel a short distance from the shell burst before free-falling as glitter to the ground. They’re also known as a waterfall shell.

    Horsetails over Mazatlán

    Horsetails over Mazatlán

  • Rings: launch into the sky and burst into circles, smiley faces, hearts, clovers…
  • Roman candles: long tubes containing several large stars which fire at regular intervals. This Carnavál they used roman candles up to 4 feet tall anchored to a wooden frame, mostly arranged in fan or crisscross shapes, at close proximity to the audience. We see these on the beach during Combate Naval, and also during the coronations.
  • UFOs: one of my favorites of Combate Naval, the best way I can describe it is a spinning top that launches into the air, leaving a twirling vertical tail. Ours then burst at the top to result in a palm tree-like shape. Mike says that in Canada they usually use a round plastic frame, but here in México it’s bamboo. Bravo for México! Our UFOs had 4 herbs to push up and 4 to rotate.

    Slowly rising fireworks that felt magical and looked like palm trees: UFOs

    Slowly rising fireworks that felt magical and looked like palm trees: UFOs

Below I share some of the terms Mike used during the course of our interview, in case you like getting inside the world of a pyrotechnist as much as I do.

  • One-shot tubes: just like the name sounds.
  • Cake: multiple tubes connected by a fuse. When connected they look like a box.
  • Shells or mortars: during Carnavál we saw 3 to 8 inch shells. They are round and look like bombs, which is probably why, in Spanish, they are called “bombas.”
  • Racks: stands that hold multiple fireworks tubes. These include:
    • Flat racks
    • Half moon racks
  • Panels: the computerized panel of buttons that controls the show.

He explained to me that a firework has a lift charge. The fuse wraps around a ball, and a couple of sticks are timed as fuses. That’s how they set timings. The pyrotechnicians can then launch a firework, it goes into the air with the lift charge, and in four seconds, or six, at the height of its trajectory, the secondary fuse sticks will fire and the effect will explode.

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We all know that here in México people build fireworks. They do so in the USA also. But Mike told me that in Canada it’s against the law to build fireworks! The country’s last firework maker was Hands Company. One of Mike’s dreams is to work in Lux’s shop in Mexico City for a few weeks, so he can have the experience of building fireworks.

Another huge difference that stands out for Mike is, of course, safety. The hand-held bottle rockets that lead every parade in Mazatlán would never be permitted up north, nor would allowing people to sit so closely to the fireworks. He was amazed that people hang their legs off the malecón during the Combate Naval, for example, and loved hearing that people here consider ash burn lucky, just like bird poop. In Canada to launch fireworks you need insurance and permits (which I believe you need here in México as well, at least for the large ones), you have to launch on private property, and you can not shoot fireworks near a lake or river because it upsets the fish. I know fireworks are environmentally hazardous, but they definitely light up my soul.

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July 3, 2016 on the Lake Michigan waterfront in Milwaukee

We love Juan José Ruiz of Mazatlán Fireworks, our local expert. He and his guys put on a beautiful 45-minute show for our wedding anniversary party that thrilled all the kids who got to push the buttons on the panel. Juan José tells me that his firm has often done Carnavál Fireworks, also, but that he tends to be asked to do them when the PRI is in charge of the government.

I got hooked on fireworks as a child in Wisconsin, and deepened my love for them living for over a decade in Japan. Mike told me about a couple of fireworks competitions that I need to add to my bucket list, including GlobalFest in Calgary and Montreal’s L’International des Feux Loto-Québec, the world’s biggest fireworks festival. During my research I also found the Tianguis de Pirotecnia San Pablito Tultepec, which is coming up March 4-11 right here in México—we all remember seeing video of the huge explosion in a warehouse there last December. Frequent winners of the international competitions are, of course, Disney, and also Zambelli Fireworks out of Pennsylvania.

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Fireworks over Lake Tichigan, Wisconsin, July 2, 2016

Next time you attend a fireworks show, stop and think about all of the people, time, preparation and work involved in delivering the performance you are enjoying. You just might find yourself appreciating the spectacle even more!

Combate Naval 2017

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Our annual Carnavál fireworks spectacular, the Combate Naval, which recreates the attack by the French right here in our port, was better than ever last night! The show was breathtaking—with 20 land-bound launch locations and five platforms in the bay, we were surrounded by explosive light.

It was a clear, calm night in Olas Altas, perfect for fireworks viewing. Just before 9pm we saw fireworks from near the Plazuela Machado. They wound their way into the Carnavál zone in Olas Altas, making their way down to the deer statue, where they recited this year’s poem roasting the “Mal Humor.” For the second year in a row, the Burning of Bad Humor was of Donald Trump, this time with his wall. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

 

Over the next hour hundreds of thousands of people crowded into the zone, waiting the arrival of the queen. Once she, city and state officials and VIPs had taken their seats by the Pedro Infante statue, lights in the zone were dimmed: promptly at 10:30pm.

 

The show included several new types of fireworks, including round ones that looked like wheels, and some that launched so very slowly into the air it felt like magic. There was a whole lot of gold sparkly, and the colors of the Mexican flag for good measure. Briefer than usual at 20 minutes, the shorter version gets my vote because it was so very beautiful! My heart didn’t stop racing for nearly an hour afterwards.

 

The entire show, as usual, is choreographed to music. My favorite part was when the fireworks took a 20-second or so break for the smoke to clear, and once we heard Juan Gabriel singing “El Sinoalense” the fireworks resumed big-time.

The grand finale was an unforgettable capstone on a wonderful evening.

 

Congratulations and thank you to CULTURA Mazatlán, city and state government for allowing us to enjoy such fantastic entertainment!

Miss Universo Carnavál 2017

16729547_1868731800012115_2132236453093537905_n.jpgPlease block this Wednesday evening, February 22, for a wonderful show filled with joy and excitement that will benefit two children in desperate need of surgery. Belleza con Causa—Beauty with a Purpose, holds this annual event, a beauty pageant for the Drag Queen of Carnavál. I am very pleased to be judging for the second year in a row, along with other expat representatives Susie Morgan Lellero, Luis Ramírez, Ginger Borman and Shilo Downie.

The pageant will take place at Castillo de LuLu, Aquiles Serdán 60 (the same street Immigration is on, the salón is just farther down the street, off Carnavál) in Playa Sur, starting after 8pm. The event is BYOB, bring your own drink, though a lady there will be selling soft drinks. Entrance usually costs about 50 pesos, and all proceeds go to support the two children.

There will be loads of singing and dancing, flirting, whooting and hollering. The event usually includes a couple of star performances, and the pageant includes the queen aspirants modeling both cocktail and evening dresses, and answering a question. Three queens will be crowned: Miss Universo, Señorita, and Rostro Carnavál/Face of Carnaval.

Get your party on and come on out! Below are a few pics from last year; click on any photo to enlarge or view a slideshow.