THANK YOU, Raul and team!!!!

DSC_9455Those of us living in Mazatlán are incredibly blessed to have had the past seven years straight with our outgoing Cultura (Instituto de Cultura, Turismo y Arte de Mazatlán) team. Tuesday night in the brand-new Sister Cities Park was a very fitting send-off for this enormously talented and dedicated team of world-class professionals. While they thanked Mazatlán, hundreds of mazatlecos attended to give them at least three standing ovations. While I am hopeful the incoming crew will step up and shine, I can honestly say I am in mourning thinking that the people I so value and esteem at Cultura are leaving. Insert a big sob here.

Pasión por la Música was a musical and pyrotechnic extravaganza that included live music from the Camerata Mazatlán, Pércival Álvarez conducting, and the Angela Peralta Chorus, who performed a selection of pop, classical and rock music choreographed to a multimedia show (Karla you are amazing), laser lights (David Olvera) and incredible fireworks (Jorge Márquez, who has done Combate Naval in recent years). Raul Rico, who has led our public arts scene for nearly three decades—as director of Codetur, Cultura, and various other arts and cultural institutions, with a few brief breaks during administration changes—directed festivities from the center of the park, surrounded by those working the sound and light boards. Seated at tables in the background with wait service were the VIPs attending the current international tourism fair, including Governor Quirino.

Carnavál is what it is today because of Raul Rico. He got involved in it in 1975 and has pretty much been in charge of it since 1987 (a few breaks with political shifts). He is Mazatlán’s own maestro de la alegría, master of joy. His goal has always been to grow the public, to bring arts and culture to the schools, to history, to people’s homes and hearts. And that he has done incredibly well. Under his leadership, Cultura events have grown to cover everything from opera and ballet to bandanorteña and folkloric dancing, art shows to book readings. Cultura puts on our annual Day of the Dead as well as Day of the Music festivities, the various cultural festivals, and so much more. Adults and children alike enjoy the performances, which take place in our gorgeous Angela Peralta Theater, Casa Haas, as well as in public parks, plazas, orphanages, libraries, or walking through the streets, downtown and in the farthest, poorest colonia. There is such a wealth of programming offered that no one person could possibly attend everything. Rico promises us he will remain actively involved in the arts and culture scene here in town; he will receive a pension for his over 25 years of service.

Cultura’s final administrative meeting reported that the current team is leaving 7.8 million pesos behind, 5.8 million earmarked for equipment for the Angela Peralta theater, including an LED screen, lighting console, firefighting equipment, interior communication and air conditioning for the galleries, and the rest to cover taxes and Institute operation for the next few months. The report details over 16 million pesos of investment into the theater under Raul’s leadership, and 900,000 pesos in instruments for the camerata. Last year they were responsible for 16 separate activities within the Tianguis Turístico, the national tourism fair, which dazzled the country and our international visitors.

The new city administration takes over November 1st. Incoming mayor is Luis Guillermo Benítez Torres (El Químico), a member of AMLO’s Morena party looking to transform this country. He has named Mazatlán-born movie director Oscar Blancarte as the new Director of Cultura. I very much hope he will bring new life and vision to our arts scene, building on what we already have. Blancarte has publicly said that he wants to make Cultura more inclusive, more participatory, and closer to the artists, building on the work Rico and team have conducted, and that he will take a three-year break from his film career to head the organization here.

Thursday November 1, 6:00 pm in the Plaza República, our new mayor and his cabinet will be presented. Entertainment for the party will be provided by Jesús Monárrez and the Camerata de Mazatlán; my favorite, La Falsa Orquesta Cubana; and the Ballet de Danza de Ángel Rivera.

The callejoneada or parade for Day of the Dead will take place on November 2nd this year, due to the changeover in city administration.

 

More than a World-Class Stadium

DSC_8345The new baseball stadium for our nine-time-series-champion Venados is advertised to be the best in all of México, and for once those superlative claims appear true. The architecture is stunning, the remodel retains iconic elements of the historic stadium around which it is built (weird-shaped historic columns, for example) and it increases seating to 16,000. We will now have:

  • 38 luxurious suites with indoor, air-conditioned seating as well as outdoor seating for 15 people.
  • 550 palcosor box seats, and a private VIP entrance and bar for them and the suites.
  • Two restaurants—El Muchacho Alegre and La Cantinetta.
  • Several food concessions including Water’s Edge and Surf’s Up.
  • Large bathrooms for both genders on each level!!
  • A seating area where vendors will speak English, to make this incredible cultural experience easier and more enjoyable for tourists and “polar bears” (“snow birds” as translated from Spanish).
  • A retro-sounding Venados Booster Club from which you can buy tickets in English.
  • Much improved locker rooms/clubhouse, umpire and training rooms and physical therapy facilities.
  • A media facility up top.
  • Pacífico beer is still a huge sponsor of the Venados, so Estadio Teodoro Mariscalcontinues the tradition as a Pacífico-only venue.

The stadium will glisten as an anchor to the remodeled Parque Central. It is envisioned to host not only the baseball season but other cultural and musical events, including, of course, our traditional and world class Carnavál coronations. The views from the stadium, both inside—of the field, and outwards—of the city, are fantastic! The only glaring problem is that they still have not solved the parking. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

The 2018-19 baseball season opened on Sunday October 14, and I was ready with my camera for what I was confident would be a spectacular fireworks show. My gut instinct proved true: these were fireworks as Mazatlán has never before seen over a stadium! They were flawlessly choreographed to music by Mazatlán’s own Arte Pirotecnia, and the show mesmerized everyone who saw it. The only issue photographically was that so many fireworks went off at once that it was difficult to capture the spectacle AND not burn out the photo!

Thanks to these photos I met Isaac Urquijo, Director of Sales and Marketing for the Venados, with whom I recently toured the new stadium. Isaac is a young mazatleco who left town to obtain his degree, going on to work for large multinationals around the country. Lucky for us, after 11 years out of town he was recruited a year ago to return for his dream job. Isaac is a fireball of energy and ideas with degrees in both accounting and marketing, and he speaks excellent English.

During our tour I very much enjoyed watching one of those gorgeous white steel arches go up and get welded in. Isaac told me that when the first arch was placed, two construction workers hung from it in order to weld it on! How I would have loved to get a photo of that! I was fascinated with the guts of these welders, dangling as they do high above ground.

The Presidential Suite is also most impressive. It has a kitchen and bar, dining table and chairs, and living room with flat screen, plus outdoor seating. The normal suites seem like a good deal to me. They cost 240,000 pesos for the season and seat 15 people. Palco or box seats are 10,400 for the season.

Once all the arches are up, the covers will be put in place. With the covers in place, much needed shade will be provided to box seats and others as well. Below is a video of the full design. Note that there have been many changes since the initial plans, including that there will be no water feature at the main entrance.

Governor Quirino’s father was in office when the original stadium was built, so he has had a special interest in seeing this remodel through. The stadium is owned by the municipality of Mazatlán, and reconstruction was financed primarily with state funds in the amount of 416 million pesos. The current remodel began on July 14, 2017. It was designed by Raúl Peña, an architect in Mexico City, and is being built by Dynfra. based in Guadalajara. This is the third stadium they’ve built for the league, after Hermosillo and Culiacán, and after watching it every day and hearing its progress all night every night, their work ethic is amazing.

The Venados’ concession for the stadium was renewed in September of this year through 2045, for an investment of 80 million pesos and 8% of the proceeds from each game. Isaac tells me that the official inauguration of the new stadium is planned for the first part of December.

The entire Venados organization, or, rather, it’s parent company, Espectáculos Costa del Pacífico—owned by the Toledo family (95%) and Ismael Barros (5%)—is on fire these days. The Venados in recent memory have had a leadership triumvirate: Ismael Barros, President; Chino Valdéz, sports manager, and Juan José Pacho, team manager. Under their leadership the Venados twice won the Caribbean Series, in 2005 and again in 2016. Barros left, however, to assume the position of city treasurer, and the Venados organization in January 2017 named a new President: 35-year old José Antonio Toledo Pinto. He is the youngest President of a Mexican baseball team, and his energy and enthusiasm seem to be transforming the entire organization. City administration ends the 31st of this month, October 2018. I am told José Antonio will remain in place, but we’ll see.

While in season the Venados organization employs 400 people, normally during the off-season they’ve had 20. This year they’ve increased that number to 80. They’ve hired an office full of young and enthusiastic creative staff who released a brand-new, hotly-debated Venados logo. The organization has opened five new Venados stores (increasing the number from three to eight) and is merchandising a stylish clothing line. They are adding a public gym (Rock Gym), a mini market, a barbershop and three Starbucks outlets to the stadium, in addition to other businesses. There are long-term plans to build a business hotel behind the big screen. The hotel would house out-of-town players in season and serve business travelers the rest of the year.

The Venados are aiming to become a much more inclusive, accessible organization, out of gratitude to their fans’ enthusiasm. Isaac told me that this year 40 pesos gets you a bleacher seat and a beer, plus full access to walk around the entire stadium. What a deal! With dancers, people on stilts and live music playing in the hallways as well as in the stadium, our local baseball games are a terrific, family-oriented party.

There are of course many aficionados who know the roster and focus on the game, but we also have a huge group of fans who attend for the party: to drink beer, listen to music, visit with friends, and, oh yes, watch a few plays. It’s quite amusing if you follow the Venados on social media. They have asked fans, “how many outs are in an inning?” and a fan answered “five;” or “how many players are on the field?” with a reply of “four.” But they do know the price of beer and all the special promotions! A professional game here is a different animal than a Major League game up north, more affordable, more of a full sensory experience, more like a Minor League game, perhaps. Isaac says he wants it to be like “Disneyland with a beer.”

The Venados don’t own players, for example; they borrow them from the Mexican summer leagues and the Major Leagues up north. Thus, there is a lot of fluidity on the roster from one season to the next. This season, however, the Venados have recruited several young, healthy, talented players who they hope to retain for a good five to ten years, to provide continuity for the crowd and the franchise. The season here is three months long, four if we go to the playoffs. Since there are twelve months in a year, the organization looks to find additional uses for this gorgeous new stadium.

Most interesting to me, they are branching out from baseball to become a true sporting franchise. They purchased a professional basketball team back in 2014 (Los Nauticos) that have played in the Multiple-use Center (Centro de Usos Multiples or CUM) since 2016—that gorgeous new sports arena in the marina that no one really uses. The Venados also support volleyball, boxing, and of course our internationally recognized annual marathon and triathlon. Their goal, as Isaac told me, is to support local athletes and entertain the local community.

They run academies or training camps for kids in the various sports. According to Isaac, a young baseball player here in Mazatlán is “owned” by the league in which he plays; the league controls contract negotiations and makes decisions if one of their players is recruited professionally. In fact, the control over the kids and their future earnings has been such an issue, that Major League Baseball recently took action and has banned MLB teams from recruiting from the Mexican League (LMB).

The Venados’ goal is to help players develop skill and experience while staying free agents. The same is true for boxing. The baseball academiaruns Mondays-Fridays, 4-8 pm ten months of the year; the 200 kids who are enrolled are coached by the Venados’ manager himself, Juan José Pacho. The academias are not profit centers but, rather, social service endeavors, though those attending do pay nominal fees. Isaac reports that there are similar plans for academías of boxing, basketball and volleyball. They are even planning to hold a golf tournament this December at Marina Mazatlán; Venados players and managers will play alongside the experienced golfers.

I was curious about how a pro baseball team here makes its money. Isaac told me that 55% of its income is from sponsors, 35% from box office and season ticket holders (Socios Venados), and beer income makes up the rest. If they sell 3000 tickets for a game with sponsorships in place they break even, and this season—other than the hugely attended inauguration—they’ve averaged 6500 people per game. In-season salaries total 6 million pesos/month.

The Venados organization engages in quite a bit of social outreach. They support the Red Cross and give away season tickets to families in need. You may have heard about the Venados Booster Club, with its aim to act as liaison with foreign visitors and help two local charities: Refugio Mazatlán and Amigos de los Animales. Simon Lynds helped the organization conduct a survey, and they found that many foreigners complain about dirty bathrooms and say they don’t speak Spanish so have a hard time buying tickets. The bathroom situation will be hugely improved with the new stadium, and the English-speaking section and Booster Club will remedy the English-language concerns. On November 24th they are planning a special invitational event for Booster Club members, with the charities and some franchise players.

Who was Teodoro Mariscal, the namesake of the stadium? He was a Mazatlecan businessman who campaigned long and hard for a new baseball stadium here in the 1940s. Our original stadium had been destroyed, and he assumed leadership of the “Committee for a Stadium in Mazatlán. When our current stadium was dedicated for the 1962-63 season, it was decided to name the space in his honor. The stadium remained largely unchanged over the decades, though it was modified several times, most thoroughly in 2000.

You may be wondering about our favorite Venados event of the year, Banda Baseball. This is an annual charity fundraiser, in which popular banda members play one another. Greg and I absolutely love it, and it hasn’t taken place this year due to the stadium reconstruction. Isaac assured me the season would not end without doing it. Fingers crossed…

You can buy your tickets online if you wish. Wednesday night, the 31st, they are urging the crowd to dress in Halloween costume. There is also a Venados app for your phone. You can watch the games live online, too. But, hey, what fun is that? The thrill is experiencing the cacophony of the crowd. A Venados baseball game has so much going on you don’t know where to look first!

Hurricane Willa

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Sunset over the malecón pre-Willa

Mazatlán proved itself ready; it was encouraging to see. Businesses and homes boarded themselves up and put sandbags in place. Most everyone taped over windows to try and prevent flying shards of broken glass.

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The morning after Hurricane Willa

We lived here during Hurricane Lane (Cat 3, 2006) and Tropical Storm Rick (2009), and remember what I felt was a lack of safety precautions then: people not taking down billboards or boarding up windows, surfers pursuing their passion even during the storm, people unsure of flood areas and where to take shelter. This time around there were maps of potential flood areas and shelters, lists of items to have at the ready, and regular updates regarding the weather and evacuations. We’ve come a long way. Commercial activity was ordered stopped at 2:00 pm on Tuesday (so people could get home to their families), and public transportation to stop at 3:00 pm. Protección Civil evacuated some tourists and residents from flood zones to the Convention Center. Most importantly to me, people took the threat seriously. Of course, Willa quickly became a Cat 5 hurricane, which was extremely intimidating.

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Fortunately we in Mazatlán were spared Willa’s wrath; those south of us, in Escuinapa, Teacapán and Agua Verde, were not so lucky and need our aid. And today they are evacuating El Rosario and other places due to potential river flooding. Here we experienced very high tides and incredible beach erosion. There was very little rain or wind, fortunately. Most of the damage I have observed is with the palapas on the beach, and with the beaches themselves. Even without a hurricane our sandy beaches regularly move, so most mazatlecos consider ourselves incredibly blessed. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

 

The day before Willa was scheduled to arrive, there was a double rainbow over Mazatlán. The photo below doesn’t show the second one that well, as I did a panoramic of the full rainbow. Of course all the memes circulating said this was God’s way of telling Mazatlán it would be safe.

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The evening before Willa’s arrival we had one of the most incredible sunsets I’ve seen in my 11 years living here full time. The sky and the ocean were orange for as far as the eye could see. The huge waves crashing with their orange color was a sight to behold!

 

Then, the day Willa was supposed to arrive, Tuesday, there was a second double rainbow. God wanted to be really sure we felt safe. We in Mazatlán are blessed with a bay sheltered both by the Baja Peninsula and by our three islands. There is a legend about how the three islands were formed after the death of three indigenous sisters, and another legend about how we are protected by “Our Lady of the Port.” So, once we dodged the bullet, so to speak, everyone thanked the Virgin of the Port—you can find her in the parking lot of La Puntilla restaurant in Playa Sur, if you’d like to pay your respects.

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Thank you, God of the seas and the skies. Thank you, Virgen de la Puntilla. Thank you, three sisters in our bay. Let us use our gratitude to share drinking water, food, toilet paper, moist towels, diapers, toothpaste, flashlights and batteries for our friends to the south. You can drop off your donations at one of the many Centros de Acopio around town, including the Soriana Híper on Rafael Buelna today. And you can also join in a peregrinación of thanksgiving to the virgin today (Wednesday) starting at Hogar San Pablo at 4:00 pm, concluding with a Mass at 5:00. The virgin has already been showered with flowers, as you can see in this photo by my friend Jessica Aviles.

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La Virgen de la Puntilla hoy, miércoles, foto tomada por Jessica Aviles

Tianguis Turístico—My Expo and Behind the Scenes

DSC_0036I am enormously excited and honored to have a photo exhibition at the entrance to the Mazatlán International Center during the Mexican National Tourism Fair. Honestly, beyond words lucky and blessed. With over 30,000 people attending from over 50 countries, and all of them walking through my photos to get to their meetings, workshops and conferences, it is a privilege I never would have dreamed of!

The exhibition is entitled, “Mazatlán: City of Contrasts,” and is comprised of 19 photos plus my biography and the exhibit overview. CULTURA Mazatlán commissioned 10 new outdoor mounts for the exhibition, structures which will now be available for other outdoor art exhibitions. They look great! I hope you’ll agree.

We set up yesterday with Maritza and Don Gus from CULTURA. They worked past midnight last night, and today it all looks beautiful. THANK YOU all so very, very much, from the bottom of my heart I appreciate you! Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

While we were up at the convention center today, we took a tour around. Many of you  have asked if “normal people” can get in. As I explained in a previous post, the event is for tourism and hospitality professionals and is primarily a business event. You can buy a US$150 ticket to attend, though that doesn’t get you entry to the private dinners and shows; those are by invitation only. For the first time in the 21 year history of the Tourism Fair, there are several events open to the public—that is because our local and state officials made that happen. See my previous article for details. Note also that I’ve seen people advertising on Facebook that Credence Clearwater Revisited is at 2:00 pm. The official press release we received says it’s at 8:00 pm, though I’d recommend you get there by 6:00 pm as it’ll be crowded.

Anyway, the convention center is completely transformed from the usual. They have built a huge new building on the back yard, they have built loads of new walls and rooms inside, and many of the huge promotional stands are still being built. There is a food court outside at the entrance, another one upstairs, and they are LOCAL PROVIDERS! Woot woot! Fish Market, Muchacho Alegre, Pedro y Lola, Wing’s Army, Costa Marinera and Carnitas El Bigotes.

Here are some photos of the inside of the fair at the convention center, which they are still setting up. The temporary building they built in the back has a grand entrance opening up to the Sinaloa state stand. That portion contains stands for each state of the Republic.

That new temporary outdoor building has a second section with stands for private enterprise: hotel chains, tour operators, travel agencies, bus lines, airlines, car rentals, beer companies, etc. The lower level indoor room contained more of those private stands, but off to the side of the main thoroughfare.

The upper level ballrooms are equipped for workshops, speeches and meetings, as is the upper mezzanine.

One thing I absolutely LOVED is that upstairs they have a display of footballs—NFL style footballs—decorated by indigenous people from all over Mexico. Excellent exhibition of art, play, creativity and indigenous pride!

I know everyone living downtown is having a hard time as they are taking cars off the streets today and moving them to parking garages/areas, and movement will be restricted during the inauguration tomorrow (Sunday) evening in the theater and Olas Altas. Let’s all remember it’s for a good cause, a chance to show our pride in and love for our fair city and state, and to showcase it on the world stage!

 

So Proud of Sinaloa!

TTingSinaloa is shaking things up and leading the way for Mexico, people!

Mexico’s National Tourism Fair—the Tianguis Turístico—is a business event. It was designed as such and since its inception has always been a closed event for the elite of the world’s tourism and hospitality industries. The fair’s days are filled with business meetings, conferences, networking and deal making. It is normally all about work, and not much play. Below is from the Tianguis website; excuse the strange English—national tourism could obviously benefit from some fluent English speakers!

Tianguis Turistico is the most important event of the tourism sector in Mexico, where entrepreneurs, hoteliers, travel agents, in-bound operators, tour operators, meeting planners and specialized media of the tourist industry from more than 80 countries in the world, gather to concrete business appointments with all the destinations of the country, being the most representative event for the commercialization of the Mexican tourist offer.

Leave it to my beloved Sinaloa to change all that! April 15-18, 2018, when Mazatlán hosts the event, the Tianguis will still include loads of private business meetings, but it will also include two of the things that Sinaloa is most famous for — COMMUNITY and FUN! Our Sinaloa, making things better than ever!

We’ve all moaned about the construction city-wide that has preceded the Tourism Fair—its been year of noise, dust and inconvenience—and we’re all excited about the fact that our hometown will be showcased as the tourist gem that it is. Now that the event is close, however, I’ve heard quite a few people complain that the Tianguis events are private and not open to the public, after all the suffering we’ve been through.

While business access to the event starts at $200USD if you pay before April , this year there will be some very cool events that are indeed open to the public. Our Governor, Secretary of Tourism and Director of Cultura say they wanted to be more inclusive of the local community.

So, what events can we all get into without a ticket or invitation? They are in bold type in the chronological list of events, below.

Saturday April 14th at 8 pm near the Fisherman’s Monument everyone is invited to a free concert by “Credence Clearwater Revisited.” Don’t expect John Fogerty, but CCR members Doug Clifford on drums and Stu Cook on bass will be there, along with another expected 30,000 people.

Opening night on Sunday April 15th at 6 pm—invitation only—includes a spectacle that will rock the Angela Peralta Theater, including a brief 10-15 minute Cirque du Soleil show and remarks from the President of the Republic, Enrique Peña Nieto.

After the event’s opening 1200 invitation-only “Captains of Industry” will dine al fresco along Paseo de Olas Altas beginning at 8 pm. They will be served dinner from seven different kitchens located between the Escudo and the Deer Monument. Security will be tight, as Mexico’s President EPN will be there. This is the night when there will be a VERY abbreviated 15-float Carnaval parade as well as a VERY short Combate Naval. The latter, I have been told, will last only 10-15 minutes, also. Sunday evening will include entertainment that will begin with opera from around the world, continue with Mexican music, and end with banda and other Sinaloa music. Performances will include:

  • Alexandr Borodín’s “Polovtsian Dances” from the opera, Prince Igor; “Woman is Fickle” from Giuseppe Verde’s opera, Rigoletto; “Love is a Rebellious Bird” or “Habanera” and also “Toreador” from Georges Bizet’s opera, Carmen; “Oh My Dear Daddy” from the opera, Gianni Schicchi by Giacomo Puccini.
  • Songs of Pedro Infante, Lola Beltrán, Juan Gabriel and José Alfredo Jiménez as well as mariachi music.

I am so very pleased to know that our local artistic and performance talent will be front and center, including the orchestra, the camerata, Delfos, the adult and youth choruses, and a banda created just for this event, called Puro Sinaloa! 2018 is also the first Tianguis in history that will showcase the culture and talent of the hosting city and state.

The Tianguis will be based at the Mazatlán Convention Center. I was out there two days ago, and they have built a two-story building in the back yard to house the multitude of meeting rooms that will be required for this huge event. I’m also very pleased to report that photos from my “Yo Soy Fuereña, Nací de Aquí Muy Lejos” exhibit, in Galería Peralta now through 14 April, will be reprinted and mounted at the entrance to the Convention Center, to welcome Tianguis visitors to Mazatlán.

Monday through Wednesday are mostly business meetings, but at 1 pm Monday afternoon Steve Wozniak will speak. Monday evening at 7 pm in Centro Histórico the states of Querétaro, San Luis Potosí, Zacatecas, Guanajuato and Aguascalientes will put on an artisan fair and festival that will be open to the public. Simultaneously there will be an invitation-only reception in the Plazuela Machado. But, the fact that it’s invitation-only doesn’t mean the public can’t enjoy the events from and on the outside of the perimeter!

Tuesday at 8 pm my favorite hometown band, La Falsa Orquesta Cubana, will play dance music in the Plazuela Machado, and public opportunities to enjoy the event will finish up on Wednesday evening from 8 – 10 pm with the music of Suncaí Gitano,  a presentation of the Circo Machado, and the voice of Heidi Herrera.

I know I’m still surrounded by construction on all four sides, with noise and dust 24/7; a short respite will be more than welcome. Enjoy!