Pajaritos: A Mazatlecan Tradition

DSC_5515-PanoMazatlán has a decades-long tradition of fishing for and enjoying pajaritos; it is a highly anticipated and valued part of our local culture. We are not lucky enough to get them every year, but this May they are running! And big time!! Deliciousness AND a bonus income for the fishermen and resellers—who cannot love this? They’ve arrived with absolutely great timing, as well—just as UNESCO staff are in town to discuss Mazatlán becoming a Creative Gastronomic City.

During the very short season Playa Norte and the embarcadero for Stone Island turn into a madhouse of activity after dark, with hundreds of people showing up to comparison-shop this warm-water delicacy that’s also popular in Japan and Hawaii. People arrive with every kind of container imaginable: wash basins, buckets, bags, Tupperware… and the fishermen are more than happy to fill them up! People purchase bucket-loads of the savory little creatures to prepare for family and friends or to clean and resell. They are usually served pan fried with beans. You can buy some and take them to any palapa, or some restaurants, and they’ll fry them up for you and provide the fixings. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

Like most anything in Mazatlán, this is a family affair: grandparents, kids… Smiles and  joking abound; everyone is happy. Entire extended families camp out on the malecón and the beach, watching the activity and enjoying the scene. It reminds me of festival season in Japan, and I love it! It’s a wee bit dangerous getting a nice camera and flash setup in amongst the boats, what with the tide coming in fast at our feet, causing the pangas to move every which way, the huge crowds of people pushing for the best catch and the fishermen grabbing at the bills flying their way.

Pajaritos are ballyhoos, also called flying halfbeaks or spipefish (heporhamphus in the hemiramphidae family), closely related to the needlefish. In Mazatlecan dialect they are called pajaritos because they “fly” at up to 37 mph/60 kph, gliding over the surface of the water for quite a distance! As nearby as Teacapán they are called differently: guaris. They skim the surface of the water, jumping up and out frequently in shallower surf. They have large scales that end up completely covering the fishermen: hair, face, appendages, clothing. Their eyes and nostrils are at the top of the head and their upper jaw is mobile—well adapted to surface dwelling. Sadly, loads of their eggs seem to be scooped up as they are caught, as you can see in the photos.

Pajaritos lay their eggs all over the waters around Cerro de Chivos and other islands in our bay: that pungent smell really carries! They have an elongated, narrow jaw filled with sharp teeth. When young the pajaritos feed on plankton and algae, and as they grow eat smaller fish. They are a migratory fish that run along the Pacific coast from Santa Ana, California to Costa Rica.

The season usually lasts a few days or, if we’re lucky, weeks, so be sure not to miss out. Between 2012 and 2016 there were no pajaritos, attributed to over-fishing and contamination. This year, fortunately, there seems to be a bumper harvest, with between 500 kg and two tons sold each evening here in town! They are caught near the islands in our bay as well as near the coastline—in calm waters, primarily at night. Pajaritos are attracted by light, so it’s easy for us landlubbers to spot the pajarito fishermen out in our bay with their bright lights and hand nets. Some nights I’ve seen as many as 50 pangas surrounding the islands! During the day I’ve seen the fish out in the bay; their jumping makes it look like the ocean is boiling. It’s great work for our local fishermen, as they can fill their boats in just a couple of hours, and last night, as most nights, their haul sells out in a matter of minutes.


Monday night the fish were selling for 40 pesos per kilogram (60-80 fish), though that varies according to the number of boats at the dock with fish and the number of buyers (basic supply and demand). The fishermen charged 200-250 pesos per cubeta, depending on the size of the bucket. Cleaned pajaritos were being sold on the malecón, ready to fry up, for 100 pesos/kg (weight is prior to cleaning), though that also varies depending on the night and the vendor.

This valued local tradition will hopefully continue for many more decades. It will require, however, fishing limits to preserve the species, as well as adequate water treatment. Let’s all work towards that and, in the meantime, be sure to enjoy the spectacle and a great meal!

Paris, Milan, New York… Mazatlán

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Thursday evening, 16 May, Olas Altas was transformed into a unique urban art scene, with laser lights, hip-hop dancers, flame jugglers and hula hoopers gyrating to the pulsating rhythms of techno music. The main event was an open-air fashion show with a runway that ran the entire length of Olas Altas from Puerto Viejo to the Shrimp Bucket! Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.


The “Street Art Fashion Show” was a sight unlike anything Mazatlán has ever seen! Our traditional, iconic Hotel Belmar and La Fonda de Chalio glowed hip and happening as clients rejoiced at their free view of the 450 peso fundraising event. The aim of the evening was to raise money for DIF Mazatlán’s “Corazón Eterno,” an assistance home for elderly adults who have been abandoned by their families. Fashion designer Edgar Ponce originated the idea and brought it to fruition with the help of the municipality, local celebrities, fashionistas, chefs and altruists.


The event opened with a two-hour cocktail during sunset, with ceviches and other canapés provided by Agatha and Vittore restaurants. Golden hour glowed as waiters served both drinks and eats to those attending, who were seated on couches, easy chairs, bar-style tables and picnic-style tables along the malecón. The paparazzi had a field day following Mayor Luis Guillermo Benítez Torres; the President of DIF Mazatlán, Gabriela Peña Chico; Roberto Rodríguez Lizárraga, director general of DIF Mazatlán; and Marsol Quiñonez, new director of Cultura Mazatlán.


Promptly at 9:00 pm access was opened to the chair-lined runway area in the street—nearly everyone was able to have a front row seat! María Daniela and her Laser Sound—electronic dance music by DJ Emilio Acevedo and singer María Daniela Azpiazu—made a special appearance. Daniela appeared high up on the stage in front of Puerto Viejo, while Emilio worked his magic just beneath her. The models entered the runway from street level beneath both of them. Each model seemed to take to the runway several times, modeling at least two different outfits and showing them to us a couple of times each.


Over seventy of Ponce’s designs were showcased; runway models included Perla Beltrán—Nuestra Belleza México and Miss Mundo Top Model, and Aranza Molina, Reina Hispanoamericana 2018. The Queens of Carnaval and the Floral Games 2019, Karla Rivas y Yamileth Zataráin, were also present. The models first came out wearing sunglasses and huge smiles in bright red lipstick. As they changed the hip-hop dancers performed on the runway, before a second round of clothing was modeled.

Highlights of the show were a joyous young lady in a wheelchair and a beautiful young woman with Downs’ Syndrome, girlfriend of the young man sitting next to me. Amidst the evening’s thin and fair-skinned models, the public was overjoyed to welcome a bit of reality to the catwalk. While I don’t know Edgar, my guess is this may be his first major fashion event, though I was told he’s designed Carnaval gowns. We enjoyed his designs, and it was a terrific event; this guy has a future!


The Street Fashion Show generated 200,000 pesos for the aged care facility, and concluded with a fireworks show after Edgar walked the runway. I would estimate that about 500 people attended the event. There was room for many, many more; nearly a third of the seats remained empty, as the event sadly seemed quite poorly publicized.

 

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!

 

Lighthouse Update & Event of the Season!

DSC_4453Readers, many of you share my love of the lighthouse. Every season of the year it has natural wonders to share, breathtaking views, and provides us a good place to exercise and breathe clean air. Do you also love :

  • Historic properties, elegantly restored, surrounded by gardens and furnished with antiques?
  • Great views of our bay and port, with the city at your feet?
  • Creative cocktails served at a modern Victor de Rueda-designed bar by a trained mixologist?
  • Getting into a private, luxurious facility that you can’t normally get into?

On Thursday, December 20th you can experience all of the above while watching a killer mazatlecan sunset with a bunch of other cool and civic-minded people—for the benefit of our beloved lighthouse.

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Noche de Luz (Night of Light) will take place at the Observatorio Histórico de Mazatlán, atop Cerro del Vigía, overlooking the lighthouse on Cerro del Crestón. Cocktails and canapés will be served from 5 pm, and a concert including classical, Mexican and Christmas music will be performed by baritone José Adán Pérez, mezzosoprano Sarah Holcombe and soprano Rebeca de Rueda, accompanied by Michiyo Morikawa on piano. The performance is scheduled to start at 6 pm, and it’s all to benefit the Patronato Parque Natural Faro de Mazatlán. The promotional video is below.

Tickets are 800 pesos and can be purchased in Centro Histórico (Plaza Machado) at La Tramoya (4-11 pm) or at Deco Designs (Camarón Sábalo 610-5, tel 669-916-5393). Raul Rico’s Vivace Producciones is in charge, so we are sure to enjoy a super show. In order to avoid use of styrofoam and other environmentally unfriendly disposables, logo’d mugs designed by Emilia Igartúa will be available for sale. Do not miss it, or your access to this incredible private property! The event site has very limited parking, so attendees are asked to park at SAT (the old aduana/customs house on Venustiano Carranza and Miguel Alemán) and take a shuttle to and from the observatory. Shuttles will start running at 4:30 pm.

The observatory where the concert will take place was built in the 1800s, according to my friend and local historian, Joaquín Hernandez, designed by Friaco Quijano when our city was still called “Mazatlán de los Mulatos.” It was constructed as a lookout for pirates, at a time when many of the tunnels around downtown were dug—as hiding places for gold and silver from the mines in the Sierras as well as escape routes for the wealthy in case of attack. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

When I first visited the Observatory a couple of decades ago it was in complete ruin, though still beautiful. Some years back Amado Guzmán purchased the property and he has both restored and significantly upgraded it, adding antique nautical furnishings, historical photos, comfortable dining and seating areas and a full bar. The bar is now staffed by a bilingual mixologist during events! My apologies for the fuzzy night shots, but I was out all day and did not have my tripod with me, so we tested my handheld abilities.

The Observatory provides nearly a 360 degree view of Mazatlán, the port and the bay. It is a private party place used only for the elite as well as family and close friends, so those attending Noche de Luz will be quite lucky.

I very much enjoyed interviewing María Esther Juarez, presidenta of the new civil organization “Patronato del Parque Natural Faro de Mazatlán” that takes care of the lighthouse. Since their formation we’ve already seen installation of three new webcams (with a fourth coming soon), funded by Javier Lizarraga Galindo, which provide a 360 degree view of our city 24/7/365. It’s kind of fun to watch the waves crash, the weather change, and the planes take off and land, via the internet. Ten of the key points Esther told me during our interview include:

  1. Public bathrooms, funded by the municipality, are being built at the bottom of the lighthouse at government expense. There is no water at the top, so no bathrooms there yet.
  2. Though Governor Quirino has scheduled the sewage plant at the foot of the lighthouse to be moved out to Stone Island within the next year, planning restaurants and tourist shops designed primarily for cruise ship passengers in its place, the new municipal government has recently vetoed the plan.
  3. Funds from Noche de Luz will be used to (properly repair and) finish the recently redone trails up the hill. The paths will be covered with a natural-looking surface called tucuruguay (you can see it at Parque Ciudades Hermanas/Sister Cities Park), which will be put over the top of the current gravel held on by the geocelda or plastic netting, assuming current tests of the product prove it appropriate.
  4. The zip line is still being planned, with the state coordinating the concession.
  5. The lighthouse keepers will soon be getting uniforms!
  6. The roundabout at the entrance to the lighthouse will be finished very nicely, and a gate installed.
  7. A fence to keep people away from the glass bridge when it is not open is planned.
  8. The patronato is currently looking into ways to make the lighthouse inclusive (accessible to the disabled, elderly, families with strollers), using the ideas and experience of Cuastecomates beach in Jalisco state.
  9. There are plans for drinking water atop the lighthouse.
  10. The patronato would like to make every November “Lighthouse Month,” as the lighthouse was first commissioned in November of 1879 (though a fire burned atop the hill and served as a lighthouse for perhaps a century before that).

The lighthouse itself is owned by API (Integral Administration of the Port), while the lighthouse hill has been thought to be federal land but may actually officially belong to the state or city; that’s part of the clarity those involved are seeking right now. The  patronato thus has to coordinate between FOUR disparate entities—federal, state, local and API—as well as listen to and involve the public. Glad that coordinating role is not mine!

So how did this new civil association come to be? There were a group of regular faro-goers who became concerned about the lack of supervision of the contractor for the lighthouse upgrades. It seems the project supervisor was a state official who only visited the site 2-3 times during the entire construction process. Thus, we have geocelda, the plastic netting on the pathways, that has already disintegrated due to a failure to install it properly. Geocelda is not intended to be used on paths with such a steep incline as we have at the faro. This same group of people was proud of the new crystal bridge and the amphitheater, but well aware how quickly and easily beautiful new installations can be trashed—witness the graffiti-covered Carpa Olivera (ocean-fed swimming pool), Glorieta Sanchez Taboada, or Parque Lineal.

Desiring to prevent neglect and vandalization, the group of civic-minded lighthouse-goers decided to form an association and went to a notario to officially register. They are all volunteer, and just last night successfully joined the much-admired JAP (Junta de asistencia privada), which is a very selective group of patronatos that ensures bookkeeping and decision making are transparent to the public.

Members of the patronato include María Esther; Elsa María López, owner of Deco; Javier Hidalgo, architect, who designed the new lighthouse installations; Alejandra Contreras (a daily visitor to the lighthouse); Balbina Herrera Medrano, who has worked for the lighthouse and API for many years); and Raquel Briseño, a researcher at UNAM. They would seem to be a group with diverse and complementary interests, and they all live locally.

I asked María Esther how our readers can help the faro. She said that soon they will have an online registry to sign up for lighthouse cleaning days (trash pickup and minor gardening). She asked that people stop feeding the feral cats at the lighthouse, as the cats have nearly eradicated the native flora and fauna. The patronato has paid to neuter most of them, but at 800 pesos per cat, they can’t afford to keep it up. Anyone interested is more than welcome to adopt one or more of the resident cats. The great news is that just yesterday the city’s Secretary of the Environment agreed they would find a solution to the problem!

I hope to see you while hiking up the lighthouse, and I also hope to see you on the 20th at the Observatory! Do NOT miss this once-in-a-lifetime event and your chance to support our beloved lighthouse!

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.