The Spelling Bee Contest

img_7288So, Greg and I are swimming in work right now, but one of our “sons” from Scouts asked us to spend the morning at Colegio Valladolid judging a spelling bee.

Judge a spelling bee? Words are either spelled correctly or they’re not, no? What’s to judge? You give kids words, when they mis-spell they sit down, and you continue until one person remains standing. Right? We figured we’d show up, spend an hour or maybe an hour and a half, have some fun, and come home.

Well, just like book clubs here in Mazatlán are different than those I grew up with up north, evidently spelling bees are different, too. Here we were judging a school spelling bee “contest,” with three top winners to be selected for each grade level, pre-K through ninth grade. They had already held spelling bees in each classroom, so the top three students from every class participated in this school-wide contest. Words were printed on paper and put into a container, and each student fished out three small pieces of paper. Those papers were given to the judges, and we read each student three words.

Judging was HARD. Sometimes lots of kids spelled all three words correctly; sometimes almost no one spelled the words correctly; so how were we to choose? We were told that the students should repeat the word at the beginning, before they started spelling, and again at the end, once they finished spelling. They should spell the word correctly, pronounce it correctly, and have confidence. So, at least we had a few additional criteria.

The other problem for me was the kids are CUTE!!!! Way cute! How distracting is that, lol? We had five year olds through junior high school kids. Some were nervous, some were excited, some spelled fast, others spelled slow, some sounded out the words, some seemed to just throw letters out into space. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

The whole gym was decorated for the spelling bee. Colorful drawings of bees were everywhere: on the walls, topping the pens, on the word container, on the stages. Teachers wore yellow polos with black pants, and most students wore yellow and black, also. Teachers also put “feelers” on their heads; it was all quite amusing. Lucky kids.

I was astounded at how good the five year olds were spelling words in a foreign language. I was also blown away at the older kids, who ably spelled difficult words that many native speaking adults spell incorrectly. I wondered at why there were so many girls in the contest at the younger grade levels, and proportionately more boys at the older grade levels. What changes and when? I felt bad for the kids who’d say “e” for “i,” because that’s how it’s pronounced in Spanish. And I really felt bad for the little girl who cried because she didn’t win first place; broke my heart!

Obviously the event went on a bit long with so many kids and 10 grade levels! We spent the entire morning at the school. And it was a lot of fun. We felt like “international celebrity judges.” The kids wanted to take pictures with us and their teachers. We were served a nice breakfast. We had several parents commend us for being fair and impartial. We enjoyed watching our “son” shine; I had no idea his English was so good! And we did him and his colleagues a favor; they were obviously happy not to have to judge the spelling bee themselves—it seems parents can be competitive!

Morning Boat Ride

It’s nice to have friends who love photography, and who are birders. I’ve lived in Mazatlán all these years, I’ve made how many trips out in our bay in a boat, but I’ve never seen one of our famous blue-footed boobies. I have been longing to see them as they look so incredibly geeky in the pictures I’ve seen.

As of this morning, and thanks to friends with good eyes and birders’ instincts, that is no longer true! Below are a few photos of the funny little guys, out on Dos Hermanos Islands. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

My friend John retold a legend I had heard several years ago and forgotten about. Do you know why the two white islands off the lighthouse are called “Dos Hermanos”? There were identical twin brothers, and both had girlfriends. They were both happy and healthy, and one day the brother proposed to his girlfriend. When she accepted and he told his brother, he also decided to get married, and they planned a joint wedding. On the wedding day they discovered—oh dear—that they were dating the same woman! She thought she was dating only one man, not realizing they were two brothers! The brothers became enraged with each other and challenged themselves to a duel, during which both died and fell into the sea. The woman then cursed them both to a life stuck in the sea, having birds defecate on them everyday. Poor guys. And that’s how we got our two white islands, lol.

This morning was rather foggy, which made for lots of changes in the light depending on whether the sun made its way through the fog or not. It seems to be sea fog, with plenty of blue sky above it, so when it clears it is nice and clear. I fell in love yet again with the rock formations out in our bay. The sedimentary layers, the colors, and the shapes are mesmerizing. In addition to Lion’s Head and Laughing Face, our guide today also showed us Trump Rock: complete with yellow cowlick above his face!

You will recall that for several years the sea lions abandoned Mazatlán. I fear they might do so again, as they get so harassed by fishermen and tourists. Today our boat pulled up pretty close to them, which scared me, but they didn’t seem in the least perturbed by us, fortunately. I do love these creatures, and I loved how the sky and the light kept changing as we went around Turtle Island.

Behind the lighthouse we found a whole bunch of fishermen catching baqueta, which is a fish new to me. Online it translates to “ramrod,” which I don’t know in English, either. When I asked a guy to hold up one of them, he held up a pargo, as you can see. So, I guess I’ll have to google the fish.

All in all, a great hour spent this morning with some good friends on the water, followed by a warm cup of cappuccino. Life does, indeed, get worse!

Best Mexican Military Bands

_DSC9039On Friday afternoon Greg wanted to treat me to something special. That morning while running he’d seen that the huge flag was out at the Glorieta Sanchez Taboada, so he suggested we take a trip down there at sunset to photograph it.

Well, we all know that nothing in Mazatlán ever goes as planned and you need to be open to surprises. Surprised and delighted we were, as while we were setting up my tripod, a convoy of military vehicles arrived, hundreds of soldiers jumped out, and in addition to their rifles they were carrying… wait for it… musical instruments! Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

It seems Mazatlán has been host to Mexico’s top military bands, who were competing to be the best in the country. The top three performed a concert on Friday evening in the oceanside plaza. Sadly, they decided to take the flag down just before sunset, so I didn’t get the photos that I had hoped to, but I got a whole lot of other pictures that I’d never imagined I might.

My final question for you: how many people does it take to retire/carry that huge flag that flies over the glorieta?

Spanish Royalty in Mazatlán

Quinta Echeguren 1My neighbor Daniel owns the big lot just in front of Colegio el Pacífico, at the top of Olas Altas where the “castle” used to stand. Last year when I was on the roof of the school photographing the fireworks of Combate Naval, we saw him and his friends down below on their lot, having a nice party. Greg and I said to each other, “what a great site for a party place.”

Well, fortunately, Daniel seems to have thought so, too. I feared they might be building yet another tower on the property, but the workers assure me they are only filling in and leveling out what they dug up of the old chalet on the hill, planting grass, installing bathrooms in the downstairs of the home, and building an office street side. Yeah! Some green and less cement in Mazatlán! According to the construction workers, the place is to be a salón de eventos.

I visited yesterday to take a few photos while the antique home was still a bit revealed. You can see the commanding view it had. I was astounded how solidly built the home was; even after a century of abandonment, and being buried, the walls stand strong, the plumbing is still in place. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.


You may have heard of the misfortune that has plagued that home. We’ve been told that anyone who builds or lives in a home there will die. Scary stuff.

Enrique Vega Ayala, official city historian, has written a history of La Quinta Echeguren, the palatial home that stood on the site, for Amigos de Mazatlán. I’ll summarize that article in English for you, below.

Family History in Mazatlán
Don Pedro and Don Francisco Echeguren y Quintana established businesses in Mazatlán in the 1860s, even though they continued living in Spain. They quickly became one of the richest families in Mazatlán, owners of various mines—including the Guadalupe de los Reyes in Cosalá—businesses, industries and properties. By 1863 they were the owners of the majority of all mining operations in our region.

Don Pedro Sr. died in 1877 and his inheritance was distributed between his widow Doña Concepción Moreno, his five children and his brother Francisco. The “Compañía Echeguren Hermanos” changed its name to “Francisco Echeguren, Sister and Nephews.” The sister and nephews ignored the Mazatlecan business. Three of Don Pedro’s four daughters married French and Spanish noblemen: the Baron of Dampierre, the Viscount of Chollet, and the Count of Mayor. Only the husband of the youngest, a wealthy Spaniard, ever made an appearance here in the port to check on their businesses.

Don Francisco held the family business until 1901, when it was transferred to Pedro Echeguren y Herrerías (Jr). It’s probable that he paid part of the reward for the capture of Heraclio Bernal, the generous bandit who ravaged gold and silver from the mines and interfered with the fortunes of the Echeguren. Under the protection of the good relations that Pedro Sr. and Jr. had cultivated with Sinaloan Governor General Francisco Cañedo, their income increased even more and very quickly.

Pedro Echeguren y Herrerías (Jr) is the one who built the chalet on Paseo del Centenario and who sought to maintain a life near his businesses here, even if during only certain seasons of the year. Pedro Jr. died in 1907. After his death no one wanted to take direct responsibility for the businesses: La Mercería Nueva (the new haberdashery), Almacenes Echeguren (warehouses), Guadalupe de los Reyes Mining Companies, the textile factory in Villa Unión, the Water Supply Board, and innumerable real estate properties came to be administered by agents in Mazatlán. The family’s riches here that had been built over 50 years soon went broke. The family’s influence declined not just because of its loss of fortune but also due to the Revolution.

Quinta Echeguren 2The Castle on the Hill
Formally called “La Quinta Echeguren,” the home was designed and built in the late 1800s by architect Elizalde from San Sebastián, Spain and built by Ramírez y Cia. It would burn down twice and its inhabitants would suffer many misfortunes, leading to rumors that the lot is cursed.

Long after the home’s heyday, local newspaper Correo de la Tarde of September 13, 1944 said this: “Mr. Echegurén, desiring to bring his wife who lived in San Sebastián, Spain to this city, wanted to give her the impression that he had transplanted their finca from home. He brought photos and plans to build La Quinta, an exact copy of the house in which Mrs. Echeguren lived in San Sebastián. No detail was forgotten: they built gardens just like at home, bedrooms, the orientation to the ocean was the same. They planted similar plants, brought over the same furniture, rugs and wall hangings, even the acoustics were the same. They didn’t forget the exotic plants and animals, either.”

However, “When Mr. Echeguren started the journey to bring his wife, she died, and they would never live in the home he had especially designed for her. In this way the Quinta remained generally uninhabited, with only the caretakers cleaning and maintaining it.”

Huge parties were held at the Quinta in the late 1800s, hosted by Doña Plácida Herrerías de Echeguren. Amado Nervo was a reporter at the time for the Correo de la Tarde and discussed the parties in some detail. Sadly, the lady caretaker of the house died in the bubonic plague in 1903, and, according to Dr. Martiniano Carvajal, the Junta de Caridad burned the home due to its location in the neighborhood where the plague originated.

One year after the house burned down it was rebuilt even bigger and better. The main house was 27 meters long by 20 wide, and on the ocean side they built a three-story section. The servants’ quarters were on the ocean side, 16 meters x 10, and below that was the wine cellar. Dining room, smoking room and living room were downstairs. On the second floor were five bedrooms, various living rooms decorated luxuriously, a bathroom, a lookout, and a terrace. The residence had three servants’ apartments with bathroom and dormitories. The building was 20 meters tall with another 5-meter tower. 80 men worked on its construction. Rocks in the walls are from the cerro. They lowered the road so carriages could get up it more easily. The new one would be better than the one that was destroyed, more elegant.

On September 12 of 1944, however, the Quinta de Echeguren was semi-destroyed in a huge electrical and wind storm. Lightning hit the lightning rod of the home but the ground for the rod wasn’t fastened down, causing the home to ignite. Firemen and police were called about midnight; the second floor was lost but they were able to save the ground floors.

That’s when the rumors started: two fires, the supposed death of Pedro’s wife, the death of the caretaker, bubonic plague… black rumors about the house.

Vega Ayala cites Cleotilde Bernal: “The Quinta was gorgeous. It had parquet floors and decorations brought from Europe, very luxuriously furnished. It was almost all wood, only a few walls were made of brick. The floors and staircases were all fine wood. The Quinta went unoccupied until they rented it to the Corvera-Gibson. The wife had been Carnaval Queen in her youth. They paid 600 pesos in rent, which was a lot of money, a fortune, but Mr. Corvera was the owner of the textile factory in Villa Unión and had a lot of money. The house still had the original furniture, but the renters replaced it with their own and stored the originals below the house. I took care of the children of Doña Carmen and Don Bernardo until they left Mazatlán. Then a family named Páez lived in the Quinta. He got sick from tuberculosis and died in the house. His family left, leaving the house alone. That’s how the home was when it was hit by lightning.”

So, maybe rumors of a curse have saved us from yet one more condo tower! I will say I’m happy to be getting some grass and an open view!

Our Renovated Faro

_DSC8045©The glass walkway atop the lighthouse is, indeed, a reality. The glass for the walls is there and ready for install; the glass floor is scheduled to arrive and be installed next week. I walked to the edge of the solid surface and looked down, and it is truly a thrill! Long, long, long drop down! Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

The new paved walkways and lookouts are beautiful and have been very well received. Nearly all the walkways are now paved; I’d say there are three main sections that has concrete but are in need of paving stones still.

Our beloved faro has been so long overdue for a makeover; thank goodness tianguis has brought it on! There are far fewer workers up there now, but the ones who remain are working hard. The letters that I showed you being built are now assembled and in place at the bottom of the hill. Yesterday the sewage facility had empty pools; let us hope it just might be true that they plan to decommission this one!

Despite its on-again/off-again status, I was told yesterday that the zip line will be a reality. It will go from the site atop the faro photographed below to the corazoncito or little heart-shaped pull-out on Paseo del Centenario, according to the workers. Here’s the view from top and looking up from the bottom. The good news is it won’t go over the sewage treatment facility, but, rather, to its west. I did not see any building happening yet, however.

The top of the lighthouse is going to become a very crowded place if all this comes to fruition, I fear. With the new museum, the glass walkway, the round observatory, and the zip line, it’s very little space up there for so many activities, IMHO.

The other thing I noticed yesterday morning is that they are building on Paseo del Centenario just below the old fort that’s atop the cerro. I thought it was for the zip line, but the workers told me it’s for a small train to take tourists up to the old fort. They have already installed the stairs and are building the lower platform. Years ago there was a similar train on the other hill, near the antique bridge, you may recall. I guess we’ll know for sure once it’s more near completion.

If you haven’t visited the lighthouse in a while, you might want to check it out! Although, in a couple more weeks it should look a whole lot better.