Throwing a Party Mazatlán Style

Mazatlán is famous for its wonderful people, beautiful surroundings, and its laid-back party atmosphere. We’ve hosted quite a few parties in our time here, and I thought it might be interesting to explain a bit of what we’ve learned is involved, and how hosting a party here may differ from what you are used to.

Our Major Learnings:

  • You almost have to invite everyone you know. Everyone will find out. People you don’t invite will ask you why you didn’t invite them. Yet, if you invite everyone, you have a gigantic party. Hmmm… maybe no real learning here 🙂
  • It’s affordable. So, please have a party and invite us!
  • Plan on feeding everyone: every vendor, every helper. Even though they say you don’t have to, they will eat and will expect to eat.
  • Some things are unbelievably easy, and some things just so aren’t.
  • It pays to have friends, who also have friends (“I know a guy who…”).

The Guests

For any party you of course pay close attention to who you’re inviting, making sure the guests will mix with one another well. Here in Mazatlán, more often than not, that means paying attention to language. Some people speak only Spanish, some only English, we have quite a few French Canadians living here, and of course some who are multilingual. So, a major party concern is language mix.

A second concern regarding guests here, that we didn’t pay much if any attention to when we lived in the US or Japan, is status. We very much like to bridge socioeconomic differences, mixing the working class with the executive or professional class, for example. We have 30+ year friends who used to live in the US, for example, who have returned to Mazatlán to live and work. Many of the new friends we have made here are business owners and professionals. Mixing these very different groups of people can be awkward, though we give much credit to our local friends who have been game to embrace the mix with us, learning from it and enjoying it.

A third thing that comes to mind is that people in Mazatlán tend to party as a family. We have found that when you invite people to a party, they will usually assume children are welcome. We have not found a way to say “no children” in a socially acceptable manner, and rather have inadvertently upset a few friends in our attempts.

It’s also important to think about who comes to a party in Mazatlán. It was typical when we threw a party in the US that we invited people, they rsvp’d, and then at least a couple of those who said they would come did not show due to last-minute realities. So, we tended to end up with fewer guests than planned; rarely if ever more. Mazatlán by contrast is a very inclusive place; people assume you’ll invite everyone you know, and that everyone you know is welcome. Thus, parties quickly grow larger than you might want. Friends may bring their parents, aunts, uncles, cousins or friends along, and acquaintances who pass by will fully expect to be invited to join in the fun. You always want to leave room for more guests than you anticipated.

I guess another thing that has fascinated me about parties here is how little people mingle. I remember our first holiday posada in our new home. We expected a cocktail party, which to us meant people moving around and getting to know one another. Well, our guests walked in, found a seat, got up to refresh a drink or get more food, only to sit back down in the same seat they’d started in, next to the same people they arrived with. A typical local party will see people sitting down in plastic chairs and not moving most of the night. They often sit with their families or friends, losing the opportunity for new connections and some terrific conversation. Part of what we love about a party is that our friends get to know other friends; we hope that people will mingle. We have gone to all sorts of lengths to encourage this to happen, from how we set up the chairs and furniture, to structuring an activity or game, or pairing people to help with something, just to encourage them to get out beyond their “normal” circle of friends and family. I mention this just so you aren’t surprised.

Party Supplies

A key thing to realize about a party in Mazatlán is that it’s most often held out of doors, either in someone’s driveway or patio, or at the pool or on the beach. If you plan to hold a beach party, remember to check the tide charts and set up your tables accordingly! The norm is that the host orders in plastic tables and chairs on which the guests will sit. It is very inexpensive and very easy to have these items delivered and then picked up after the party.

For a nicer party you may want tablecloths to cover those gorgeous white plastic tables. More often than not in the US, when we had quite a few tables, we’d buy disposable tablecloths, plastic or paper. Here in Mazatlán it’s very easy, common and cheap to rent linen tablecloths. They come in all sorts of colors and styles. The rental place delivers the tablecloths and even puts them on the tables, and picks them up and launders them the next day. These places rent linen napkins as well, but good luck if you want napkins that actually match the color of the tablecloths. That would be asking too much. My advice is to choose a color scheme and mix it up.

Now, since parties are often out of doors, using tablecloths presents a challenge. Perhaps that’s why people so rarely use them; they blow up and about. One would think you could buy tablecloth clips in this town, but, no, we have not been able to find any. We bought a whole bunch of such clips last summer in the US. They have not weathered well, however, as when local people help us clean up after a party they don’t know what the clips are or how to use them, and end up breaking them when removing them. We’ve tried using large paper clips and laundry clips, which work well if you have the right kind of plastic tables. When you have thick-topped tables, the best bet we’ve found is to use ribbon or yarn to tie the tablecloths around the legs of the tables, forming a decorative bow in each corner.

Most parties here use white Styrofoam plates, white plastic forks that break easily, and Styrofoam or clear plastic cups. It’s non-festive and definitely not “green.” If you are ok with those things, you’ll find them easily. Anything other than that, get ready to spend some time looking and planning. My advice is: enjoy the process.

It’s interesting to us that people here don’t really seem to use napkins. It’s amazing how we can put them out, and at the end of the night, we still have most of the napkins left, unused. If people put out napkins at a party here, they are most often tiny white paper napkins, and they are most frequently used to clean off the tops of the beer bottle before you drink. For our latest party we wanted some festive, colored paper napkins. Good luck on that. We ran all over town searching for them. Between an import party supply store, a generic import store, and WalMart, we were able to find some, but we couldn’t find large quantities of colored paper napkins that matched. A terrific gift for your friends here is to bring funny or pretty cocktail napkins when you visit; they are definitely something we can’t find here in Mazatlán. Ditto on cups. If you use the ubiquitous Styrofoam or clear plastic cups, you’re fine; finding plastic cups in festive colors can be done but may not be easy. We also keep a supply of a case of inexpensive wine glasses.

The other major difficulty we have had is with plates. The only easy alternative to the infamous Styrofoam plates (which in addition to their horrible effect on our planet is the fact that they blow away in the wind, making it challenging to eat out of doors) is to rent tableware. But, the rental places rent china, which we feel is far too fancy for the average beach/pool party that we host. We’ve ended up purchasing inexpensive colorful plastic dinnerware that we wash and keep for the next party. Friends of ours have, like us with our plates, purchased inexpensive sets of utensils (forks, knives, spoons) and keep them for parties. We’ve also done this with wine glasses.

Food and Drink

The most common appetizer here is, of course, ceviche. In our experience it’s very common for some of your local guests to offer to bring a ceviche to share. You can also purchase ceviches from the market or from a restaurant. If friends offer to bring something, you might also want to ask them to bring some guacamole. Bags of tortilla chips can get pricey, and it’s much more common locally just to see bags of tostada shells for eating the ceviche and guacamole.

The challenge is, if you are having a party outside, how to keep the food chilled? Our best find thus far is to use a large, shallow clear plastic tub, like an under-the-bed storage container, and fill it with ice. You can set your bowls or platters of ceviche or whatever on top of the ice and keep it nice and fresh.

Main dish-wise our favorite party includes a taquiza. The food is fresh, easy to eat, has something for everyone, and is reasonably priced (about 40 pesos/person). Nearly everyone locally has their favorite taquiza. A taquiza is usually a group of women in a family or a neighborhood, though it can be a full-fledged business. They come out to your party with tables, a comal on which to cook tortillas, and all the pots and pans they need to heat and serve taco ingredients. Most taquizas will let you choose 3-5 guisados or main ingredients (pork, beef, shrimp, rajas/chiles and cheese, chicken), and they will also bring the sauces, cilantro, limes, onion, and usually some aguas frescas (flavored waters such as cebada, jamaica or horchata). An alternative to a taquiza and also very common at parties is carne asada, or grilled steak, usually served with grilled onions and taco trimmings. Children’s parties often include a hot dog cart and an ice cream cart, in addition to a piñata, of course.

Beer is the main drink of choice at a party in Mazatlán. The nice thing is we have the brewery here. If you order beer from the brewery, they will deliver it along with a large cooler (hielera) and ice, right to your party location and without extra charge. A large metal pail filled with ice can hold wine, sodas and white wine.

Help

If you are having a large party, we highly recommend that you hire a helper or two. This could be the person who cleans your house, her friend, or a favorite waiter or bartender. Hiring assistance is not so expensive in Mazatlán, and having someone to help set up, clean up, and serve so that you can better enjoy your guests may be well worth the price.

Music and Entertainment

It’s most common at a party to play music from the stereo or iPod. Greg loves music and he has spent loads of time creating perfect party mixes. Key for us is to have an eclectic mix of local and international favorites, and a mix that also spans the generations, to keep everyone engaged. Music from a stereo or iPod becomes more challenging if you have the party at the beach, as the sound gets drowned out quite easily. We solved that problem by buying a large iPod-compatible (and USB-compatible) speaker from an electronics store.

It’s also fairly common here to rent a rockola. This is a computerized portable jukebox that is also a karaoke machine. For about 500 pesos/night a rockola can be set to play tunes, your guests can choose the tunes, or your guests can use the microphone and sing along.

Special event parties here may employ a sonido, or a DJ who brings sound, video, and a light show. We’ve been to several teenage events that included the DJ and light/smoke show. Recently when we hosted our friend’s quinceañera, they brought in a sonido that was really impressive. It included the MC for the night, music to dance to all night accompanied by video, laser lights and smoke. But, amazing to us, the DJ had also put together a video show about the birthday girl. It included a slide show of childhood photos of her, but it also included professional video of her walking around at the marina, looking every bit the professional model. They told us the music, DJ, custom video, and photography package (her quinceañera photo shoot) cost them only 5000 pesos total!

Mazatlán is of course blessed with incredibly talented musicians. From guitarist-singers, trios or small groups of classical musicians, to full-on 20-piece banda, live music is an obvious crowd pleaser and makes a party feel special.

Mazatlán is also home to terrific fireworks, and at very affordable prices. If you want to add a memorable touch to your party here, don’t fail to consider the fireworks option. You can order the big guns, you can have land-bound fireworks made with your names or the name of your event, and you can even push the button to light the fireworks or give that privilege to the children on your guest list.

Decorations

Obviously for a smaller home party you won’t need to decorate, beyond some background lighting and a few candles. But, for a larger party or a special occasion, Mazatlecos love to decorate. There are blocks of papelerías downtown that specialize in party decorations, and you are depriving yourself if you fail to take a leisurely afternoon enjoying the incredible colors and fun frivolities available there. For our latest beach party we bought strings of white Christmas lights, and hung them from puntales that we rented for 10 pesos each from a construction supply store. Over the strings of lights we hung colored banderines or strings of colored plastic “flags,” a typical Mexican party decoration. It looked gorgeous. We had also purchase lengths of colored plastic, intricately cut into decorative streamers. I’ve never seen anything like it elsewhere.

Traditional centerpieces are flowers, and every florería will be happy to make some for you using gorgeous and reasonably priced flowers. We have learned two lessons the hard way: if you are having a party on the beach, make sure the centerpieces are heavily weighted so they don’t blow over. Also, it’s common here for florerías to make tall centerpieces that cause difficulty when you’re trying to talk to someone across the table. Be sure to give specific height instructions.

Another option we used for our last party were centerpieces made of cookies. These served the double purpose of decoration and dessert and the great thing was that the baker totally customized the cookies to our event, putting our names, the event name, the date, and using cookie cutters that matched the theme of our party. They looked and tasted fantastic.

Permits

Ok, you’re laughing. Yes, most people in Mazatlán have parties and don’t get permits. But, a permit is a city requirement. I’m not sure of all the details, maybe it’s only a requirement if you have music, or if you use public spaces. But, the city office that handles party permits (2nd floor, on the left, of the city hall which is next to the cathedral) is a VERY busy place. If one of your neighbors calls the police, you may wish you’d obtained a permit. I’d advise it especially if you are going to have loud music playing. The process is simple: you go to the office, fill out a form, pay some money, and are given an official stamp. If you are hiring musicians, be sure to take a copy of the contract with you. The form requires you to state how many cases of beer and wine you will serve at the party. Beaches are federal property. If you are holding the party on the beach, you will need a permit issued by (#((((. Locally they require one-month’s advance notice. We’ve had beach parties with permits, and we’ve had plenty without.

Timing

Parties here tend to start later than we might be used to in the States: 8:00 or 9:00 pm start is very normal, and guests might not arrive till a couple of hours after your official party start time. Be prepared also for parties here to go much later than what you may be used to: 3:00, 5:00… We are proponents of a cross-cultural mix, and I know from experience you can have a good party and not let it go on till the wee hours; it is doable.

Teacapan, Sinaloa

Teacapan, Sinaloa

We visited the peaceful fishing village of Teacapán this past weekend, a beautiful place for bird watching, kayaking, fishing or just relaxing that is located a couple of hours south of Mazatlán. The biodiversity of the mangrove forest and estuary were breathtaking.

The area between Escuinapa and Teacapán is scheduled by FONATUR for major development. In a few decades the Mexican government plans for this charming and pristine area, teeming with wildlife, to look a lot like Cancún.

This of course breaks our hearts, but it seemed to be excellently good news to most of the locals with whom we spoke. Development for them means jobs, income, food, and a better quality of life. To us, it means destruction of the incredible mangrove ecosystem, estuary and bird habitat, very similar, no doubt, to how Mazatlán’s Golden Zone looked in the 1950s, before the estuary here was filled in, the mangroves destroyed, and the hotels built. The estuary or lago as those in Teacapán called it, is filled with fish, oysters, crab, and shrimp.

Getting There
The drive from Mazatlán to Teacapán is very easy. You take Highway 15  (toll or free road) south through Villa Unión to Escuinapa (88 km from Mazatlán), then turn onto Highway 1 along the coast to Teacapán (another 40 km). The latter highway has its share of potholes. The vista on the journey is excellent. We made a very quick trip, arriving on Sunday afternoon and returning on Monday evening due to the holiday.

The Town
We were told Teacapán has 6000 inhabitants. It lies right on the border between the states of Sinaloa and Nayarit, though it is part of Sinaloa. It is built around a central plaza which has the traditional band stand and a quaint church.

It is right on the coast, but faces a long peninsula that the locals call “el otro lado.” Yes, that’s usually the term used to refer to the United States, “the other side,” but in Teacapán it refers to the “island” (it’s a peninsula but is called isla by the locals) offshore, covered in mangrove trees, the other side of which is supposedly an incredibly gorgeous beach. Trouble is, you need a lllloooooonnnngg drive to get to that beach! There is also a place on the island called “Texas.”

Looking from town, you can see what looks like an inlet/outlet to the ocean, but mostly you look at the calm lago (which is really a 30 mile long estuary) and beyond that the island. Thus, you don’t hear crashing waves as you would on a more usual bay.

The valley is rimmed with mountains, so it’s a very gorgeous view. One of the main mountaintops is said to look like a man’s face. The locals say it looks like George Washington.

Lodging and Food
Our hotel (María Fernanda) was clean, bright, affordable, had two pools and a restaurant, and the shower had hot water. It was located right on the water with beautiful views. There was wireless internet in the lobby but not in the room.

Teacapan, Sinaloa
The town seemed to have very few formal restaurants. We ate in the hotel; there was another restaurant run by a Canadian right next door (Wayne’s), and a family-owned palapa restaurant was just down the malecón. We saw was a cocina económica on the plaza, and various more informal eateries and botaneros on the main road into town.

We ate a wonderful pescado zarandeado for dinner the day we arrived, and there were crab, prawns, and scallops galore. We bought some fresh prawns and crab meat to bring home with us for dinner; yum!

Mangroves and Wildlife
The mangroves of Teacapán are a famous bird watching area, home to 250 species of birds. The Marismas Nacionales are the largest coastal mangrove area on Mexico’s Pacific coast. We saw great herons, and little blue herons, white herons, cranes, lots of osprey, roseated spoonbills, cormorants, a fairly unusual bird called a boot-billed heron (I believe), flycatchers, and a host of other birds big and small, including the usual gulls, pelicans and frigate birds.

(You bird lovers may like to read my “Crane Convention” blog post, which took place in Mazatlán last year.) 

We found a terrific guide, Victor Méndez Denis (tel 695-954-5386). He told us he is licensed by the federal Department of Tourism as an ecotour guide, the only one in town. He has a very nice, clean, covered boat with a very quiet motor that holds about 15 people. When he told us he could talk to the birds we thought he was joking; we laughed and called him Dr. Doolittle. But, indeed, Victor called quite a few birds, and seems quite adept at calling. I’m confident most birders would be thrilled.

He took us on a cruise out to “the other side,” Bird Island and a few other places, and we found him to be very knowledgeable. He explained to us that four out of the seven kinds of mangroves in the world can be found in Teacapan: black, white, red and button. The red mangroves are especially plentiful, extending their roots down into the water to form a “reef” in a very similar manner to the way in which coral grows. This reef teems with wildlife: birds in the tree branches, crabs and all sorts of aquatic animals among the tree roots. We were told there are cayman in the water, but we did see quite a few people snorkeling, either oystering or spearfishing.

In quite a few areas along the “other side,” the island, there are oyster shell mounds, said to be the remains of oysters harvested by native people over 4000 years ago. Some say they are burial grounds. The mounds are extensive.

Teacapan, Sinaloa

Fishing
There are loads of oysters to be found in the fresh water here. They are easy to harvest, too; not like the rock oysters in the ocean off Mazatlán, which require the divers to hammer and chisel. The Teacapán oyster divers that we saw only used their hands. Our guide, Victor, bought 10 kilos of fresh oysters for 150 pesos. Quite a great deal, we thought. He tells us they are much sweeter and better than the rock oysters.

The fishing tours advertise fishing for snook, red snapper, grouper, sea bass, trigger fish, jack crevalle.


Next Time
Next time we go, we’d like to tour the estuary at low tide. Victor told us many of the islands in the estuary actually become connected at low tide, and the birds come out from the mangroves to eat on the sand bars. Would definitely like to see that!

Teacapan, Sinaloa
Would also like to rent a kayak and glide through the mangroves; it would be gorgeous. I’d like to get out to the beach. Seems to me you should be able to take a boat out around the peninsula and access the beach that way, rather than making the long drive. But, as we didn’t do that, I am not sure.

Isla Isabel is a couple of hours boat ride from Teacapán. We could also go from Mazatlán. I have long wanted to go to this national park to see the blue-footed boobies. People call it a miniature Galapagos, nearby here in the Islas Marias. It is one of the main seabird nesting areas in the Pacific, with 92 bird species recorded. There is also good snorkeling. Due to CONANP protection, a visit means you must be accompanied by a licensed guide, and I believe you have to camp if you want to stay overnight.

Tortugas Marinas/Sea Turtles

One of the many fortunate aspects about living on the beach in Mazatlán is that often, whether we’re walking the beach or the malecón, or sitting on the beach eating lunch or dinner, a marine turtle may suddenly crawl up to shore to lay her eggs. It is always cause for joy. It is such a gorgeous miracle to witness, and one we can easily take for granted.

The season starts in September each year, and yesterday I saw my third sea turtle so far this year. The turtle is usually fairly strong as she crawls up onto the beach. She is obviously made for the water, and struggles in the sand, but she crawls up to well above the high-tide line. She settles on a nesting spot, and then begins to dig a hole in the sand.



The turtle then buries her backside in the sand, above the hole, and lays her eggs. They lay a LOT of eggs at once. After she lays her eggs, the turtle usually rests for a few moments, but she is also usually very eager to get herself back into the ocean, where she is more mobile and less at risk of harm. It is so very heart wrenching to watch the mother sea turtle make her way back over the sand and into the ocean. She has no energy left, she is so very tired, and she just struggles something awful. Most people who watch tend to start cheering her on from a distance. It’s a nice community-building event.

Here is a photo taken from our terrace of a turtle’s tracks, in and out, to lay her eggs. You can see the spot in the sand where she laid her eggs. This photo was taken after the Aquarium official had already removed the eggs for safe-keeping.

Sea turtle eggs unfortunately fetch a high price on the black market. I think people eat them as an aphrodisiac. Some people also kill the endangered turtles; “caguama” is a beloved, though black market, dish for many Mazatlecos, sadly. People use turtle hide to make things, and they use the oils in skin lotions and creams. Years ago I remember seeing a lot of turtle lotions and items for sale in the beach areas of Mexico. Fortunately these days we see a lot less.

I am no naturalist, but in doing some research on the internet, it seems we have three primary species that nest here on the east coast of the Sea of Cortés, Green Sea Turtles, Hawksbills, and Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtles: http://www.greenpacks.org/2008/08/25/sea-turtles-endangered-marine-life

The sea turtles are endangered:
http://www.panda.org/what_we_do/endangered_species/marine_turtles/
There are signs everywhere on the beach that if you see a turtle, please call the police or the aquarium immediately, as they will come to keep the people away (so that the turtle can lay her eggs in peace), and they will make sure no one steals the eggs.

Despite the best efforts of most people, who keep a respectful distance away, there seem to be plenty of idiots who try to “help” the turtle by getting in her face and crowding her. Just what any birthing mother wants, right? Watch this YouTube for an example of some people’s heartbreaking behavior:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WXka-FQJvsQ&feature=related

The turtle eggs are taken to one of three local spots that I know of for hatching, the Mazatlan Aquarium (click on Mazatlan on the map): http://www.grupotortuguero.org/imap.php?l=1

Down south to Estrella del Mar (a golf resort that has a sea turtle hatching facility), and up north in Marmol. They regularly hold baby sea turtle “release” events, where the babies are released into the ocean. Danny’s been fortunate enough to release baby turtles several times, including with the Scouts. Each year his troop hikes north on the beach for 6-7 hours or so, releases baby turtles, then camps overnight and celebrates with a huge bonfire on the beach. Below are some photos:

And there is a YouTube video of a baby turtle’s quest for the open waters:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xthy69jHKOQ

Las Temporadas de Mazatlán/Seasons of the Year, Updated

 

  • Season of the Curved Tides (January-February): The ocean waves come in with scalloped edges, leaving the sand on the beach with ripples. It’s beautiful! (See the photo above for an idea.)

  • La Temporada de la Neblina, Fog Season (February or anytime as late as May): Starting around Carnavál and continuing for a few weeks, the cold ocean air meets the warm land and….our building disappears, as does Ice Box Hill and many other landmarks, for a good portion of the morning.

 

 

IMG_2985

  • Season of the Crying Screens, in May-June, after the heat of summer begins and before the rains start. We get condensation of salty ocean air on our window screens.
  • La Temporada de los Candidatas, the season of the PARADES!!! (May): Two kinds of candidates: political and royal. The royals are the fun ones—girls (and sometimes boys) from all over the metro area, who want to be queen or king of their school. They walk the malecón, the plazuela, and the Golden Zone collecting donations, usually accompanied by their court if they’re teenagers, and by their families if they’re primary school kids. When the little girls wear nice dresses, boy then am I a supporter of their cause! Parades of course accompany the campaigns of both kinds of candidates. Parades include multiple live bands (not marching but riding), cool cars, loads of balloons, horn honking, and sometimes fireworks. The political campaigns include the standard posters, bumper stickers, t-shirts, etc., and their parades, unfortunately, include the loudspeaker campaign speeches.

  • Season of the Panzas–or Panzones! (July-October): If you are walking the malecon, walking to the market, or basically just standing outside, beware of the bare bellies! Men of all shapes and sizes seem to quite enjoy the air conditioning they achieve by rolling up their shirts and exposing their mid-sections. Unfortunately, six pack abs are few and far between! This is also the season to carry a wash cloth or small towel–sweat rag season. A handkerchief will NOT be sufficient. 🙂
  • Septi-Hambre, Hungry September: The month when those who serve the tourist trade complain because there are neither national nor international tourists around.
  • La Temporada de Venezia, The Season of Venice (August and September): This is when you need a gondola to get your son to school, or to go grocery shopping. MUST wear waterproof shoes and shorts, as streets are flooded at least 1/2 meter deep and more in places.
  • Necklace on the Bay Season (September or October through April or so): Open season on shrimp! US$4/kilo and even cheaper, higher for the really giant ones. You can get shrimp any time of year, but the legal shrimping season is now, so you can get fresh not frozen shrimp now. Mmmm. Our fleet is the biggest in Latin America. Opening day of the “veda” is one of my favorites. The shrimp boats all leave port, and in the darkness of night you see the lighted boats forming a beautiful necklace around the bay. Very difficult to capture on film, but incredibly beautiful and, from our experience, it only happens once a year. Don’t miss it! Opening day of the season….

This is the sixth update to this post. I’ll keep updating this post as I learn more.

The Smells of Mazatlán

Mazatlán is gorgeous, there is no doubt about it. The clear blue sky, ocean to the horizon, daily killer sunsets, long sandy beaches, mountains surrounding, estuaries filled with grasses and birds. Seeing Mazatlán is probably the most popular way to experience the place.

Mazatlán is rich, diverse, and complex, however; definitely a multi-sensory experience. Our sense of smell also plays a major in our experience of this paradise. When we came here as tourists, I must admit we didn’t notice the olfactory input so much as we do now that we live here. Back then we were no doubt overwhelmed by the visual beauty and thought the smells were intermittent, a side dish. Once you live here, smells play a much more important role.
I’ll keep adding to this list, but I do want to record some of the important smells of life in Mazatlán, for better and for worse:
  • TUNA. There are mornings we wake up to a permeating, cooked-fishy sort of smell. Greg, Danny and I all look at each other and grimace. It’s the tuna smell. Mazatlán has a huge tuna business. The Mazatún factory is just outside of town. We don’t know if it’s the way the wind blows, the days they happen to cook or can, or what, but there are certain days when you can’t escape it: it’s tuna time!
  • Zarandeado. The smell of barbecue emanating from the palapas along the beach. You walk the beach, or the malecon. You’re not hungry when you start. But boy, smell that fish on the barbie, and you will be!
  • Sewer gas. One of the greatest joys of life in Mazatlán is the malecon, the oceanside promenade. Walking down it towards the Fisherman’s Monument is gorgeous: the world’s biggest gymnasium, we like to call it. But oftentimes near that very monument, where most parades in town gather before starting, the sewer smells are overwhelming; you actually have to cover your nose and mouth. The city recently did drainage work down there, and the smell appears to have abated somewhat. We can only hope. But there are areas throughout town where you’d swear you were in a bathroom. In the historic downtown, for example. Gorgeous architecture, millions of pesos invested into updating and converting these homes into glory, but once you step outside…..
  • Chile and lime. This favorite seasoning combination teases the nostrils at nearly every fiesta, and there are daily fiestas. Put chile and lime and potato chips or corn chips. Put it on kernels of corn in a cup, or corn on the cob. Put the taste combo on the fruit cup you buy from the vendor on the beach. On your ceviche or fish. Nearly anywhere you wander in Mazatlán, you’ll get a whiff of this winning combination.
  • Salt. As in the fresh salt air, the ocean breeze, the sticky thick liquid that gets stuck on the screens of the sliding doors to the terrace, or in the corners of the tile floor and requires much scrubbing to remove. Salt also as in added taste for beer and margaritas, in combination with lime, of course. Salt is definitely a key smell of those with “las patas saladas.”
  • Tortillas. This is true for many places in Latin America, but/and including Mazatlán. There is no smell so wonderful as fresh tortillas being baked. Who can pass by the tortillería without grabbing a few? Especially when the government subsidizes their cost and you can get a kilo of fresh corn tortillas for less than a dollar.
  • Garbage burning. Don’t ask me why. We recycle. There are families that live at the dump and scavenge all the recyclable items to sell them and make a living. There is regular garbage collection city-wide. But burning of garbage is a fact of daily life here. There appear to be no regulations against it, or at least none that seem to be observed. So, when coming to Mazatlán, be prepared to see plumes of dark smoke from various locations around town, and the charming smell of garbage being incinerated.
  • The honey wagon. Yes, one of my favorite euphemisms for the truck that pumps the waste out of the port-a-potties on the beach. Mazatlán has beautiful, permanent concrete bathrooms built along the malecón. But use them? Agh, why use such a resource? Better to have citizens and tourists alike use the port-a-potties that the palapa restaurants have installed, and have those palapa restaurants pay to have the honey wagon pump them clean every day or two or three. The hoses are a hazard as you walk the malecón in the morning, but worse is the smell the put off. Definitely carry a wash cloth or be prepared to put your shirt over your nose as you pass by.
  • Coffee. Cafe Marino, our local brew, is some of the best-tasting coffee you’ll find. Reasonably priced, locally grown and roasted, it is a frequent component of the gift packages we send overseas. And, again, depending on the air currents and whether the roasteries is roasting or not, the wonderful smell of coffee fills the air of our port city.
  • Diesel. Ok, of course if you’re near the international highway you smell the diesel of the semi trucks, but even in the heart of Mazatlán city proper, the smell of diesel can overwhelm you at times. Those city buses, in addition to being driven by kamikazes, emit thick black smoke that will choke you if you’re not careful. Definitely not the best air to breathe while you are jogging or biking, but a fact of life in Mazatlán. Thank God for the ocean breeze.
  • Fish. Yes, one of the biggest advantages of living in Mazatlán is the fresh fish and the visits to the fishermen and their boats. But, in addition to the terrific taste of the fish and the pleasant sight of the weathered, friendly fishermen and their colorful pangas, we must admit that the smells of fresh, as well as rotting, fish and its entrails definitely fills playa norte.
  • The Market. El mercado is sensory overload and está lleno de holores: raw meat, fresh fruits and vegies, leather…