New Marco Polo Park for "Differently Abled" Kids in Mazatlán

 

Can you imagine you are a child in a wheelchair, watching as your friends swing in the park? How do you feel? Watching them slide down the slide, or go up and down on the teeter totter, or round and round on the carousel, while you sit in your chair?

Rotary Club North chapter has worked for seven years in cooperation with many others in our community to build a park for “differently abled” children in Mazatlán. I love that term, along with the other commonly used term here, “special kids.”

The Grand Opening of the Marco Polo Park in Fraccionamiento La Campiña was this week, in commemoration of Children’s Day, and what a pride and joy to our local community it is! Huge kudos to everyone involved!

The first park of its kind in the state, there is hope that it’s success will spur the building of more parks with handicap-accessible play equipment throughout Mexico.

It is a true local success story. The first fundraising event for this park was held in December 2005, a chef’s dinner called De Amores y Sabores, with seven local chefs donating their time and talent. They served a seven-course dinner for 320 people. It was a huge financial and gastronomic success, and provided the initial funding to get started with the project.

With the cooperation of Rotary Club members and their wives, the land on which to build the park was secured. Several Rotary Presidents traveled north to Tucson and other places, visiting Rotary chapters to try to obtain funding to build the park. In the end, the park was funded locally, with municipal, state and federal government support, and many private companies from Mazatlán funding the manufacture of the special play equipment.

Leti Alvarado Fuentes assigned her architecture students a project: adapt common park play equipment so that special needs kids can use it and enjoy it. They did a terrific job. Then Jorge Medina, our resident iron work professional, found a gentleman who could manufacture the play equipment. And, oilá, Parque Marco Polo was born! The swing holds a wheelchair securely. The slide accommodates two people going down at once: one to hold the other safely. And the teeter-totter also accommodates two people: one to sit in back and hold the person in front. The merry-go-round wasn’t yet functional this week, so we have something to look forward to!

Below are two video clips. The first is television news coverage of the inaugural event, and the second is the early park animation that the Rotary Club used to attract donations.

If you are interested, here is a link to a newspaper story about the inauguration.

Finally, here are a few vocabulary words I learned, since I don’t hang out in too many children’s parks these days.

  • The play equipment in the park is just called juegos.
  • The merry-go-round is the carosel. Easy enough!
  • The teeter-totter (some call it a seesaw) is the sube y baja. Also easy enough, but more fun in English I dare say, lol.
  • The slide is the resbaladilla.
  • And, drum roll please, the most important piece of park play equipment, the swing: columpio!
Hearty congratulations to all those involved in this park! Now children can play alongside one another regardless of ability, creating an equality of joy! I do hope that many more parks of this type might be built, throughout our state and country, providing more access to all children.

 

Lenten Program at School

 

Danny’s now gone to two different Catholic schools here in Mazatlán, and they both have required parents to attend meetings or retreats in order for the kids to get a better grade in religion class. I have trouble with that, but that’s not what this post is about. I do see that it motivates parents to attend and to learn.

I am a Christian and I love this time of Lent. This year I’m doing some social justice meditations along with Bible reading.

But, tonight as I was heading to school to the first of THREE required Lenten meetings, I was not in the best frame of mind. I also have a horrible cold, and am at the point where a tissue needs to constantly be in my hand, and a lozenge in my throat, so I felt very sorry for my neighbors sitting near me.

Anyway, tonight ended up being really interesting. I am so glad I went. There were four married couples on stage, all different ages, from married 8 years with young children to married 36 years with grandkids. The theme of the evening was “weathering economic crisis in your marriage.” The couples each took turns answering a series of three questions on the topic.

Each of the four women said that, when they married, they expected to not have to work. And the husbands all said they expected to be the family provider. All four of them then went on to describe that times have changed from our parents’ days, and nowadays both spouses need to work to maintain a family; it’s the reality and most everyone has to learn to adapt. The couples all told poignant stories about the emotions they went through, and the blame or judgment they heaped on each other, as they worked through to the reality that they would both need to work.

The answers to the first question were pretty astounding to me. I have a couple of girlfriends here who work, and both of them keep their money separate from their husband’s money. The idea seems to be that the man’s duty is to provide for the family, and any money the women makes is her to use as she pleases: things for herself, special items for the kids, etc. But, I’d always figured my friends were exceptions to the rule. Greg and I have always pooled our money, and I figured most Mexicans must, too.

All four of the couples who spoke this evening, however, shared that same perspective as my local girlfriends: that the wife’s income should be for “extras” and the man’s income for the basics. The men want to be the breadwinners; the women want to be provided for. This shocked me. Though I know it’s true in a lot of places, to experience it so blatantly and close to home, when it’s so completely different than the assumptions I grew up with, was interesting for me.

Then, three out of the four couples proceeded to explain that this solution of keeping incomes separate was not a sustainable or constructive one, that pooling the two incomes was better. The fourth couple had actually pooled their money for a while, and then decided to go in the reverse direction, to the “Dad pays for the necessities and I pay for the extras” route, so that the wife could still feel that her husband was “taking care of” them, and so that Daddy could feel he was doing the bread (or tortilla) winning.

The other questions involved how the couples had weathered unemployment, and whether they had ever lived beyond their means and how they’d gotten “out from under” if they had.

The beautiful thing, for me, was that these couples all spoke from the heart. They shared the anger and doubt they’d gone through, they shared that they’d made poor decisions, they put themselves in a vulnerable position in front of hundreds of other parents, many of whom they know. It was so powerful, and so moving.

Just a little reflection and personal anecdote on a Tuesday night.

 

Rite of Passage

 

Rites of passage. What images does that phrase bring to mind? Masai warrior rituals? Debutante balls? Walkabouts? Bar mitzvahs? Uros Indian boys knitting hats so tightly that water won’t leak through? Menstruation? Graduation? Marriage?

We moved to Mazatlán four years ago. Since that time, Danny and I have attended church every Sunday. Same church each week. Same Mass each week. Same people we see there each week. Four years. I love Sunday Mass. Love to sing. Love communal prayer. Love the people we celebrate with each week.

During that time, we have gotten to know the priest. We greet the greeters: those women at the entrance handing out bulletins. We sit in the same pew, pretty much, every week, too. There are about three women who will sit in our pew and greet us. I like them. They help me feel human, not just gringa. There are lots of other people who will sit in our pew and act as if they’ve never seen us before, even though of course they have seen us every Sunday the past four years. And, there are loads of people who avoid sitting anywhere near us. Maybe they’re afraid we won’t speak Spanish, or know the rules, or…

Now, it’s a Catholic church, and anyone who knows Catholicism will tell you that good Catholics don’t fraternize at Sunday services (written tongue in cheek, but true). You come, you pray, you leave. No small talk. The priests basically have to order us to shake hands with the person beside us in the pew.

Well, a few weeks ago we had something going on in the morning, and we went to the Sunday evening service instead. Lo and behold, the altar guild lady asked me if I’d do the collection! Wow! A rite of passage! I had never been asked to take up the collection before. I was becoming a regular part of the parish after all!

But this was not “my” Mass. It was the evening Mass, which I rarely attend. It was a welcome invitation, for sure. Now, in the parish’s defense, I have made no effort to get involved in the church outside of Sunday Mass. My schedule right now doesn’t allow it, my preferences right now aren’t prioritizing it. There are people who attend our Mass that I know outside of church. They of course greet us.

Well, unwittingly this am, as Danny and I knelt in prayer before the service started, the altar guild/greeter lady at OUR service, our church, came to our pew, and asked us if we would be so kind as to take up the gifts! “Would you take up the wine, and your Mami take up the bread,” she asked Danny.

Wow! How cool is that!

As if that wasn’t cool enough, one of the “friendly” ladies sat down beside us. She actually KISSED me during the giving of the peace.

Four years, people, but we feel included. We have received our rite of passage.

I will say I attended church in Tokyo and in the US longer than we’ve been here, and was never ad-hoc included in this way.

Now the Episcopal Church, where Danny used to serve Mass every Sunday morning, and I was the greeter, that’s a different story… 🙂

 

Counterfeiting and Scalping, Teenage-Style 2012 (llegar de colado)

 

My parents met one night when they both crashed a wedding reception. Neither one of them had been invited to the party. Neither one of them even knew the people getting married!

They lived in small towns near each other, and told me that in the day it was common to show up to drink and dance whenever anyone nearby got married or had a party with a band. According to them, the hosts didn’t mind. They expected uninvited guests to “crash.”

They fell in love after meeting as uninvited guests, a love that lasted nearly 60 years.

Fast forward to four years ago, when we moved to Mazatlán from Kansas City. One of my son’s cultural adjustments was that early on he just could not bring himself to go to a party to which, in his words, he “wasn’t invited.” Which to him, a good US American, meant that the host of the party had not personally invited him. “But here in Mexico, baby, if your friend is invited, and the friend invites you, you are usually welcome if not expected to join.” No, he just couldn’t do it.

The day after such a party, his friends would say, “Hey, Danny, where were you last night? We missed you!” Sometimes even the host of the party would say it to him. So, he learned a more inclusive approach to party-going. He learned he usually didn’t need a personal or direct verbal invitation; friends are always welcome.

But, this “open invitation” approach to parties obviously can get out of hand, especially when kids attend a huge school, when they have a wide circle of friends, or, as with teenagers anywhere, “the word gets out” and there aren’t a lot of other parties that same night. Two weeks ago there was just such a “small” quinceañera to which 300 or so kids showed up! Parents, who pay the bills for the parties, wisely want to limit attendance. But how? It bucks cultural norms.

In order to bridge cultural norms and economic realities, the wrist bracelet was invented. Parents can say, “We are only paying for 100 people for your party. We’ll invite 20 of our friends, and you can invite 80.” Then the parent gives the kid 80 personalized party invitation bracelets to hand out. If you have a bracelet, you can enter the party. No bracelet, no dancing.

Seems clear enough to me.

Well, the other night I learned that kids COUNTERFEIT the bracelets! One of our son’s friends proudly showed me the pulsera he had purchased blank, and how he had taken a Sharpie and carefully and competently copied the personalized text so that he could get into the party. I of course dutifully scolded the kid, and threatened my son with what horrible things would become of him if he ever were to do such a thing. But, in the process I’ve learned that such counterfeiting, and even scalping, of party entrance bracelets is common these days.

The kids told me about a boy at school who has a whole counterfeiting operation. He goes to a party place and buys a bunch of the identical bracelets for that weekend’s party (bracelets come in all colors and many foil or reflective designs as well). He has a counterfeiting “kit” with 3 kinds of Sharpies plus Q-tips and alcohol to clean up any erroneous strokes that occur while making the fake bracelets. He sells the blank bracelets for 25 pesos (they must cost a few pesos at most at the shop, but hey, he delivers right to you at school). Buying a bracelet complete with the counterfeited markings costs 40 pesos (15 pesos for his copying prowess).

If you don’t want to participate in counterfeiting, you can buy a pulsera from someone who was “legally” invited to the party but can’t or doesn’t want to go. These “scalped” bracelets sell for 100 pesos. Who says young kids nowadays aren’t enterprising! Capitalism is alive and well among teenagers in Mazatlán.

Thank goodness that these bracelets didn’t exist in the 1940s. My parents may never have met, and I wouldn’t be here!

 

Visiting Mazatlán with Kids

Kids love Mazatlán! The list below should help whether you are traveling here on holiday or whether you live here and are wondering about something new and different to do with your kids during school break. The to-dos are organized alphabetically.

  • Aquarium and bird show: The aquarium in Mazatlán is a lot of fun. The most exciting thing at the aquarium is you can swim with the sharks! In addition to the indoor marine exhibits there are entertaining bird shows held on an outdoor covered stage. Aquarium staff do most of the rescue of marine animals and birds here in town, so we all very much appreciate you supporting this venue.
  • Batting cages: On Avenida del Mar, right next to the double yellow towers (Las Gavias), is a batting cage called, “Wild Pitch.” There is now also a second one up on Avenida de la Marina in the new Mazatlán Golf Center.
  • Beach day: Pick a beach, any beach. You can get chair side service and lots of vendors at a hotel beach. You can dine on fresh, affordable seafood in a palapa/thatched hut on Playa Pinos. Make sand castles, pick up sea shells and sea glass, play soccer or football, volleyball or catch … You name it, you can’t go wrong with kids and a beach.
  • Bicycling: Biking along the malecón/oceanside promenade is gorgeous, easy and fun! From Valentino’s to the Pedro Infante Monument is about 4 miles one-way, it’s of course a very level ride, and safely out of the traffic. It’s easiest to borrow a bike from friends or your hotel if you can. Kelly’s Bike Rental used to be near the malecón, but now he’s moved up towards the marina so is a bit harder for the tourist to reach. Kelly (Güero) has a terrific mountain bike trail/course where he will gladly take older teenagers. He has bikes to loan out as well.
  • Bird watching, hiking and picnicking: The lush Estero del Yugo nature preserve on the north end of town makes for a day of hiking and bird watching. Bring a picnic lunch, binoculars, and your camera.
  • Boogie board: Bring your own, or buy one at one of the many shops along Avenida del Mar or Av. Camarón Sábalo. It’s a whole lot of fun!
  • El Bosque/City Park: Located one block off the malecón, this park has a large pond with waterfowl, swing sets and climbing gyms, a small zoo, and a walking trail. There are play areas in small parks throughout the city, though I recommend you check their safety beforE letting your kids climb up and slide down.
  • Bowling: Space Bowling, up on the north end of town near Marina El Cid, has fun laser-light bowling at night, and makes for good refuge if you happen to be here during rainy season.
  • Boxing: Older teenagers and young adults may enjoy a night of boxing. Our boys love it, as you get up close and personal to the boxers. I imagine the ring card girls don’t hurt their eyes either 🙂 Held on Friday nights about once every month, downtown in the Cancha German Evers.
  • Catamaran: You can have one of the playeros take you and your family out for a cruise around the bay for very little cash. Watch the sea lions (Mazatlán is their southernmost point), cruise past Bird and Deer Islands, see the city from the sea. A boat ride is always fun. We also have sailboats, or you can go out on a party boat and enjoy music, dinner or sunset.
  • Climb the lighthouse: One of our very favorite family activities, we do this once a week. The climb only takes about 20 minutes, and the view from the top is gorgeous!
  • Dolphin, whale and sea lion watching Also one of our favorite activities! DEFINITELY do this if you are traveling here! You can read our blog post about this trip.
  • Fishermen: Sitting near the pangas/boats at Playa Norte beach in the morning, watching the fishermen bring in their boats, unload and sell their fish, can make for a very enjoyable morning for a family.
  • Fly a kite: Buy one anywhere, and spend a few hours flying it on the beach. Enjoy some ceviche, fresh fruit or turnovers/empanadas from a strolling vendor, and maybe some live music from a passing band.
  • Horseback riding: There is nothing like a family horseback ride on the beach, or through a forest of palm trees. Rent horses on the north end of town at Playa Bruja, or out on Stone Island.
  • Inline skating: That 4-mile malecón is calling your name! You and the family can of course walk it, or you can rent skates in Olas Altas at the Looney Bean coffee shop.
  • Island day: Spending a day at either Deer Island (one of the three islands in the bay) or Stone Island (it’s actually a peninsula) feels like going back in time to a simpler, more charming era. Pretend you’re shipwrecked, or that you own your own private piece of paradise. On Stone Island there are plenty of restaurants with lots of adult beverages; the beach is great for kids as the ocean is pretty calm. On Deer Island you can get a few things to eat or drink. You can get tours to either island that include banana boating, snorkeling or jet skiing; Stone Island tours often include horseback riding. Stone Island has an affordable water ferry (about US$3 round trip per person).
  • Kayaking: Rent a couple of kayaks on the beach in front of one of the hotels, and enjoy some terrific family time paddling in the bay.
  • Movies: Movie theaters in Mazatlán are MUCH more affordable ventures than they are north of the border. If you don’t speak Spanish, be sure to see a subtitled movie rather than one that’s dubbed. Cinepolis is in the Gran Plaza; Gaviotas is an older theater near Valentino’s in the Golden Zone; and the two Cinemexes are in the main part of town on Insurgentes Street.
  1. Cinépolis 
  2. Cinemas Gaviotas
  3. CinemexMaz
  4. CinemexToreo
  • Paint ball: For some weird reason, paint ball is called “Gotcha” in Mazatlecan Spanish. The nearest location is Master Gotcha located behind Casa Country in the Golden Zone. Closed on Tuesdays, check their Facebook page for specials.
  • Parasailing: Before I parasailed I never imagined I’d enjoy it as much as I did! It is amazingly fun and exciting! Book a trip on the beach in front of your hotel.
  • Port: Watch the workings of the port from the Mirador or the Old Observatory. Drive, walk or bike up Paseo del Centenario to either of these places, and you will be rewarded with incredible views of the city of Mazatlán and the workings of its port. See the loading and unloading at the docks, the boats of the largest shrimping fleet in the Americas, as well as the tuna fleet.
  • Sea turtles: Release baby sea turtles, or see their mothers lay eggs. Sea turtles come in to the beach to lay their eggs starting in late August or September every year. It is an amazing process to watch, but please don’t bother the nesting Moms! You can read a blog post about the sea turtles here. If you call the aquarium you and your kids may be able to participate in a release of baby sea turtles, which the kids also really love.
  • Skate park: Bring your skateboard, rip stick, BMX bike or inline skates, or just your eyes and good humor to watch the festivities. The Skate Park is next to the outdoor gym in Playa Norte. We did a blog post about it.
  • Snorkeling: Playa Norte has a sheltered beach, just south of the swim club and the outdoor gym, which has pretty interesting snorkeling: lots of colorful fish and sea glass. On Deer Island you can snorkel for octopus or scallops.
  • Surfing: Many kids would love to learn how to surf! In Mazatlán there are a few options: Mazatlán Surf Center, Jah Surf School, Puras Olas, or just do a web search.
  • Swimming: This would seem to be a no-brainer. In the pool, in the ocean, Mazatlán is a swimmers’ paradise. Something our family loves is, in the early morning, to go down to Playa Norte and watch the swim club swimmers do their ocean swims. Many are grandmas and grandpas and boy can they swim! In November each year the club does a Travesía, during which swimmers swim out to Deer Island!
  • Swim with the sharks: The aquarium offers this cool activity. There are plans to swim with dolphins, but as of this blog post that’s not yet an option. But swimming with sharks sounds so cool and dangerous (yet isn’t)!
  • Tide pools: One of the BEST activities ever, on the planet, for families with young children. Bring a book of tide pool life along with you, put on some water shoes, and take a walk when the tide is out along the beach south of Valentino’s. Starfish, crabs, tadpoles, sea urchins… Gotta love it!
  • Video arcade: Ok, I don’t like going on vacation to have the kids go to an arcade, but I do remember traveling to Prague and having my kid beg for laser tag, so it happens. The best video arcade that I know of is in the Gran Plaza shopping mall. There is also a small, “cooler” one for teenagers just north of Valentino’s, on the second level.
  • Water park: If the kids want more slide action than the hotel pool can provide, take them up to Mazagua, on the north end of town on the way to the Hotel Riu or Emerald Bay.
  • Zip line: Huana Coa gets incredibly high reviews on TripAdvisor. While we haven’t gone on this one, if your kids are into this, it sure sounds like fun.
In addition to the above year-round activities, there are also terrific seasonal events that you should try not to miss. These include:
  • Carnaval/Mardis Gras (a very family-oriented five days)
  • MotoWeek, a huge gathering of motorcycles from around the continent. Includes concerts, an expo and a huge parade.
  • ExpoCar, usually held in December, this is a car show and, I guess, drag racing event. Exhibitions, concerts, and lots of burning rubber.
  • La Frasca/Shrimping in the estuary A once-in-a-lifetime experience for families, occurs only during shrimping season. You will need a car or driver and to speak Spanish or have an interpreter or guide.
  • Day of the Dead, altars and callejoneada parade
  • Easter Week processions
  • AeroFest, usually held in November along the malecón
  • Revolution Day
  • Independence Day, especially “El Grito” the night before in the main Plaza downtown
  • Look for signs for special events such as Monster Truck shows, Lucha Libre, circuses (one going on somewhere in town at least once/month), carnavals/fairs (5-7 every year), NBA exposition games, etc….
  • There are also “cultural” events such as bullfighting (held occasionally) and cock fighting (held all the time at various venues). Look for signs or ask around when you are in town if you are interested.
I’ve only included things right here in town. If you have something I should add, please let me know. There are also loads of things to do outside the city—small pueblos to visit, the petroglyphs at Las Labradas… Those will have to be for another summary post. 🙂
Enjoy your holiday! Or, rest assured that the kids will go back to school, eventually, ja ja.