Cross-Continental Bicyclists Sarah and Jacques Visit Mazatlán

We met Sarah and Jacques on Day of the Dead. They were just packing up their bikes, as you can see. They had left Sarah’s home of Vancouver Island, Canada in July, bicycling south along the coast for four months. Then they hit Mazatlán.

“Soooooo much nicer than Baja,” they gushed to us. “We’ve ended up spending three weeks here, our longest stop yet. We have to get going again or we’ll never get going.”

Thus we met two additional interesting people who love this port of ours.

“We stayed here in our friend’s house,” Jacques explained as Sarah locked up. “We loved being here. We had two weeks of ‘Mazatlán,’ and then this last week things changed completely. The Northerners started arriving. It’s like there are two Mazatláns: the summer and the winter version.”

They are planning to pedal their way south to Argentina. I asked how long of a trip they are planning, but it sounds pretty open-ended. They have their whole lives ahead of them, they told me.

“Did you enjoy Day of the Dead festivities here,” I asked. “Did you join in the callejoneada last night?”

“Oh, yeah, it was awesome,” they told me. “It is cool, too, how it’s the extranjeros keeping the Mexican culture alive—artwork, dressing up…” Fascinating to hear a passer-through perspective.

If you’d like to follow their journey, their blog is at www.peacewheel.wordpress.com. We very much wish them many wonderful adventures, much joy, insight, health and safety, on their journey!

Día de los Muertos en Mazatlán/Day of the Dead in Mazatlán

Several of you have asked me to post information about Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos) celebrations here in Mazatlán. This holiday is one of our favorites, and we’d love for you to enjoy it as much as we do!

Day of the Dead in Mazatlán is a happy, festive celebration that takes place November 1 and 2 — All Saints’ and All Souls’ Days in the Christian (particularly Roman Catholic) religious calendar.

The tradition goes back prior to the import (or imposition) of Christianity to the New World. As in other indigenous belief systems around the world from Asia to Africa to Latin America, Mazatlecos believe that once a year departed family members and friends come back to this world to visit their family and friends. And who wouldn’t want to take advantage of a once a year opportunity to party again with departed loved ones?!

 

Bakeries, Candy Stores and Artesanía Shops

One of the first signs that Day of the Dead is approaching is that you begin to see pan de muerto, bread of the dead, in the bakeries. These loaves of bread are often put on a family’s altar and then eaten after the ancestors have had their fill. You will also see calaveras or skulls made of sugar and amaranth, decorated with brightly colored frosting, for sale in the bakeries and candy stores. If you are visiting Mazatlán during the end of October or first days of November, be sure to stop in a bakery or two, and definitely visit a traditional candy store.

Also be sure to visit one of the many handicraft shops around town, as you will find wonderful Day of the Dead souvenirs, including traditional ceramic Katrinas and calaveras, skeletons representing people working in all sorts of different professions and engaging in sports and other hobbies. You’ll find lots of souvenirs to take home. Between the bakeries, candy stores, handicraft shops and even the fabric stores, you will find loads of wonderful gifts to take home.

 

Altars

Next you will begin to see altares or family altars. Many families put together an altar to welcome back their departed loved ones.

On a table or a multi-tiered piling of crates, they put out photos of loved ones along with articles that belonged to them, cempasúchitl (marigold) flowers, tissue paper flowers, salt, candles, and water. Ofrendas or offerings of favorite foods or drink and items from favorite pastimes are also set out to entice the dead to stop in and stay a while.

There is an art to making an altar, and here in Mazatlán you will see everything from charmingly simple to very elaborate altars. Some years the Mayor’s Office or Secretary of Tourism have put out a map of the altars available for public viewing (usually the ones that will be visited during the callejoneada, below), so it’s worthwhile to check if a map’s available. If not, walking around the streets of historic downtown is definitely worth an afternoon or evening.

If you are in the Golden Zone, you will find that many hotels and other businesses set up altars, often for famous people that have passed on (i.e. Michael Jackson, Marilyn Monroe). Many of the altars are really heartwarming, showing incredible love and attention to detail.

 

The Callejoneada Parade, Evening of November 1st

Unlike celebrations with lengthier histories and more solemnic processions such as those in Michoacán or Oaxaca, Mazatlán’s Day of the Dead celebrations involve donkeys that pull gigantic kegs of free beer through the streets of downtown.

This callejoneada, a parade through the narrow streets of the Centro Histórico, takes place from about 6:30 pm on the evening of November 1st. It begins and ends in the Plazuela Machado, and afterwards families tend to hang out for cena or late night supper. Before the callejoneada there is frequently a performance event in the Angela Peralta theater. Many years there have also been public performances in the Plazuela Machado after the parade. Check schedulesor ask around to be sure what’s on when you’re here.

The white Katrina accompanies
children to the afterlife.
The black Katrina accompanies
adults to the afterlife.

The callejoneada is, for us, a not-to-be-missed event. Our very talented young dancers and actors from the Centro Municipal de Artedress in costumes.

Live bands join in.

Many in the crowd also wear skull masks or skeleton costumes, and a group of hundreds if not more than a thousand dances and sings its way through the streets of downtown, visiting the various altars to help the white and black Katrinas accompany the souls of those who have left this life during the year safely to the afterlife. Do not miss the callejoneada!

Wear comfortable shoes, do not hesitate to push your way up to the donkey cart for some free beer (wear clothes that you won’t mind having beer spilled on), have your camera set to night action mode, and be prepared to enjoy!

Perhaps you’d like to see a short video clip of the Day of the Dead parade?


 

Cemeteries

Be sure to visit the municipal cemetery or another, smaller one during Day of the Dead.

Most families will visit the graves of their ancestors to clean the gravesite, to set out fresh flowers, and, often, they take along a picnic, hire a band, and party a bit, right there in the cemetery!

While the children play, grandparents, uncles and aunties, Mom and Dad share a beer, eat some lunch, and reminisce about the dearly departed. I trust someone does this on my behalf some day!

As you approach the cemetery you will see flower shops and impromptu vendors selling all sorts of gorgeous flowers and decorations. Entering the cemetery, you will often see bands wandering around, hoping to be hired. Also, many workers are available to help tend to a tombstone, or simply carry water. It’s well worth a couple of hours. Most years we have been invited by friends to join their celebrations, though the first year we were here strangers invited us to join them.

 

“Roasting” the Living: Newspapers and School Fairs

Another tradition this time of year is to celebrate the living as if they were dead. I believe this somehow reminds us all that we are on a one-way path through life.

The first time I witnessed this was at my son’s school. We walked in to find fake gravestones lining the walkways, with the names of (living!) teachers on the headstones! Each headstone contained a calavera or funny poem about the teacher. You will see many of these calavera poems in the newspaper, written about major politicians or celebrities in the news.

Friends will have the names of their (living) friends put on one of the sugar skulls, so that the friends can “eat their own death.” To someone not familiar with these practices it can seem a bit eerie, but it’s all done in good humor and filled with affection. One year at our son’s school they did “living altars,” where the kids acted out famous dead people.

 

Halloween

391770_372728722804454_1129221583_nThe Catholic diocese here tends to encourage people to celebrate Day of the Dead and very much discourages any celebration of Halloween, often referring to it as a witch’s or devil’s holiday. In Mazatlán, however, you will see children dress up in costumes and go trick or treating at the Gran Plaza or within El Cid residential development, usually on the evening of October 31.

Young adults, from junior high school on up, hold costume parties for Halloween.

Most of the dance clubs also hold Halloween parties. You’ll also see a lot of very sexily costumed young people waiting in line outside the clubs to celebrate a version of Halloween that, in my day, had not yet been invented 😉

We do hope you’ll enjoy Day of the Dead (and Halloween), Mazatlán style!

Easter Procession in Santa Clara del Cobre

Santa Clara is about an hour’s drive south of Morelia, just south of Patzcuaro. We had intended to spend Easter Sunday here in the city, but after attending Mass at the cathedral, we felt small town life calling us (as usual). We wanted to see copper making, since I grew up with it in Arizona, so off we went.

What a charming small town! I absolutely fell in love with the young boys, ages 3-8 or so, who were dressed as typical Michoacán viejitos for the Easter procession. More on them later.

One of the two main churches in town is home to Jesus of the Resurrection, so Easter Sunday is, luckily for us, a big feast day. Later in this post you’ll see video footage of the very community-engaged, charming Easter procession.

We noticed a sign outside the church here that we found so interesting we just had to take a photo of it, left.

Also, I made a new girlfriend, who was more than happy to pose for a photo for me.

When we arrived in town, about 11:00 am, people were just putting the finishing touches on some decorations. Those included assembling beautiful red-and-white-arches in the center of the street, in front of each of the barrios of Santa Clara del Cobre.

When we asked what they were preparing for, we were told there was going to be a procession. Where? When? “Right here. Ahorita.” Well, we’ve lived here long enough to know that ahorita doesn’t mean “right now” in any gringo sense of that word. So, we knew we had time to check out the town.

The decorations also included crepe paper flowers and streamers in front of nearly every house in town. It was truly a community event, and involved all ages.

We saw a long line in front of the newer church, the one that’s in the plaza. We figured it had something to do with Easter.

Approaching, we saw the priest signing a booklet for the children in line. Well, that looked all too familiar! In asking, a mother told us that the children who want to receive First Communion this spring had to attend the 9 o’clock Mass on Easter, and they had to have the priest sign their booklets attesting to that fact. Gotta love legalism.

We figured the procession would start after the noon Mass, so we took a look through what appeared to be the old original church. It was gorgeous! Everything here in town was so well cared for.

There were quite a few braids of human hair pinned to the cloth behind the crucifix, along with quite a few small milagros.

Every building was occupied, every curb was maintained, there were sidewalks and people sweep them on a daily basis. It was terrific to see.

Beside the old church was what seemed to be a community center. There were obvious party preparations going on, and during the mid-day people kept streaming in with food, food and more food. And music too, of course.

Still no sign of a procession to begin ahorita, we walked through the copper fair that was going on in the main plaza. There we met Pito Pérez, reincarnated, selling DVDs of movies about his life.

Coming back to the other side of the plaza, we saw that the crowd was gathering to view the procession, so we took our place on a curb.

Once the fireworks launchers were in place, we knew it was time. They used really handy iron stands to launch 6-14 bottle rockets in a row. I think Mazatlán needs these!

The video above is about three minutes of the procession. It lasted a good 90 minutes or more. It involved so many people, as we’ve witnessed in so many other small Mexican towns during Semana Santa. It included a Santo statue from each of the barrios of the town, I believe, plus the town patron, the Jesus of the Resurrection. This is not a performance so much as a community-wide event, as are our beloved Carnavál parades in Mazatlán.

The most charming part of the parade, for me, were the children dressed up as typical Michoacán viejitos, or old people. Normally this is a folk dance, but this time they merely walked in the parade. By the end they were pretty hot and tired.

After the procession I saw a group of four boys sitting in the plaza. They were obviously the viejito boys, though they had removed their hats and masks, and several of them had even taken off their zarapes, because they were hot and tired. They looked so cute. I asked them if I could take their photo, so that of course ruined the spontaneity of the moment. But, marvelously, they called all their friends over, they all got completely re-costumed, and they gleefully posed for me to take their photo. I will post this blog to a few town sites, in hopes that the kids might see themselves. Thank you, niños!

Afterwards people seemed to go into the community center to eat, and to take home the leaves from the arches, and many of them also took home large sugar cane stalks. We hadn’t seen those till now, so I’m not exactly sure where they came from.

Thank you, Santa Clara del Cobre!!! We were very blessed to be able to share our Easter Sunday with you! We appreciate you including us in your festivities.

Carnaval Parade Preparations

Carnavál de Mazatlán is such a major community event. I love how it brings people together. And not just from Mazatlán and the surrounding communities, but it brings in people from all over Mexico (this year we met a great 80-piece band from Puebla, for example) and Latin America (the visiting queens).

The best-kept secret of Carnavál, however, is the PRE-parade, just prior to the second parade. That’s when all the dancers, royalty and performers have already paraded once. They have had their coronations, things are winding down. They are relaxed, happy. They know what they’re doing, they know what to expect.

And, they are lined up along the malecón, getting dressed, putting on makeup, eating something to tide them over for the next few hours of dancing. They are laughing and talking, relaxing, and posing for the tourists. It has honestly become one of my absolute favorite Carnavál activities, though of course I have lots of “favorites” this time of year!

Below is a video I put together tonight, highlighting some of what happened during pre-parade today. I hope you will get a taste of why I love the pre-parade. Thanks for viewing!

Carnavál de Mazatlán: Why We Love It

Mardi Gras is celebrated worldwide: from Russia, Croatia and Turkey to Angola, Cape Verde and the Seychelles; from Italy, Germany and the Netherlands, throughout North and South America and the Caribbean.

My favorite Carnavál memory is being in a very small pueblo in the Sacred Valley of Perú and being covered with florid blue, pink and purple powder, then squirted with water (it stained everything I was wearing), then passing around a communal giant beer bottle that gave me dysentary. My husband warned me not to imbibe, but I chose to partake of the festivities. Don’t regret it, either.

Rio’s Mardi Gras is the most famous. Some day I’ll get there, and samba with the masses. Mardi Gras in New Orleans is also well known; we’ve all seen the photos of the bare breasts flashing. But Mazatlán’s Carnavál holds its own. It’s family-friendly, diverse and a whole lot of fun. If you haven’t yet joined us, be sure not to miss the fun. It is held, as with most Carnavales worldwide, the five days prior to Ash Wednesday (Thursday through Tuesday nights).

Carnavál has been celebrated in Mazatlán since the mid to late 1800s, though the first officially planned Carnavál de Mazatlán was in 1898. Back then, they celebrated with a Rey Feo (Ugly King) rather than today’s Rey de la Alegría (King of Joy), but for generations there have been Carnavál and Juegos Florales (Floral Games) Queens, and back as far as 1900 there was a ball for the kids. This community festival has a long, long history as a family event.

Carnavál de Mazatlán is noteworthy for its long association with our regional banda and tambora music, as well as with fine arts events (painting, literature, classical music).

What do I love about Mazatlán’s Carnavál? First, I absolutely love that it is a community event. The month before Carnavál, you can walk in many neighborhoods around town and see dance groups or marching bands practicing. As the weeks go by and Carnavál gets closer, these rehearsals become costumed dress rehearsals.

I love the decorations! Every year we get to see colored lights strung along the malecón, all the way from Olas Altas to Valentino’s. Interspersed among the lights, on the light poles, are banners reflecting the year’s Carnavál theme. Best of all, for me, are the monigotes: colorful giant statues that are made from papier mâché and erected at strategic spots up and down the boardwalk, to help build excitement. Every year the monigotes are different, and reflect that year’s Carnival theme.

Thirdly, I absolutely love the street party down at Olas Altas. It is one big “human wave” of revelers and merry makers.

The King of Joy coronation, show and concert on Thursday night is one of the best nights. A well-known banda plays, for free, in the street on the Carnavál grounds. It is awesome! The party zone is open every night. There are maybe eight stages, each with a different kind of music playing: banda, ranchera, salsa, mambo, rock, reggaetón. Hawkers sell masks, eyelashes, hats, noisemakers, face painting, games, drinks and food. You will, literally, be dancing in the streets. Everyone has fun! It is a big crowd scene, so if you hate crowds do not purposefully go there. We love it. Don’t like the music? Grab your beer or margarita and shimmy down the street to another stage. A few years ago, they did things a little differently when Banda El Recodo was King. They held the coronation in the land off the street dedicated to their founder, Don Cruz Lizárraga. You can read about that night here.

Let’s see, the fact that we have two, yes, TWO, huge fireworks shows during Carnavál is also wonderful. Everyone knows about Saturday night, when they burn the “bad humor” and fight the French in the Combate Naval fireworks. But on Monday night they also usually have a “Festival of Lights” along the malecón, which last year for the first time was accompanied by a mini-parade of lighted floats (not the main parade floats).

Fifth, it is awesome to have FOUR coronations, meaning four major stars or groups, performing in concert. Three of those concerts take place right behind my house. Who needs a ticket when I can sit on my terrace and listen? No, the performances are definitely worth the ticket price: major concert, fireworks, acrobatics and dance, music, pomp and circumstance of the coronation…. The coronations are truly cool events. And the King Coronation in Olas Altas on Thursday is free (except for the token admission to the party zone).

Sixth, I really love learning every year about artists and writers who I often don’t know. You see, every year there is a prize given for literature as well as for painting. And every year, it seems, I’m introduced to some terrific new-to-me talent.

Most incredible and wonderful to me are the Carros Alegóricos, the floats, of the two main Carnavál parades. The first one, on Sunday, usually starts in Olas Altas in daylight and heads north (though this year it’s announced to be starting at the Fisherman’s Monument), passing our house and arriving at Valentino’s in the dark. This parade is so popular that many people stake out their spots the night before. There is an entire parade village along the Avenue with families watching TV’s powered by generators and eating hot breakfasts in their lounge chairs. Also, enterprising folks erect bleachers everywhere they can and rent chairs for parade watching. All the businesses along the avenue advertise parade viewing space at premium prices. Can a parade really be that good you ask? YES! The floats are oh-so-gorgeous! The queens and princesses, kings and princes, shine! In 2010, we did a blog post about Maestro Rigo Lewis, long-time creator and overseer of the floats. Click here to read.

And the dancers! Young and old alike dance all the way, four miles or so, and most of them enjoy every single second! It is non-stop live music, oohs and ahs, and laughter. Do not miss the parades! The second one, on Tuesday, starts south of Valentino’s and heads down to Olas Altas. The second parade is not usually as good as the first, I feel. The floats are a bit tired, as are the dancers. But it’s still wonderful. The floats at night glow, and appear as they were designed to appear. Those are the photos I like best. But, they are hard to take, since the parade is moving. You might want to catch one of the parades in daylight and the other in night light, if you want to photograph.

I especially urge you to visit the second parade before it starts, as they are setting up, as the kids are getting their makeup put on and dressing in their costumes. It is a wonderful time to chat with some of the dancers, and to get some terrific photo ops. The queen and king are usually there, as well, and happy to pose with you. I blogged about that as well, and there’s a movie to go with it.

Eighth, remember that between parades they tend to park the floats in the Gran Plaza. Since they just built the new theater this year, I’m not sure that’s still what they’ll do. If not, there’s the big lot over by Sam’s. But it’s fun to visit the floats when they’re parked, and marvel at the creativity and hard work that goes into making them.

The ninth thing I love about Carnavál? How proud families are that their great-grandmother, their second cousin, or their niece, was queen/child queen or king. It is wonderful multigenerational royalty tradition in this city. During the parades you will see floats with queens celebrating 25 years and 50 years since they were queen. You will see a cable car full of elderly ladies who are queens of their domino clubs or lunch groups. You will see queens who visit us from other countries, to share in our merriment.

Tenth? I LOVE the manifestaciónes: the early counting of votes for queen and king, pre-Carnival parades and gatherings. Much more informal than the main event, it is where I was able to get my photo taken with Banda El Recodo a few years ago, when they were Kings of Joy. Confetti, masks, beads, candies, music…. you’ll love the manifestations.

And, new the last couple of years has been a callejoneada, or alleyway crawl. While Mazatlán has traditionally had a callejoneada on Day of the Dead, holding one for Carnavál is something, at least to my knowledge, newer. We went last year and it was LOADS of fun. You’ve got to keep your ears open. This event is not nearly as well advertised as the other, more principle events.

Twelfth, there is a world class Velada de las Artes, played by an orchestra in the Angela Peralta Theater. If you enjoy classical music, you won’t want to miss it. If you didn’t get your ticket in time, you can still watch it in the Plazuela on one of the outdoor screens, or even over live streaming online.

SAFETY
You may be wondering how safe it is to attend the Carnavál events. Our family feels safe, as do thousands of other Mazatlecos. Please use the common sense you would for any major public event. People come to Carnavál from out of town just to pick your pocket, so don’t carry lots of cash or flashy jewelry, or your passport. Also, as with any large crowd, there is always a danger if people get spooked. State Fairs, the Super Bowl, concerts; if people get spooked and start shoving or running, it wreaks havoc. That is not normally the case in Mazatlán, but if it should happen, we’d urge you not to run even if those around you do. Stay calm and help others. Get to the side of a building or a place where you can get out of the flow of people. The greatest danger is losing your footing if there is a mad rush.

One final word of advice: if you visit the party zone in Olas Altas on Thursday (King of Joy Coronation) or Saturday (Combate Naval fireworks), plan ahead for your ride home. It is a mob scene. Nearby parking can be scarce, and getting a taxi home can be frustrating, since every one else is trying to hail a cab at the same time.

SUMMARY
In short, Carnavál Mazatlán has so much to offer that I am sure I have forgotten something. Yes! The ball! On Monday night there is a ball, attended by many of the city’s who’s-who, the international queens, and all manner of visiting dignitaries.

You like reserved seats? We’ve got the coronations and the Velada. You like street dancing? We’ve got six nights of the best in the world. You want world-class music? Check. You want black tie? The ball! You want to wear jeans and boots, or shorts and t-shirt? No worries! You want free-of-charge events? Got plenty of those!

We look forward to having you share with us one of the world’s best events, the pride of our local Mazatleco community, with over 100 years of respected history and tradition. This is an event we trust will continue for at least 100 more years. What terrific community-building it is!

Normally you can’t find all the Carnavál events listed in one place, so below I’ll do my best to help you navigate the maze a bit. The schedule is normally the same every year, though each year the dates change, because Carnavál falls on the days prior to Ash Wednesday (which changes dates year to year).

EVENTS LEADING UP TO CARNAVAL
In the weeks leading up to Carnavál:

  • Manifestaciones, usually three of these plus a Final Computation, located at various venues throughout the city. The last one tends to be on Friday night, two weeks before Carnavál, and the parades winds through downtown.
  • Callejoneada, or alley parade

Saturday night, two weeks prior to Carnavál:

  • Election of the Queen of Carnaval (contest), in the Angela Peralta Theater

The week before Carnavál:

  • Presentation of the Sate Painting Prize and opening of an exhibit, at Casa Haas, the art museum, or…
  • Presentation of the State Literature Prize, in the Angela Peralta Theater

The week before Carnavál and continuing through Carnavál:

  • La Feria, a fair, with rides and games and cotton candy, in the field by Sam’s Club/Colegio Andes

Friday before Carnavál: 

  • Velada de las Artes concert in the Angela Peralta Theater


EVENTS DURING CARNAVÁL 
Throughout the five days of Carnavál:

  • Olas Altas is ready to party! Many stages are put up for live music, and there are food and beverage stands galore. Men will usually be frisked as they enter. A small entry fee (30 pesos or so) is charged to enter the party zone. This area is going all night long into the wee hours of the morning. So, if the events below don’t strike your fancy, just head down to Olas Altas and enjoy the party! New this year: Imperio de los Mares, a water fountain and laser light show in the antique oceanside pool in the party zone! To take place at 7:15 and 10:30 each night, this sounds sure to be a spectacular addition to Carnavál.
  • The last few year’s they’ve announced a food fair to take place every day in the Plazuela Machado. This is a major misnomer in English. They do a televised fair opening with the mayor and Carnavál royalty, but other than that it pretty much means the restaurants in the Plazuela will each have a special. Oftentimes their normal menus are actually more limited during the busy-ness of Carnavál.

Thursday:

  • Muestra Gastronómica, or food demonstration, in the Plazuela Machado, in the afternoon (though this year this is supposed to be EVERY day!)
  • Coronation of the Rey de la Alegría/King of Joy, in Olas Altas, at night

Friday:

  • Coronation of the Reina de los Juegos Florales/Floral Games, in the baseball stadium (tickets required)

Saturday:

  • Coronation of the Reina del Carnavál, in the baseball stadium (tickets required)
  • Burning of the Bad Humor (Quema del Mal Humor), usually around 9 pm, in Olas Altas
  • Combate Naval, fireworks display, usually at 10 or 11 pm, in Olas Altas

Sunday:

  • 1st parade, usually starting at Olas Altas (tho this year it’s announced to begin at Fisherman’s Monument) around 4 or 5 pm and heading north to Valentino’s along Avenida del Mar

Monday:

  • Corrida de Toros, or Carnavál Bullfight, in the bull ring, beginning around 4 pm (tickets required)
  • Coronation of the Reina Infantil or Child Queen, in the stadium, headlined by a major singer (tickets required)
  • Children’s Ball, held at a hotel in town (tickets required)
  • Festival de la Luz fireworks, usually about 10 pm, also along Avenida del Mar

Tuesday:

  • 2nd parade, starting at the Bosque or the Aquarium around 4 pm and heading south on Avenida del Mar

Ash Wednesday: Party’s over! Lent begins!