If You’re Ever in Cartagena…


Last night Greg and I were very excited about dinner. He’s traveling with me in Colombia, where I am on business. We’ve made a side trip to Cartagena, and he took the time to research the best restaurants and pick  out one that he was confident we would love—Carmen’s, in the gorgeous Hotel Ananda. Click on any photo to see it larger and view the full description, or to view a slideshow.

The meal so did not disappoint! We paid for a 7-course tasting menu with wine (about US$80 per person now with the low valuation of the Colombian peso), and received TEN courses and SEVEN wines.

The restaurant is based in Medellín and owned by Diego Angel, a former video game entrepreneur. Executive Chefs and proprietors Carmen Angel and Rob Pevitts are graduates of the Cordon Bleu San Francisco. The chef here in Cartagena, Jaime Galindo, is an incredible talent! He does not have a culinary arts degree but, rather, has learned on-the-job and through sheer raw talent or the don de cocinar. Having worked with chefs with degrees from the top cooking schools in the world, Greg was very impressed by the passion and talent that Jaime demonstrated.


Chef Jaime Galindo – Job well done!

His brother Yonatan is the sous-chef. Not one course was less than spectacular, and we only felt one wine pairing was less than ideal: the rosé with the crab. The wine was just so acidic and overwhelmed the flavor of the food.

Kudos, Jaime and staff!!! The kitchen is small, and open to the diners. Everyone working there was nose down and focused on making every plate perfect. The restaurant serves not only the tasting menu that we had but a full a la carte menu and creative cocktails as well. In addition, front-of-the-house service was impeccable thanks to our terrific waiter, Juan Carlos, who took special care to ensure his Spanish-language explanations of the food and wine made sense to Greg and me.

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.



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?



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.



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!

Ferrusquilla: "That statue of a composer…"

Mazatlán is privileged to have a strong and vibrant expatriate community, many of whom volunteer long hours to help make our city a better place in which to live. Many in the foreign resident community have of course grown up and lived most of our lives elsewhere. We love our adopted home, but we often lack basic “cultural literacy” about our adopted homeland. I put myself in that category, of course. Every day, many times a day, I learn something new. It’s part of why I love living here.

Last week, I noticed the below comment on one of the local expat discussion groups:

“It is located across the Malecon between two statues: the Deer, Mazatlan’s symbol; and a Sinaloa composer holding his guitar and sombrero.”

The note surprised me, because I figured everyone who lives here knows our beloved Ferrusquilla! But, of course, we don’t “all” know anything; we all have different pieces of information. I see Don Ferrusquilla once in a while, dining around town or taking a walk, and I loved his INCREDIBLE acceptance speech at the Premios Oye! last month (drag the play bar to 6:46 to skip the homage and hear the original poem he wrote just for the occasion, full of love for our fair city).

But, of course, we all hold differing pieces of knowledge, so I thought I’d share a bit of what I know about this “Sinaloa composer holding his guitar and sombrero” in the statue. Maestro José Angel Espinoza Aragón, “Ferrusquilla,” is a national cultural icon, famous throughout all of Latin America and Spain, and one of the greatest orgullos of Mazatlán. The United Nations awarded him the the Medal of Peace in 1976, the University of Sinaloa presented him with an honorary doctorate just a few years ago, in 2008, and he’s received many other distinguished awards during his career.

His “master work” is the composition “Echame a mí la culpa,” sung by most every well-known Spanish-language singer (here it’s sung by Amalia Mendoza, “La Tariacuri;” or this one sung by Javier Solís). The song inspired a Spanish movie of the same name, and decades later (in 1980) was still so popular that it won “song of the year” in Spain, as sung by Englishman Albert Hammond. Ferrusquilla has acted in 80 motion pictures alongside actors that expats will recognize such as John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Dean Martin, Boris Karloff, Richard Burton, Anthony Quinn, Brigitte Bardot, and Robert Mitchum, and has composed, to the best of my research, 97 songs.

José Angel Espinoza Aragón was born in Choix, Sinaloa on October 2, 1919. After his mother died his father moved the family to El Guayabo and then Los Mochis, where his father remarried. In 1935, after finishing junior high, his family sent José to study in Mazatlán. In 1937 he got on a train headed to Mexico City, to study medicine, but life didn’t quite work out according to plan.

According to one interview, in 1938 the young José was working a side-job at a radio station, one that broadcasted the popular late-afternoon children’s show “Fifirafas el Valoroso.” The role of “Captain Ferrusquilla” on the show was originally played by the head technician, Carlos Contel, brother of the station manager. After Carlos’ brother told him to choose whether to be a voice actor or a technician, the show was left without a Ferrusquilla. José had the good fortune to be present in the studio when the director, panicked, asked around for a male who could read the part. Thus, by fate, the “man of a thousand voices” with the nickname “Ferrusquilla” was born.

Ferrusquilla fell in love with the female lead of the radio show, Blanca Estela (María Blanca Estela Pavón Vasconcelos). According to this same interview, the two lived in New York for a year, dubbing the voices of actors such as Ingrid Bergman, Elizabeth Taylor, and Mickey Rooney. Blanca died tragically in a plane accident in 1949. After her death Ferrusquilla decided to commit himself to music, and composed his first song in 1951.

Ferrusquilla married and had two daughters with Sonya Stransky Echeverría in the 1950s (the marriage lasted five years). He tragically lost another loved one, his daughter Vindia, in a car accident in Mexico City in 2008. His daughter Angélica is a successful actress. He has said that his daughters have been the joy of his life.

By the way, the statue of Ferrusquilla, on the malecón in Olas Altas, made by artist Carlos Espino, was unveiled in time for Ferrusquilla’s birthday, in October of 2007.

Fellow foreign residents of Mazatlán: let’s all, proudly, be sure to call this landmark the “statue of Ferrusquilla”!!!! And, Mazatlecos and fans of Ferrusquilla: please teach all of us more about this incredible gentleman, sharing your life memories of the legacy he’s given us!

Note/Update: Jackie Peterson wrote an article on Ferrusquilla in the Pacific Pearl last year. Somehow I missed seeing it, but you can check it out here. And one of my friends has given me the Maestro’s number and asked me to give Ferrusquilla a call, to let him know about this post, so I will do that as well.

Update #2, March 5th: I met Maestro Ferrusquilla tonight. What a great man! He told me that in his younger years, he played for a year with Banda El Recodo, in the Cruz Lizarraga days, before he went to Mexico City and did the radio show. Cool trivia! He is a really nice and VERY interesting man and his English is GREAT! It felt very good to finally get up the courage to talk to him, and to have the honor of finally meeting him.