Deer Dances in Las Labradas on the Spring Equinox

The two gentlemen in the photo above very kindly explained
a bit about the dance to me, and walked me through the ceremony.
They live in a pueblo between Guasave and Los Mochis.

Last year we were privileged to welcome spring with the famous Deer Dance (danza del venado), conducted in the scenic oceanside setting of Las Labradas petroglyph park, a 30 minute drive north of Mazatlán. The dance was conducted by the Yeu Matchue, a traditional dance group of Mayo or Yoreme Indians.

The dance will be conducted again this coming Wednesday, March 21 in the same location, as part of Mazatlán’s International Friendship Week. Be sure not to miss this event!

The Mayo are considered to have the purest native blood in Mexico. While centuries ago they performed the Danza del Venado in full deerskin clothing with a bow and arrow (it’s the dance of the hunt, and I am Dianne, the goddess of the hunt, ha ha), to welcome the spring solstice at Las Labradas they wore white cotton manta (symbolizing purity), leather belts with deer hooves and bells, they wrapped their shins in leggings made of shells (representing snakes entangled in the deer’s legs), red bandanas (to honor the deer’s sacrifice of its blood), and sonajas or wrist and ankle bands made of nuts and shells. They carry red gourd maracas or shakers.

I grew up in northern Arizona, spending many weekends as a child in the 70s with my friends on the Hopi mesas. I was able to witness the Snake Dance, eat my fill of piki bread spread by hand over a hot rock, and play with the Mudheads. The deer dances soooo reminded me of the Kachina dances! Amazing similarities in dress, adornment, line dancing, movement, underlying beliefs of harmony with the environment, even the music and chanting. The noise makers (shells, gourds) were reminiscent of artisan rattles worldwide, whether from Africa, Asia, Oceania…

There were at least two dancers who wore taxidermic deer heads decorated with flowers, fastened to their heads with leather straps. They pranced, twitched, paused and sniffed, incredibly evoking the sense that we were watching a deer move through a clearing. It was eerie and beautiful to watch.
It was gratifying to see so many young people involved in the ceremony. It is obvious the young Mayo/Yoreme are eager to carry on the traditions of their elders and ancestors.
Above is a minute or so of video of the dance.
In addition to the boys with the headdresses, there were quite a few others dressed similarly but wearing masks. The masks were made of torote or poplar wood, both very sacred, and painted with smiling faces as well as Christian crosses, with long hair. Again, the long hair reminded me of the kachinas.

The musicians included a couple of fiddlers who sat in wooden chairs as they played, a large harp (played standing), gourds (sonatas de bule), jiruquias, and various drummers including a water drum.
The shaman had an altar or offering of fresh fruit, as well as a container of incense that he used for purification during the ceremony as well as to purify or bless the spectators afterwards. The purification ritual was very similar to what I’ve experienced at Teotihucán on the solstice, or in Mexico City nowadays on the street corners.
The dance was an interesting mix of indigenous and Christian ceremony, in the Mayo language and rhythms. When we arrived we saw several flags or banners with crosses on them on the beach. Beside these were placed the deer headdresses and rattles.

During the ceremony, the dancers made the Catholic sign of the cross and held their hands in prayer. It was evident that the Jesuits of the 16th century had much influence on these indigenous rituals.

As with almost any special event I’ve attended in Mexico, the Deer Dance ceremony also included fireworks.

An exhibition of the ancient ball game of ulama was also part of last year’s Spring Equinox events. It took place just outside the museum. A game is on the schedule for this year.

Las Labradas is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The oceanside petroglyphs, mystical figures carved into the rocks, are dated by INAH at 1000-1500 years old and of Toltec origin. There is a small museum at the site.

Mazatlán is named after the deer, which in the Náhuatl language is Mazatl (Tlaloc in the Aztec).
If you’d like to attend this event next week you can drive north of Mazatlán on Highway 15, exiting at Km. 51 where you’ll see the large petroglyph marker on the west side of the maxipista. It is a dirt road after you leave the highway, through Chicayota to Las Labradas. Alternatively you can take one of the buses that the Sinaloa State Tourism Office has arranged, to depart from la Mujer Mazatleca monument in Olas Altas at 9:00 am. To reserve your spot contact, or telephone 191-2005. Be sure to wear white clothing.

Update May 26, 2012: Today the Noroeste ran an article about these dances, including some of the dancers photographed above. It’s in honor of Festival de la Juventud.

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.

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.

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.

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).

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

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.


  • 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


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


  • 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


  • 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


  • 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


  • 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!

Types of Kisses


In Callejón del Beso in Guanajuato there were quite a few young men who for tips would recite the legend of the star-crossed lovers (rich girl lives in house on left with balcony, poor miner rents a room in the house with the other balcony…). The legend seemed usually to end with, “There are many types of kisses in the world. Are you familiar with all of them? Would you like to hear what some of them are?” The first time I heard this, the types of kisses were recited by a 20-something guy. But this kid, he was just soooo cute talking about kisses he so obviously knew nothing about. I just had to videotape him.
Some of the types of kisses
Shark: eat the little fishes
Microwave: in five seconds you’re hot
Popsicle: suck until you get to the stick
Altar boy: until you ring the bell
Tamal: with everything and meat inside
Safe: two to the right and two to the left
Psychiatrist: with any crazy person


Los 2 Tesoros de Mazatlán/Pirate Treasures of Mazatlán


Greg has collected a lot of vintage photos, postcards, pamphlets and magazines of our adopted home. Today our friend Jorge happened to see one of the postcards, an aerial shot of El Centro when Playa Sur was still all beach, before land was reclaimed from the sea and houses built, and before Isla de Chivos was chopped off and its rock used to build the sea wall (is that what it’s called?) to protect the ship channel.

Well, he got to telling stories about his youth, which are always fun. About how Mazatlán used to be, when the area along the malecón in which we live was nothing but open space. He told a couple of stories that I had never heard before. Many of you may be familiar with them, so perhaps you can point me to a source to learn more?

The first was about the old cinema/theater downtown, where Parisina now stands. Evidently that building was roofless for years, abandoned and downtrodden. When they decided to rebuild it, to raise the building that is now the fabric store, the backhoe workers found buried treasure! According to Jorge, there was a huge pirate’s chest full of coins and jewelry. The workers started fighting amongst each other for the spoils, the police were called, the treasure chest and its bounty confiscated, apparently never to be seen again.

Which led him to a second story, about when they built the sea wall or entry to the shipping channel/port where the cruise ships now come in (or don’t, as the case may be). They evidently chopped off Isla de Chivos in two places, on the ocean side and on the inland side, to have rock to use for the sea wall. Jorge told us that the bulldozer was found still running, key in the ignition, with a few antique coins scattered around. Legend or story has it that the bulldozer driver found buried pirate treasure, and learning from the bad fortune of the Parisina workers, grabbed it and took off with it, never to be seen again.

Jorge tells us that there is still supposedly buried pirate treasure on the lighthouse rock, a story we have heard before. He also told us about the tunnels connecting so many of the houses and buildings downtown, including the cathedral. We know about those, and have seen a few. Cueva del Diablo, a tourist attraction along the malecón, supposedly went under the ocean and connected up with those tunnels. When several people went in and never came out, Jorge says the tunnel there was closed up.

Finally, Jorge told us about a now-deceased treasure hunter and historian, a man who hunted for pirate treasure and was a well-known historian here in town. He owned a business and had an antique chest on display that he’d found. He can’t remember the man’s name. Can you? Maybe that man wrote a book or some essays? Sure would be interesting reading!