Passion for Beautification

DSC_0002SignWe love Mazatlán. It is a breathtakingly gorgeous place, located on the world-renowned Sea of Cortés, a real working city that plays host to millions of tourists from the interior as well as abroad. We are proud to be featured in world-class travel and tourism magazines. We crow about hosting the 2018 Tianguis Turístico. We brag about the number and variety of cruise ships that visit our port every week.

Yet we do so very little to show respect for the natural beauty with which we are blessed. At sunset on the weekend, we see our beaches covered in garbage. Carnavál revelers throw their refuse everywhere you can possibly imagine. Our streets, empty lots and estuaries are frequent dumping grounds for all kinds of unsightly, unhygienic trash that suffocates our marine life.

Tourists get off the cruise ship or leave their hotels to take a city tour, going to the top of Lookout and Icebox Hills for the views. The panoramas, and the snapshots, are amazing—until you look in the foreground. “Aim that camera up higher, John. That trash in the weeds there ruins the photo.” Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

We have a culture here in Mazatlán that condones littering. It holds us back as a city, as a community, and as a tourism destination, and it’s my fervent passion that we can change that culture!

One man giving his all to do just that is Don Nichols. He has led a clean-up and beautification campaign atop Cerro de la Nevería/Icebox Hill for the past three years, and the results are remarkable!

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Don Nichols

Don and his wife Lori live in a gorgeous house with killer views. He was an employment lawyer in Minneapolis/St. Paul for 40+ years, and they bought their home atop the hill eight years ago in preparation for retirement. They love living here seasonally, and like good Midwesterners, they take pride in their neighborhood. It pained Don to see how people would come up to his neighborhood at night to drink in the views and the beer, leaving all their trash behind. Unlike Cerro del Vigía/Lookout Hill, where there is a homeowner’s association, his neighborhood doesn’t have a street sweeper. So the trash just accumulated. And accumulated.

Don went to the city to complain and to ask for some clean-up assistance. When none was forthcoming, he took matters into his own hands—like the independent Midwestern he is. Along with Juan and Martín, an uncle and nephew who work for Don, he started cleaning up and hauling trash out of the area.

Don, Juan and Martín’s efforts could barely keep ahead of those who trashed the area, however. So, they got the brainstorm to impede access to the empty lots where most of the partying went on by installing fences and beautifying them with brightly colored bougainvillea. They surround the bougainvillea plants with a circle of lime-covered rocks, to discourage ants from killing the plants. When he can find the property owners, Don gets permission, but he has beautified a few parcels for which he’s unable to contact the owners.

During their clean-up efforts, they found sidewalks buried under the trash, brush and sediment that washes down the steep hill. So, their efforts grew to include hauling out dirt and brush to reveal sidewalks that haven’t seen the light of day in twenty years! Don figures that in three years time they have hauled 50 dump truck loads of crud off the hill. I so wish Don were my neighbor!

They installed and painted trash cans to encourage neighbors and visitors to help keep the area clean. The cans are bright pink, the same color as most of the bougainvillea. They get filled quickly, and Don is grateful that city crews come Monday, Wednesday and Friday to empty the cans. The cans have to be repainted at least once a year. He, Juan and Martín have painted a few concrete walls the same pink color, creating a vibrant theme in the neighborhood. They’ve painted electrical boxes green and recently even painted a sign on the side of the road—Mazatlán’s Most Beautiful Hill (in Spanish)—with hopes of instilling pride of place in the local community.

The beautification is a never-ending process. Run-off on the steep hill never ends, so dirt and rocks constantly fall down, covering the sidewalks and the road, and bringing trash downhill. If they don’t stay on top of daily litter pickup and frequent dirt and rock removal, the area will all too quickly return to how it looked before.

Don has found that the bougainvillea so far are a great idea. They have thorns, so people don’t want to walk through them. They’re gorgeous, so people usually respect them. Most of the empty lots he beautifies have no flat space on which to plant anything, however—it’s a very steep hill. So, he builds a wall downhill and grades the soil to make a garden bed.

The problem is, however, that the bougainvillea need water in order to take root. They can get by after a rainy season, but at least the first year the plants need fertilizer and regular watering. So, Don bought a motorcycle with an attached flatbed and put a tinaco in it. They fill the tinaco with water and then ride around watering the plants in the neighborhood. It’s a lot of work, but with beautiful results! His efforts have transformed the area.

He and his crew have also painted lime on many of the trees in the neighborhood, again to discourage the ants. He has met with a few setbacks. Bougainvillea he planted on the landings of the stairway were yanked out by someone, he’s not sure who. They are debating whether to replant or not. There is one place where someone has rolled back a fence they installed, in order to be better able to park their trucks, turn on their stereos and party. Don hopes to plant bougainvillea there and repair the fence, in hopes that the second time will be the charm. A third “failure” is a bed of trumpet vines he planted on the uphill side of the road. While they have grown significantly, they have never flowered, probably due to lack of sun.

Quite a few pulmonía, auriga and taxi drivers have thanked Don for his efforts, saying the beautification has improved tourists’ enjoyment of their tours. While he hasn’t gotten many thank-yous from neighbors, another expat chipped in some money to support his effort, and he’s only gotten one criticism. One neighbor complained that Don had removed sand that he’d been saving (the sand had been in a pile at the side of the road for several years). So, Don got him some new sand.

Don’s beautification efforts have helped increase the value of real estate in the neighborhood, I imagine, but he’s helped his neighbors in other ways, too. Frustrated at repeatedly finding human feces on one empty lot, Don learned that a man living next door didn’t have running water or a toilet. Well, for US$350, he had a shower and toilet installed in the man’s house, in exchange for the man’s promise to keep the lot next door clear of brush and trash. Most definitely a win-win!

Don obviously didn’t set out three years ago to make a full-time job for himself; it grew little by little. He very much hopes that his efforts will inspire other property owners in the area to maintain and beautify their properties, so that Icebox Hill can be not only the most beautiful hill in Mazatlán but in all of Sinaloa. He also very much hopes the city will assign a street sweeper to his hill.

Viajando Por La Libre

DSC_0037©Take a moment to think back on a time you jumped into the unknown with little more than trust? Maybe it was when you decided to move to Mexico. Remember the exhilaration? The joy and excitement? The blessings that flow from such a leap of faith?

Today we found kindred spirits in two twenty-somethings from Tijuana who are living life to the fullest in just this manner They are Sergio Vazquez and Iuvet Sanchez, who quit their jobs, sold their homes, cars, business and clothing, and set off with their two dogs, Ponyo and Ginger, on an open-ended journey through Latin America. These two adventurers prepared for their journey for two years, purchasing and renovating a VW bus (“combi” in Spanish) and starting a fan page on Facebook—Viajando por la Libre—so they might meet people along the way and make some new friends. That fan page currently has 13,000 followers, many of whom are eager to host the couple when they arrive in their city. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

The two were married in Mulege, Baja California Sur, eight months ago. They began their honeymoon trip two months ago, traveling from Tijuana through Sonora and along the US border to Chihuahua and the Sierra Tarahumara: Casas Grandes (Pakimé in Rarámuri), Cuauhtémoc, and Valle de Jimenez. They went through Coahuila to Torreón, and then entered the state of Durango, where they visited the pueblo mágico of Mapimí. I’ve got to visit Mapimí; it sounds gorgeous, and their saint’s day is my birthday! Sergio and Iuvet also loved the nearby ghost town of Ojuela. In fact, they told me that the German engineer who designed the suspension bridge near there—Wilhelm Hildenbrand—also designed the Brooklyn Bridge.

They have obviously learned and seen a lot already, and their trip is just beginning! Their favorite stop thus far has been Durango, where they ended up staying for eight days because they had such a good time. There they were treated like a king and queen, VIPs in every respect: welcomed with a community dinner of discada, entertained in huge and simple homes, given a house in which to reside during their stay, taken out to dinners, tour-guided around, welcomed as friends. Vocho or VW clubs along the way have been unbelievably hospitable to them. Their bus has broken down three times, and each time the people repairing the bus refused to accept payment. Sergio and Iuvet are discovering how good and generous people are, happy to help young people get out and see the world.

Iuvet is a nutritionist who had her own office, and Sergio is an electro-mechanical engineer who worked for a maquiladora in the medical industry. They had good jobs, made good money, owned homes and cars. Neither of them were born to wealthy families; they are representatives of Mexico’s new and growing middle class. Though successful, they could both feel themselves part of the “rat race,” doing repetitive, mundane things in order to buy a better car, a bigger house and nicer things. Iuvet looked around at her female doctor friends, most of whom were very successful at work but not so successful in their personal lives, and she didn’t want that for herself. They were both convinced that life had a lot more to offer.

Sergio told me he has followed the journeys of other travelers for many years: Chilenos, Argentinos, a Frenchman. Most of them traveled in VW buses, and so that has always fascinated him; travelers in combis are “a brotherhood,” he says. The couple took a year-long class on Buddhist spirituality and psychology that they say changed them both as individuals and as a couple, and gave them the confidence to set off on their journey. Both of them see the trip as a chance to let go of ego, which according to Sergio can “grow and grow but never explodes.” They originally dreamed of traveling all of Mexico, but that quickly expanded to include all of Latin America.

Before they started their journey, there was an aunt of Sergio’s who was aghast that they would try to travel in a VW bus. “You’ll never make it up the Sierras,” she chided. Sergio’s eyes fill with delight when he tells me they climbed to 2500 meters and took a photo to prove it to her. While largely a positive trip, the couple has had a couple of scares, one of them with a drunk guy who was convinced they had stolen his van. Fortunately all ended well; they found a safe place to spend the night and left the town at earliest light of morning. They’ve also had a few naysayers on their page, people who scold them for being irresponsible and foolhardy. But, as Iuvet says, “if we don’t take the chance, we then let fear rule our lives instead of love and a sense of adventure, and I much prefer the latter.” We trust their good luck continues.

Iuvet tells me that the trip so far has been nothing like she imagined. In her mind’s eye she saw herself sleeping in the combi, cooking in the combi, bathing in cold water… In reality, during their two months of travel they have only spent a few nights sleeping in their bus, and have cooked only a handful of meals, thanks to the incredible hospitality of the people they have met. Iuvet imagined an austere lifestyle but, in fact, she has gained weight thanks to the incredible generosity of so many new friends along the way. They are fortunate, because looking inside the bus, it is a very simple lifestyle indeed!

Here in Mazatlán the couple are staying with Iuvet’s cousin, who works at Sea Shell City. They have been loving our beaches and seafood. This afternoon her uncle is barbecuing them some pescado zarandeado; they have plans to kayak to Deer Island, and to chill out on Stone Island. They met with the Mazatlán VW Club a couple of days ago.

The couple do not make plans, and are taking each day as it comes. They’re not sure how long they’ll be in Mazatlán, but want to get out of here before the craziness of Semana Santa and MotoWeek. They do intend to head to Tepic, San Blas and Vallarta from here, and visit her family in Guadalajara. They want to go to Aguas Calientes, San Luis Potosí and the Huasteca, and the Bahía: Querétaro, Guanajuato, and Puebla and Chiapas, before hitting Guatemala. They are not on a schedule, but are open to advice from people along the way on places they should go, things they should do, and people they should meet. They have a fan in Guatemala that corresponds with them nearly every day, asking when they’ll arrive. Their intention is to wind through Latin America until they reach Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego—the southernmost tip, though already Iuvet mentions the possibility of continuing on to another continent.

Sergio’s parents have been very supportive and encouraging, urging them to travel while they are young and able. Iuvet says her father “almost had a heart attack” when she told him she was giving up her successful medical practice to travel. Now he is respectful of her decision, though he can’t quite understand it.

When I asked what they’d like me to be sure to say in this article, they replied, “Get out and travel! It opens you to new worlds! Don’t put limits on yourself, such as you don’t have enough money. If you want to do it, you can!”

Sergio and Iuvet have been selling t-shirts, cups and stickers to help pay for gas and fund their journey. However, those items have pretty much sold out, and they only sell them live and in person. Greg and I told them about our local t-shirt maker, but something tells me they’re not interested in doing that right now with the ocean calling. So far they are not set up to receive donations, but they may eventually try to get some sponsors for their journey. Sergio loves to write and take photos, and would very much enjoy publishing an electronic book of their adventures. Iuvet enjoys making videos, and has started a YouTube channel.

Readers, I trust you will be able to meet Iuvet and Sergio while they are here. They are upbeat, enjoyable people whose excitement for life is contagious.

Best of luck to both of you, Iuvet and Sergio! We will most definitely be following your journey as well as your advice, and sending very positive travel energies!

 

Disrespected Beauty

dsc_0107Mazatlán is blessed with estuaries, lagoons, the ocean, rivers, and all the water fowl and marine life that go with it. Everyday we see glistening fishing boats casting their reflections in the water, and we are blessed to eat the delicious product of their labors.

Perhaps because we are so spoiled by all the natural beauty surrounding us, Mazatlecos all too often seem to take it for granted. Without thinking, seemingly, people throw trash on the beach or the coastline, and that trash ends up in our waterways and all too often into the stomachs of our marine life, murdering them. Especially harmful are fishing nets, lines and plastics, as they entangle marine life and kill them.

One of the saddest of such beautiful places in Mazatlán for me is Estero del Infiernillo. It’s the body of water to the north of Avenida Gabriel Leyva as you go over the bridge, between Avenida Juan Pablo II and Avenida General Pesqueira. I love this place! It is gorgeous! Yet, it is horribly, heart-wrenchingly awful. The photos in this post were taken from where the star is on the map below.

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I know the area fairly well, because our son was a Scout. The Scouts went out to Estero del Infiernillo about once a month for years and years to clean up the garbage. We, and mostly they, would pack dozens and dozens of trash bags full of garbage and remove them from the estuary. It would feel so good! Nature had a chance to shine again after our cleanups! Alas, the following month, you’d never known we had done a clean up, as the trash had somehow always reappeared. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

People in the neighborhood tell us that Mazatlecos come to the estuary specifically to dump their trash. The city has a big sign posted, warning that there should be no dumping of garbage here. The sign is obviously widely ignored. There are many fishing pangas that anchor here, making the area all the more scenic. It’s my guess that these fishermen, also, frequently throw entrails and other trash onto the shore, making the area stinky and unsightly.

Estero del Infiernillo is gorgeous! It has good views of the military school hill and the faro/lighthouse, and in the other direction great views to the cranes of Parque Bonfil/the port. Despite the trash strewn everywhere there are loads of water fowl, and on a sunny clear day the muddy, brackish water looks blue.

A couple of years ago the Municipio put in a nice park at the estero: a basketball court and soccer field combination, jungle gym and swings. Later, they added in one of the gyms we are fortunate to have all over town. At the time they built the park, there were plans for the city to clean up the area and to have kayak rentals in the estuary; plans that have never come true. Now it’s still usable but pretty run-down; the most remarkable thing are the many shoes hanging from the wires.

Kayaking in the area would be absolutely beautiful, even with the trash, but if we as community members could find a way to come together and re-educate ourselves, so that Estero del Infiernillo, and other waterways in town, stayed free of trash, how much better all our lives would be! I shudder to imagine anyone eating fish caught amidst all the garbage flung in that estuary, yet fish there they do.

Mexican Bobcat

dsc_0103bThe below is a guest post by John Childress, a birder and naturalist whom I have the pleasure of calling friend and photography colleague, building on earlier post here about Estero del Yugo.

The Estero del Yugo is a small estuary in the northern part of Mazatlan. It is not very well known by residents or tourists. There is a small inlet to the ocean on the west side and two lagoons to the east, on the other side of Avenida Sábalo Cerritos. The water flows from the inlet to the lagoon via a tunnel under the Avenida and is dependent on the tides.

The area to the east of the Avenida is controlled by the Centro de Investigacion En Alimentacion Y Desarollo, A.C. (CIAD)  which is an organization, in part, dedicated to studies “of the socio-economic impact of the processes of economic development and international integration.” There is a gate with very friendly guards who collect a 100 peso fee to enter and enjoy the area around the lagoons. The paths around the lagoon are very obvious and it would be difficult to get lost. There are also paths that go quite a distance into a semi-arid environment. Bicycle tours are also possible.

The morning of 2.13.17 started off very foggy. By 8:30am I had walked almost all the way around the lagoon and the fog was lifting. I was at the Estero del Yugo to take pictures of birds and I had my camera in my hand (Nikon D3300 with a 70 – 300mm  lens). As I walked around a curve I saw something run across the path. I walked back around the curve and saw an animal running towards me. I saw that it was a cat and thought it was possibly someone’s pet. But then I saw that it was at least twice the size of a normal cat. I immediately started taking pictures of it. As the cat turned to run off I saw that his tail was very short and I thought to myself, “Aha, I know what you are.”

This is the second time in my life that I have taken a picture of a bobcat, but the first time that I have seen the Mexican bobcat. This cat stopped in his move to flee and looked back curiously. The picture included here was taken at this moment. I had a way to go before I got to the entry, but I stopped looking for birds. I was very excited to show someone the pictures and hurried to share it with the guard and the biologists working at the center.

Wikipedia states that the Mexican bobcat (Lynx rufus escuinapae) is a “solitary, nocturnal animal, and are rarely seen by humans.” Que suerte!

Carnavál Fireworks: Behind the Scenes

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Mike Toth on the right, our connection Ted Allen on the left

I just love how social media and blogging work. Somebody commented on one of my photos of this year’s spectacular Combate Naval fireworks, saying, “My friend is down here from Canada helping with the show.” Really? How cool is that?! So I wrote back, “Please introduce us, and I’ll interview the person.”

Turns out that  Mazatlán’s annual fireworks show, put on when Raúl Rico is head of CULTURA by Lux Pirotecnia (Jorge Márquez) of Mexico City, involves not only Canadians but a German expert as well. Want to know the story?

Mike Toth, the gentleman I interviewed, works for Big Bang Fireworks out of Calgary, one of Canada’s top five fireworks outfits, owned by Dan Roy. Mike’s pyrotechnic journey started out like many of us; he lit off backyard fireworks that gradually gained in size and grandeur. Eventually he had to take a one-day safety course and become licensed. That was ten years ago, and he’s been learning on the job ever since. In Canada his fireworks job is pretty much May through September, plus Christmas and New Year’s.

He tells me the crew here are like brothers to him; they have a whole lot of fun together. They stay in touch throughout the year on WhatsApp and Facebook, despite huge language and culture differences. Two of the crew, Mauricio and Ramses, speak English (as do the three team leads), but most do not. Rodrigo comes from Durango: he’s a cowboy through and through, and César is evidently quite the comedian. Mike shared a few snapshots of his visit with me, below. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

Mike’s technically not down here in Mazatlán working, but rather on vacation—hanging out with the pyrotechnists who are. But he did bring down with him a bunch of equipment: $40,000 worth, more or less. He brought seven panels and even some modules. Why? Well, fireworks equipment is expensive, especially the computerized kind that syncs music and explosions. Thus, Lux and Big Bang often collaborate in order to pool their resources and put on bigger and better shows.

Jorge (Lux) and Dan (Big Bang) are good friends; Jorge’s equipment often helps out during Canada Day (when Big Bang might have 30-40 shows in one day) or Edmonton Klondike Days (10 straight days of fireworks), and Dan’s equipment supplements shows in México during events on Constitution Day, Independence Day and Carnaval. I love fireworks, I’m all about collaboration, and this story is intercultural, so I find this trifecta of my passions very cool!

dsc_0211How does a fireworks show—our Combate Naval, for example—come to be? Jorge designs the show and its accompanying music and scripts it on paper, indicating the type and size of each firework, it’s color combination and time delay. I’m sure CULTURA is involved in some way at the design phase, too, though of course Mike doesn’t know about that. The shells are fixed into a string of ten or so and then put carefully into mortar tubes. There is no wasted space. Inside is an electric match; when the button is pressed, it launches.

Lux Pirotecnia is responsible for four major shows during Carnavál: the three coronations in the stadium, and the Combate Naval on Saturday night. I forgot to ask Mike about the crowning of the King of Joy. The fireworks are stored on a rancho just north of town.

Combate Naval 2017, for the first time ever, involved five barges; this allowed us to see the fireworks closer than we would if shooting exclusively from a ship in the bay. To me it was a HUGE improvement in the show! Unfortunately, however, one barge flipped over before the show due to the heavy waves. We ended up seeing fireworks from four barges or platforms. The barges are first put into position, then the pyrotechnicians go out in small boats to wire them up and turn them on. There was also a ship out there—yes, a real ship. Mike tells me they set up what looked like a helicopter landing platform on the deck of the ship, and from there the fireworks are launched. The capsized barge was rescued after the show, though of course the fireworks were ruined.

Wide-angle shot of Combate Naval

Wide-angle shot of Combate Naval

The main fireworks panel is just above where the Queen and the VIPs sit: at the Pedro Infante statue. All the music is precisely choreographed to each burst of the show, as we all know and so thoroughly enjoy each year—it’s computerization converting gunpowder into beauty for all our enjoyment.

Just how many people are involved in Mazatlán’s Carnavál-related fireworks? There are the three bosses: Jorge, Juan and David, from Lux. There are ten shell crew members, and ten one-shot crew members. There are also three drivers: two trucks and one van. I get a total of 26 fireworks technicians involved in Carnavál. How much does such a show cost? Again, Mike doesn’t get involved in that, and he can only quote Canadian pricing, which averages $1000/minute.

And where does the German connection come in? That would be Klaus Ulrich, the flame expert. If you attended any of the coronations in the stadium, you felt the heat as the  flames reached from the front of the stage towards the sky. That was Klaus’ work. We also experienced the heat of Klaus’ flames from the barges in the bay during Combate Naval.

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Innovative round or wheel-shaped fireworks: crane wheels, with some of Klaus’ flames coming off two of the barges in the bay.

While I love my photos of multiple bursts at once—sort of the panoramic view, Mike’s favorite photo of mine, he says, is that of the crane wheels. Crane wheels? He explained to me the names for some of the effects that we saw in Mazatlán during Carnavál 2017:

  • The most common fireworks effects are often called by flower names, just as they are in the original Chinese and Japanese:
    • Peony (most common)
    • Chrysanthemum (peony with a spark trail)
    • Dahlia (peony with fewer and larger stars)
  • There are also a couple of effects named after trees, including:
    • Palm: Rising tail that bursts at the top with large tendrils.
    • Weeping willow: long-burning stars in a dome-shaped, weeping willow-like arrangement.
  • Aquatics: fireworks that fly into the water and then blow up. Mike says everyone has them. Jorge’s are 8-inch Kamuro shells: a dense burst of silver or gold stars that leave a glitter trail.
  • Camaros: double dome-shaped weeping willow with twinkles that fall to the water or ground.
  • Crane wheels: a one-shot wheel that can shoot sunbursts or a wheel shape. About one meter round, clamps to a plate. One set of fireworks is set at an angle to rotate the wheel, the others are set for the display.
  • Fountains or Gerbs: a thick-walled tube with a narrowing in the tube that produces a long-lasting jet of sparks. We saw these in the stadium and during the Combate Naval.
  • Horsetails: heavy long-burning fireworks in the shape of a horse tail that only travel a short distance from the shell burst before free-falling as glitter to the ground. They’re also known as a waterfall shell.

    Horsetails over Mazatlán

    Horsetails over Mazatlán

  • Rings: launch into the sky and burst into circles, smiley faces, hearts, clovers…
  • Roman candles: long tubes containing several large stars which fire at regular intervals. This Carnavál they used roman candles up to 4 feet tall anchored to a wooden frame, mostly arranged in fan or crisscross shapes, at close proximity to the audience. We see these on the beach during Combate Naval, and also during the coronations.
  • UFOs: one of my favorites of Combate Naval, the best way I can describe it is a spinning top that launches into the air, leaving a twirling vertical tail. Ours then burst at the top to result in a palm tree-like shape. Mike says that in Canada they usually use a round plastic frame, but here in México it’s bamboo. Bravo for México! Our UFOs had 4 herbs to push up and 4 to rotate.

    Slowly rising fireworks that felt magical and looked like palm trees: UFOs

    Slowly rising fireworks that felt magical and looked like palm trees: UFOs

Below I share some of the terms Mike used during the course of our interview, in case you like getting inside the world of a pyrotechnist as much as I do.

  • One-shot tubes: just like the name sounds.
  • Cake: multiple tubes connected by a fuse. When connected they look like a box.
  • Shells or mortars: during Carnavál we saw 3 to 8 inch shells. They are round and look like bombs, which is probably why, in Spanish, they are called “bombas.”
  • Racks: stands that hold multiple fireworks tubes. These include:
    • Flat racks
    • Half moon racks
  • Panels: the computerized panel of buttons that controls the show.

He explained to me that a firework has a lift charge. The fuse wraps around a ball, and a couple of sticks are timed as fuses. That’s how they set timings. The pyrotechnicians can then launch a firework, it goes into the air with the lift charge, and in four seconds, or six, at the height of its trajectory, the secondary fuse sticks will fire and the effect will explode.

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We all know that here in México people build fireworks. They do so in the USA also. But Mike told me that in Canada it’s against the law to build fireworks! The country’s last firework maker was Hands Company. One of Mike’s dreams is to work in Lux’s shop in Mexico City for a few weeks, so he can have the experience of building fireworks.

Another huge difference that stands out for Mike is, of course, safety. The hand-held bottle rockets that lead every parade in Mazatlán would never be permitted up north, nor would allowing people to sit so closely to the fireworks. He was amazed that people hang their legs off the malecón during the Combate Naval, for example, and loved hearing that people here consider ash burn lucky, just like bird poop. In Canada to launch fireworks you need insurance and permits (which I believe you need here in México as well, at least for the large ones), you have to launch on private property, and you can not shoot fireworks near a lake or river because it upsets the fish. I know fireworks are environmentally hazardous, but they definitely light up my soul.

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July 3, 2016 on the Lake Michigan waterfront in Milwaukee

We love Juan José Ruiz of Mazatlán Fireworks, our local expert. He and his guys put on a beautiful 45-minute show for our wedding anniversary party that thrilled all the kids who got to push the buttons on the panel. Juan José tells me that his firm has often done Carnavál Fireworks, also, but that he tends to be asked to do them when the PRI is in charge of the government.

I got hooked on fireworks as a child in Wisconsin, and deepened my love for them living for over a decade in Japan. Mike told me about a couple of fireworks competitions that I need to add to my bucket list, including GlobalFest in Calgary and Montreal’s L’International des Feux Loto-Québec, the world’s biggest fireworks festival. During my research I also found the Tianguis de Pirotecnia San Pablito Tultepec, which is coming up March 4-11 right here in México—we all remember seeing video of the huge explosion in a warehouse there last December. Frequent winners of the international competitions are, of course, Disney, and also Zambelli Fireworks out of Pennsylvania.

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Fireworks over Lake Tichigan, Wisconsin, July 2, 2016

Next time you attend a fireworks show, stop and think about all of the people, time, preparation and work involved in delivering the performance you are enjoying. You just might find yourself appreciating the spectacle even more!