¡Viva México! ¡Viva Mazatlán!

The Grito de la Independencia—“shout of independence” or “cry of Dolores“—is a traditional Mexican affair that you owe it to yourself to participate in at least once while you live here. We’ve done it a few times both here and on the 200th anniversary in Guadalajara.

In Mazatlán it happens every 15th of September at 11:00 pm in the Plaza República. The Mayor comes out on the balcony of city hall to ring a bell, shout the official words, and lead the crowd in the national anthem. Most of the country shouts at midnight, but since we’re an hour earlier here on the coast, we do it to coincide with them. Before the mayor’s cry there is folkloric dancing, singing (this year was Heidi Herrera) and other performances, and there’s always a name act that plays after the grito. The first time we went, that act was Chuy Lizárraga, who due to sound malfunction sang right over the national anthem. Click on any photo below to enlarge or view a slideshow.

 

This time we read in the paper that the fireworks were going to be fantastic, put on by the same group that does Combate Naval‘s Carnaval fireworks— Lux Pirotecnia (Jorge Márquez) of Mexico City. That was more than reason enough for me to want to go! I love fireworks (5, 4, 3, 2, 1)!

Poor Greg was tired as he’d just driven us from Wisconsin to Mazatlán, plus he had a cold, but when two girlfriends cancelled out on me, he agreed to go despite my assurances that I could go it alone. I was excited to try out my new camera with a brighter lens!

As it’s new, I’m not that good with it yet, so I missed many of the photos I wanted, and I overexposed a few because we were so darned close to the action and you just can’t predict how bright a firework is going to be. Plus, the cathedral wasn’t really lit up, and I wanted it to appear in the shot without having to do a composite.

 

All in all, though, I’m happy. I did get a few good pics; hope you agree. Greg got a great one of the flag and the cathedral; congratulations, sweetheart! And the view we got of the grito itself (above) is sure a different one than the press photographers took.

 

If you’ve never done the Grito, or if it’s been a long while, be sure to do it next year. This year was much less crowded than usual, I guess because the main act wasn’t as popular as other acts we’ve had. There is also a major parade on 15th September every year, including military, police, fire and first responders, and school children. Many children dress up as heroes and heroines of the War of Independence, so attending the parade or visiting a school on the 15th can be very much fun.

Focus on Responsible Tourism

Three cruise lines, new air connections, 12,000 rooms in 180 hotels… We greet hundreds of thousands of national and international visitors each year in Mazatlán. Any chance I’ve gotten over the past eight years I’ve tried to encourage travelers to get beyond the stereotypical but wonderful beer and beaches to experience a bit of the “real Mexico,” be it a visit to a small town, witnessing the shrimp or mango harvest, or admiring the Mayo-Yoreme traditions.

Recently, however, I’ve been working with a colleague in Milan, Maura di Mauro, on a project, and she cautioned me about how the culture of Mursi villagers in Ethiopia was changing due to tourism. Thanks to an influx of camera-toting tourists willing to pay for photos, the villagers increasingly exaggerate their traditional practices and even falsely embellish them, to make them more attractive to visitors. Lord knows I’ve witnessed this sort of thing happening in and around Mazatlán. She also told me about Chinese tourists descending en masse on a small village in The Netherlands. Many of the Dutch residents welcome the added economic boost such international tourism provides, but they have also experienced downsides to such tourism and, again, changes to their culture. We in Mazatlán sure experience the ups and the downs of tourism, and know how important it is to our economy.

Maura said there were documentaries about both of these topics, made by the same Dutch cinematographer. She got me excited and I can not WAIT to view the two films!

The first documentary Maura told me about is called Framing the Other” by Ilja Kok and Willem Timmers  (25 min, English and Mursi with English subtitles).

The Mursi tribe lives in the basin of the Omo River in the south of the east African state of Ethiopia. The women are known for placing large plates in their lower lips and wearing enormous, richly decorated earrings. Every year hundreds of Western tourists come to see the unusually adorned natives; posing for camera-toting visitors has become the main source of income for the Mursi. To make more money, they embellish their “costumes” and finery in such a manner that less of their original authentic culture remains. The film contrasts the views of Mursi women and those of Dutch tourists preparing for a meeting. This humorous and at the same time chilling film shows the destructive impact tourism has on traditional communities. A preview is below:

 

The second film is called Ni Hao Holland: The Chinese are coming” by Willem Timmers (25 min, Mandarin and Dutch with English subtitles).

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It is a documentary about Chinese tourists and their quest for the authentic Dutch experience. Cherry, the main character, has long dreamt of swapping her home city Beijing for the Dutch village Giethoorn. She has heard and read a lot about this mythical place. The day arrives that she and her friend hop on the plane in search of adventure. In the meantime, entrepreneurs from Giethoorn work hard behind the scenes to cater to this “Holland experience.” They want to make the most of the fast-growing flow of Chinese tourists to their village. How is this authenticity created by some and experienced by others? A preview follows:

 

While I’ve yet to watch either of these movies, it sure sounds like there’s a lot to think about for tourism in Mazatlán and Sinaloa. I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

Rites of Passage

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Emiliano’s first “pega.”

This Sunday afternoon, June 18, stating at 5:30 pm, Mazatlán will witness two rites of passage:

  • The last bullfight of Mexico’s greatest rejoneador (horseback-riding bullfighter)—Rodrigo Santos. He has intentionally chosen Mazatlán as the site of his retirement. He is from San Luis Potosí, but our home has much sentiment for him. This is a huge honor for our city.

  • In the same event when this giant retires, but of much lesser importance, at least at this point, we will see the debut of a nine year old forcado—those who catch the bull’s face with their bare hands—named (Ariel) Emiliano Vàaquez Vargas. He will not face any of the four bulls on Sunday, but he will be granted the opportunity to walk into the ring with the rest of the 20-strong Forcados Mazatlecos group.

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In the 35 or so years Greg and I have been traveling to Mazatlán, we well remember that there used to be several bullfights each month, sometimes as many as once a week. It was a valued tradition in Mazatlán and throughout Latin America, one that came in with the conquistadors via Spain and Portugal. René Tirado, cabo or leader of the Forcados Mazatlecos, grew up in that tradition. He’s now doing his best to teach the next generations to carry on the art. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

Recent years, of course, have seen a huge decline in bullfights, due to complaints of animal cruelty. To the rejoneadores, toreros, and forcados, however, bullfighting is an art and a way of life. While our bullfight ring looks tired and worn on the outside, I was happy to see it looking clean and well-cared-for on the inside. As René told us, “I understand if people don’t like what we do. Nothing is for everyone. But we should not judge something as bad and try to ban it without first trying to understand it. I would never critique a painting, as I’m not an art specialist.”

“The cattle industry actually helps preserve the lands we have here in México. These bulls graze on open range, they live life as kings. When they are four years old they enter the bullring. In the ring, if they succeed, they will live out the rest of their years on a stud farm, again as a king. If I were a bull, I would much rather die in the ring, with dignity, fighting for my life, with the chance of rescuing myself, than die in a slaughterhouse.”
—René Tirado

On Sunday there will be four bullfights: two with toreadores on foot, and two with rejoneadores on horseback. For the fights on horseback, the forcados, equipped with nothing but their team of eight, their hands and their speed—come in at the end to put their arms around the bull’s head and neck—ideally between not on the horns—in order to subdue him.

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Photo of Forcados Mazatlecos from Forcados de Vila Franca

The bulls are raised to fight; it’s in their blood. The evening we visited the bullring the forcados brought their children in, to get them acquainted with the sport and hopefully pique their interest in pursuing it. In addition to the four bulls in the plaza for next Sunday’s event, there was also a calf or becerra at the bullring. He must have been just six or eight months old, but he was feisty! He had such a good time chasing the men, and the children, around the ring. Even though he was just a baby, he could push the men right off their feet and into the air. He made short shrift of the fake bull that had the audacity to stand in the ring with him, too.

Emiliano, the boy who will stand with the forcados on Sunday, had his first pega or face-stop with that calf the afternoon we were there. Dad was with him to help out, and René was quick to assist. The calf really took the wind out of Emiliano, but his face glowed with pride that he was able to accomplish the feat. Below is a sequence showing the action:

The Forcados Mazatlecos are well known nationally and internationally, representing Mazatlán wherever they go. They were founded in 1987 by Arturo Castro Ortega. They travel about twice a month, sometimes even four times a month, to events around the country and internationally. They recently performed in Plaza México—the world’s largest bullring—and travel to Portugal. Amazingly, they all hold full-time jobs as the forcado gig is unpaid! They receive no help from CULTURA or IMDEM. Festivals that invite them to perform will pay their expenses and a small honorarium, but these artists do it for the love of the sport and the art; they are passionate and committed to what they do.

A couple of details I learned from René:

  • Forcados originally existed to protect the king and the royal court during bullfights in the plazas. A prince was killed at one point, and after that bullfights were held in bullrings built for the purpose, rather than in city plazas.
  • Spanish-style bullfighting has the torero on foot. Portuguese-style has the rejoneador on horseback. Traditionally you learned these arts if you grew up in a wealthy cattle family.
  • René has a horrible couple of scars down his right leg, where ten years ago he had an artery replaced. It saved his life. The accident happened during a bullfight right here in Mazatlán.

If you’d like to take advantage of this very unique opportunity, you can buy tickets at the Gran Plaza, in the kiosk right in front of Cimaco, or at Via Rápidas or La Trokería up in Sábalo. Tickets prices start at 100; general admittance in the shade 200; preferred seating in the sun 250; and preferred seating in the shade 300.

 

Cool New Architecture in MZT

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I love architecture. No matter where I travel in the world, I find myself fascinated with spaces that are unique, both beautiful and functional. Thus I was very pleased when our Montessori school here in Mazatlán opened its gorgeous new facilities. I have always been delighted that we have a Montessori option here in town, a powerful educational alternative for our youngest students, but the work of art that is their new facility makes it even better. María Montessori considered people works of art, so it’s only fitting that a building in which to educate people would be one, too.

Mazatlán’s own Erick Pérez Páez of EPA Arquitectos (who also designed the new Carpa Olivera ocean pool) designed the complex in conjunction with Estudio Macías Paredo (Salvador Macías Corona and Magui Peredo Arenas) out of Guadalajara, and it was built by EPA in conjunction with H Arquitectos from here in town. The design is highly innovative, based on Montessori’s “constructive triangles,” the fact that the triangle is such a naturally fundamental shape—all plane geometric figures can be made with triangles. Montessori herself said education is based on a triangle: environment, love and the child. Thus, the architecture of this academy perfectly fits as a home for its occupants. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

The two-story buildings are positioned to maximize the free circulation of air and the entry of natural light. Despite the heat and humidity when I visited, no air conditioners were running and a cool breeze could be felt throughout the facilities. We not only experience a hot and humid climate part of the year, but our ocean-front location wreaks havoc on buildings and equipment. This facility has been designed using materials to minimize the corrosion and the wear and tear inherent in the salinity of our location. I also delighted in the cool interplay of light and shadow; every angle seems to invite our gaze to a fascinating view or perspective, the result of so many triangular shapes and angles in the design.

Founded in 1993, Paulina Carrillo Collard and Rene de la Rocha have been running this SEP-certified Colegio Montessori Mazatlán since March 2014. When they took over the school it had 115 students from nine months to six years old; it now has 160 students up to nine years old. When the new facility opened last year it had nine students in primary school; this year it has 23, and next year 48 are enrolled. Paulina and Rene seem to have truly revitalized the school; a second multi-age classroom is being finished on the second floor now, in preparation for the new term beginning in August. Currently, preschool students still attend classes at Sierra Rumorosa 567 in Lomas, while grades 1-3 attend classes at this new facility at 6208 Paseo del Atlántico, just behind the Bancomer, next to the new Walmart in the Marina. Telephone 669 122 10 99.

Paulina and Rene would like to see the academy grow to include upper grades as well, but that will require more investment. Right now there are four hexagonal modules (1100 m2) on the site, out of a total nineteen (4000 m2) that are planned to be built. Below is an origami replica of the full design (above a timeline of María Montessori’s life), as well as architect’s renderings.

The modules are built around a central courtyard that provides open space in which the children can commune with nature, another fundamental Montessori concept. They have quite the garden growing, and actively compost. A nutritionist lays out a yearly menu that involves no packaged food—better for the environment and for the health of everyone involved.

In touring the facility I was pleased to see the use of the smooth, colorful wooden objects that I associate with a Montessori education. There were plenty of mats for floor work, tactile objects to teach about nature, and musical instruments—another cornerstone of the Montessori approach. Students learn English, and I was told they welcome any volunteers from our expat/snowbird community who would be interested in helping out. I was also really pleased to see the chore list above the sink, as Montessori children are taught responsibility for their own environments, both indoor and outdoor. I loved how my son learned to put away his toys and keep his room in order at his Montessori preschool in Colorado, a concept he sadly seemed to forget once we moved to Mexico and got a cleaning lady.

If you haven’t noticed this unique architectural village tucked in just behind the bank and the recording studio, you really ought to give it a look. Kudos to all involved and thank you for adding to the educational offerings and the beauty that is Mazatlan!

 

Gay Pride Mazatlán 2017

DSC_0280Our 9th annual gay pride parade started at 5:30 pm Saturday afternoon, June 3rd, from in front of Valentino’s heading south down Avenida del Mar to the Glorieta Sanchez Taboada (cliff divers). It was better attended than ever. What a joy to see so many participants and the large number of spectators cheering them on and supporting authenticity! Witnessing our beautiful malecón lined with lesbian and gay lovers was rather nice, too. A society that embraces difference and has a place for everyone just as they are is a society where justice can reign and violence becomes unnecessary. Such is the hope for Mazatlán on a day of such sadness in London.

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LGBTQ Pride Mazatlán 2017

I absolutely loved the messages printed on front of each float, reminding us why celebrations such as this are so healthy not only for the LGBTQ community but society as a whole. Who can criticize the parade’s lead slogan, “With respect and love, less discrimination”? Key messages included:

  • Honesty: Know who you are and express what you feel.
  • Liberty: Sexual liberty without stigmas or discrimination.
  • Respect: We live together in diversity.

Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

Riders on the float included performers at the various gay nightclubs in town as well as the winners of charity and other beauty contests. My girl Thalia Fedorova was there with her entourage of drag queens. A man in a thong wore a full Aztec feathered headdress and a glittery big-horned-sheep-type mask. I loved the angel hottie.

CULTURA supports the celebration and thus the parade included floats from Carnavál 2017. There were no live bands but lots of upbeat dance music, and one group of young dancers in a comparsa. Candy, condoms and pens were thrown, and gay pride flags were circulated. Confetti was shot through the air and floated along the avenue.

People of all ages attended and participated. Some wore t-shirts supporting the cause—there were various types. Most waved flags and pet dogs and pigs got in on the act; there was even a costumed roller blader. Eye candy for every sexual orientation was on full display. Frank (Juan Francisco Diaz) from The Voice Mexico was there, as was a vendor selling flags.

A young migrant who just arrived Saturday via La Bestia from Honduras made the mistake of telling me he was Christian and didn’t approve of this sort of thing. After quoting him a few of Jesus’ words, and explaining to him that, as a migrant/undocumented worker, if he wanted acceptance, respect and inclusion, how could he deny it to others, he changed his tune long enough for us to give him a few hundred pesos to help him on his journey.

I’ve been blessed to have been able to attend quite a few Pride parades in my day, but Mazatlán is definitely the prettiest location of any of them. Thank goodness this parade grows in size and joy every year, and that participants hold strong to constructive messages that benefit our whole community. Lead on, friends!

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