Thursday March 2nd, 2000—Flying into Mazatlan
AeroMexico flew me into Mazatlan from San Diego with a two-hour layover and in Hermosillo. Flight 175 from Hermosillo arrived in Mazatlan after dark. Clearing immigration in Mexico was straightforward, but clearing through Mexican customs was more interesting.
After collecting my duffle bags, I approached Mexican customs in the airport. There I was greeted with what appeared to be a large stoplight with two lights: one red; one green. Each person clearing through customs must approach the stoplight and then press a button. If the light turns green, you’re free to go; no questions asked. If the light turns red, you can plan on staying a while because all of your bags get searched. The first time I passed through one of these, I had no idea what was happening, other than that the light turned green and I got waved through. I thought perhaps it had something to do with a Mexican lottery, and that a green light entitled me to millions of pesos. Not the case.
This time, the stoplight turned green, so I breathed a sigh of relief. Not that I carried any contraband. But I did have a few small replacement parts for the boat, including three quarts of Epifane varnish. Flying down from San Diego, I had visions of the Epifane cans exploding in the luggage compartment due to pressure changes. I had visions of three successive pops, followed by an emergency landing, followed by the Federales escorting me off of the plane to a Mexican prison where no one would ever hear from me again. Fortunately, the lids on the three quarts held tight, sparing me from both Federales and prison.
When bringing in spare parts, I have learned to remove all of the original packaging and pack these items into the side compartments of my duffels. This lesson came the hard way. Early in January I returned to Mexico with a replacement Autohelm anemometer system, complete with 100 feet of cable in the original packaging—a large box that filled the entire center compartment of my largest duffle. That time, as I held my breath and pressed the button, red light blasted me in the face. Despite copies of my ship’s registry, accompanied with explanations that these replacement parts weren’t available in Mexico, I was led to a small room where … discussions were had. Plying them with “no entiendo” (I don’t understand) and expressions of innocence, they eventually let me go. In retrospect I think this had more to do with the late hour, as well as the fact that I had no receipts for the aforementioned contraband—I mean replacement parts. It’s difficult to assess a fine when you can’t document the value. This is not a recommendation on how to do this. (Or is it?)
As I mentioned, however, this time I was ‘green-lighted,’ and passed through to a waiting cab. As the taxi sped me through the darkness toward Mazatlan, I looked forward to seeing Dan and Debi on Andanté. Andanté was moored at Marina El Cid. Marketed as “mega resort,” Marina El Cid includes a small marina surrounded by beautiful condos and multiple swimming pools with caves and waterfalls.
I found Andanté tied off to the main dock swinging gently in the currents. After catching up on our separate adventures over the previous six weeks, and a brief show-and-tell about replacement parts, I dove into my aft berth to charge my batteries for the oncoming weekend. After all, carnival weekend approached.
Friday March 3rd, 2000—Festival of Flowers
I awakened to sunshine, warm temperatures, and one of Dan’s famous banana pancake breakfasts, complete with real maple syrup. Sadly, the maple syrup was starting to run low. I will bemoan the day we retire this particular syrup jug, because it has accompanied me from Alaska to California to Mexico. That's faithful companionship.
Breakfast and dishes completed, we walked the tienda-lined streets of Mazatlan, and made a stop at a favorite street-side vendor for a bag of fresh sugarcoated, deep-fried pecans. If you’ve never sampled this particular confection, you have to try it at your earliest opportunity: Crunchy, bite-sized bits, sweetened with caramelized sugar, and a roasted pecan inside. It’s a taste-fiesta.
After strolling the streets we grabbed an open-air taxi to the local shopping mall. Mazatlan’s open air taxies fill the main drag and spew gasoline fumes that mix with the diesel fumes from the busses. It reminds me of Los Angeles. Looking back to Mazatlan from the water, LA-brown smog hovers over the city.
Adjacent to the shopping mall we found a Sam’s Club. Similar to Costco, Sam’s is descended from Sam Walton’s Walmart stores. Plying them with her negotiating skills, Debi secured a day pass for us, enabling us to tour the store and inventory available products. Like Costco, Sam’s Club offers a plethora of name-brand goods. Because the annual fee is only $25.00, and because Sam’s was clearly the best provisioning opportunity in town, and because more Sam’s Clubs can be found down the Mexican coast, I joined.
We taxied back to Marina El Cid, only to discover that Dan accidentally left his camera in the vehicle. Later we stopped by the taxi company to find out if the camera had been turned in. No luck. The manager, however, presented us with three four-inch thick books consisting of photographs of each driver. Across the three books there must have been a thousand or more photos. Assuming we could remember what the driver looked like, the manager promised to follow-up. After Dan and Debi flipped through a few pages, we realized that this was a classic exercise in futility.
Friday night the Festival of Flowers, a special carnival event, occurred at the local baseball stadium. Before the event we had time for a sidewalk table dinner at Mr. Acs. To those of us educated in English, this looks and perhaps sounds like “Mr. Acks.” But the artwork of the Ace of spades, clubs, diamonds, and hearts, led us to understand that a more appropriate English spelling would have been Mr. Aces.
The main event at the Festival of Flowers turned out to be an operatic oratorio titled Carmina Burana by Carl Orff. According to onboard references, Carmina Burana includes the following lyrics from an anonymous quote, referring to Eleanor of Aquitaine (whoever she is):
We think all of these lyrics were performed in Latin. In other words, Carmina Burana was heavy, dense, complex, and—OK let’s be honest—unintelligible. Latin speakers and musicologists may, of course, disagree. Contrary opinions welcome.
That said, we were impressed by the caliber of talent assembled for this work, which certainly tapped the national Mexican arts community. It was a serious undertaking, conscientiously executed. A particularly impressive male countertenor sang a section of the work entirely in falsetto, and at an impressive volume. One could only stare in amazement, and wonder if what they were paying him was worth this effort.
Orff’s spectacle completed, stage hands swept venue clean for the next event: a very large regional Mexican brass band—perhaps with 40 or 50 musicians. The band played in typical mariachi style—very loudly, with only a distance trace of melody—intelligible only those trained in discriminating such things. We were not. The performance sounded like two elephants competing for the harem during a train crash. Many of the evening’s dignitaries flanked the band, and clapped and danced them on. And on. And on. Clearly, the locals preferred these guys to Orff—may he rest in peace, which was probably difficult for him that evening, had he been watching on. And on. And on. We left some time well into the first set.
Saturday March 4th, 2000—Street Party
After a rigorous Friday evening, and in anticipation of another late night on Saturday, we took the most appropriate action feasible Saturday morning and slept in. After gaining consciousness some time around noon, we caught a taxi to old town. First, we visited NidArt—a gallery specializing in leather masks and sculptures. (Libertad 45 Centro, Historico Mazatlan. Tel-fax: (69) 81 00 02. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org) This was my third visit to NidArt, and I was surprised to discover only three leather masks hanging on their display wall. Normally decorated with twenty or more masks, the carnival hordes apparently vacuumed the gallery clean. Good news for NidArt, although a disappointment for us.
Between NidArt and the main square we strolled through the historical area of Mazatlan, including an old theater built in the 1860s and recently restored in 1993.
We toured the indoor market with ample offerings of clothes, shoes, guitars, vegetables, fish, and meat kiosks. Back on Andanté we succumbed to a siesta, required in preparation for more carnival festivities that evening.
The carnival schedule indicated that the mock sea battle (e.g. fireworks) would start at 22:30. Admission to the street festival site cost all of 10 pesos, but required segregated entry—men in one line and women in another. This enabled the authorities to more quickly search the hombres, who were forcefully invited to lean spread-eagle against an adjacent rock wall for a thorough going-over. Dan and I, being Anglo amigos, were waved through. Good thing, because Dan had forgotten that he carried a four inch rigging knife in his travel pouch. The knife could have easily resulted in a quick trip to the hoosegow.
(You may know that hoosegow is slang for jail. Aha, but did you know that hoosegow comes from the Mexican Spanish jusgado, which is from the Spanish juzgado, which means courtroom? But wait, there’s more: juzgado is from the past participle of juzgar, to judge, which is from the Latin judicare. Inquiring minds want to know.)
Safely inside the weapons-safe street fair, and smugly confident that we were the only ones ready for a knife fight, we walked the waterfront promenade until we happened upon a restaurant overlooking the fireworks. Small problem in that the restaurant appeared closed, or at least engaged in catering to a private party. A knock on the door, however, gained us entry. From the corner window we enjoyed a casual almost private dinner and watched the fireworks explode in the street overhead. Amazing how close you can get to fireworks in Mexico. Watching the sparks and cinders fall directly underneath our window, we felt relieved to have some shelter from the falling embers.
Post-fireworks the street party took off as we worked our way, on foot, back towards home. Taking their cue from the fireworks, the streets exploded with people who were just getting going. Youthful, militant, conga lines—led by brawny hombres with an attitude—found sport in running through the congested crowds. At first these phalanxes seemed annoying—particularly if you happened to be standing in their path. But we discovered that they provided quick transit through the crowds. By attaching to the tail end of a passing conga bullet train, you could make much more considerable and rapid progress towards your destination. After successfully catching several passing conga lines, we soon found ourselves lonely and stranded. (Well, at least stranded.) Not to be daunted, Debi seized the lead and formed our own line, which took on a life of its own, expanding and contracting as the locals found it useful, or not. Positioned at the end of the line, I felt myself being squeezed in … interesting places, and turned to discover a laughing young Mexican woman behind me who found a more amusing use for her hands than simply holding on.
Sunday March 5th, 2000—Floats, Costumes, and Tractors
We awakened just as the noon sun broke overhead. Debi prepared fresh guacamole for lunch. Then we headed off to the bus station to check on our tickets to El Fuerte, our jumping off point for Copper Canyon on Monday.
After our stop at the bus station, we made our way back the waterfront area and found a hotel that had built a viewing platform overlooking the parade route. We inquired about seats, only to discover that they were sold out. I tried to persuade the woman in charge of seating with a $20 US bill, only to receive the same answer. We asked if we could stand in the area, and they said ‘OK.’ Several minutes passed, and miraculously, the seat manager reappeared and escorted us to the requested number of seats.
I ventured onto the street in search of something that looked both edible and safe. The best option appeared as a slice of pizza with chorizo (hot Mexican sausage) and jalapéno peppers—not for the timid, which I was. But I tried it anyway. After the pizza, I needed something to quench the fire, and found at a street side vendor selling freshly cut jicama slices served with a sprinkling of chili powder and lime juice It looked less than appetizing, but tasted wonderful.
The quality of parade floats ranged from simple and unsophisticated to artistic and elegant. Despite the range of entries, human anatomy powered virtually all of the floats’ moving parts, such as turning heads on bodies, rotating planets, and flying birds. On one float mother earth spun so fast that, had it been to scale, everything on the planet would have certainly flown off into outer space.
No matter what size or quality, another inexpensive and locally abundant power supply energized every single float: Tractors. One of the tractors shot bright orange sparks out of the exhaust pipe six feet into the night sky, showering bystanders with hot ash.
When the parade ended we again took to the streets and walked north along the main waterfront towards the marina several miles distant. It seemed as if twice as many people roamed the streets on parade night, vs. the previous evening. This time, however, there were no conga lines to help transport us through the crowds.
A local television station had constructed an elevated broadcast platform in the middle of the street. Although the parade had ended, a newscast team still broadcasted live atop their private oasis surrounded by a sea of enthralled bodies. We approached the bottleneck with the idea of passing through. Once committed, however, we realized that the presence of the cameras attracted a crush of people that was not easily passable. Immediately below the platform we had little control of speed or direction, and focused primarily on staying upright to avoid being stomped on.
Many of the locals demonstrated savvy parade night experience: They had staked out small areas along the parade route with lawn chairs. As the throngs struggled into each other, families camped out in the meridian calmly watched everyone pass and waited until passage was more manageable. Despite our long distance and inexperience with the crowds, we eventually made it back to our marina, which seemed overly quiet in its post-carnival solitude.