I had never been to a Mardi Gras before and was really looking forward to the one in Mazatlan. The word Carnaval comes from the Latin ‘carnem levare”, which means ‘quit meat’. It has been celebrated as far back as Pegan times as a big blow-out party before the period of fasting, penitence, abstinence and even bloody sacrifice that were considered a necessity for a prosperous and fruitful year. Of course, in modern times, it is most associated with the period before lent, a period of prayer, penance, repentance of sins, almsgiving, atonement and self-denial in traditional Christian religions. Carnaval itself, however, is NOT a religious event. Au contraire!
We were not disappointed! It is a huge family affair – I think every one of the 500,000 inhabitants of Mazatlan attended the main parade, plus all the people who came from other places to see it, like us.
The affair starts on the Friday before the Wednesday that lent starts. This year, that was Friday, February 13 (it’s ok, Friday the 13th is not unlucky here). They closed off the street near the downtown beach and had live bands and street vendors and impromptu performances and street artists and lots of people, many costumed, just walking around and enjoying the sites.
We were too late to get a balcony room along the parade route without spending a fortune ($1000 US for a 3-night minimum stay), and also too late to get in on a group viewing area above the crowd, but we were able to secure seats right up close and personal in the middle of the boulevard along the parade route. Our $150 Mexican pesos we paid for the chairs also gave us access to the hotel bathrooms – that was handy. We were amongst thousands of others who had done the same thing – 7 or 8 rows of chairs were lined up in the middle of the street for miles and miles, each sold by the neighboring hotel or cafe and fenced off from the hordes of general public behind us. Half of the boulevard was designated for the parade route and the chairs; the other half of the boulevard was used for standing room watching of the parade and for people walking, as well as street vendors.
The queens of the parade are a really, really big deal. The candidates’ faces are plastered all over bus stop posters for several weeks before the event, and the television channels cover them extensively. A huge event marks their coronation. There is a queen of the entire Carnaval, and another for the Arts (“Queen of the Flowers”), and another child queen.
A couple of little boys, brothers I would say, had snuck between the fence bars from the standing room area into the chair area where we we sitting, and were having a ball running around and collecting all the bling that was being thrown off the floats as they passed. But when the Queen of Carnaval passed in her float and seemed to waive right at them, the boys stood still, mesmerized. I think the oldest at that very moment, fell in love for the first time in his young life. Look at his adoring eyes! His parents behind him, obviously knew how excited he was to see the queen – they were smiling and looking at him as she passed by in the parade.
There were plenty of other magnificent floats, including the Sueños del Rey Momo float, the theme of this year’s parade: the dreams of a fat god of satire and ridicule who was exiled from Mount Olympus because he made fun of the other gods. But most of the dreams embodied in this year’s parade were of beautiful women, as seen in this float:
There were also plenty of floats celebrating beer, or with scantily clad men and women dancing, and even some that celebrated the fishing industry of Mazatlan. Even the parade’s Queen of 50 years ago got her own float. (I wouldn’t have figured out who she was except that the Mexican woman sitting next to me, an accountant, was intimately aware of all the details of the parade and shared some of her knowledge with me. She was a native of Mazatlan, comes to the parade every year, and studies it extensively. Another good example of how speaking Spanish comes in handy for me in ways other than ordering food and getting directions!)
We were lucky to get seats up towards the start of the parade so there were few delays once the parade started. As it began winding down, we thought of the horror stories we were told of mobs of rushing people who trample others at the end of the parade, and multiple hours’ delay in getting out of the area, so we left just before the parade was over. Oddly, the bus schedule was not adjusted for the parade, so we wanted to catch the last bus back to our marina before they stopped running. We were fortunate to find any bus at all, and we hopped on one going in the right direction even though it wasn’t our bus. When it turned away from our destination, we hopped off and went back to the parade route to walk the rest of the way.
But OMG! The parade had only just begun at this end of the Malecon, and the area designated for walking had become a solid wall of people. We got behind a pushy father with his wife and daughter, and followed them through the hole they made in the crowd until even they couldn’t move any further. I was stepping through puddles of who knows what in my sandals without being able to see the ground – melted ice, spilled beer, or someone needing to relieve themselves? Ick. We finally somehow ended up in the parade route itself, right in front of the police who were clearing the road for the parade to pass through. We crossed to the other side and got out just as the parade route turned the corner that marked the end of the route, where even more mobs of people were waiting to see the parade begin.
We survived our first Carnaval!