Taking Over The Town

Carnival makes Mazatlan one big party

By: Patricia Alisau

For four days, I was immersed in a citywide revelry that closes schools and shuts down banks. It was Carnival, one of Mazatlan’s biggest celebrations, when parades and street parties take over the town right before the Lenten season. (In 2006, it will take place the week before Ash Wednesday from Feb. 17-28.)

All Hail the Queen
It was raining when I arrived at the port, which meant the outdoor event of crowing of the Carnival queen had to be postponed. But, undaunted by the weather, Plan B went immediately into effect and schedules were shuffled around in the midst of optimism that the next day would bring sunshine. It did. After all, Mazatlan’s Mardi Gras is the third largest in the Americas following New Orleans and Rio and if there’s a god of sunshine, he was smiling that day.

The following morning went off with out a hitch with the coronation of 18-year-old Alexis Medrano and the presentation of her court of princesses from as far away as Baja California. Her gown and long cape were stunning, emblazoned with an Egyptian motif, adding an exotic touch to the ceremony. Afterward, a well-known rock singer from Mexico City, Alejandra Guzman, who has been nominated for multiple Latin Grammy awards, gave a high-energy performance.

Float Through Carnival
This was also the first day for the parade of floats. A second would follow two days later. Thousands of people were already lined up on the sea walk downtown when I slipped into the crowds. Fish and seafood seemed to be popular themes as dancing clams, sharks, octopi, sailfish, parrotfish and dolphins snaked past. In between, there were jumping Cossacks, singing pirates and Spanish conquistadors. The floats were exotic and fine looking, having been designed by a local artisan. They carried beauty queens of all ages from schoolchildren to senior citizens, who were elected by a panel of judges. It was hard to pick a favorite, but I thought the Trojan horse, Chinese dragons and giant African mask floats were the most appealing.

Among the revelers were clowns from Seattle who have been marching in the parades since 1982. Called the Seafair Clowns, they are a group of private businessmen, who handed out balloons to kids and planted tiny paper hearts on the cheeks of parade goers. Back home, they visit children’s hospitals and appear at charity events.

Touring Old Mazatlan
The next morning I had the opportunity to tour the city, as there were no major events scheduled during the day. My guide drove me to Old Mazatlan, the colonial part of town that is undergoing a major renovation. It was the city’s first tourist zone and now claims to be the city’s cultural center with museums, shady plazas, parks and the neoclassical Angela Peralta Theater. Named after a Mexican diva often called the “Mexican Nightingale,” Peralta died suddenly of yellow fever in 1883 before she was to give her first performance at the opera house, which was renamed in her memory.

That night, I went to the traditional street party at Olas Altas, a mile-long stretch of the sea walk leading to Old Mazatlan, the heart of Carnival. Security was heavy, which put my mind at ease. Men were frisked for weapons at the entrance while women were merely waved in. No one was going to ruin the party, the scene seemed to say.

Ambling down the closed off street, it was more like a street fair with bands blaring techno, rock and tropical music. Dancing broke out spontaneously in front of the bandstands as food sellers hawked everything from hot dogs to hot cakes. Some people stayed late, enjoying the festive ambience until the wee hours of the morning. I left around midnight and headed to my hotel.

The next night I returned to Olas Altas for one of the favorite events, the Mock Battle commemorating the attempted invasion by the French Navy on March 31, 1864. The Mazatlan Army drove them off with canon fire, which is celebrated during Carnival by a big display of fireworks. I watched from the roof of a hotel as burst after colorful burst of pyrotechnics filled the night sky. Later, I joined the merry street party below.

Even though I left exhausted, the party in Mazatan is not to be missed.


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