“Carnaval is a Christian festive season that occurs before the Christian season of Lent. The main events typically occur during February or early March, during the period historically known as Shrovetide (or Pre-Lent). Carnaval typically involves public celebration and a parade combining elements of a circus, masks and a public street party. People wear masks during many such celebrations, an overturning of life’s normal things. The celebrations have long been associated with heavy alcohol consumption.”
We kicked off carnaval week by going out to dinner with friends Rob and Susan on Seattle-based Athanor at Las Brochetas, a very popular place for steak and seafood. Although they don’t serve alcohol, you are welcome to bring your own and they will provide glasses. What a great idea! We had the house specialty known as Molcajete de Camaron. Thick shrimp stew is placed in a heated stone bowl where it finishes cooking and is served still bubbling. The stone retains the heat keeping the stew hot and delicious.
Carnaval begins on a Thursday night with the re-opening of the Olas Atlas Malecon, following it’s transformation from a lovely seaside promenade to party central with six stages, food and souvenir booths and of course, beer vendors. Lots of beer vendors and at about $0.80 a beer, cold Pacifico pretty much flows like water. There is no “beer garden”, no ID required, and no problems. Families with young children, teenagers, retired people, young people, all out having a great time. This area remains open from Thursday evening through Fat Tuesday from 8 pm to 4 am. Everyone is dressed up in their finest – all the men are clean shaven with their hair neatly trimmed, and many of the women are in dresses. Most all of the young women are in very short, tight dresses with 6-in. heels – amazing how they can navigate the cobblestone streets! They are beautiful though. The only people you will see here or anywhere in Mazatlan in shorts and flip-flops or baseball caps are gringo tourists.
On Saturday night, this area hosted the Bad Mood Burning, wherein a giant puppet of an unpopular public figure is hung by the neck and burned to the cheers of rowdy carnaval goers. Think giant, exploding, flaming piñata. This year’s figure was Donald Trump… Following the burning, a giant fireworks display signifying the defense of Mazatlan during the French colonial invasion of 1864 took place.
Before and after the fireworks (and every night), live music plays from six stages in the carnaval area. We found a great band with a Caribbean beat and we danced their whole set, and returned Monday night to do the same.
Sunday night the celebration culminates in a massive lighted parade that traverses the length of the malecon (about 3 miles). Each float is ocean themed to echo this year’s carnaval theme “Mazatlan, the dream that emerged from the waves”. Each of the big hotels lining the malecon sells tickets for parade seating which includes a buffet dinner and 4 hours of open bar. We were lucky to get some tickets, and a good thing as people start staking out their locations on the street days before. The crowds began to build hours before the parade starts. We surveyed the masses from our perch at the Hotel Hacienda, where the bartender happily pours as much rum as you request, noting “of course senor, this is Mexico”.
With 2.5 hours to wait until the start of the parade, we watched as the crowd built. We saw two young men walking by carrying a cooler with two cases of Pacifico on top – bet you couldn’t do that back home. At last the parade begins – it is preceded by several commercial floats, and when one of the young ladies on the corn flour float experienced a “wardrobe malfunction” the crown went wild. She however was apparently oblivious to the escapees, and continued to toss packets of corn tortillas to the cheering crowd.
As darkness fell the main parade got under way. Mazatlan’s baseball team, the Venados, clenched the Caribbean 2016 Series putting the crowd in an even more festive mood. Confetti shot from the floats, random fireworks went off, and large bottle rockets erupted. Many of the floats had live bands, and all had beautiful young women and handsome young men dancing. It was the most amazing spectacle I have ever seen.
When the parade ended we managed to squeeze on one of the last buses which had American oldies blaring over the speakers. When “Under the Boardwalk “came on, the whole bus erupted into song – Mexicans and gringo tourists alike, a magical ending to a perfect evening.
We are so glad we were able to experience carnaval in Mazatlan, but it is time to move on. Tomorrow we will untie the dock lines and head south to Banderas Bay (home of Puerto Vallarta) and new adventures.