Friday, December 1, 2017

Mazatlán: Stories are the Best Souvenirs

It's been years since I've visited Mazatlán, Sinaloa, on the Pacific coast of Mexico. Maybe twelve. Up until that point, I'd traveled to Mazatlán at least five times. The tropical getaway was one of my favorite affordable beach destinations. It's actually close – only a two-hour and eleven-minute flight from Phoenix on American Airlines. And you can typically score some great vacation packages.

Updated Travel Advisory Earns Mazatlán Another Chance

But the first thing that I did when I got the invitation to visit the Mexican “Colonial Town on the Beach” was check the US State Department advisory for the fair city. You see, ten or so years ago drug cartel activity earned bad press for Maz. One of Mexico's most powerful criminal organizations is based in the state of Sinaloa. Yet the current advisory updated on August 22, 2017, states:
Defer non-essential travel to the state of Sinaloa, except the cities of Mazatlán, Los Mochis, and the Port of Topolobampo.
Since my travel in Mazatlán, as far as I knew, would be limited to Zona Dorada (the golden coast where many of the hotels are situated), the historic town center and direct routes to and from these locations and the airport, I decided to give Mazatlán another chance.

Dia de Los Muertos or Day of the Dead

I was so excited that my visit, hosted in conjunction with Fiesta Amigos, a conference of travel professionals, would coincide with Dia de Los Muertos or Day of the Dead. I'd never attended Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico and was intrigued to learn more. (Read more at my blog post What is Day of the Dead? )

I was not disappointed. I felt totally safe the whole week that I was in Mazatlán and swam, body surfed, snorkeled, and did something I'd never done before: go deep sea fishing. But my most favorite experience was the Day of the Dead processional or what is called the callejoneada, or alley stroll. And what is so cool, you don't have to wait til next year to have a similar experience. Mazatlán’s carnival is coming up February 8-13, and you’ll find the same awe and appreciation of different cultures that I found on my latest visit.

Breath in the 'present moment'

We stood in the heart of the historic district, Plazuela Machado, waiting for whatever was going to happen next.  I wore a headband of the colorful flowers typical of the holiday. The balmy night was filled with anticipation, and when I looked at the children's faces, I was reminded of my own youthful ‘nights before Christmas’ hopefulness. The square was filled with families and us, the delegates from the Fiesta Amigos conference waiting for the Dia de Los Muertos callejoneada to start.

There's something beautiful about the unfolding of unknown rituals. I felt a sense of childlike wonder take over, and I let go of the need to control or understand what was going to happen next. On the other hand, the Americans that surrounded me needed to know what was next, and since they didn't, wanted to make it – whatever it was – happen on their own. There was a sort of culture clash going on.

“What are we doing just standing here?” pouted one of the American hipsters.
“Just standing here,” I thought to myself. “Really, it’s OK to simply stand and breath in the present moment of anticipation and excitement.”
“Let's just go! Let’s just start walking,” she demanded, pushing ahead. The treasonists in our group moved slightly forward while others held back. I imagined that from above we looked somewhat like an amoeba changing shape as we pushed against the crowd, and as the crowd pushed against us. I was happy to stand my ground and wait for whatever was going to happen next.

In time, three young Mexican public relations professionals arrived holding placards on long sticks that read, ‘Fiesta Amigos.’ They positioned themselves at the front and back of our group of about 150 people. The association had asked us to dress in white for this occasion and so we stuck out of the crowd as a seemingly amalgamous group between the handheld signs.

Finally, fireworks and bottle rockets signaled the beginning of the promenade and our big white amoeba started moving forward around the square.

I expected our group to move with the masses of others that had gathered in Plazuela Machado. But I was astonished to see that those not dressed in white parted to let us through. Parted to let us through? Families with baby carts, grandmothers, ninos and ninas stood on the curb or sat on walls smiling and sometimes waving as they watched us walk by. Waving at us?

I thought we had come to promenade with the locals, but instead, WE were the promenade and the locals were watching US! I learned later that the Fiesta Amigos had been processing in the Day of the Dead parade for years. Locals reached out to touch my arm and then pointed to the flowers in my hair. “Que bonita,” I heard several times.

Some of those standing curbside were dressed in Muertos attire, and I stopped to ask if I could take their picture. They would nod solemnly, and I would snap the picture.

We walked for blocks, snaking through the alleyways of historic Mazatlán until ending up at the Malecon, one of the longest boardwalks in the world. It was an incredible experience and one I am sure to tell stories about for years to come.

Make your own stories in Mazatlán during carnival. You know, stories are the best souvenirs... Learn more at VisitMexico.com

Mazatlanvisit.com/mazatlan-carnival.html

Stacey “Vagabonding Lulu” Wittig, travel writer, was a guest of  Reynolds + Associates public relations firm while researching this article. The opinions of the opinionated travel writer are her own. The information here is posted with the best of her knowledge, but there may be omissions or changes over time.
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