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Mazatlán II (February 21-29, 2020)

Carnaval 2020

In mid-February we realized that the third largest Carnaval in the world was within our reach with a little judicious effort. It meant a shorter (second) visit to our beloved Isla Isabel with its blue-footed boobies, but we deemed this Carnaval an opportunity worth opening the door for.

Barb on malecon at Playa Olas Altas

Other than folks setting up for the evening, the "Party Zone" off Playa Olas Altas (high waves beach) was quiet in the afternoons. People were probably conserving their strength for the big night ahead.

Pacifico Beer Stand

Pacifico beer, founded by three German settlers and brewed in Mazatlán, had the market cornered. Stands like this were spaced about every 75m. Prior to the party, we observed huge blocks of ice and truckloads of beer being delivered to each stand. Despite the high volume of Pacifico consumed, we didn't see any obnoxious behaviour during the times we were in the party Zone. There were many families with kids - it was a friendly event.

Palm tree with ice blocks around trunk

Some of the palm trees had a shock when extra ice blocks were stored alongside.

Naval Combat Fireworks

The Naval Combat Fireworks harkens back to a battle in 1864 when Mazatlán citizens successfully fought off the French who were trying to seize that coastal area.

Overlooking bay where fireworks were to take place On the way downtown, hours before the festivities, we spotted barges full of pyrotechnics being moved into position off the beach. Vendors were appearing and some folks were already claiming spots to watch the Naval Battle.

Silhouette of Deer statue in Mazatlan

As the sun went down the Party Zone was gradually filling up. We searched unsuccessfully for the Burning of the Bad Mood (Quema del Mal Humor). Every year a giant puppet stuffed with fireworks, often an effigy of an unpopular person, is burned to get rid of bad feelings. We thought the burning was to take place near this statue (Mazatlán is a Nahuatl word meaning "place of deer"). Later in the night there was smoke and noise from this area - right place, wrong time. We never did find out who was so dubiously honoured.

Barb and Bjarne

This Carnaval is famous for its brass bands playing banda music, a mix of German, Mexican and military (and almost inevitably including a tuba). We thought we could enjoy the bands if we came early but learned that early is not a feature of Carnaval - the many stages remained empty until about 2100h (9pm). By then we were tuckered from wandering about and had plunked ourselves on the beach for a couple of hours to await the fireworks. We could hear some of the music from there, albeit two or three bands at once, and enjoyed watching kids playing chicken with the waves.

Barges piled with fireworks for the show

Anchored barges piled with fireworks, ready for the fuse to be lit.

The whole show was amazing, but contrary to our expectations, it did NOT start with a bang. Instead we heard music and noticed that lights were making their way across the sky. What followed was an impressive display by drones forming dynamic images which would disintegrate and coalesce in a progression of delightful patterns. We've included videos of some of the show. Then the bangs did begin, creating a spectactular exhibition of lights, colour, sound and smoke. We love fireworks but have to applaude the reduced environmental impact of the drones.

Drone show: Three Cannons Firing on Ship

Cannons firing on an invading ship.

Drone show: Jellyfish turning into hearts

Jelly fish transforming into hearts then Carnaval 20.

Fireworks streaming from barges and trawlers

Fireworks launched from ten barges and several fishing trawlers.

Dense fireworks smoke

The smoke became so dense we had trouble seeing the display. Additionally, the on-shore breeze has us using eyelashes to protect from eye ashes. We wondered how a real battle from the days of cannons compared.

Barges aflame after show

After the smoke from the fireworks cleared several barges were fully aflame. We aren't sure if that was part of the plan.

Once the show was over we had the challenge of getting off the beach. A stone wall protects the street from the large waves that sometimes come in and there were not many ramps up to street-level. The throng was fairly patient but things did get rather squishy as hundreds of people tried to get through the narrow stairwell. At least we were near a stage so could enjoy music while contending with crowds and claustrophobia. After a half hour or more we popped out onto the street with relief. As we left the party zone, after midnight and well past our bedtime, there was a long line of people just arriving! The Mexicans are no slouches when it comes to partying the night away.


We arrived early (again!) for the parade and found a good spot near the start of the route. There was plenty to see while waiting. Lots of children were dancing in the street. Several condoms that had been handed out by a health clinic were inflated and kids and adults alike were playing with these balloons. A few parents were not impressed, taking the offending toy away from their tots with obvious distaste. The wind caught one of the inflated condoms and carried it up toward an open apartment window, capturing the attention of adults below. Our gleeful anticipation became a collective let-down when it bounced off the window frame and merrily carried on across the roof tops. Perhaps that was for the best: "honey, what's this condom doing in your bedroom?"

Launching rocket ahead of parade

Ahead of the parade, more excitement arose when folks came through shooting off rockets. Some of the missiles came rather close (intentionally perhaps) to the frigate birds overhead. The birds were able to dodge clear (no birds were harmed in the making of this blog). Surprisingly, the noise and disturbance didn't have them all hightailing it out of the area.

Bjarne buying buñelos

Pre-parade, the food choices were more limited than we expected so we resorted to the buñuelos (crispy deep fried dough with sugar) that Bjarne is purchasing here and ice cream. That provided enough sugar until we could get into the party zone for tacos and margaritas.

Foam spraying from a Fresca float

Before the main parade, commercial floats passed through and many gave things away. We caught some candy and Bjarne got a t-shirt. Fresca's fun foam machine added to the festive feel.

The official theme this year was Somos Américan - we are Americans [perhaps 'claiming' it back from the USA on behalf of the other inhabitants of N. and S. America]. Countries starting with Mexico and going south from there were represented in the extravagant floats, musicians, dancers, and other performers. There were lots of colourful costumes (some quite skimpy) and the unofficial theme was clearly glitter. Bling was on everything, from floats to clothes to buttocks!

Wooden ship Parade float Glittering bodies Skull and skeleton torso on parade float
stained glass float Woman perched on giant tortoise parade float Huge mask with teeth parade float
Collage of scenes from parade Video clips from Mazatlan Carnaval 2020 Horse and caballero with silver saddle

Beyond Carnaval

Club Nautico provided a dinghy dock, showers, and some benches where sailors could await their rides. Although there was some maintenance happening and the caretaker was friendly, the club had clearly seen better days. One of the first things we noticed was that the club was home to many cats. We were to learn that the whole area was full of felines.

Cats lounging on deck at Club Nautico

A few of the Club Nautico cats.

Trail up to El Faro lighthouse, with cat

Overlooking our anchorage is a light house (El Faro). It has a nice wide trail to the peak with many people scaling it. Several pussy cats supervise the human tourists. At the lighthouse we observed one well-prepared man pull out a baggie of cat treats. He spends the winter in Mazatlán, trekking up the hill daily; he seems to have made friends (as much as one can) with the El Faro felines.

Sewage processing plant viewed from El Faro

On the way up to El Faro, one overlooks the sewage processing plant. That explained the occasional malodourous whiffs in the harbour. Most of the time the anchorage was not unpleasant but the plant may be partly responsible for demise of Club Nautico.

Mazatlan Harbour viewed from El Faro hill

From the top you are rewarded with a good view of the busy harbour and downtown Mazatlán.

Glass bridge poking over edge at El Faro

For a small fee you can stride out on this clear walkway and give your yourself the willies if you have any fear of heights.

13 cats and one dog

Between the lighthouse and Club Nautico cats were a common sight - we count 13 (and one dog) in this picture.

Our small harbour (at the head of the larger one for the cruise ships and ferries) is home to a dozen tour boats. Several times a day they cruised by loaded with passengers, creating waves while blaring amplified announcements and music on a track. One of the most frequently heard songs was the catchy Dance Monkey (by Tones and I)

Small power boat with tuba band on board

This tiny boat squeezed aboard its own band.

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