Sunday, March 25, 2012

Big Mexico: Mazatlan

Carnival Roman Soldier
My friend Dale spends most winters on his sailboat in the Sea of Cortez. He had shown me photos of Mazatlan after Carnival with the dozen or more paper mache statues lining the beach. On this weekend right after Carnival, they were still in place and they are impressive, huge, imposing, sometimes amusing, and after many years, in bad shape.

I spent Thursday night on the Baja Ferry. This one was not as luxurious as the one from Topolobampo. There was no lounge with Kareoke singer, the cafeteria was small and the 'seating' consisted of comfortable large chairs lined up like a movie theater with three big flat screens mounted on the front wall. They showed two American movies dubbed in Spanish. My seat was a single seat next to the wall, behind the back row. Even if I could have followed the rapid fire Spanish, I could hardly hear it for the roar of the engines. Behind our 'theater' there was the open deck. In the roofed section it was quite warm but smelled of diesel. Further out on the deck, the night air had a chill. After the second movie ended at 11:00, they turned the lights down and everyone went to sleep. Some stretched out on the floors, others laid across several open seats, and many lay down in the aisle which made getting past them on the swaying boat rather precarious.

I slept for a while with feet propped up on the chair in front, then tried lying on the floor behind the seats. I hadn't thought about bringing my towel for a pillow or blanket so used my lumpy purse and slept until too chilled to be comfortable. Quite a few people slept outside on the warm but stinky deck. Somehow the night came to an end.

There was a woman who came up to me and began speaking in heavily accented English. She looked a bit Mayan, very short, stocky, and with the cutest gnome-like smile. Her name was Mariluz. She was born in Chile but has lived in Australia for over forty years. She converted to Mormonism and married a widower with six children, plus she had two of her own. One of her sons is married to a Mexican and lives in Culiacan. She was headed that way to see her first grandchild.

Mariluz
We had a lot of fun talking on the boat, eating our two supplied meals, and then she stayed with me in my hotel since it had two beds, and there was no reason she should have to pay for a room of her own.

I love how this sort of thing develops with people in Mexico and probably other parts of the world. Backpackers hook up with each other, but it has been a rare occurrance in my lifetime. I suppose travel has made me regress to a younger outlook.

I had reserved two nights at the hotel online: Hotel Fiesta. It painted a lovely picture - across the street from the main bus station, someone at the desk 24/7 so supposedly it was more secure, inexpensive (cheap), and near the beach and restaurants. Sounded good. The cab driver however painted a rather different picture when he tried to convince us that it wasn't really suitable for two middle aged ladies. Bad area, crime, run down......Both pictures were accurate.

We went there anyway. It wasn't so bad, it wasn't so good either. The room was clean. The door locked only with a dead bolt. The inside part, where the dead bolt is held in place, had been broken, then repaired with a thin piece of wood that could easily be busted off if some guy were to throw himself against the door. I wasn't planning on making anybody that angry but still, I was not about to leave anything of real value in the room.  Mariluz was a bit taken aback at the poor conditions, the sheets were thin, the toilet had no seat, there was no hot water....There were also no bugs and it was  exceptionally clean. I had my towel but she had to ask at the desk for one.

View of the city

It was three blocks from the beach so that's the first place we went. We took turns sitting on the towel guarding the purses and played in the surf. A fine day with low breezes and few other beach-goers. Then we walked the full length of the beach, shopped at some of the little stands set up on the side of the road, ate lunch at a seafood place that was totally empty except for us, and then walked into the ritzier part of town. She had in mind to take a city tour and seemed to have gotten directions on where to sign up for it. It was a long and hot walk but we found the tour kiosk. The operator let me use his internet for about half an hour so I was able to check in with relatives and friends who hadn't heard from me in a week.

A Dairy Queen was right next door so we got a sundae and sat down to cool off. This part of town is rife with US stores and restaurants like McDonalds, Burger King, and Auto Zone. Across the street was a Senor Frog's outlet. It had water pouring down over all the windows making the brightly lit inside look like it was actually underwater. Nice marketing ploy. There were four other Senor Frog stores nearby, all selling clothing and accessories with the same frog design. Who knew such a thing could be so popular?
The Family sculpture, with a distant relative.

Mariluz wanted to go dancing but I was too exhausted and really did not feel comfortable being out very late at night walking back to the hotel in this strange potentially dangerous city. I think she was secretly glad I refused because she fell asleep by 9:00. We had taken a bus to return to our hotel, but neither of us were sure where it was. She could ask people and understand their instructions better than I, so it was just fine with her tagging along for a couple of days.

The next morning we went on the city tour and it was a good trip for the money. The bus took us up to the top of the town's mountain, into the old city where the cathedral and huge indoor market are located, and we stopped to watch cliff divers. It gave me a better mental image of the town and how far apart things are. That interior map came in handy on Sunday when I went walking all over town and needed to be back to catch a bus to Guadalajara by 6:00.

Mass in the market

Mariluz left for Culiacan Saturday night. I found I missed her company. It's nice to have a travel companion, especially one as easy to be with as she. If I ever visit Australia, I had to promise to come visit her and stay as long as I want. I was flattered.

On Sunday the man at the desk agreed to "guard" my bags while I went off to explore the city. As everywhere else in Mexico, buses run all the time. One went directly to the cathedral in the old part of town, where of course Mass was being given. On the city tour we'd gone into the cathedral, It was tranquil, beautiful with 14 Star of David stained glass windows, 7 on each long wall, and chandeliers to light the interior. But on Sunday morning it was packed with people standing, sitting in pews and folding chairs. A loudspeaker blasted and echo'd the words of the priest. I couldn't understand anything but the occasional reference to Jesus.

Cliff divers
Next door to the Cathedral is the indoor market, a huge roof over open air stalls. Huge sides of beef were being unloaded from a truck. Strong young men carried half of a cow on their backs into the butcher shops in the very center of the market. Because the air flowed through so easily, the meat section didn't have the rotted odor of so many other Mexican markets.

Inside is every kind of stall imaginable: clothing (much of it with Mazatlan printed on it somewhere), furniture, pottery, weavings, fresh bread, fruits and vegetables, fish (some stalls specialized and sold only Marlin for instance), sweets,  chocolates, etc. Many trinket sellers followed me around with plastic figurines of turtles, mermaids, frogs, or fish with Mazatlan printed on the base, plus a bunch of other useless crap. I could see buying a hand-painted ceramic fish made by a local person, but plastic junk probably made in China? Makes you wonder who buys that stuff.

Wandering on through town, eventually I arrived at the twelve kilometer long Malecon. It was mid afternoon so I stopped at a restaurant with a sign for their special Sunday meal: Paella. A half order sufficed and was loaded with shrimp, clams, chicken and a little sausage. The couple at the next table mentioned that their paella didn't have any shrimp so the waiter promptly brought them a whole plate of shrimp with two different salsas. I chatted with them a bit. They own a condo and have been coming to Mazatlan for about fifteen years. The man pointed at a huge structure down the street and said it was a mansion that has been sitting, unfinished, and empty for the last ten years. The owner is a notorious drug dealer now serving time in prison.
A Siren

This is how safe Mexico is..... The closest I come to a drug boss of the heinous Sinaloa Cartel is walking past his unfinished mansion.

Pleasant breezes came off the ocean so it never was very hot. Food vendors lined the Malecon and guys selling balloons, floaty toys, and kites wander up and down the beach. Around 6:00 I picked up my luggage and caught the bus. Another night of trying to sleep in a moving vehicle ended at 3:00am with the lights on suddenly. We'd arrived in Guadalajara.



The first fermenter for Pacifico Beer.



The empty mansion