Travels from March 2 to March 5:
OK. What is round, the size of one of the holes punched in the edge of a piece of paper in a 3-ring binder, colorful, and has been found everyday in March in almost anyplace aboard Nanjo? To help, "anyplace" translates to deck (below decks or topside), bunk, hats, pockets, wallets, clothes, backpacks or John and Nancy's hair.
Answer: Carnaval 2000 confetti!
The town of Mazatlan knows how to party. The week before Lent, before beginning the 40 days of abstinence, the townspeople cut loose and enjoy the night, a week of them. Carnaval in Mazatlan is reported to be the third largest in the world. Nanjo remained anchored in the harbor, since this put us within walking distance to Party Central - the street of Olas Altas in Old Town. This beachfront boulevard is blocked off for a week, tickets are sold to grant access and security is much in evidence. Each night the crowds build, starting at 8pm, becoming substantial by 10pm and at full force at midnight.
Stages for bands were placed about every 2 or 3 blocks. When the bands aren't on stage, the sound systems buffet the passersby with relentless, bone-rattling waves of Mexican rock music. [Mexicans love their sound systems: High quality sound, high dB, deep bass, each striving to dominate the soundscape, competing with the neighboring system.] Between the stages, countless food stands serve their fare to the crowd. Besides the usual Mexican street-vendor selections, we found hot dog stands to be popular and numerous. There was even a stand actually baking special breads in ovens placed right in the street. Another made potato chips, beginning with a whole potato; coating a bag full with hot sauces and lime juice. Rather than list everything, let's just leave it at - you could find just about anything you wanted. Cap'n John sampled many.
We selected the night of the "naval bombardment" (fireworks) to experience the Olas Altas party. Our group was composed of six people, La Paloma and Saucy Lady accompanied Nanjo. However, we bumped into other boaters from the anchorage and the marinas. The fireworks were scheduled for 10pm. We arrived around 8pm, after having a comida dinner in one of the many restaurants, above the Centro Mercado in Mazatlan. [This was an experience all in itself, sitting on a balcony above a major city street with the night crowds and hustle-bustle right below us - all the noises, smells and sights.] Our group walked the approximate two miles of the Street Party. Past cliff divers plunging from rocks into the treacherous night waters, past huge reflecting pools with sculptures of a naked man and woman standing in a conch shell while a herd of dolphins were frozen as if frolicking in and out of the water, we walked with hundreds of people. The night hadn't even begun and several partygoers had already exceeded their limits.
At 2200, our group had positioned themselves as close to the shorefront stone wall as we could, about 6 people back. Think about it, a mile of shorefront with six or more people deep, jammed elbow to elbow, belly button to belly button, an even larger quantity of people still in the street. The crowd had to wait only briefly.
The "battle" was composed of two pyrotechnic launch sites on the beach. One was just to our right the other was ¼ mile down the beach to our left. First one would blast a display, answered by a similar display from the other. Soon both were launching simultaneously, shooting glorious displays like repeat Fourth-of-July "finales". In the middle of the presentation, a 20-floor office building became the "casualty" of the battle: A fireworks "waterfall" falling from the edge of the roof illuminated the sides of the building. Rockets and low-level pyrotechnics erupted from the roof as well. As the "waterfall" was dying out, I looked over at a big-screen, erected behind the street. The TV picture showed the building we were all watching. Then the picture switched, showing a crowded street somewhere. The crowd reminded me of Times Square in New York at New Years Eve. As I watched the camera pan, I recognized a landmark and realized the picture was of Olas Altas: We were experiencing a World-Class party.
After the building completed its part in the fireworks display, the battle was renewed, ending in a finale that was The Mother of All Finales for us. Mind you this whole thing was right over our heads, shrapnel falling on our shoulders, burning embers drifting onto the street and buildings behind Olas Altas. We were going to need a serious visit with our favorite chiropractor, Dr. Salt in Chula Vista, to get our necks and shoulders straight again. But then we didn't know we were about to get a most unexpected "group adjustment".
Once the 30-minute bombardment ended, our group reassembled in the street. But then so did about 100,000 people! Our destination was ¼ mile back through the center of the throng. Before we had taken more than a few steps we recognized we had to compete for every square inch of ground we entered. It became obvious that the successful technique was to form a human chain, a conga line. Nancy and the rest of our group formed up behind me and we began to move. The entire crowd was not going in our direction but many were. My backpack was soon pulled off one arm in the melee and I pulled it the rest of the way off, placing it in front of my chest as I rammed forward. Nancy had the cushions she had been carrying, pulled off her arm and she only held them in her free hand, the other holding tightly to the waistband of my pants. If the cushions had been pulled out of her hands, she would have had to leave them behind. The crowd had become a mob. We controlled our movement less, rather concentrating on staying on our feet, for fear of being trampled. That was the rest of our groups' thoughts - I was concentrating on finding another line I could follow, avoiding an oncoming line looking for competition, watching for an opening. Actually it was worse at the edge where there was only pressure from one side, so I kept our group in the mob.
Within two blocks of our destination, we hit a "wall". The oncoming crowd was successfully defending a rugby-scrum. But the mob going in our direction would not be denied: They pushed forward with renewed vigor. The six of us were in the middle, being compressed. Then we began to be pushed back. I looked right to find an escape. They were being pushed back too! Ah, but not quite as badly. I veered right and added our weight to their thrust and we broke through. This phase of our trek took far more time than it has taken for you to read about it. It was the most dangerous point in the mob and the last effort before we were in the clear.
The mob was mainly fun loving young people, upper teens to 20-somethings. Yet every once in a while, a Mexican granny could be seen pushing forward with determination. She probably came out each year for her adrenaline rush. Our group stopped at the edge of the crowd to let our adrenaline dissipate and to check all of our parts. The tops of our shoes had been used as much as the bottoms. The shoelaces were trailing, our shirts were hanging out and the excitement had our voices elevated. The consensus was we wouldn't trade the experience for anything, but then we probably wouldn't do it again either. We felt lucky we got through without an injury or worse.
It was almost midnight when we passed back out the "gates". The crowd outside, coming in, was still huge. The party was growing, not winding down.
Once back on Nanjo, we saw the searchlights' beams darting over Olas Altas. The throb of the bands and sound systems was only slightly muffled by the hill between us. All the food I had eaten was apparently used during the push back through the festive crowd - my b/s count was ideal. As we undressed, Nanjo received its first cloud of confetti that night.
The second confetti dusting occurred the next night, after the first Carnaval 2000 parade.
We double-dated with La Paloma, catching a bus down to the beach road between town and the Hotel Zone. About 3 miles of 4-lane boulevard was blocked off, the parade route bordered by ropes. The crowds here were families, tens of thousands of people. Pushing was still the sport, only now it was from the back. Soon the pushing became mothers and children forcing their way in front of those already in position. Soon Nancy and I realized we had to stand our ground if we didn't want to be pushed any further away from the parade route. Franny and C.E., from La Paloma soon became claustrophobic in the press and escaped to the rear.
However, before the crowd became aggressive, I retreated to a curb alongside a building to take my glucometer reading. No sooner had I planted my fanny and reached into my backpack, a security guard confronted me and indicated I was not allowed to stray away from the crowd, his backup waiting to provide assistance if need be. I spontaneously refused to move, informing him I was diabetic, continuing to remove the meter. The young guard was stymied and watched as I set up the meter and loaded a strip. His backup came to his side as I drew a drop of blood and informed them I needed to know the amount of sugar my blood had. They began to relax and were intrigued with the process. As I dropped the blood on the target and the evaluation began, the meter started counting down from 45. I wondered if they were ever concerned that it was a timer for explosives - they didn't say anything and I didn't try to pick the meter up (figuring that they would not expect me to sit right beside a bomb about to explode, and I wasn't going to give them a concern about me throwing it). The result displayed on the meter's face after the counter went to zero. [No explosion!] They both walked back to the crowd and smiled at me when I returned to the parade route. I was very impressed with the security at the perimeter.
Mexican Navy sailors and officers patrolled the parade. Each carried a long length of PVC pipe. I didn't see any of them get rough with the occasional individual who darted under the ropes, so they were probably there as a deterrent and as crowd control, if things got out of hand.
The parade was composed of huge floats constructed in wood and painted. Their themes varied between history and contemporary: Mayan splendor and the fantasy of Batman, etc. Ahead of each float a group of 15 to 20 teenage dancers, dressed in costumes in the float's theme, would cavort and undulate in rhythm with music from a sound system. Some had occasional routines, but all would end up at the ropes, mirroring the dancing in the crowd. Many times they would draw a particularly active observer into the street to join their dancing. People had a great time.
The beautiful girls and handsome guys on the floats tossed candy, pens, lighters and streamers into the crowd. I grabbed my share of bootie out of the air. The crowd threw clouds of confetti back toward the floats, covering us, as well as most of the people close to the ropes. From 5:30 to 8, the floats would move and pause, trinkets would fly out and confetti fly back. Famous Mexicans rode on many floats - probably politicians, actors and actresses, singers and other popular icons. A roving TV reporter and his cameraman stopped near us while the reporter interviewed a particularly active young woman just in front of us. We were part of the background throng, Bo and Clint. Again, we wouldn't have missed it. We didn't go the second parade a few days later, though.
At the end, the family-crowd dispelled almost instantly. We headed for a spot to have a drink and something to eat. Nancy and La Paloma decided on Pollo Loco, I went in search of another hot dog. Earlier I had bought a few pieces of pizza and a roasted ear of corn for my 5pm-meal. We sat outside Pollo Loco and dumped the confetti off our hats, drifts of the stuff. The Park household in Chicago could have used their snow shovels and winter skills to clear the mounds of the stuff. We watched the children in their Carnaval hats, faces made up or hiding behind masks, playing kids' games and shrieking in their excitement and leftover energy - still throwing confetti.
There weren't many Gringos around and we liked that.
Crew of Nanjo