Stik Mann's
Issue 14

Greetings, beloved readers, and welcome to this very special issue of Stik Mann's OtherSpokane from beautiful Mazatlan.

I am typing this on the run with no Spell Check, so please bear with me.

We arrive in Mazatlan at 5:30 a.m. It is still dark and still very, very foggy. We are relieved to get off of the bus after spending the last few hours rocketing through the grey, pea soup ether at dizzying speeds, our knuckles still white and eyes still wide. It is so foggy that the lights of the cars on busy Av. Ejercito Mexicano can not be seen until nearly upon us.

I know from my last trip here that the ocean is only a few blocks away, so we go on my instincts. It doesn´t take us long to get lost. An old man emerges from the fog. "Por favor, senor, el centro?" (downtown?) I ask, and point in the direction we are walking. "No," he says, and points in the opposite direction. "Ah," I say. "Entonces, la playa?" (the beach?) and I point to my left. "No," he says, and points to my right.

We finally find the beach and James walks directly into the ocean. "My God," he says. "It´s warm." We walk the beach toward Old Town. It is growing lighter and visibility is a bit better. A few joggers appear on the Malecon, the walkway that hugs the ten miles of beach between Old Town and La Zona Dorada, the ultra-touristy end of the city. "What?" I say to James, finding an almost startled look on his face. "I´ve never felt a warm ocean," he says.

We leave the beach and walk the Malecon. More people appear -- lovers hand in hand, a large family pushing their luggage in a cart, old men sweeping the streets. We come upon a group of twenty or so beached wooden fishing boats, all once painted brightly, but now weathered and beaten by the sea. A group of fisherman are already cleaning their catch.

James points to what appears to be three of the crafts, barely visible in the fog, all moving slowly toward the shore. Suddenly, one of the boats stretches out a mighty set of giant wings which it flaps wildly and takes flight. The others follow, flying directly for the fishermen. They are enormous pelicans, with wing spans of eight to ten feet. They dance at the fisherman´s feet, gulping and gargling the discarded fish entrails.

We leave the Malecon and enter the maze of Old Town, houses and shops stack up against and atop one another, old women mopping sidewalks, men setting up taco stands, children peeking from windows, skinny dogs scratching in the dirt. We enter the heart of Old Town -- the Mercado, a one block square, covered market; and the soul, the 19th-century Basilica Perpetua, with its large white statues of Jesus and the saints guarding each corner, the tops of its tall twin towers still hidden in the fog.

We search for a hotel. It will not be an easy task. Today is the official start of Carnaval.

"Hay (pronounced as "eye") una cuarto?" I ask. Is there a room? "No hay," says the young man. "Carnaval." Down the street and up some stairs. "Hay una cuarto?" I ask. "No," says the old man. He casts a stern look to a young boy who immediately runs from the room. Around the corner and down the block. "Hay una cuarto?" I ask. ¨"Si, senor," says the young woman. "Ah, cuanto cuesta?" How much does it cost?¨"Solo cinco ciento pesos," she says. Five hundred pesos? At a 9.5% exchange rate, that´s as good as fifty bucks. "Carnaval," she says. We look at the room. It´s nice (and by this I mean it isn´t a dump) and it has a balcony. We decide to slurge and take the room for one night. "No, two nights," she says in English. "Only two nights. Owner say." James looks shocked when it seems that I´m considering. "Okay," I say to her, making sure I´m understanding correctly. "Two nights -- $1000 pesos?" She nods her head like a toy dog in the back window of a muscle car. "No, no. Only three nights. Owner say."

We finally get "lucky" at Hotel San Fernando, $220 pesos for two hard twin beds, a blackened shower stall which was once not black, no toilet seat, floor tiles with designs that look like smashed cockroaches and bird dropping, dirty white walls with the texture of curdled cream with the lower third painted puss yellow, rebar showing through several places in the ceiling, and an overhead fan with a bare bulb hanging from a frayed cord above that casts the room into a continuously strobing, William Burroughs-esque, hallucinatory, epileptic fit. And there´s a color TV.

We unpack our bags. I shower and am surprised to find ample hot water. We pack a day pack full of essentials -- sun block, cameras, map, notebook, etc. -- and head out into the streets.

We are less than two blocks from the Basilica. The large wooden doors are open and we enter the cool interior. We are struck by such awe that we stagger, and must feel our way to the nearest pew because we can not lower our eyes. Please forgive me, my faithful readers, for my inability to describe the wonders of the inside of the Basilica. More later, when time permits.

We walk to the market, passing a truck filled with cow carcasses split in half, a man sleeping atop a mound of bagged oranges in the back of a pickup, a lady carrying a large tray full of fresh baked rolls on her head.

The Mercado is divided into sections, each containign similar stalls; la ropa, clothes of all sorts, T-shirts, sandals and very aggresive sales women; vegetales y frutas, many unlike we´ve ever seen before; small tiendas, stores, selling can goods and other groceries; shops selling fresh squeezed juices, religious oddities, plants and herbs; las panederias, selling fresh loafs of bread and rolls caked with sugery goo; and, el mas interesante, las carnicerias, the meat market, where men and boys chop, hack and saw on huge beasts behind display cases of every cut of meat, stacks of steaks and ribcages, braided intestines, iced lungs and stomachs and every other imaginable internal organ, goat heads lined up with eyes wide open and tongues hanging all to one side, mounds of ground beef and an old lady whose job is to chase away the flies and bees, and pig heads neatly sawed in half and displayed like medical vivisections in all of their anatomical goriness.

We buy some rolls, a few avacados, a handful of limes and some kind of candied squash, then venture back toward the Basilica. We find a shady bench in the large Plaza Principal in front of the church and make sandwiches which we douse with lime juice and salt.

Happily stuffed with this strange concoction, we leave downtown and walk toward the beach, where preparations are being made for Carnaval. People are setting up stands and building makeshift stages and seating platforms precariously propped up with driftwood. Beer trucks are unloading thousands of cases of beer.

We continue down the Malecon toward La Zona Dorada when the owner of a tiny beach palapa -- an open-air restaurant made of poles with a thatched roof of palms -- literally pulls us inside. We drink a few cervezas, beers, $10 pesos each, and watch the beach fill up with children battling the waves, flying kites, building sandcastles; old men wandering from palapa to palapa, beach towel to beach towel, selling rings and necklaces, sliced papayas on sticks, sunglasses and gaudy hats.

We discuss the possibility of becoming drunk as pigs before noon, when we are approached by a strange entourage: two young women in white wigs followed by two young men with silver-tinted hair, who in turn are followed by a crew of ragged young boys totting enormous coolers of ice filled with some new drink they are promoting. They slap four bottles of the brandy-laced drink on our table, then they vanish. The girls are now posing with some Mexican tourists, both bent over slightly while a man with a bushy mustache acts like he´s about to grab their asses. His wife snaps a photo and they all laugh.

ç Our fears of pre-afternoon intoxication are realized, so we catch one of the hundreds of open-air taxis, pulmonias (literally, pnumonia), back to our hotel for a siesta.

We sleep for a few hours then are back on the streets, heading for the beach to search for some mariscos, seafood. We stop in front of Restaurante del Pacifico and read the menu. Two waiters come out and begin ranting like evangelical preachers about the wonderful food and fine service. We each order Sopa de Mariscos, seafood soup, $65 pesos, and a beer. The soup is filled with shrimp, scallops, chopped oysters and little octopus tentacles, all bathed in a spicy broth, muy delicioso.

We meet a man from Seattle, who is here for Carnaval with his wife and two teenage daughters who are all "looking to get their asses pinched." He sits with us and eats all of our tortilla chips and gives us his take on the gran fiesta. He says that Senor Frogs (not to be confused with the Senor Froggy´s of Gringolandia) is the place to go for 13 to 18 year old girls strutting their stuff. We lose track of how many beers we drink. The bill comes to $220 pesos.

We walk back to the hotel as the sun sinks into the sea, leaving blood red streaks across the horizon. We get cleaned up and head back to the streets and immediately notice that everyone seems to be moving in the same direction. We too are pulled into this strange gravity-like force, and are quickly sucked into a side street where we end up filing into a large gate. Like everyone else, we buy a ticket for $15 pesos and realize we have just become a part of Mazatlan´s Carnaval 2001.

This oceanside street, that only a few hours ago was packed with speeding cars and pulmonias, is now filled with people in jester hats and glittering costumes, children with painted faces, hunched over old women begging for pesos, drunken teenagers, and (please believe me when I tell you this, beloved readers) the absolutely most beautiful girls and women on earth, all in skin-tight outfits and ultra-mini skirts and shorts. There are thousands of people in my immediate view, but there is room to walk about.

The sides of the streets are lined with stages with live bands blowing brass instruments and pounding strange-looking guitars, restaurants and stalls selling tacos and tortas, hot dogs, parados, churros, whole baked chickens, sweet fried bread, quesadillas and hamburguesas. Beer stands are everywhere and very well stocked. Push carts sell elotes, corn on the cob slathered in lime juice and chili powder or mayo and fresh grated cheese. There are games of chance and booths selling every imaginable trinket.

We navigate through the crowd which continually grows larger. Everywhere lights are flashing, strobing and shooting like lasers through the smoke that flows through the street, rich with the aroma of its origin and mingling with sweet perfume and sweat, the smell of the sea, beer and piss.

Spontaneous dances begin breaking out everywhere – the young and the old, hands in the air, gyrating hips, with wide, white smiles, screaming, spinning, spilling drinks and singing loudly. An old man with vacant eyes gulps the flames of small torches, his face blackened and burnt.

We come upon a tow truck holding up a large pinata in the form of a cowboy riding a red, white and blue bomb with a long fuse. A clown with a face of silver pearls dances around the bomb with a torch and warns the crowd to stand back. He lights the fuse and we are showered in sparks as the contraption spits and spins and bursts into flames, crashing to the ground as the crowd cheers.

Still more people pack into the street that seems to go on forever. Conga lines form out of necessity to pierce the crowd and not lose companions. Soon, we are packed in a sea of bobbing heads and tightly packed bodies, all dripping with sweat and beer.

Suddenly, there is a loud explosion above and the sky illuminates with firewords, showering us all with burning embers and cardboard shrapnel.

We have just experienced Carnaval, day one.

Next issue: ??? (But probably in a week or two.)

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