Monday, February 23, 2009

Mardi Gras Loot: Day 3

If you read the previous posts, you know we did not catch any loot on Saturday because we couldn't watch the parade. Here is Sunday's pile.

Carnaval: Batachá Parade - Part 2

I asked Pablo what "Bachata" meant because it is not in the dictionary. He told me that it is actually Batachá (pronounced bah-tah-CHA) as in the sounding out of a drum beat, and that is what it represents: lots of drums. As you can see above, Pablo took his tambor along. He jammed with several of the drummers parading by. These are our seats for Sunday's event. Later we have chairs in the exact spot Pablo is seated in front of the beer concession that had seats available. This photo was taken at 9am, and the beer sales start at 11am.

At 9am folks are lining the streets and all the bleacher seats are taken. They may not look full but the empty seats are being carefully guarded by those currently occupying space.

By 10am people were arriving in droves. Families pulling large coolers, carrying chairs, loads of food and huge jars of chiles sought out those elusive empty spaces where they could set up camp for the day.

At 11am the concessions opened and all the seats on the tree-lined side of the street were also filled. We were comfortable as Pablo batachá'd his drum and I wrote on whatever bits of paper I could find in my empty purse. (I was ready to reach out for loot by Sunday!) We enjoyed some mouth-watering watermelon served with chile and lime juice. The watermelon man and his cart of fresh carved fruit was irresistible.

It is nearly 12 noon and people are now arriving in herds. I have no idea where these people will fit themselves in, but most of them will squeeze in somewhere. Some will likely end up behind those bleachers and have to sacrifice the parade to the beer gods.

Just before start time people have to be in their seats or make their way out of the parade route. The walls of policemen make sure this happens and in a timely fashion. These folks, if not just up stretching from having sat on benches or curbs for three hours are completely SOL (shit out of luck) if they think they are going to see this parade around here!

Carnaval: The Children's Parade

Although we did not, my neighbor Theresa DID attend the Children's Parade on Thursday, February 19th, and you can read about it and see the photos on her blog:

And while you are on her blog page, read about the bloggers' gathering she is planning for mid-April here in Mérida. It should be an interesting few days. Quite a few of the Yucatecan bloggers, and some from farther away in the republic, plan to attend. Come join us.

Well, let's not waste good blogging space. Here is another video from Sunday's parade. The quality is no better than the one on the last post, but I am amused to be able to capture any live action.

Carnaval: The Bachata Parade - Part 1

Sunday morning we left the house at 8:15am for the Noon Parade. We found parking before we even got to Mike's house, leaving us only 3 blocks to walk. The bleachers were already full, but we were able to find a beer concession that had not pre-sold all their seats and for 35 pesos each we got front row chairs, AT the beer stand, UNDER a big shade tree. The five year old was happy. Below are my favorite photos from the day's events. I added one video for some live action. It is not a good quality video, as I am only using the movie feature of my Olympus digital photo camera, but with a little imagination it will take you to the Paseo de Montejo on parade day.

Carnaval: The Fantasy Parade

Saturday we left the house at 6:30pm thinking we had plenty of time to park in front of Mike's house and find a seat before the 8pm start time. Someone had blocked us out of our private parking spot, so we reverted to plan B and miraculously found a place to park just two blocks up the street.

Arriving at Paseo de Montejo, my jaw dropped. Every seat was filled - free seats, paid seats at the concession stands, and every centimeter of curb. We walked and walked and got shoved around and were unwelcomed by all. The friendly police of Friday evening were replaced by stressed out and just plain nasty ones. There was a serious "fuck you" atmosphere and the ALEGRIA (happiness) of Carnaval escaped me completely. It was an "every man for himself" situation.

We maneuvered our way into a beer concession to have a brew and think things over. Pablo was elbowed and edged out. A tall and large gringo stood up and stepped in front of me taking photo after photo and I couldn't see anything coming toward us. Neither of us could see over anyone's heads. The gal in front of me was pissed off and giving me stinkeye the whole time we stood there drinking our beer. After giving up on that we crossed the street, pushed and excused ourselves through the narrow passages between the way-too-small bleachers. Once through that maze, we found ourselves behind the bleachers milling around in a crowd full of people giving us dirty looks.

I caught a glimpse of the very tops of a few of the fantasy floats. It seemed like there were new and different ones from the night before. I can't say for sure, other than what I saw pictured in the newspaper. The photos above are what I saw of the Fantasy Parade.

I did my fair share of pouting, being the 5 year old brat I am at a parade. On the bright side we enjoyed a few cold beers and some tasty tacos al pastor. The scene itself was a bit overwhelming. Pablo just kept telling me, "We have to get here earlier. Like 3 hours or more before the parade." I have to look at it as having seen another aspect of Carnaval, the socializing, eating, drinking, and standing around talking story side. Pablo took it all in stride and said to me, "You can't win 'em all. There are more parades and more Carnavals." The problem is that a 5 year old doesn't understand that logic.

Below are a few shots of the bandstands that are set up along Paseo de Montejo. When the parade ends the music and serious beer drinking begins. We walked some and listened, but frankly I was a little walked out after three hours of just meandering around. We will have to try again tomorrow.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Carnaval: The Corso Parade

As Mérida parades go, this one was no disappointment. It began promptly at 8pm and lasted until 9:15pm. Folks here consider that a short parade as they are used to three hour ordeals. I looked up the word corso and the dictionary translated it into "cruise, cruising, privateering". Could it mean this is just the warmup, as in "just cruisin'"?

The first hurdle is parking. We lucked out because our friend Mike generously offered to let us park in front of the parking garage at his house, thus closing him in or out for the evening. He lives only four blocks from the center of the action. Driving anywhere near the parade route is a series of mazes, traffic jams, and lots of HONKING. (For the life of me I do not understand why people think that obnoxious and continuous honking will unjam the traffic snarl. We just close the windows, turn on the a/c, and turn up the volume...)

These are the seats we found available. We arrived late, at 7pm so we were lucky to find a place at all. We sat on the curb behind this nice police woman holding the crowd back with rope. She had a sense of humor, and got a laugh when someone tossed me a candy from a float and it landed in my beer. "Three points!" I yelled. And she and the policeman standing with her both chuckled. Everyone stands during the parade so we had a nice open vista.

The police presence is impressive. There are temporary tall police stations set up all along the parade route so big brother can keep his eye on everyone. Every fifty feet or so stands a policeman holding the crowd controlling rope. There are municipal, state, judicial and federal police everywhere. The military is also present in bullet proof vests and camouflage suits.

We only detected one minor holdup. The Mambo Five float's battery died in front of us. The repair procedure reminded me of a pit crew in an auto race. Guys came running from all directions, a few rolled underneath with a new battery, and within a short few minutes Mambo Five was rolling again.

This kid had a beautiful smile. I took a lot of photos of floats but they came out blurry because I didn't use the motion setting on my camera. (I forgot my glasses and couldn't see it!) So I did my best to get some T & A in the photos below.

I was on much better behavior this year. Last year I was crazed and stressed and reverted to a 5 year old kid when grabbing loot. Being more self aware this year, I managed to contain myself. The more you dance and yell from the sidelines the better chance you have of getting attention and loot!

The colors and smiles and the energy are contagious. We will be back tomorrow for more!

Mardi Gras Loot: Day 1

This photo is last year's beer mug. It says "Amazones del Sol" (Amazons of the Sun) (or perhaps Amazon Women who drink Sol beer). This will give you an idea of the "tone" of Carnaval.

The messsage for Carnaval 2009 is "Las Invasoras" (the Invaders).

We scored a small batch of loot last night. The first parade is just a warm up, and the sponsors are guarded with the "regalitos" (little gifts) they send flying into the crowd. We will see the better items and more of them as the days go on. We managed one t-shirt. It translates into "With the integration of the people with handicaps, we win!" This is a big occasion for the handicapped folks here, as they really seem to enjoy being invited to participate in all the parades.
We caught packages of crackers, a pencil, chocolate bars, a sample of an Advil Maximum Strength tablet, and lots of candy. My favorite is shown below.

A Mexican deck of "Uno" cards.

Miles of bleacher seats line half of Paseo de Montejo two days before fiesta time. The open lanes we are looking are behind the parade where people meander along the parade route stopping at food and beer concessions. This is the social section, while the parade passes through the lanes on the other side of the divider island.) The night shot really only shows the seats full, and is a good example of how the folks are rather reserved and orderly at the beginning of the night. Later things will get a little rowdy. Yes! That is Batman!
The Yucatán Today article I referenced called this Carnaval de Cínema, when in fact the theme is actually CARNAVAL DE PELÍCULA, which specifically refers to films and not cinema in general. Thought I would like to clarify that.

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Parade-athon: ¡Carnaval Time In Mérida!

It is Carnaval time in Mérida! According to the Yucatán Today, “Carnaval is to Mérida what Mardi Gras is to New Orleans and Río de Janeiro.” This year’s theme is Carnaval de Cínema. It is all about the movies. Carnaval runs the week prior to lent; this year from February 18th through the 25th.

“Mérida’s Carnaval is one of the five most important in the entire Mexican republic and one of the 12 principal Carnavals in all of Latin America…. Carnaval in general is a time of fun and excesses with its parades, music and dancing, and food and beer consumption.” (Yucatán Today, 2/18/09)

On Weds the 18th, the fiesta began with the Burning of Bad Moods. A big bonfire was built in the main plaza where a life sized stuffed doll was burned, representing the elimination of bad moods and humor. (I was in a bad mood and I didn’t attend.)

Thurs the 19th presented the first of several parades: The Children’s Parade. This one is made up of toddlers and pre-schoolers in costumes. It is the shortest parade, but definitely the cutest. (I did not go…..Hey! One can only consume so much beer!)

Tonight, Friday the 20th, is the Corso Parade. Starting with this one we will attend them all! The beer is served in liter sized plastic memorabilia cups. My guess is the supersized cups will have the cartoonish festival logo PLUS a buxom woman in a teeny bikini. Carnaval requires the presence of lots of barely clad beautiful women, and seems to have a fair share of femininely clad men too! This is the first of the longer parades full of floats, free stuff they throw from floats, costumes, dance groups, music and beer. I plan to post photos mañana. (By using this term instead of ‘tomorrow’, it buys me more time in case I drink too many cervezas tonight! We all know that mañana simply means NOT today!)

Sat evening the 21st offers the second and slightly higher energy Fantasy Parade. On the corners of the long parade route bandstands are set up and a variety of artists perform live on the radio. It is fun to walk down Paseo de Montejo and check out the different kinds of music, and of course stop for a beer and a dance or two.

Sunday’s events begin at noon with the Bachata Parade. Meridanos like to dance in the street every Sunday, so this one brings lots of families from outlying areas into town with their coolers and folding chairs. The streets are one big party.

Monday night the 23rd will be the Traditional Regional Night Parade. This one is special because the colorful costumes are replaced by the beautiful traditional Yucatecan styles. Ladies will be decked out in their huipiles, and the men in the traditional white shirts, pants and leather sandals. Even the aluxes (Mayan fairy dwarfs) and Xtabay (Beautiful Mayan spirits that lure men to their death) will be playing with and teasing the audience. Can’t miss this one!

Tuesday the 24th brings the final parade, called simply The Mardi Gras . It is known to us as Fat Tuesday. The parade starts at noon. (Oh man the traffic, I can see it now……….maybe the businesses all just close down!? The streets are all closed that is for sure, I wish I could print the street closures and bus route changes from the newspaper, it is an amazing maze. But that would be obsessive. My reading and mapping the parade routes was obsessive enough I think. Especially since I refuse to drive anywhere this week!) Also called the Battle of Flowers Parade, this is the day when the beat and rhythm of the music will vibrate all of Mérida like one million giant boom boxes!

Weds the 25th is Ash Wednesday and in the evening in the central plaza they will bury Juan Carnaval during the week’s final event. The Carnaval queen, dressed in mourning clothes, reads his eulogy and the Meridanos will spend the next six weeks trying to get the taste and smell of beer out of their clothes and their bodies.

Last year I was busy with dysfunctional houseguests (This is my first major understatement of the new year!) that disrupted our lives a bit during Carnaval and we didn’t get a chance to really give it a lot of energy. We went to one parade. I drank too much beer and made an ass of myself out in the street with my arms outstretched trying to catch whatever they threw from the floats. I had three faux-leather cell phone covers, many strings of beads, several beer cups loaded with candies and product samples, a drink stirrer that lights up and flashes, beer can coozies, feathers in my hair, or was it a tiara… tell you the truth that is all I remember. I remember walking home about 40 blocks and several liters of SOL beer sloshing around in my distended stomach.

This ends the first annual official pre-Carnaval report. I will admit right here that my itinerary description is taken nearly word for word from Yucatán Today's article, but I stopped referencing it above after the second quote I used. No matter how I tried, I couldn’t change their wording, their article was so well written. So I will just say I added a few comments to a very informative report from our local guide book and online service, and not take credit for writing much of this post myself.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Tecoh Caves/Grutas de Tzabnah

On Sunday Pablo and I drove southeast down Highway 18 about 35 kms. to seek a new adventure. We stumbled upon the Grutas de Tzabnah, more commonly known as the Tecoh Caves. This extensive underground cave and cenote system is located just a few kilometers south of Tecoh pueblo, between Acanceh and Mayapán. There is a sign on the left side of the road announcing the Grutas, and this palapa pictured below is the office and entrance. We were charged 50 pesos per person, including lights and a guide. According to the map we were shown, there are 13 cenotes that have been located to date in the underground labyrinth.

I am recuperating from a back injury, so I was wearing tennis shoes, long jeans, and a back brace. We were able to make it back to ten cenotes. I think you had to crawl and climb to get to the last few cenotes and I was not ready for that. Next time.

The entrance is about 6 feet high, and the first cave full of swallows is the tallest ceiling we saw. After that there was a lot of bending, careful plodding along on hands and knees, sometimes using a rope to get around slippery and steep corners among the stalactites and stalagmites. These cenotes are completely underground, so there is no light at all other than what the flashlights give off. There are a lot of legends and superstitions involving cenotes in the Yucatán. The Mayans call them dzonot, and they are considered magical, enigmatic and unique in the world. They represent the entrance to the underworld. The cenotes are also the major source of fresh sweet water for many Yucatecans. Our guide told us the castes hid/lived in these caves during the early 1800's when the Revolution was taking place. He also told us a spooky story back at cavern number ten, but I didn't really get the gist of it.

Another interesting aspect of the hike was the high humidity in the caves. It was a rather cool day outside and once we got about 15 feet into the cave the temperature and pressure increased noticeably. We worked up quite a sweat on our walk, and drank all the water we brought to rehydrate ourselves.

Not much to look at above ground but flat rocky land. I am about to enter the cave.

Some of the stalactites are dripping salt. These are two salt deposits that resemble piles of ice. You can see the white lines where the salt is dripping from above. The entire Yucatán Peninsula is made of limestone rock, and the cenotes are an important part of the entire underground river structure. There are a lot of salt deposits within the Yucatán area as well; most of the salt water comes in from the surrounding Gulf of México and Caribbean Sea. The fresh water comes up from the aquafir and at some point they meet. Fresh and salt water have different densities, causing water in cenotes to appear brackish, but the salt deposits underground....this is a new one for me. I tasted the salt.

There is a naturally formed stalagmite that represents the Virgin of Guadalupe, and farther back in the caves is another pose of Mary feeding Jesus.

The photo above shows two of the cenotes, and how clear the water is. I stepped into it up to my thighs by was invisible!

More clear water in Cenote Five and Number Six is an "Ojo de Agua", or eye of water. It would require scuba and spelunking gear to explore in there further.

The rock formations are really something. The bottom photo is a turtle's head, but from the angle I took the photo in the dark it looks more like a lizard.

The guide called the above formation an octopus. On the right I am drinking sweet water from the ceiling at Cenote Number Ten. This is where we turned around after the guide told us that the muddy cenote we were looking at was full of eels, and it would not be the best cenote to swim in. Well, that and the smaller more slippery and steep conditions. We don't know to what depth we walked, it was a walk in the dark mostly, luckily the camera picked up some light.
Check out this eel. He is blind. The skin has grown over where his eyes used to be. I remember the fish in the cenotes in Quintana Roo had the same condition. These are simply called "anguilas ciegas". I don't know where the fresh water eels came from, but it was really interesting to find this photo online when I looked into the blind eels. They are found in limited cenotes in the area. It was unusual to find out they live so far inland. Great excursion!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Super Tazón

Yesterday was Superbowl Sunday. Here it is called the Super Tazón. The show aired on ESPN, The Latin American version. The announcers said their viewers watch “desde Tijuana hasta Tierra del Fuego” or “from Tijuana, México to the Southernmost tip of South America.” I am posting this video clip; it is not very well made mind you, but if you turn up the volume you can hear how annoying the Spanish speaking announcers are. I actually shot a better video, of the touchdown the Steelers stole from the Cardinals, and I had trouble uploading it here, hope it plays. The announcers and their "¡Tuuuchdaawwwwwnnnnn!!!!!!" is over the top.

I stopped going to Superbowl parties a long time ago. We won $800 at Dee’s party in 1993. The parties even now are fantastic, and I hate to miss a great party at Maxine’s with multiple TV’s, tons of food and lots of interesting people. When I was in Kona, I played her pools and checked in with her on the phone from time to time during the game from our house, where we watched with just a few select friends. To me the house rules were simple, but some were unable to follow them! You could talk during the game, but you had to shut up for the commercials. The commercials were the best part of some games. Imagine my disappointment watching the game on Mexican ESPN where the sponsors were Ford, GM, Hummer, Mitsubishi, Samsung, Toshiba, Telcel, Telmex Nextel, and Mexicana Airlines, all local commercials. They offered some new and pretty good ads, but it was not the same as the zillion dollar space they sell on US TV for Superbowl Sunday.

Although American Football is barely gaining interest in Latin America, they are aware that the US wants more Latin players, and they are very sports oriented people. I think they played one preseason game in Mexico City, a year or two back, and are working on programming another one for the upcoming season.

On Sundays three channels air different games at Noon, we get one on Fox Sports at 3pm, and the Sunday Night Game on ESPN. Of course we see Monday Night Football but only see Madden and Al or whatever his name is in the background, we hear our high pitched announcer and everything’s in Spanish. Not all football terms translate that well.

Here are a few examples. Let’s look at team names. The SF 49ers are called “los Cuarenta y Nueves”, literally “the forty-nines”. So, you lose the whole gold miners’ reference, and the translation actually makes no sense at all. The Redskins are called “Los Piel Rojos”, simply stating they have red skin. The Browns are the “Cafés”. That could mean coffee shop, cafeteria, a cup of coffee, but it is not really used to describe the color brown. They should be called the Marrones. That doesn’t work. The Packers are the “Empacadores” (referring more to factory workers packing shit up)…..and the Steelers are the “Acereros” which at least means steel workers. The translations that work well are the Gigantes de Nueva York, Los Vaqueros de Dallas, Los Tejanos de Houston, Titanes de Tenesí, los Delfines de Miami, etc.

The end zone is the “Zona de Notación”. Penalties are “Castigos” – literally punishments. The yellow or red flag…..this one kills me…"panuelo" ..HANDKERCHIEF. Handkerchief? In a football game? Paleeeeese. The Quarterback is the “Mariscal del Campo”, which means “Field Marshall”.

This says it all. “Leading by 4 in the 4th quarter, ball on the 4 yard line, fourth down.” “Ganando por cuatro en el cuarto cuarto, el balon en la yarda cuarto, cuarto oportunidad.” And if all goes well, “¡A Notación!” (touchdown)

Football season was especially fun because my family and a few friends play a season long football pool on Yahoo’s Pro Pick’em. Nephew Brian inched out brother Larry, I came in third. We started with 8 players but two were unable to finish. It gives us our own stats to watch each weekend. It is a tradition I am glad maintains interest.

I do love football season but I feel compelled to see all the games, which distracted us from our trips to ruins, cenotes and beaches on our Sundays off. The weather got cool so it was easy to put on sweats and grab an afghan and hang in the hammock for hours. Hope Superbowl turned out well for you, I was in my Steelers T-shirt and colors, and was pleased with the game and the outcome. Thanks again to all the players in the Guerreros team. I felt like we were all sharing time and space with similar interests and it was fun.