I had been looking forward to Saturday all week—maybe all month even. October 28 was the opening day of the Festival de la Calaca in Guaymas. My relationship with festivals in Guaymas has been spotty at best, leaving me feeling a bit underwhelmed most of the time. The Posada last December was mostly a raffle for bicycles. And a free hot dog. El Día de los Tres Reyes Magos involved standing in line for a piece of Rosca de Reyes, or King Cake. My son was so disappointed by both events, he told me that I was on my own from here on out. No worries. I rallied a new group of festival goers, who had no idea of past fails.
The festival was organized by Casa de Cultura, a government sponsored organization that promotes Mexican Arts and Culture. In the week leading up to the celebration, the center sponsored several workshops including the art of paper flower making, skull painting, and traditional Catrina make-up. I surprised myself by stepping outside of my comfort zone, attending the workshop on make-up- -ALONE! The workshop was well crowded, and I quickly made a new friend. I call her a friend because I believe that once you have used your fingers to apply white paint to a stranger’s face and lips, a certain level of intimacy has been achieved.
Props to both Steve and Brad, who did not bat an eye, upon seeing Patty and me in our
Catrina makeup on Saturday afternoon. We both got a “you look great” and then “I’m going to try and pretend there is nothing weird about this”. Small children, however, were fascinated by the two gringas in face paint. We got a lot of stares (okay, I am assuming it was fascination here), shy smiles, tentative waves, and whispered “holas”.
Our first stop was Plaza 13 de Julio. Colorful papel picado was strung from the
lampposts above us. Floral wreaths hung on the posts and the center kiosk as well. Venders sold tamales, Cheetos and chamoy, totopos, raspados, aqua de jamaica and horchata. There were carts full of children’s toys, jewelry, paintings, instruments, and crafts for sale. There were balloons and blow-up toys on sticks. They were so bright and colorful, I was looking for any excuse to buy one. A band played lively music. Catrinas, standing 12 feet tall, overlooked the festivities from their corner posts.
We then headed over to Plaza de la Pistola where the ofrendas were displayed. Most were sponsored by universities and high schools and honored important Mexicans of the past and present like Cantiflas, Nezahualcoyoti, and La Cruz Roja. I nearly cried at the ofrenda of a young boy; it included special touches like his school books and favorite snacks. I wondered if he had been a student at the school that designed his altar. There were incredible sawdust carpets in front of many of the altars, some of which look longer than a week to make. These lead the soul to the ofrenda and help minimize the contact it makes with the earth.
We walked over to the parade route. It was scheduled to begin at 6:00 pm. With our bags of churros in hand, we found a seat on the curb and waited. And waited. And waited a little more. Cars kept coming down the parade route. We weren’t entirely sure how road closures for events like this were handled in guaymas. We could see the lights of the lead police vehicle and hear the band, but still the cars kept coming. The sidewalks were lined with people on both sides. No one seemed to mind the delay. They visited with one another and enjoyed treats like paletas, algodón de azúcar, and chamoy apples.
Finally, at 6:45 we caught our first glimpse of the parade. There were two marching bands, baton twirlers, dance troupes, and floats- -that were pushed by hand! Parents walked alongside the parade, keeping watchful eyes on their children who were participating and/or directing them back into proper position. Yaqui Deer Dancer Catrinas threw candy to children along the route. Everyone clapped in time to the music and even sang along when the band played Despacito! There was a long line of cars (those that had apparently just missed the ambiguous cutoff time) crawling behind the parade down Avenida Serdán.
After the parade, we headed back to the Plaza for one last loop. Things were really happening now. Colorful lights blinked on and off. The music was louder, as was the crowd. A movie screen featured children’s cartoons starring Catrinas. There were arts and crafts for the kiddos. People were lining up to have their faces painted. Candles had been lit at each of the altars. Everyone was eating or drinking something yummy!
This was not a festival of death. This was a festival of life. The serious business will take place Tuesday and Wednesday nights in homes across the city. This night was about embracing the living and discovering joy in spite of the sadness. Casa de Cultura created a marvelous spectacle for all and taught us something about one of Mexico’s most important cultural traditions at the same time. I am certain that even Caleb would have loved it!