Get In My Belly!

thumbnail-5It seemed like no sooner than we returned home from Guaymas for the Christmas Parade, we turned around and went back.  This time we were there for El Festival del Camarón, the Shrimp Festival.  Guaymas is a shrimp fishing port and very well known for the abundance of and the size of shrimp caught in the waters of the Sea of Cortez along its coast.  The season typically begins in September, and its length is determined by the government, so as not to deplete the supply.  Throughout the fall, many men leave their “day jobs” for the opportunity to earn some fast cash.  Fishermen appear in the parking lots of area grocery stores and on street corners selling their shrimp.  The stalls along the main street in Empalme and fish markets in Guaymas are filled with fresh shrimp catches.  This is definitely a good time for a shrimp eater in Sonora!

So, of course, there is a festival to celebrate not only shrimp, but also the fisherman who bring it to us.  The Visitors Center in San Carlos arranged for a shuttle to take hungry, shrimp loving folks like us to the malecón in Guaymas for the hoopla.  Steve and I had never taken a shuttle with the Center before, and I have to admit it was very nice to not have to worry about traffic or parking downtown.  We were able to buy our shrimp tasting tickets on the bus.  This meant no standing in line for them once we arrived.  We jumped off the bus and started sampling immediately!

There were about six local restaurants participating and even a cooking school!  Anything that could be made with shrimp was available for tasting.  We sampled chile rellenos with shrimp, empanadas, machaca, shrimp lasagna, ceviche, and fresh, made right in front of us, corn tortillas overflowing with shrimp, cheese, and vegetables.  (I feel a little bit like Bubba from the Forest Gump movie.)  I discovered a new to me restaurant and found myself in line for their creation more than once.  One restaurant even included rice, salad, and a dinner roll with its offering.  Needless to say, our eyes were bigger then our stomachs, and we passed on some of our extra tickets to a vender, who had just happened to sell us a beautiful handmade basket earlier in the day.

Musicians entertained the crowd from a center stage.  The highlight, however, was the folkloric thumbnail-1dancers.  Wow!  Wearing traditional, brightly colored dresses women were spun across the dance “floor” by their partners.  It was impossible to hold still during the energetic displays.  The audience was caught up in the excitement, clapping, stomping, and trilling.  Even the festival characters dressed in salsa bottle costumes got into the act, dancing with the onlookers.  For a moment I forgot that I was in the middle of a bustling city, imaging myself at a boda del campo, or country wedding, instead.

Venders mingled amongst the crowd selling cotton candy, chamoy apples, churros, elote, and other festival favorites- -just in case you were there for something other than shrimp.  (And yes, I was seriously tempted by the churros but passed this time.)  Children begged parents for balloons and other popular festival toys available.  There were blankets, baskets, embroidered blouses, and other typical handicrafts for sale.  Steve and I visited the Christmas tree and other holiday decorations displayed on the malecón without the overwhelming crowds from the night before.  This also gave us ample opportunity to walk off our lunch!

thumbnailAll too soon it was time to board the bus for our return home.  It is no secret that San Carlos is an expat retirement community.  Therefore, many of its residents are just a wee bit older than the two of us.  We had barely left the parking lot when Steve and I noticed that many of our fellow passengers had nodded off, revealing just one more benefit of taking the shuttle!

A Festival for the Living on The Day of the Dead

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.

thumbnail-2The 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 thumbnail-1thumbnail-1thumbnail
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 IMG_4580lined 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.

thumbnail-6After 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.   Thethumbnail 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!