Vacations are gold, especially when there’s so few each year. That’s why Mazatlan was not on my list, it’s not that I didn’t want to go to Mexico, it’s just that I had figured if I ever went back again it would be for Day of the Dead, or to the Radish Festival, where locals in Oaxaca carve intricate statues from radishes, or even to go on an expedition in search of a Chupacabra. But sometimes, when we least expect it, we stumble over something we mistook for a lovely rock, and it turns out to contain a fossil that strikes our imagination deeply and surprises us with hidden secrets of earth and even life itself. This was Mazatlan for me.
I already had family in Mazatlan and when my mother told me she was thinking about buying a place in Mexico, being the over protective child that I am, I had to cash in my vacation time to make sure this would be a city I felt comfortable about my mother living in. What I knew about the city was that there are a lot of Ex-pats there, but there is also a thriving billabong, wearing resort scene. I was sure that I would be sticking out like a sore thumb and my worry increased when as soon as I hit the plane a couple of Canadian adventure seekers started making fun of my complexion. Ok, so my skin is a little like the under belly of a fish, white with a green tinge with slightly transparent in patches, but still, it’s not something I think people should talk about, especially at 25,000 feet above land, for all they know I could have crawled in from the wing, a passenger from a descending space craft.
However, once we had landed and were away from the high altitude fashion police, I realized that we were in paradise. Mazatlan is known as the Pearl of the Pacific and we were staying just steps from the beach in the Historic Centre of Mazatlan. The beach was magnificent, with cliffs and intricate rock formations that jut out from strips of sand. On the Malecon pathway that follows the shore stone mermaids beckon to passers by while cliff divers do daredevil acts. I also fell in love with the historic centre, its neoclassical buildings, wrought ironwork and narrow streets were reminiscent of the French Quarter in New Orleans and empty facades were covered with amazing street art, skulls peaked out from every corner and brightly painted Virgin Mary’s camouflaged into the brightly painted casitas.
But this city was more than a pretty face, it also had many activities, including surfing!! I’ve wanted to take surf lessons for most of my life; I was always looking for packages and had been saving my money to go on a women’s surf trip for quite awhile. Well, to my surprise Mazatlan is a surf mecca (ok, everyone on the west coast already knew this and I feel very naïve that I didn’t) and my mother had booked us surf lessons! It just goes to show that if you constantly visualize and see yourself doing something, you will eventually do it, even if it’s not how you expected. My mother had told me about the classes a few weeks before we left, which I’m glad she did because even though it gave me a few weeks to add some extra planks and core workouts to my day. I’m glad I did, because even though I managed to get up a few times it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life.
Here are a few life lessons that I learned surfing:
If you get a bad wave you just have to ride it out:
Roberto, who runs the Surf in Mazatlan Surf shop and school told me this on our way from lesson one. I am pretty sure I got the translation right on this one and it’s a philosophy that seems to hold more truth after a good pounding by the ocean.
One of the most grueling parts of learning surfing was the energy expended on getting on the proper side of a wave. Pulling your board and paddling over a swell, swimming, holding your breath as the crest of a wave crashes over you, enveloping you in a salty grip.
All this effort and you may not even get a good wave, in my case you may not even be able to balance enough to stand up. Ok…I decided I was just going to ride it out! Because you know what…the few waves that I caught my balance for were exhilarating and enough to make up for the rest!
Let yourself fail
It’s all about the wipe out. You are supposed to fall! If you don’t you will ride into the shore….I didn’t even realize that until Lesson 2. No matter what you will inevitably fall (try telling a perfectionist this). Accept it, learn what you can from the crush and let yourself fall.
To feel better gargle your body with salt water
I got sick with a terrible cold on the third day in Mazatlan and this came from a conversation over text with Stefania and I think it works!
I haven’t been connected with the Pacific ocean in quite a few years and I was mesmerized by the sounds of the ocean, especially with it being so close. To me it was if you could hear the earth breathing and the ocean was the earth’s giant lungs. Every time I went in the ocean it was as if my whole being was being cleansed, the tide pulling the toxins from my body and the poison from my thoughts. It was beautiful and I will definitely be going back to surf again.
Besides for fulfilling a life long dream, I also came across some curiosities.
Jenny Haniver in the wild!
This is the last creature I expected to see in Mexico, as I’ve only came across them as sideshow oddities before. This one was watching over a stall in the downtown market.
Jenny Hanivers became popular in the mid 16th century. They were brought back by sailors visiting Antwerp, as the name became a slang version of jeune d’Anvers (Young Person of Antwerp).
When I was younger, I used to call them sea fairies, but early beliefs of these mythical creatures had them as more nefarious characters than that, they were often thought of as mini dragons and were commonly mistaken for Basilisks, a creature that could kill by merely glancing your way. It ends up that they are dried ray fish, which makes sense since Mazatlan is known for its rays.
I asked the stall owner about the sea creature she told me that it brought her luck. Upon researching I’ve found that Curandero’s (shamen) use these dried fish in their rituals, as they are renowned for their magical powers. They would be ground into powder for drinking or worn as amulets. I know it was lucky for me as well as the shop keeper since I found some very cheap lotteria cards at her booth.
And then there’s always Skeletons
This burial urn is at the Museo Arqueológico and was made by the Totorames, who were the first people of Mazatlan. The customs and spiritual practices of the Totorames are not known, but archaeologists suspect that they were a peaceful society, as there is no evidence of human sacrifice in their artifacts which was common practice in the surrounding Sinaloa communities of the time. The Totorames were highly skilled in tool making and pottery, and even though the Totorames had a highly advanced agriculture systems and were successful in the fishing trade industry they disappeared 200 years before the Spanish conquest.
The fact that the Totorames built these ceramic egg tombs as part of their funerary rites is fascinating. Soft tissue would be removed from the deceased and then their bones would be carefully arranged in the egg with the skull set on top of the remains. The museum states that the egg is to represent a return to the womb of the mother goddess. Whether this is in relation to Tonantzin, the mother goddess of the Aztecs, it is not clear, but I can’t help acknowledging the reference to nature and the life-death- life cycle prevalent in early polytheistic societies and maybe something we are coming full circle to. Check out these modern egg pods.
With the Spring Equinox and Ostara coming, I will be holding these urns in my thoughts and inviting them into my meditation on rebirth.
All good things come to an end..or do they?
Mazatlan is a wonderful place, which I’m sure holds much more magic to discover. Luckily I will be back sooner rather than later, as my mother is going to go ahead with her plan to buy a place and we will be back in May to shop for her dream casita.