Santa Cruz Carnival

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By Michelle Vander Byl

We had been warned that Carnival week was going to be loud but there is loud and then there is LOUD….  And this was LOUD!!!

When we rented our condo, we wanted to be immersed in the everyday life of the locals.  Well if that meant noise, then we were certainly immersed!  But we didn’t know what was to come!

It started very early on Monday morning when a few kiosks started getting erected.  Banging of the poles, people talking, pickup trucks parked every which way to unload their poles, boxes, tarps, merchandise.  Three generations in one vehicle, travel from one town to the other making a living selling hats, jewellery, clothes, housewares, etc.  This setting up lasted all day & all night long as more kiosks went up.

On Monday afternoon, many of the rides for the fair had arrived and men were busy setting these up.  I was glad our grandchildren were leaving the next day because they would have begged to go on those rides- ferris wheel, bumper cars.  Their parents & grandparents would have had to say no…we were not sure any of these rides had had a recent safety inspection!

On Wednesday morning, they blocked off the end of our street.  The beer trucks, the bread trucks, the water trucks, the garbage trucks, the tourists’ buses –all would have to go the long way around.

We didn’t mind that; as we often shook our heads when a loud vehicle went by—right under our balcony! CFE, the electric company, came & set up several stations with multiple plug-ins for everyone to have some power at their individual businesses.

On Thursday evening, around 6:30p.m., the carnival started.   Rides were going, gambling games had their flashing lights on trying to attract customers.  Music was blaring from 4 different speakers right in front of our building, until early the next morning.

Besides the carnival, there were also many pilgrims here in Santa Cruz for the first Friday of Lent.  Many people brought candles & white flowers to the small capilla (chapel). The pilgrims set up camp in an abandoned, unfinished building.  They came from small rural pueblos up in the mountains.

A big poster had advertised a rodeo for Friday night.  Bleachers and a fenced in yard were set up at the end of the public area.  We figured it must be a children’s rodeo with young calves because it covered too small an area.  Around 10 p.m. hundreds of people entered the street, by the church entrance.  Where did they all come from?  Who knows?  But the real party started then; the music got louder.  It ended at 4 a.m. Saturday.   I woke up then because it was so quiet!

All day Saturday, lots of people were walking, shopping, talking loudly on the street below us. On Saturday evening, we were in for a surprise.  The noise level was even higher than on Friday night! We had been out in La Crucecita for dinner and entertainment at Hemingway’s, and when we came back, it was a shock to our ears!  The party lasted until 3 a.m.

Sunday is family day in Mexico and many families came to the carnival and to the beach.  Tired children could be heard crying at the end of the day, straggling behind their parents who were carrying new purchases along with all their beach necessities.

At the far end of the street, near the Itoo restaurant, Mexican department stores had moved in.  If you have never been to a small town on market day, you will be surprised at what you can buy on the street under a blue tarp!  Everything from jeans, socks, bras of every colour & size, to black lacy underwear; from a washtub for laundry to a frying pan to brooms & mops to knives & forks.  Movies , jewellery, plastic toys for children. You need it, they got it!

We realized the owners of these kiosks slept inside their little tiendas.  We saw a few crawling out from behind the tarps each morning.  Others set up a small pup tent behind their business.  And still others slept on the zocalo benches or on the ground with a jacket serving as a pillow, not far from the products they were here to sell! One slept on a bumper car; another slept on a bench on the ferris wheel.  We believe some took turns sleeping—guarding their property.

We figured that Monday would be quiet—how many more people had not been here yet?  It was quieter than the previous nights…everything was shut down at midnight! But to our dismay, that is when some of the owners started to dismantle their tiendas.  Cling, clang, bing, bang! The poles were dropped on the street or thrown in the back of the pickup truck.  The carnival was over and they were anxious to move on to the next town to get the best possible site– closest to the zocalo.  One by one, they left.  On Tuesday morning, the big trucks with the rides started moving out too.

Garbage bags & boxes were piled along the streets.  Kudos to the Fonatur staff for cleaning up so quickly & so thoroughly!

On Wednesday afternoon, they reopened the street.  All the vendors had left.  Normal life could resume…

With the help of ear plugs and air conditioner in the bedroom, we managed to get a few hours of sleep.  But when in Mexico, do as the Mexicans do… siesta time became a welcome addition to our daily routine during the days of carnival.

We imagined ourselves as being in the middle of the midway at the Ottawa Ex or at the Calgary Stampede for one week.  Non-stop noise & loud music.  We survived…

Mexican immersion?  You bet!