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Elota, Sin., Mexico
4 Kudos
A traditional fiesta Celebrating El Dia de San Juan Bautista. The first day of summer and the start of the rainy season.

I read about the offer of a free trip leaving Mazatlan, MX on Mazatlan's Pacific Pearl website. The Sinaloa Tourist Board was sponsoring free transport from the Ley Del Mar parking lot at 9 am and return after 9 pm on San Juan Bautista Day, the traditional start of the rain season. It described some of the festivities, including a bike rally, horse show, and traditional dancing in celebration of the start of rain season, a contest for decorated houses, a food fair, Banda music, and a street procession in late evening.

It gave a phone number to call to make reservations at the Sinaloa Tourist Board which I called twice but was disconnected both times. Not being deterred, I just went early on Thursday the 23rd of June, figuring I could get on. Sure enough, it was easy to spot the comfortable tourist bus that arrived about 8:30 and there was lots of room since I was the first person to arrive. Slowly the bus filled with young and old including a Mom with two children and I think, Abuelita.

The representatives from the tourist board made some announcements in Spanish about the schedule and what to expect at the fiesta. During this, I asked a young man from the group if English was spoken. He introduced himself, as Ivan the director of the board, and that he would interpret for me. In a later announcement on the bus PA system, he assigned his assistant, Roxanne, to interpret while he spoke. She took the seat next to me, on my left, to do her assigned task. Well, since the PA was quite loud in my good right ear, and I am quite deaf in the left, and Roxanne had the standard accent the natives give to the English language, this was not going well. Not her fault, and soon she was perspiring and fanning herself and wondering how she fell into this job? Anyway, off we go to Elota! Me?, I was full of anticipation of this,my first trip to experience rural Mexico and a peasant celebration.

After a short one hour drive we did arrive at a very pleasant looking village entrance guarded by an arched sign declaring, "Bienvenidos a Elota", and the bus slowly climbed a short hill, parked and we disembarked on to a clean cobblestone street. There we were greeted by some pretty young girls, kids in their school uniforms and others in bright red tee shirts but pretty much confusion reigned, so I took pictures. I decided to explore and started walking towards the town center, but the rest of the gang and the kids and bicycles all headed back down the road we drove in on. I was quickly spun around like a wayward calf and pointed in the direction of the others where we were being herded in to the town’s Museum, a three room old brick home with some paintings, old photos, stone petro graphs, and statute of the Man of the day, San Juan Bautista. Roxanne had deserted me, so not understanding much said, I signed in to the register at the entrance and even though no one else did, I added my hometown of Visalia CA, USA after my name, printed not signed to be sure I would not be forgotten. There upon, much to my surprise a lady, Julie, I learned later, declared Visalia as her hometown and that her father still lived there, an insurance man called Don Sharp, a gentleman, whose acquaintance I have made. Small world!

Our next stop was the village Church, a beautiful and better decorated edifice, obviously Catholic, because in the back near the entrance was an antique box with no doors or walls, just a kneeler and a screen used for the confession of your sins to the Priest. No privacy here! And with my new God given strength I thought I would show my Spanish skills and asked the youngest child nearby if the church had a name. He answered me in very clear English, realizing Spanish would be hopeless, that he had no idea if it had a name as he came here from the States too. Then I knew I found my first friend in Elota, Jose.

He was quick to point out to me the other kids that also had good English skills, and before we made it back to the town square I learned whose mother was who, who lived with who, how many horses everybody had, who won the bike race, who cheated, and a million other things that I can’t recall. Then he ran off to see if he could maybe get his horse or something like that. At this time I began desperately looking for the closest watering hole with adult beverages. I must have looked thirsty because there appeared the angel, Roxanne with a cold bottle of water, not cervesa, much to my surprise, since it did come out of the ice filled cooler under the bright red Tecate tent. Deceived!

A young girl presented me with a pretty necklace handmade from an orange flower, a tradition that was to be worn on this day, and then Roxanne feeling I must be bored or confused, led me by the arm to check out a local displays in mid plaza. There while perusing the Christmas decorations displayed, I did become bored, and when Roxanne turned, I scooted. Back to my search for a saloon of some sort.

Not having any success, the smell of food did intrigue me though and I stopped in a very quaint restaurant and ordered a Muchaca and bean plate with homemade tortillas. They did not serve beer and I settled for the bottle of water I was still clutching. The restaurant owner I learned was from Las Vegas, and she introduced me to her son, my second English speaking buddy from whom I would obtain the deep secrets and true stories of life in Elota. The deysayuno was muy bueno and I was just about finished when I was surrounded by a throng of delightful looking ladies in bright purple shirts speaking rapidly in Spanish. No comprendo, but I kind of sensed there was a problem, and it had to do with me.

I was told that a policeman was waiting for me and to hurry! Where was my Roxanne when I needed her? I was thinking maybe it was a bad idea to hide from your translator here in Elota, but my English speaking student buddy from Vegas, assured me that I should follow the ladies. The bus could not wait and had left with out me.! Missed the bus? I just got here! Yes, we were taking a tour of the country side and the police would rush me to the group.

And miss the caballeros? Yep, going to the cemetery! So down the street we jog, being pulled by the ladies in purple and pushed by the school boy, I am lifted into the back of the police truck, whacking my head on the crossbar, not being accustomed to riding in these vehicles, as we pursue the tour bus. No siren to my dismay.

Sure enough, we catch-up to the group at the cemetery on the top of the hill, where Roxanne stands, hands on hips looking dismayed at her lost assignment. Where did you go? We looked all over for you!

I tried to explain, I was hungry, and nobody said anything about a tour, and it was not on the schedule you showed me. Leaving out the search for beer part, I tried to amuse her with the story of the song I heard sung at the Pirates Sabroso palapa on my last trip, called The Lost Child. Didn’t work, as she grabbed my ear lobe and dragged me into the cemetery to improve my cultural awareness.

The first grave to catch my attention was the one with a undergarment of an obviously young lady, strung about the cross marking the grave of the poor soul who rested quietly beneath. Checking with my guide, I was told that the cemetery was popular hangout with the teenagers of Elota, so much for cultural awareness, nothing new in that! But I did hear the wonderful story of a girl and her compadre who were caught having an affair and summarily put to death and buried together. But as legend has it, this devilish pair continually returned from the grave to perform acts of mischief in the town, so the people put a barbed chain around the grave to keep them in. The kids however, picked up the habit, and continue the mischief to this day.
With that lesson learned, it was back to the bus, for another lesson, this one in Archaeology, but again I was relegated to the police truck, just to keep a closer eye on me. Rolling past fields that would soon be lush with Sorghum and corn, once the rains returned to this parched area, we ended at El Cerrito Verde, the area where Indian stone carvings were found on many of the boulders in the hills along with some of the biggest darn cacti I have ever seen, having trunks like Oak Trees.

The greatest attraction to me though, was the ranch house of the caretakers. Dirt floors, inside and out, open dining area, covered area for washing you, your dishes, or whatever, bed made from dried strips of leather (tanned with the hair still on), a corn husker that I thought was a lookout tower, and only two doors made of cloth curtains, one for the toilet and one at the entrance to cooking area. The smell of burning wood permeated, as the wife heated the stone while preparing the masa to make blue corn tortillas that would be ready after we checked out the carvings on the stones in the surrounding hills.

Ready for the tour, we were just about to start the hike when the farmer asked in anyone wanted to ride the burro he had tethered to a tree and outfitted with a wooden homemade saddle? Once a marine, always a marine, and I was taught when they asked for volunteers, put up your hand and ask questions later. So on to my sweet burro, I jumped, leaving Roxanne in my dust once again. There were TV cameras filming this adventure and I think I have a starring role, probably as San Tom Bautista!

Later after being educated in the ways of the pleasant and self-sufficient life of the Mexican farmer, we headed down the dusty trail to our waiting Police truck as the bus could not traverse this dirt road or the crossing of the Rio de Elota. I felt real bad when Roxanne, who was so concerned I would fall (or perhaps stay behind to spend the rest of my days exploring the hills on my donkey-and she would be in trouble again), slipped and fell into the dirt and dust. I wanted to brush her off, but as we looked up, much to her dismay was the TV camera whirring away. Caught on film, how embarrassing. Not to worry though, we were headed to the river where we could wash up and stick whatever we dared in to the roaring water. Being just the start of the rain season though, the river was only inches deep, and no one was lost in the rapids. The tradition and ritual was upheld as I even dipped the baby’s feet into the holy river. That earned me the privilege of getting back on the bus for the ride back to the village.

Just before arriving the bus stopped to allow a couple of young kids lug a bucket of fresh baked sweet breads and empanadas they were selling for only 5 pesos each. I bought some of our student tourist guides a bread as thanks for their help. The language barrier was beginning to fall quickly as they each very politely thanked me.

Upon exiting the bus, the center of town was setup with plastic Tecate chairs lined in front of the stage where young gents were playing Banda music and singing. Under the Tecate tents, were long tables filled with a multitude of dishes prepared by the citizens of Elota for our lunch. I tried all the dishes even though I had no idea what they were. I did recognize a Pozole, carnitas, corn in cream, but could not find the beer bucket. I settled upon a nice park bench where I was enjoying the flavors of the home cooked delights, when suddenly I hear a saint yelling from the veranda across the cobblestones, “Tom, you want a beer?”

Like a gazelle, I leaped spilling food, trying to speak with two tortillas stuffed in my mouth, shaking my head yes, the universal language. It was actually the Sinaloa Tourist Board to the rescue as Ivan had found the holy fountain of youth that had been eluding me. And Roxanne, evidently not mad at me after all and seeing my plight, ran over and brought me my first icy can of Tecate Beer. Let the party start!

My next experience, one that I could not fully enjoy was a local dish called Caukou or something like that. The reason I could not fully enjoy it, was because I had eaten plenty and was currently downing my second Tecate. Too bad because this is what we call crawfish and it was good. Served in a nice spicy red sauce with fresh vegetables, they were slippery and hot, but once captured from my lap where they seemed to end up while I was trying to peel them, they were excellent. This is probably what we were supposed to be doing in the river! Catching these lobster sized delicacies.

Now it was **bleep** or nap time so I climbed in to a comfortable chair on the porch of the restaurant where my English speaking school buddies soon reappeared. Seems like they could not find a suitable relative willing to fork over the fee that would get them in to the bounce house that was set up nearby. So we made a pact that when I returned and they were old enough to find work, they would pay me back if I fronted the 30 pesos which they informed me was only about $3 US anyway. Smiling I knew they would probably be fine with this kind of knowledge and skill already learned.

By this time my camera battery was dead but I had brought the charger and plugged it into a nearby outlet and it gave a good excuse to just sit while my friends from the State Tourist Board of Sinaloa and I got to know each other. I tried to explain how I spent my time in Mazatlan without ever having stepped in to “a club”, and they told me of their many boyfriends, about their jobs, and families. Now, I was accepted and they confided in me the secret of Elota, where to buy a beer! One block left, one block right, and one block to the furthest corner of town far from the church. And we were off to make a purchase before the festive dancing started and night fell. We had to do this in daylight and suffer all consequences of our ruined reputations.

After making the appropriate lefts and rights I safely led the four young ladies to what appeared to be a closed and locked beer distributor. But to the rescue again, one of the helpful elementary students began banging on the door yelling to a mystery person hidden behind the locked steel door. Whatever the kid said, worked, as the door cracked open and a wrinkled hand reached out, 75 for eight light and 80 for eight red. Gladly filling his wrinkled hands with 200 hundred pesos, the door slammed shut and locked again. Then the sea parted and two bags emerged, filled with ice and eight of each in each bag. Bring on the rain! Saint John, we’re ready!

Time passed quickly as many different dance groups performed on the main plaza stage one after the other in the brightly colored costumes of Mexico. The girls spun with their dresses creating pinwheels of color showing off pretty legs and white britches underneath in the setting light of day while the boys jumped and stomped their boots on the wooden stage floor and the music spread over the town. The girls of the tourist board went back to work and surveyed various attendees about the events and I took more pictures. I did try to keep up with one young lady who whirled me about in the street to the beat of a favorite Banda tune. But I think things were behind schedule as the 9:00 witching hour was nigh so there was no time allotted for us to dance before the procession through the streets of Elota.

Soon everyone was gathered under the welcoming arch at the bottom of the hill and led by men on horses, a Banda group marching and playing, fireworks banged in the night sky, and hundreds of us sinners were now free to pursue the devil as he tempted this righteous flock with glasses of Tequila and an angel pleaded to not fall for the trick. The angel lost, but nobody seemed upset.

Suddenly sadness filled my heart, as Roxanne grabbed my arm and pulled me from the crowd, pointing to the yawning doors of the bus and away from this step back in time. The school kids appeared from nowhere and hugged us goodbye as we boarded. New friends forever I certainly hope. And soon back in the yellow lights of the Plaza Ley shopping center, I thanked the Director and his crew of hard working staff for such a memorable day before giving Roxanne a hug assuring her I would not get lost on the next trip. Don’t tell her, but I took the Red Truck Taxi to the bar closest to my house for a nightcap. Bring on the Rain!
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