I’m at Pedro & Lola’s, a storied restaurant in Mazatlan’s historic Old Town, holding hands at an outside dinner table with 12 other people, as if we’re conducting a seance. A tiny man with a twisted grin works the black lever attached to the wooden box he’s cradling. The more he spins the lever, the more we grimace.
Some of us are holding metal handles that are also attached to the box, which emits an electrical jolt. Like a demented organ grinder holding sway over a dozen idiot monkeys, the man winds the lever faster and faster as each of us tries to bear the buzz of the charge—the first one to drop the handle must buy the drinks.
Maybe it’s the tequila, but my eyes are spinning like pinwheels and it feels like my hair is aflame. At last, I cry out and stumble from the table, vowing to never do something this stupid again. Until, five minutes later, I do it again. “How could you let that happen to me?” I ask, pulling up a seat beside my new friend Jerome, who’s working on his Tecate beer.
“You’re right,” he says, handing something to me. The handle looks eerily familiar. “Hold this for me, will you?”
Carnaval, derived from Latin, means “farewell to flesh.” How appropriate, as the jolt box, which we paid the demonic owner a few dollars to crank, shocks a person into a seemingly out-of-body experience best greased with Mexican libations.
The annual Mazatlan Carnaval (Feb. 27 to March 4) on Mexico’s sandy Pacific coast is a costumed blowout for both adults and families where some 300,000 revellers indulge. Bodily excesses are encouraged, as Carnaval is traditionally the time of last gratifications before fasting during Lent, which runs from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday.
When we leave the table, we’re caught in a throng of blaring music and flashing lights in Machado Square, just steps from the fabled Angela Peralta Theater.
A fetching woman in a candy-pink wig and a green dancer’s skirt is surrounded by admirers, young guys with their black collars popped, who are trying to get closer to her as she laughs. Children chomping on snacks are tucked close to their parents. (Panamá bakery’s chocolate flan is a local favourite; you can buy a small cake that serves 15 people for about $13). The aroma of popcorn wafts in the air.
“I think, at this point, I must give up everything for Lent,” says Jerome, bent over with his hands on his knees, his face an unholy shade of green.
The streets that snake away from the square are filled shoulder-to-shoulder with partiers, though there is no unruly drunkenness, no threat of violence, nothing but friendly people having the time of their lives. One of the many reasons I love Mexico is its warm and hospitable people.
Before the parade of 34 massive floats, we go to the star-studded coronation ceremonies heralding the various Queens and King, and the majestic Naval Battle Celebration fireworks show.
Later we stop for a bite at El Shrimp Bucket restaurant, where, just above my head, there is a framed movie poster: Attack of the Crab Monsters.
“From the depths of the sea,” it reads, “a tidal wave of terror!” How true. Within minutes, an unstoppable wave of margaritas crests over our table before it carries us away in a conga line.
Near the end of our final night, I find myself in a haze, again at Pedro & Lola’s, where the jolt-machine man is peddling his dark arts. Jerome is handing something to me, but it’s not a beer. “I’ve got to run,” he says, the look on his face scarily familiar. “Hold this for me, will you?”