Sunday, February 26, 2012

Mardi Gras in Loreto Bay

It´s been a while since I´ve written about a party in these pages – not that there haven´t been a few “unreported” events during that time, but this week there was an occasion that demands to be reported!

Mardi Gras – Fat Tuesday – Carnival – the last chance “blow out” before the beginning of Lent goes by many names, but this past marked the date for a celebration that has set a new standard for “Fiesta” here in Loreto Bay!  Last year I had missed the first such Mardi Gras Party that was held at a private home in the Nopolo neighborhood that surrounds our development.  That party was organized by Shelia and Manfred, the same couple that has been the driving force behind the very successful Paella events that I have written about several times previously.

This year Shelia had much more ambitious plans for a celebration.  First of all she was able to secure the Golf Course Clubhouse as the venue, with the generous co-operation and support of Homex and the Inn at Loreto Bay.  Relying on a small core group of volunteers, mainly drawn from the recently formed Nopolo Property Owners Association, extensive planning and preparations were undertaken to organize a much bigger event this year with the proceeds to be divided between their Association and CARITAS, a local charity that assists the most disadvantaged in and around Loreto. 
The inner courtyard of the Clubhouse was beautifully decorated with lights and banners to make an ideal dance floor and tents were erected around the outside of the building where tables and chairs were arranged for the partiers and a service bar was set up in the snack bar area that was kept busy all evening serving wine and beer and the special cocktail of the evening, Hurricanes, the signature drink of New Orleans.  On the west side of the Clubhouse, food tents were set up where the appetizers, jambalaya, salads and desserts would be served.

Starting a few weeks in advance, posters were printed and wristbands were available for sale at various locations around the development – 250 pesos in advance, 300 at the door, and as the date got closer the buzz began to build as people made plans for masks and costumes to wear, which were encouraged, but not required.

Now, in a town the size of Loreto, which has more than adequate shopping options for the basics; food, liquor, simple hardware etc. – but when it comes to something like a mask, let alone a costume for Mardi Gras – well, suffice to say, I tried several of the toy and gift stores without any luck and I was wandering along the main tourist shopping street, wondering what to do, when all of a sudden the solution was staring me in the face – literally!

There, in front of one of the tourist shops was a display of “Luchador” (wrestler) masks, the unique full head masks traditionally worn by professional wrestlers in the “Lucha Libre” (free wrestling) events, popular throughout Mexico.  The small sizes in the display that caught my eye were obviously intended for children, but when I inquired inside the store, the proprietor quickly found a large plastic bag full of dozens of adult sized masks and I started looking for my Mardi Gras identity.

Although there were many colorful and elaborate masks to choose from, I had a clear idea of what I was looking for, now that I had a plan.  As unlikely as it sounds, in my wardrobe here I happened to have a Chinese “proletarian” suit I had picked up years ago on a visit to Chinatown in San Francisco – big baggy drawstring pants with a high collared jacket closed with fabric “frogs”, all black, trimmed in white at the collar and cuffs.  So when I found a black mask trimmed in white my costume was complete!

I had invited a couple of friends to meet at my place before the party, as I live nearby the Clubhouse, and when they arrived I asked one of them to braid my ponytail so it would stick out through the laced opening up the back of the mask.  After a fortifying cocktail we all headed across to the Clubhouse to join in the festivities which were well underway by that time.

The courtyard was decked out in lots of strings of lights and hanging paper lanterns with a small “L” shaped stage in one corner.  I was impressed to see that about half of the almost 250 people in attendance were in the spirit of the celebration and wearing some sort of mask and/or costume – ranging from sublime to the improvisational.  Some of these costumes had obviously been brought down specifically for this occasion, others had been made up on the spot from bits and pieces that were accessible, but whether it was a simple eye mask and a few strings of purple and gold beads, or an elaborate custom made costume, the spirit of Carnival was in the air.  Even those who did not participate by dressing up played an important role in the evening  – they made up the appreciative audience for those who were in disguise.

During the evening I was struck by how many of the crowd had made the effort at some sort of costume or disguise, and in addition to the familiar (or, depending on the mask and costume, not so familiar) group of Homeowners in attendance, it pleased me very much to see a larger number of Mexicans than I have seen attending previous social events here in Loreto Bay, and many of them were in family groups, with young children, often wearing masks and costumes and very much participating in the evening´s celebrations.

Soon after we arrived Los Beach Dogs took to the stage and the main entertainment began, but for this event the regular trio of Rich, Steve and George were complimented by the addition of “stray dog” Tony, who is also a Homeowner here, but not in residence fulltime, so he only adds his percussion skills to the group when his occasional visits coincide with their gigs – and this was one of those nights!  During breaks in the music there was additional entertainment, including a folkloric dance demonstration by a group of youngsters from town and a dramatic fire dance performed after dark on the putting green on the south side of the Clubhouse.

When word spread that the food was being served a line quickly formed at the food tent where plates were filled with savory rice jambalaya, a green salad and fresh coleslaw followed by homemade pastries and deserts – delicious! 

After the meal had been consumed it was time to award prizes in several categories including best couple and  all of the winners received gift baskets that had been generously donated by local businesses including Dali Deli and the Oasis Hotel in town and many of the new shops that have opened in Loreto Bay: Jovina´s Spa, the Fresh Market, the Wine Cellar, El Corazon and Machiatos Café.  Finally, the King and Queen of Mardi Gras were crowned; George, who made a very striking Zorro and Paulette (who owns a pie shop that recently opened in town) in an incredible “Queen of Pies” costume.

The dancing and festivities went on until almost 10:00 pm, or Baja midnight as we call it here, and that night the revelers on the Paseo made an unusually colorful procession as they found their way home to their Casas.  While it may have been my imagination, I could swear that I heard “Laissez les bons temps rouler” faintly echoing through our community that night – and whether or not it is Mardi Gras, that is definitely part of Living Loreto!