The People's Guide To Mexico
Carl's Mexico Notebook

Archive Issue for 25 June 2001



The Circus

by Linda Fox

Armando Frederico, before entering politics, was a fun-loving guy who, along with his brother, Jorge Tortuga made some of the best parties ever seen in Zihuatenejo.

In 1974, the rainy season was particularly offensive. It was near the end of October and had been raining for two solid weeks. Everyone was going stir crazy. The last Saturday in October dawned without a cloud in the sky. Armando decided a road trip was in order and rounded up several of his friends and they took off in his VW Safari for Playa Blanca. He informed everyone that they would spend the day at the beach and the evening would be spent at the circus, which had just pulled into town


The road to Playa Blanca was not paved as it is now. Several tributaries of the river had to be forded and the trip to the beach was uneventful but wet. However, the return trip was a different matter altogether. Everyone was hot, tired, sunburned and not altogether sober. The Safari got bogged down in one of the tributaries. Armando's friends piled out into knee high mud and tried in vain to push the car onto higher, dryer ground. Armando kept shouting, "We need some motivation here! We'll have to chant in time and push together." At that he started to shout at the top of his lungs "al la BIM, al la boom, al la BIM boom BA. Circo, circo, rah, rah, rah!"

Everyone took up the chant and with a mighty effort; the Safari lost its grip in the mud and shot out of the water, splashing everyone. By now it was getting late and the mud-spattered bedraggled people went directly to the circus, chanting Armando's mantra all the way.

When they entered the big top, after paying the price of one peso to get in, the group took center-front seats on the wooden planks that had been set up to accommodate the crowd. They bought peanuts and stale popcorn, which they washed down with the tepid beer. Their chant was catchy and was soon adopted by the rest of the crowd.

Traveling circus groups in Mexico are a far cry from Barnum and Bailey. It is obvious that the animals are heavily sedated or on their last leg, the performers wear many hats and on close inspection their costumes are festooned with a patchwork quilt of mending. The Big Top is so full of holes that the Big Dipper can be seen in its entirety. However, when the lights go down and the MC enters the center (and only) ring, the magic begins.

Between Armando's group chanting and the crowd's growing enthusiasm, this particular group of performers had probably never received such ear-splitting applause from a small town audience. The tepid acts performed by the clowns, acrobats, and elephants did not equate, however, to the exultance of the crowd, led on by Armando and his band of merry pranksters chanting "al la BIM, al la boom, al la BIM, boom BA, circo, circo, rah, rah, rah!"

The lion tamer's grand finale was fast approaching when the master of ceremonies requested the audience to quiet down. His voice could barely be heard over the crowd's roars. Four men entered the ring and began to erect a ãcageä for the final act. The lion tamer, a tall muscular man with long flowing blond hair entered the cage and started yelling "calmate! calmate!" which had no appreciable effect on the audience. Finally he shrugged his shoulders toward the MC and signaled with his hand that the lions were to be released. When three tired and scrawny lions and one bedraggled tiger entered the cage, the crowd went wild. Armando and friends were bouncing in their seats in time to the chant.

This proved too much for the wooden boards they were sitting on and the row suddenly collapsed with a loud crack.

Startled by the unexpected sound, one of the semi-comatose lions made a courageous leap towards the lion tamer. The tamer was obviously scared out of his wits and jumped toward a corner of the cage. This move proved too much for the flimsy cage -- as it collapsed inward, it caught on one of the lighting fixtures.

The entire lion cage went down, taking the big top's electricity with it.

As the big top was plunged into darkness, everyone was horrified at the prospect of being trapped inside the big top with several escaped lions. Armando and his crew made a mad dash for the exit, along with several hundred scared Mexicans. Several people were trampled in the melee but Armando' group finally reached the safety of the Safari and beat a hasty retreat down Cinco de Mayo to Jorge's restaurant, La Tortuga.

When Armando arrived, Tortuga's was packed with tourists happily eating dinner. What went through his or her minds at this moment is anyone's guess. His group of battered, bruised and muddy friends made a mad dash directly from the Safari to the bar, where they simply grabbed bottles of their favorite alcohol and gulped greedily. The diners stared at this woeful group and the restaurant became so quiet you could hear a pin drop.

"I demand to know what is going on!" screamed Jorge. "I've got a restaurant full of customers and this behavior is despicable!"

"Calmate! Calmate!" said Armando. "We just left the circus. The lion cage collapsed and there are probably lions and tigers wandering the streets of Zihuatenejo right now."

"Chinga su madre! This can't be true!" Jorge covered his eyes with his hands.

"Don't worry, Jorge." Estella said. "We have the machetes we took to the beach with us this morning and we'll protect you. But, we're really hungry. Can we have our table?" With that, the group retreated to the corner table on the porch, which was always reserved for Jorge's friends.

Everyone eventually calmed down and with the arrival of the meal a calm glow settled on the group. It had been a very long day, but... as the group prepared to leave, Jorge, pointed down Cinco de Mayo, exclaiming, "Pinche pendejo.... what the hell is that?"

Approaching the restaurant from the darkened street was a very large elephant with a rider on top.

The huge beast stopped directly in front of the porch railing and the light of the restaurant revealed that the elephant's rider was the lion tamer. The lion tamer gave a command and the elephant lowered his head. Mr. Lion Tamer slid off his perch on the elephant's back directly in front of Armando.

Armando's eyes shifted between the man's face and the whip he was holding in his right hand. After a long pregnant pause, the lion tamer burst out laughing. Armando then invited him to join us for a drink. The lion tamer, Hans, said he had never had a more exciting evening with the circus. It had taken a couple of hours to restore electricity and get the lions and tiger calmed down but he had had great fun. After the circus was put to bed, the lion tamer had made inquiries about Armando's group and was directed to La Tortuga.

Armando's party quickly resumed and the next evening his group returned to the circus. They had promised to remain quietly in their seats but it wasn't nearly as much fun or half as exciting. The group never went to the circus together again.

However, anyone who happened to drive by the numerous traveling circus's that sporadically visited Zihuatenejo in subsequent years, could easily hear the children yelling inside the big top: "al la BIM, al la boom, al la BIM boom BA. Circo, circo, rah, rah, rah!"

Copyright © 2001 by Linda Fox


by Arthur Jones

Retirement, Attractions, Costs, Medical & Dental Care

Carl and Lorena, please... send more retirees to Mazatlan, we need 'em here, the fishin' (commercial) is terrible, though not for lack of fish -- in fact, the sport fishin is great -- but there is a recession here on top of the general national economic lethargy. I believe that Gringos are a great, clean, sustainable industry. As you know -- one Gringo, no matter how frugal, can support many locals.

As I told you before, I traveled extensively in Mexico, Belize, Honduras, Guatemala and Costa Rica for about a year before I settled in Mazatlan. I first came here because my son was in grad school in Tempe, Arizona. Mazatlan was convenient for him to make short visits on his school breaks. I guess I stayed here because of the Centro Historico. The old port of Mazatlan is absolutely enchanting. It is almost like living in a small port village. It is very easy to forget that we are surrounded by a fairly large city. It has a kinda Mediterranean feeling.

As a young man, I spent three years in Italy, the South of France and Spain. Naturally I have wonderful memories of those years, so when I arrived here, those old Med feelins and memories just naturally flooded back in on me. Another reason, of course is that Maz is still relatively affordable. We were fortunate enough to rent a 3 bedroom , 2 bath home w/ servants quarters, on El Cerro de Vigia, about 100 meters from El Colegio del Pacifico , with a view from the Colegio all the way to The Zona Dorada plus a view of the city -- for 450 dollars per month. Granted, we were extremely lucky -- but they are out there.

The other attraction here is services. There are around 500,000 people in Mazatlan... we have a !!!! SAM,s CLUB!!! hoo rah!! Also several big Tienda Leys, a Gigante supermercado and any number of other real nifty places to get necessities and much more... I mean I really love Puerto Angel but if you want or need something... well, you know what I mean.

Health services are great here. We have the Sharps Hospital that most of the Gringos are crazy about and we also have a General Hospital of excellent quality, plus all the related stuff... Dentists?... have we got dental care here? I'll tell ya how good the care is -- my dentist was so concerned about me that she now gives me free dental care for life! Of course I had to marry her to qualify for that plan, but it was my pleasure, as she is as beautiful as she is competent.

My wife is a dentist and her brother is a general practice doctor and orthroscopic surgeon. My sister in law is a chemist and owns her own Analysis lab. I let my sky-hi U.S. med insurance lapse as I've got that pretty well covered. If you know anyone with medical probs that aren't being attended, in the U.S. or Canada, please feel free to give them my e mail address, as I have real strong ties to the whole medical community here in Mazatlan. My family, at least, charges Gringos the same as they charge Mexicans -- that is a fraction of what one has to pay in the States.

I have been wanting to get out the word about the Med/Dental care available here in Mazatlan. Not only can folks get fixed up cheap but, depending on the shape they are in, can probably have a good time doing it.

Movin right along , the weather is great about 8 months outta the year, but because of the heat in July, August, Sept, and part of October, it is better to be somewhere else. Fortunately you don't have to go far. Even one hour away in Copala, it is real comfortable in those months.

Notes on Mazatlan

As I mentioned earlier, the Centro Historico was the big attraction for me when choosing a home base in Mexico. There are only two Mazatlans as far as most Gringos are concerned, the Zona Dorada or el Centro Historico. Of course there are many sides to Mazatlan, as all Mexican cities that I know are made up of many, if not scores of colonias, each with its own small business center.

The Zona Dorada contains virtually all the comforts of Southern California: North American style homes, Burger King and Baskin & Robbins. That's about all I know about the Zona. Except that it's located on the northern extremity of Mazatlan -- on the beach, of course. El Centro Historico is located at the southern extremity of the city (also on the beach) about 14 kilometers from the Zona Dorada, where the peninsula comes to a point . We live on El Cerro de Vigia (Lookout Hill), on the southern tip of the peninsula just a few hundred meters short of El Faro, the highest lighthouse on the Pacific Coast.

The two Mazatlans attract very different types of resident Gringos. The Zona types rarely come to el Centro, and el Centro types wouldn't be caught dead in the Zona. I guess you get the picture. I would guess, however, that the vast majority of vacation visitors and a majority of resident Gringos spend their time in the Zona. (and then they go home and tell their friends about their" Mexican experience ".)

El Centro Historico is not only on the beach it is, well, it's "Historical", (hysterical sometimes too). The homes and most of the other buildings are from the Spanish colonial period, the streets are narrow, and the way it is situated along the cliffs and hollows, along the coast, make it very easy to forget that you are in the city. As I said earlier, it has a feelin of a small port town about it.

Although more resident Gringos live in the Zona Dorada up north, in the past couple of years el Centro has been experiencing a "renacimiento" of sorts. Gringos are buying and refurbishing the old buildings at an ever accelerating rate. This process is still in the early stages as compared to the more touristed coastal towns such as Puerto Vallarta, but there are already an American owned La Jolla Mazatlan and a Canadian owned B&B, as well as a couple of American owned restaurants.

Like many private homes, so far these businesses are all charming and completely in character with their surroundings. The city has some pretty strict laws concerning the preservation of el Centro, gracias a Dios.

We have a most wonderful feature here called el malecon. The malecon is like a sidewalk but much wider than than most and it runs about 14 kilometers, from the southernmost end of el Centro all the way to the Zona Dorada. Most mornings and evenings the malecon is the natural habitat of walkers, runners, strollers (w/baby), in line skaters, and bikers (bicycles are a no-no but they do it) as well as just plain sun worshipers and viewers of the immense beauty of the place.

Mazatlan is a place to be healthy, with miles and miles of beautiful beaches on which to sun and be seen, the malecon to stroll, hills (one with a lighthouse) and mountains to climb only an hour away. And there are any variety of Gyms, Judo dojos, Karate dojos and on and on. Not to mention the beautiful weather and beautiful people. Everybody wants to look and feel their very best.

Ok, I admit it, I am a health nut! with the emphasis on nut. I eat 4 or 5 small meals a day, I walk, run and go to the gym 4 or 5 times a week. Later in life I came to the realization that if my body was shot to hell, all the other accomplishments such as financial security, social standing, etc. weren't worth an old peso, in a word ...nothin.

Then there's the climate. I lived in Alaska for 25 years before coming to Mexico, and I can tell you from experience that these warm tropical brisas are much healthier than the icy blast of snow-filled wind "up north".

Is there a downside to living in Mazatlan? Sure, there's always a downside, but I can't think of it right now. I feel so good sharing this info/opinion with you that nothing negative comes to mind. If you like, however, I'll write more on that later on. Anyhoo, I'm lookin out my computer room window at the Pacific ocean, the sun is shining and I think I need to get outside. If anyone would like to connect with me, please feel free to give them my e mail. And always remember "all that wander are not lost" .... your pal, Art

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