Carnaval in Mazatlán: Burning of Bad Humor and Naval Battle Fireworks

After our work in the boatyard was complete, we decided to hang out until Carnaval, the pre-Lenten festival; Mardi Gras is the most famous example in the United States. Mazatlán's Carnaval is world famous, one of the biggest. We were warned: Mazatlán is dangerous! Carnaval is full of pickpockets! Not safe for gringos (foreigners)! We had a wonderful time at Carnaval, and throughout the nearly two months we spent at Mazatlán. We saw one elderly man who was stumbling drunk and being supported by a friend. Another time, two guys stopped and clearly checked me out in an appreciative manner for a couple minutes. And that's that for danger. There were young folks in groups; they were often friendly and excited to practice their English (always better than our Spanish, though we are practicing daily and improving). There were couples. There were mostly families: with folding chairs for their elders, babies held close, toddlers and kids dashing about gleefully. The energy was warm and celebratory. It felt safer than every American music festival I've been to.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at
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Wonderful writing Dahlia! We attended Carnaval last in year in La Paz and also marveled at how well mannered everyone was at such a crowded festival. Too bad so many Americans have been brainwashed to have negative views of Mexico.

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Sounds like a beautiful night right up until the end there! How did you all figure out how much to pay the driver of the truck? How did he decide where to go first? Your photos of the fireworks are spectacular!

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Right Roberta? Americans have so much to learn from the calm “we’re all in this together” vibe that so many public interactions in Mexico are held together by.

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Aimee, typically we try to work out the fare before we get into a vehicle, be it a pulmonia, cab, or auriga. We try to learn what’s considered a fair fare before we’re on the road, and perhaps half the time we counter the driver’s original offer. Perhaps half the time we’ve done that, the driver has taken the counter. That said, the night of the Burning of Bad Humour is anything but typical, and no one tried to negotiate prices — we just happily piled into the back of the truck and accepted whatever our fate would be. He was pretty merciful. Auriga drivers know Mazatlán spectacularly well and choose the route with little input from the passengers — one of the advantages of having the cab to yourself and all the passengers in a pickup bed behind you.

I can’t believe she got those fireworks shots with an camera phone.

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Thank you, dear! I haven’t shot with anything but my iPhone for years; I just do the best I can with what I have. The fireworks were VERY close!!

Aimee, what James is saying is that if you are wise, you negotiate the fare before you even touch the vehicle. You just stand near, say where you want to go, and discuss what that might cost. As in most of life, most folks charge fair and consistent prices, and some do not.

Once, when our driver found that we had only a bill larger than our fare, his previously excellent English suddenly became quite broken and fare was now precisely the bill we needed change for. The difference was a couple of dollars, but I was hurt and angry about having someone look me in the face and lie to me. We learned to carry the smallest bills.

On the night of the fireworks, no one discussed fares until we got out. We would have paid anything not to walk another 2 hours home after the many hours we’d already stood and walked! The driver charged each party the individual party rate, so he made out very nicely, but each of us paid the usual. That seemed entirely fair and reasonable to us for the circumstances; certainly far better than some random surge pricing baloney. I’d rather talk to a human being about the worth of their time and work than argue with an app on my phone any day! It was hard to learn to negotiate at first, but it feels really human and worthwhile.

Once I was in the wrong and overnegotiated. I was walking to the store down a highway that gringos do not often walk on; it’s hot and dusty and you clearly have a long walk ahead because there’s nothing to get to for a long while! A taxi stopped and offered me a ride that sounded quite reasonable, and I accepted. The next time I took that trip, I expected the same fare. I was making the return trip from the store to the marina, and there was queue outside the store. The first driver in the queue I spoke to wanted double what I’d paid last time, so I huffed off and went to a second one who wouldn’t match what I was proposing, but who made me a better offer than the first. He also told me once we were on the way, in a very kind tone, that the first driver I had spoken to had been asking the standard fare for this ride. The guy who’d picked me up walking last time must have just lowballed it; it’s not a place where you can usually pick up a fare, and something was better than nothing, perhaps.

Another interesting thing is that once a price is agreed upon for a job, that’s the price, no matter how long the work takes. In La Paz we needed to do something to the boat that required scuba gear, so we hired someone; the work took perhaps 2-3 times as long as expected and was far harder to do than anyone thought; Carlos kept having to come up to discuss and get more tools. When we tried to pay him more than we’d agreed upon, he tried to refuse; it just isn’t what is done. Another time we were taking a pulmonia around a triathalon and the driver kept finding the routes he was aiming for blocked off. We got a gorgeous drive, but it was surely twice as long as usual. I paid him double the agreed-upon fare, and looked up how to say “For your time, thank you.” In this case, he was touched and grateful and accepted, but still very surprised.

So many lessons! This is one of the reasons we are traveling more slowly than most other cruisers do; we want to get to know places a bit, and it takes time. We have chosen in this first season to see less more deeply, and are happy with our choice.


Oh this is so good. Thanks to both of you for your longer answers. I love that the man charged every person what they would have usually paid, and everyone left happy. What a lovely solution! I also very much know the feeling of wanting to pay the right fare, and sometimes getting caught not understanding what the right fare is. How kind of the second driver to help you see what you had not seen without being demeaning. For me, these moments were SO COMPLICATED when trying to speak another language. I can ask for food and I know how much a kilo is, and iI know how to use the local currency, but asking about delicate matters of who pays what for what and when and why isn’t it the same as last time etc. is just so hard. Kudos to you for your kind patience and constant curiosity.

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Glad it was useful, Aimee! I used to find these kinds of interactions so complicated that I would often choose to walk long distances or simplify plans to avoid needing to have them. They are such a fundamental aspect of connecting with a city though, and I wish there was more written about how to help them go more smoothly. I find it fascinating, so I’ll probably write about it more here. Learning enough of the language to be able to talk things through in even a very rudimentary way and learning to laugh more easily has helped a lot.