ApocEclipse in Mazatlán

Posted:  June 12, 2024
👁 695   5

Arriving somewhere new at night by boat is never a bright idea—no pun intended. Yes, we have charts, radar, AIS, and other things to aid in navigation, but at the end of the day, there is no better obstacle avoidance detection than your own two eyes—or one, if you’re a pirate—especially when transiting through a very narrow and busy harbor entrance. Yet despite our better judgment, we found ourselves at the mouth of Mazatlán’s Marina El Cid right as the sun dipped below the horizon.

Avocet in Mazatlan

Chris was at the helm, radiating anxiety as he handed me a flashlight and asked me to stand on the bow. I assured him we were absolutely fine, but I knew that his previous conversation with his big brother Jon had rattled him. Jon and his partner Shannon had visited this very marina back in 2016 aboard their boat, Prism, and had a harrowing experience entering the harbor due to a large western swell that pushed waves directly into the channel. This is not an uncommon tale, and to make tensions higher, the channel is extremely narrow, made even narrower by dredging equipment. Honestly, it was a sight reminiscent of my home harbor in Santa Cruz, and I wasn’t a lick worried as we followed safely in the wake of a large charter catamaran blasting Banda music—a hint of what was to come. Once in the harbor, we quickly found our slip on the same dock as our pals from SV Alegria, who had also sailed up to experience 4 minutes of pure celestial phenomenon: the eclipse.

Back in 2023, our dear friends Charles and Nora from SV Ayala had suggested celebrating the total eclipse together in Mazatlán, the first place in continental North America on the path of totality. It also coincided with Charles’s birthday, so the pair got to work planning an extravaganza to bring their salty and landlubber pals together to experience this (potentially) once-in-a-lifetime event. They rented an entire apartment building to host everyone, offering a room to Chris and me for the festivities. With the promise of a big bed, a long hot shower, and free laundry, we quickly gathered our belongings, locked up Avocet, and made our way to the party pad that was marked by Ayala’s massive wedding flag and later nicknamed (by yours truly) the Epicenter.

“Welcome!” Charles greeted us through the large front door. The bottom level was where the pool was, and in it were a group of new friends we were eager to meet—except for one, whom Chris shockingly already knew. Charles was about to make an introduction when Chris cut him off with, “Nick?” His voice carried a heavy amount of surprise. Nick looked at Chris quizzically at first, but then the dots connected.

Back in 2021, Chris had been a camera operator on a TV show pilot called The Journey, which focused on two individuals working through trauma by writing music. The shoot lasted a week, and the production crew had front-row seats to watch these individuals transform before their eyes—and cameras. One of those individuals was Nick. But there are more levels to this story. When Chris and I were in the San Francisco Bay, we were riding our bikes in Oakland and randomly passed Nick. A true moment of chance. We chatted briefly, wished each other well, then went our separate ways. But here? In Mazatlán? What were the odds that Nick was friends with Charles and Nora? The stars were aligning (or perhaps the sun and moon), pushing Nick and Chris together again.

After introductions (and a reunion from The Journey), Chris and I settled into our apartment bedroom, quickly making use of the laundry machine before reconvening with the crew on the roof. We then set out to get dinner in town… and that is when I fell in love with Mazatlán.

We Meet Again, Mazatlán

When Chris and I went on our honeymoon in 2018, we were 20 and 21 years old, fresh out of college, and had just bought Avocet. Seeking the best bang for our buck, we opted for an all-inclusive Mexico cruise. I had visited Mexico previously with my parents, but Chris had never been to Mexico and had been living vicariously through his older brother’s travels. My memories from our honeymoon in Mazatlán are as follows: It was the middle of August as we walked through Centro to the church in the heat of the day, along the tall sidewalks. We hiked the lighthouse and gave (cautious) love and water to the flea-covered thirsty stray cats. Then we took a taxi to the Golden Zone, had lunch, enjoyed a huge margarita, and got tipsy on the beach before rushing back to the ship to avoid being left behind. That was the last time we were in Mazatlán, and although it was memorable, we barely scratched the surface of what this incredible place had to offer, limiting ourselves to the typical tourist activities. Now, I can say: not even the coolest ones! But it’s okay, I am a firm believer in second chances, which is why Mazatlán stole my heart six years later.

Marissa and Chris in Mazatlan

Young Marissa and Chris, Mazatlan 2018

Mazatlán, known as the “Pearl of the Pacific,” is a charming city that blends historic elegance, vibrant culture, and natural beauty. Its Centro Histórico features cobblestone streets, colorful 19th-century buildings, and the lively Plazuela Machado. The Angela Peralta Theater, a beautifully restored opera house, adds cultural richness with its diverse performances. The city’s stunning beaches, like Playa Olas Altas and Playa Cerritos, offer both relaxation and adventure, while the hike up to El Faro Lighthouse rewards visitors with breathtaking views. The bustling Mercado Pino Suárez provides an authentic local experience with fresh produce and handmade crafts, and the Malecón, one of the longest oceanfront promenades in the world, offers scenic views, public art, and numerous dining and entertainment options.

As we walked through Centro with our gaggle of new pals, I was enchanted by the stonework and intricate balconies overlooking the streets, romantically lit with bistro lights. “This is one of our favorite restaurants,” Nora said as we walked through Topolo’s impressive entryway. The dining area is set in an intimate garden with vining plants, the sounds of water fountains, and live music—but the best part was the roasted tomato salsa prepared tableside! Speaking of live music, we were thrilled that Charles and Nora sparked the idea for one of the most memorable experiences we’ve had in Mexico to date, and it all had to do with Banda.

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Banda Boat

Experiencing Banda music in Mazatlán is a profound immersion into the cultural heartbeat of Mexico, particularly in the state of Sinaloa. Known for its robust brass and percussion sections, Banda music’s vibrant rhythms and lively performances are integral to the region’s traditions. Local musicians and bands in Mazatlán have played a crucial role in popularizing this genre, contributing to its widespread appeal both nationally and internationally. The city’s festivals and events frequently feature Banda performances, showcasing the pulsating rhythms that define the region’s cultural identity. However, the presence of Banda music in Mazatlán has not been without controversy.

The conflict began when hotel owners and some foreign tourists complained about the “noise” generated by Banda performances on the beaches, claiming it disrupted their peace and relaxation. Prominent local businessman Ernesto Coppel has been vocal about his opposition, arguing that the loud music negatively impacts the tourist experience and discourages return visits from American tourists, which are crucial for local businesses. This backlash led to a ban on Banda music in certain beach areas, igniting protests from musicians who depend on these performances for their livelihoods. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador supported the musicians, acknowledging their right to protest and emphasizing the cultural significance of Banda music in Sinaloa. Local authorities attempted to mediate by issuing permits to control when and where the music can be played, aiming to balance the preservation of cultural traditions with the needs of the tourism industry.

The debate has highlighted broader issues of gentrification and cultural preservation, with many locals feeling that the measures cater too much to foreign tourists at the expense of local customs. Despite the restrictions, Banda music remains a vital part of Mazatlán’s identity, and we decided to jump right into it.

For those who love to dance, like Charles and Nora, Banda music offers an irresistible opportunity to move their bodies and have fun. Over dinner, they suggested buying tickets for a Banda boat, which is a charter party barge that offers unlimited drinks, tacos, dancing, and of course, live Banda music. We boarded the boat in the afternoon, not quite sure what to expect, but it turned into an unforgettable experience—even with the unlimited drinks.

Thanks for being so sweet German!

Banda music is quite simple to dance to. Nora explained it as very “prancy,” where you lift your feet and follow your partner’s lead, or swirl and twirl by yourself. We danced as a big group but managed to make some new friends as well, like Angie and her cousin German, who was very sweet and showered me with compliments. “Everyone here thinks she’s the prettiest girl in the world!” he told Chris, nearly shouting over the music. Chris smiled in agreement and continued chatting with him and his cousins, then snapped a commemorative photo to add to our growing collection of new friends.

By the end of the night, our feet were sore and ears were ringing, but we were still smiling from ear to ear. We hailed a red truck, the best mode of transportation in Mazatlán, and made our way back to our apartment for some much-needed sleep, ready to enjoy another big party the next night.

Ain’t No Party Like a Cruiser Party

STINGRAY STRIKE

Clio’s stingray strike

Our morning after the Banda boat excursion was spent catching up on work while our friends (minus Charles) all took to the beach. Chris was just about to hop onto a call when Charles knocked on our door. With concern in his voice, he asked, “Hey, Clio was struck by a stingray… can you help?”

In Mexico, stingrays are more commonly seen during the warmer months (late spring to early fall) when they come closer to shore, often to mate or feed. This period coincides with the peak tourist season, and while they are generally harmless and avoid human interaction, accidents can happen if you step on them inadvertently. The “stingray shuffle”—shuffling your feet in the sand as you walk through the water—is recommended to alert stingrays of your presence and give them time to swim away. Unfortunately, Clio managed to step directly on one, which she later said was “disgustingly squishy” as it struck her. Luckily, the barb didn’t puncture her ankle all the way through but grazed it—which is still painful, but much easier to manage.

Draped over Nick and Nora’s shoulders, Clio stood in the steaming hot shower with tears dripping down her face as the friends tried to coach her through the pain. Chris gathered all of our medical supplies, and Charles found a pot big enough for her foot to go in with hot water (110-113°F or 43-45°C), which helps to neutralize the venom and significantly reduce pain. With ibuprofen, a few pillows, and a bunch of hands to hold, Clio sat on the couch and rode the roller coaster of adrenaline, pain, and fear. Given his experience with foot injuries in particular, Chris had the doctoring side of things handled, so I made myself useful by comforting Clio with a hand to squeeze and some info to help remind her how strong she is, like: “Did you know that a majority of women say a stingray strike is 100 times more painful than childbirth?” She laughed, tears still rolling down her cheeks, but took a deep breath and said, “I am strong!”—which she definitely was.

The rest of the day was relatively uneventful, filled with more work, tacos, and checking on Clio’s new nature-wound while we waited for the evening festivities. As the sun started to set, we pulled out our most festive clothes to match the party vibe, which was one word: vibrant. I sat on the rooftop enjoying the view when a parade of salty sailors marched down the street and to our front door—the party had arrived.

 

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A post shared by SAILING • AVOCET ⛵️ (@svavocet)

Before I knew it, our faces were glowing with black light makeup (thanks to Krystal from SV Small World), and we were dancing to music by our DJ friends Marc (SV Liquid) and new friend Lena, who you may know as Starya. There we were, dancing our feet off once again but looking like wonderfully wild people while doing so. A few hours into the fun, Max and Karen showed up and were quickly dragged down into the curated chaos.

ECLIPSE

The ancient Maya and Aztec civilizations saw eclipses as omens of significant events or catastrophes. In Mayan mythology, an eclipse was associated with the gods’ anger and was seen as a time when the sun god battled against the forces of darkness. The Aztecs believed that eclipses were connected to the wrath of the gods and often involved rituals and sacrifices to appease them. They thought an eclipse was a warning of impending disaster or a cosmic shift. Eclipses have long been shrouded in mystery and fear, inspiring a plethora of myths and legends—one of the many reasons Charles and Nora named this party the ApocEclipse. Although legends may remain legends, I can now confirm there is some validity in the strong emotions that the cosmic event elicits from our mere mortal selves.

“You two are adorable, can I take a photo?” I asked Lena and Clio, both smiling from ear to ear and dawning their high-fashion eclipse glasses. They agreed, and my film camera captured their essence with a satisfying “ka-clunk” as the film progressed. Clio had miraculously bounced back from her stingray encounter, and was all smiles as the main event approached. Our rooftop party pad had just recovered from the wild night prior and was transformed into the perfect vantage point. I continued to walk around the party and wait for opportunities to photograph the day while waiting for the moon’s shadow to blanket us.

Starya music kodak gold

Lena (Starya) and Clio, shot on Kodak gold

For weeks, our group had been planning and anticipating this rare celestial event, and finally, the moment was nearly upon us. As the sun climbed higher in the sky, the anticipation grew. Around midday, a noticeable change began to occur. The light shifted, casting an eerie glow over everything. The temperature dropped slightly, adding to the otherworldly feeling. Our group gathered more tightly together, sharing snacks and drinks, our eyes frequently darting to the sky, watching for the first sign of the moon’s approach.

As the moon’s shadow started to creep across the sun, a hush fell over the rooftop. Conversations quieted to whispers, and the only sounds were the clicks of cameras and the rustle of people adjusting their positions. The sun, now partially obscured, took on a crescent shape, and the anticipation reached a fever pitch. I walked around and continued to capture candid shots of friends, their expressions a mix of awe and excitement.

With each passing minute, the sun continued to wane, the sky dimming to a dusky twilight. The construction crew working on the building beside ours suddenly stopped their progress, taking to the edge to observe. Mazatlán in general seemed to hold its breath, the usual sounds of traffic and activity fading away. It was as if the entire world was pausing to witness this cosmic ballet. The anticipation built to an almost unbearable level, and then, suddenly, it happened.

Totality.

A shared gasp arose from the rooftop as the last sliver of sunlight disappeared, and the sun was replaced by a glowing halo. The corona, a ring of ethereal light, shone brilliantly against the darkened sky. It was a sight that words could hardly describe, a moment that transcended ordinary experience. We howled like wolves, some people cried, and others cheered as the chill of darkness came over us.

In that brief, awe-inspiring period of totality, I felt a profound connection to the universe and to everyone around me. It was a humbling reminder of the wonders of the natural world and our small yet significant place within it. The buildup to the eclipse, with all its excitement and anticipation, had culminated in an experience that was nothing short of magical, and we had a very large heartfelt “thank you” owed to Charles and Nora for pulling off the ultimate viewing experience.

As the sun gradually re-emerged, casting its warm light back over Mazatlán, the atmosphere shifted once again. There was a sigh of awe and gratitude, and the party resumed with a newfound sense of wonder. We sailed 200 miles for an event that lasted 4 minutes, but the memories we made will last a lifetime.

That night, we had one last party with our friends before everyone went their separate ways—well, almost everyone.

Home Sweet Boat

Marina el cid

cheers

“She’s no Lusty, but she’s home,” Chris said as he passed me Max and Karen’s bags. I stowed them below deck in the V-berth, making sure the quarter berth was warm and welcoming for our new temporary crewmates. Cleo was quick to jump in their laps and demand attention while we finished getting everything settled. Many of our friends had flown out that day with the millions of other people who had flocked to Mazatlán for the eclipse, but a few of the party people, like Max and Karen, stayed a day or two more, which gave us a good opportunity to use the resort’s pool and drink our way to a commemorative insulated cup (which is one of my favorites now).

After a long day in the sun and cooling off in the pool, we got ready for dinner at the Brazilian steakhouse, where Chris ate so much he almost fainted. That night, Cleo decided to use Max and Karen’s faces as a pillow, but they didn’t mind, giving her all the love in the world and asking us if we would consider trading Cleo for their two cats, Baby Carlos and Meatball. They left the morning after a wonderful breakfast with our friends from SV Trouble, but we would be seeing them again real soon—but not too soon like originally planned. Although we had only planned on staying in Mazatlán for a day or two after the eclipse, we decided to stick around for a week to really soak up the magic, especially since all of the crowds vanished. There was so much to do and see, but all of that is for the next post.

PC: Sam Congdon

Sending love and light,

Marissa (and Chris and Cleocat)

P.S. It was extremely difficult to write about such an incredible experience which is why I drug my feet. Nora told me I should have just written “You should have been there” which definitely fits the sentiment — next time an eclipse happens, you just have to be there. Then you’ll get it 😉




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