Mexico

Puerto Vallarta – Revolution Day Surprises

People are always asking me why I go to Mexico, a place they consider, only because they haven’t been there, one of the scariest and most dangerous places on the planet. They don’t know what they were talking about. That was my opinion until today, when on a visit to the Malecón in Puerto Vallarta I witnessed an attempted kidnapping, the take down of a drug lord and his mistress and an assassination attempt on a prominent local politician, all within a few minutes. Luckily for Alison and I, who were totally innocent bystanders, it was all in good fun (really!) as part of the annual Revolution Day parade. Here’s the story.

We arrived in Puerto Vallarta a few days in advance of attending an SATW Canadian chapter meeting on the Nayarit Riviera to the north of Jalisco state where Puerto Vallarta is located. I’ve never been to the Pacific Coast of Mexico and had always heard good things about it, Acapulco excluded. I’m not usually big on large resorts, but after ten days of virtual solitude on Curaçao I figured I could handle four at the Marriott Puerto Vallarta especially with the good rate we got using Alison’s Platinum Elite status – thank many winter nights at the Delta in Calgary for that. It just completed a four year renovation and is actually very nice. But to get on with the story.

Marina Area Morning, Puerto Vallarta
Marina Area Morning

After an early morning walk on the beach in the marina area where the Marriott is located, we decided to head into Puerto Vallarta proper and walk the city’s most famous neighbourhood, the Malecón. Mistakenly called a boardwalk in many posts and sites, the Malecón is a concrete walkway of varying widths that fronts the Pacific for 2,500 feet (760 meters) in an area that roughly coincides with much of the original small town that first put the city on the tourist map. However, to call it a concrete walkway is akin to calling the Eiffel Tower a metal erection. The Malecón has a lot of artistic stone patterns embedded in it and a lot of interesting sculptures along its path. Plus it has a wonderful view of the bay. For me it reminded me of a combination of Las Ramblas in Barcelona and Venice Beach with some of the best and worst of each. Near one end is the most famous statue associated with Puerto Vallarta, the Caballero del Mar by Rafael Zamarippa which has been attracting photographers since 1976. It is now trapped in the midst of the location letters that every Mexican town now features.

Caballero del Mar, Puerto Vallarta
Caballero del Mar

Getting to the Malecón from the Marriott is incredibly easy and cheap, unless you have an idiot for your guide – that would be me. All you have to do is walk out the resort door to the street and wait for a bus to come buy, pay the 10 pesos for the ride (that would be 50¢ to most of us) and stay on it until you get to to Centro where the Malecón is nearby. However, you can do as I did – think you are almost there, get off in the hotel zone and still have a mile to walk before you get to your alleged destination. I never get pissed off at myself when I do this because after all, I am the Maritime Explorer and that’s my job. Others are not so understanding.

Anyway we did get to the Malecoó and started exploring the area we were supposed to explore in the first place and it’s pretty nice. Alison got photobombed by a little girl at this sculpture called La Nostalgia by Ramiz Barquet which marks the spot where the sculptor reunited with his childhood sweetheart after both their first relationships ended.

Photobomb at La Nostalgia

I chose to pursue a nereid, but had little chance when a sea god already had her in his sights. This is Triton and the Nereid by Carlos Espino.

Triton and the Nereid, Puerto Vallarta
Triton and the Nereid

One final sculpture that naturally draws the eye is, Bailarines de Vallarta by Jim Demetro showing a couple doing the Mexican Hat Dance.

Bailarines de Vallarta

Always a pleasure to watch wherever you might find them in Mexico are the voladores or the ‘flying men’ who ascend a high pole, with a leader playing a small fife and drum, evoking prayers to the ancient gods and then descending in a twirling motion that is both mesmerizing and acrobatic. This ancient practice originated on the Caribbean coast near Vera Cruz in a small village called Papantla, but these days you can find them at various tourist hot spots. I last encountered them in Teotihuacan and if you read the post you’ll find a video of the voladores there. What I saw in Puerto Vallarta this morning was virtually identical to what i saw in Teotihuacan.

Papantla Voladores
Papantla Voladores
Voladores in Action

I am always amazed at how the leader can continue his fifing and drumming without missing a beat as he whirls around upside down.

Voladore Leader

If you get a chance to see voladores in action don’t pass it up and don’t be cheap with your offering.

By now it was apparent that something was going on in the street one block up from the Malecón and a quick glance that way showed that it was a parade. Having seen the Day of the Dead parades in Oaxaca we were not going to miss taking a look at this one, but first looks can be deceiving. At first it just looked like a bunch of different school groups walking in their various school uniforms and generally having a good time. We almost went back to the Malecón when the groups began to get more interesting starting with this group of culinary students.

Culinary Marchers

They were followed by a group of more traditionally dressed dancers.

Traditional Dancers

And then came a very serious looking group of young men and women who were clearly protesting something. The sign in the background reads “Sufragio efectivo. No reelecion” and refers to a phrase that was used in 1910 at the outbreak of the Mexican Revolution when people had had enough of the 30 year dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz.

Looking at the photo now I can clearly see that the fellow in front is Diaz with his kepied soldiers (he was a francophile) guarding him and behind him are revolution leaders Francisco Madura and Pancho Villa with the common people pulling up the rear.

Re-enacting the Revolution

By now I definitely wanted to know what this parade was all about and was told it was Mexican Revolution Day , November 20, which is an official holiday in Mexico and just about everybody and his dog is either in the parade or watching it. This was not an event put on for tourists and I would say less than 5% of the spectators were clearly not Mexicans. It was one of those things you just stumble across like those couples in Visa and AMEX commercials who are always finding themselves the only ones in the middle of some local festival that no other tourists has ever heard of. Yeah, sure.

Anyway, by now I was intrigued and we grabbed a table at a place called Zoo which had an honest to god guy in a gorilla suit as the shill. By luck and happenstance this was the perfect place to stop, grab a beer, tostadas and guac and watch the rest of the parade starting with the oldsters.

The Older Contingent

They had their own queen.

The Parade Queen, Puerto Vallarta
The Parade Queen

Now things to a turn for the more serious as the military started showing in the person of the Mexican Marines.

Mexican Marine Band

Just a few minutes after this group went by I heard what sounded like shots somewhere up ahead and suddenly a trained German shepherd was dashing forward and attacked the guy who had the gun and was apparently trying to abduct someone. I’m telling you it took more than a few seconds to realize that this was staged and not real. I’m sure the Mexicans knew what to expect, but the paranoid tourists took a bit longer to catch on.

Attacking German Shepherd

After my heartbeat returned to normal and a few more military displays went by, somehow a couple in an ordinary sedan got into the parade. It stopped right beside the Zoo as squadron of cops suddenly put on their alarms and roared up behind the car and with machine guns drawn ordered the couple to come out one by one.

Police Squad, Puerto Vallarta
Police Squad

After the driver was cuffed and removed his mistress followed, with a look of contempt on her face that seemed to say, “You know I’ll be out in an hour.”

I'll be Out in an Hour, Puerto Vallarta
I’ll be Out in an Hour

You can also see that the guns are pointed not only straight at her, but at your humble reporter as well.

This drama happening right in front of us was something you could never prepare for in advance and it wasn’t over yet.

After the couple was removed and their car impounded a number of obvious Secret Servicemen drove up in their black cars with a white Escalade in between. From it emerged a guy in a suit who began walking and waving to the crowd who responded in kind. He passed right by our table and from the crowd reaction I was convinced he was a real politician getting praised for overseeing the type of units that had put on the displays we had seen including ones by firemen and paramedics I have not included.

The Secret Service and the Bigwig

Then just as he passed the Zoo, a group of men jumped out from the crowd, one not ten feet away from me and ran at the politician. They didn’t get more than few feet before the Secret Servicemen had them slammed to the ground, and I mean slammed, and handcuffed.

The Foiled Assassination, Puerto Vallarta
The Foiled Assassination

Suffice it to say I have never seen a parade like this. It kept on going for ages after, but nothing lived up to the excitement of seeing that Mexico’s good guys are winning the battle after all. Or at least they did this day in Puerto Vallarta.

And we end with the traditional men with sombreros on horses that is de rigeur in any Mexican parade.

Men in Sombreros on Horses, Puerto Vallarta
Men in Sombreros on Horses

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