Just when I think it can’t get any weirder, Mexico goes and surpasses itself by upping the ante one more notch. As I walked home last night from Ajijic’s rodeo, I pondered to myself, “Was that really the weirdest 24 hours I’ve ever spent in Mexico?”
This “day” actually started the night before. I had been invited to a Gringo birthday party up the hill from where I’m staying. There I ran into a fellow, “Carlos,” who I had met a few weeks earlier. Carlos is young, probably mid-thirties, Mexican, totally bilingual, handsome, charming, and more than a bit of a flirt. “So are you coming to my party tomorrow?” he asked with a smile when I saw him.
“Party? Tomorrow? I thought you did that last week.”
“No, it’s Carnaval, and we’re going to watch the parade from my balcony. You’ve got to come. We’re starting at 11:00 tomorrow morning.”
“Oh, I’ll definitely be there.” Over the course of that evening, Carlos and I flirted pretty steadily, and I was flattered and kind of excited. Of course I’d go, especially as I’ve started to get kind of bored with Ajijic. And the fact that he told me that he was single, contrary to what I had heard, only sweetened the offer.
The next morning, Tuesday, Carnaval dawned bright and warm, with a blazing sun. Spring in Ajijic has come early this year, with daily highs recently reaching the lower 80’s, well ahead of the season according to the locals. By 11:30, I arrived at Carlos’ house to find only a few guests. The parade had been scheduled to start at 11:00, but like many things here, it didn’t start on time. Though it was early, I had brought a bottle of tequila and margarita mix figuring that Mexican Carnaval wasn’t likely to be a sober affair. And noon wasn’t too far off. Little did I know what was to happen later.
Over the next half-hour more guests filtered into Carlos’ apartment, and I began to worry about the strength of his balcony. Fortunately, there was a small roof deck off to one side, so I mainly stayed on it. Next door a bunch of construction workers were busy building a small apartment complex. Finally, the first contingent of merry makers made their way down the street. Most were wearing traditional masks, mostly exaggerated human faces, but some animals, or other beings. Lots of what appeared to be young guys were dressed in outrageous drag, with enormous balloons for breasts, masks, wild wigs, and big, flouncy dresses. Others were dressed as men, some wearing sport coats, others in slightly dressier clothes. Almost all of them were masked, and all of them were armed and ready to attack with…flour. Yes, flour!
And they were throwing this flour at everything and everyone. Buildings were attacked, cars were attacked, onlookers were assaulted; no one was safe. After a spell, the flour-miscreants figured out that the gate to the construction site next door was open, and they stormed the half-finished building, scaled the steps, and attacked the construction workers who were all standing on the unfinished second floor watching the parade. To my surprise, the workers suffered this assault with surprisingly good humor, doing little-to-nothing to repel the attack. Starting with deep cinnamon skin, once the attack was through, these guys looked more like Dalmatians than construction workers.
After the first wave of flour assailants had moved on, more traditional parade contingents began to pass by. There were floats from various local businesses, enthusiastic brass bands, and cowboys on horses, lots of cowboys. Many of these guys were in full cowboy regalia, and a number of them had taught their horses fancy tricks like running in small circles, prancing with hooves held high, and various jumping maneuvers. I was duly impressed, and many of them were quite handsome to boot.
By this time, Carlos’ smallish apartment was full of people, a fun mix of Gringo residents, a couple of British tourists, Carlos’ dog, some Mexican friends of his, and myself. Since I was on the small roof deck, I couldn’t really see what was going on in either the apartment or on the balcony. But suddenly a commotion erupted inside, and as I turned around, several of the masked flour marauders burst onto the roof deck, and covered us with flour. Our seeming invincibility had been destroyed in one quick sortie. One of the Brits’ cameras was badly hit, as was my cell phone. Everyone’s shirts were covered, and we tried vainly to blow off the flour, but it was too late. Evidently Carlos had left the front door ajar as he didn’t want to keep running downstairs to let in guests, and the flour aggressors had taken full advantage of this security breach.
But the parade continued, and after doing our best to deflour ourselves, (harder than it sounds) we resumed watching the spectacle. Carlos flitted around the party, and kept coming back to flirt with me and to entertain each of his guests in turn. Everyone had a great time.
As we continued to watch the parade, we suffered a second assault by flour raiders, and this time the commotion became extreme. In his excitement from the parade, all the friends in the apartment, and the strange flour attackers, Carlos’ dog bit one of his friends pretty deeply in the thigh. Fortunately, the dog had been vaccinated, and the friend took the bite in stride. Though he was bleeding, it looked like a fairly superficial wound that would quickly heal with some antibiotic and bandages. Still, it cast a bit of a pall over the party, and the dog was quickly muzzled.
Finally the parade wound down, and the group at Carlos’ apartment dwindled to six of us, Carlos, a straight couple of his Mexican friends, a gay American couple from California, and me. There was flour absolutely everywhere, on the floor, on the counters, in the furniture, and I wondered about the sanity of not running down to open the door vs. cleaning up flour. Surely he had some idea this could happen? Apparently this flour thing is a longstanding Carneval tradition here.
Since it was still early, we decided to go to the Malecón to continue the festivities. There we met up with Albert, a retired Canadian who had moved to Ajijic a few years ago. For the next hour or two, we all (save for Carlos) sat on the edge of the Malecón chatting and watching the crowd. There were literally thousands there, and it was quite the open air party. Carlos had insisted that I take a bottle of tequila with us in my bag, and we took turns drinking from a plastic wine glass that Carlos had brought along. Carlos chatted with us, but also kept dashing off to talk with various friends and relatives in the crowd. After a couple of hours of this, he suggested that we all go to the rodeo. But at this point the California couple begged off due to fatigue, and the Mexican friends and I wanted to have lunch.
Because it was Carnaval, few restaurants were open, so we ended up at the Restaurant María Isabel, right on the water where Morelos hits Del Paseo. The four of us sat down on the lakeside patio and ordered. By this point, Carlos was flirting mercilessly, and I wasn’t minding. Shortly thereafter, Albert joined us. By then the conversation was already going pretty strongly in Spanish since the Mexican friends didn’t really speak English. So I did a little talking with Albert in English, but mostly talking with the other folks in Spanish. The food arrived, and Carlos continued to flirt with me, at this point telling me in Spanish how beautiful I was, what lovely eyes I had, and what nice skin I had, as well as making suggestive comments about his fondness for sausage. I flirted back, but with a certain Gringo restraint as his flirting seemed to be getting embarrassingly over-the-top. Moreover, I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted things to proceed quite this quickly. Nor was I sure that I’d want to get involved with someone who was so connected with half the town. And besides, it was getting a little awkward with his friends, who, save for Albert, understood every increasingly-naughty word.
After a while, Carlos flitted off to chat with other people in the restaurant where he found a table of not-recently retired Canadians and proceeded to charm them. By this point the rest of us had finished eating, and paid the check. The Mexican friends had also wandered off leaving Albert and me to ourselves. We began to chat in English. Much to my surprise and horror, it turned out that Albert and Carlos had been an item for about six months, and that Albert was deeply in love with Carlos. But they had fought a few weeks ago and broken up. Three days prior to Carneval, they (at least according to Albert) had made up and were once again an item. At least so thought Albert.
¡Híjole! What had I gotten myself into? Here Carlos had been flirting outrageously with me, and I had been flirting right back. And while Albert didn’t understand all the flirty things he had said to me in Spanish, the body language was perfectly clear. I told Albert I was very sorry, and that I really didn’t want to step into the middle of such a situation. I really felt bad for him, and started to tell him how much I found such things to be “mala onda,” bad vibes, bad karma, etc. While I was explaining and sympathizing, the Mexican friends suddenly reappeared and said we had to go to the other side of the restaurant to meet some other friends.
Naturally, this was an awkward moment to be interrupted, but they were insistent. When we got to the next table, we found a pair of men dressed in a sort of Mexican business casual. They both wore American-style, button-down, striped business shirts, black slacks, nice belts, nice shoes, and some jewelry. The older guy, about 50, looked a little haggard, but was deeply tanned and wearing a sportcoat, with his shirt unbuttoned too far. The younger guy looked to be in his mid to late twenties. Both had a sort of ineffable creepiness about them.
Shortly after the introductions, I would soon discover why. It turns out they were undertakers, specializing in cremations. Fine. I have no problems with that as a profession; there’s a need for it, and I certainly couldn’t do such a job myself. But I don’t expect to run into them and talk business right away either. Once we were at their table, the Mexican friends and the two guys started to pitch me on purchasing a cremation. I giggled nervously and said I didn’t think I’d need one any time soon. “But maybe a friend, or relative,” they smoothly suggested. One of Carlos’ Mexican friends even joined in the pitch, which was swiftly heading toward the hard sale.
“I really don’t need a cremation. I’m in great health, as are my friends.” I replied. They persisted a bit more talking about features and benefits, and how helpful they could be when the time came. Finally I said that I thought this was a really creepy topic for the day of Carneval, and would be a much better topic for Lent. At last they desisted, and Albert and I continued our conversation about Carlos a bit further, after I had explained the whole conversation with the undertakers. He agreed that it was beyond creepy and weird, in addition to the scandalous behavior of Carlos.
Suddenly Carlos reappeared and insisted that we had to go to the rodeo now. He also had an older Canadian woman (probably in her mid 70’s) in tow. By this point, I was really wondering what I had gotten myself into. Though the idea of attending the rodeo seemed fun, I wasn’t at all sure as to whether I was as charmed by the Canadian woman as Carlos was. Worse, I was feeling amazingly awkward about having suddenly found myself between Carlos and Albert, and the brush with the undertakers hadn’t done anything to relax me either. “Hurry up, we’ve got to go!” insisted Carlos. Everyone rolled their eyes, as it had been Carlos’ endless flitting about that had taken up so much of the afternoon. So we all chugged our drinks and left. Fortunately the undertakers stayed behind, and I figured that whatever might happen at the rodeo, at least it wouldn’t involve a persistent pitch to buy a cremation.
By this time it was around five, and Carlos had been drinking tequila all afternoon, and frankly, none of us were exactly sober. However, Carlos insisted we drive to the rodeo, even though it was only about a half kilometer away. We agreed to wait at the corner, Albert, the Canadian woman, and me. Soon Carlos picked us up in a newish VW Jetta. Given all that had happened, I made a point of getting into the back seat with Albert, since I didn’t want to encourage any more flirting, and it didn’t seem like a good idea to have Carlos and Albert sit side-by-side either. Suddenly we found ourselves racing along Ajijic’s wavy, bumpy, cobblestoned streets at a speed I could never have imagined possible. I was amazed that the car’s suspension didn’t simply melt; Ajijic has some of the worst streets I’ve ever experienced anywhere. As we raced along, every couple of blocks we’d stop and Carlos would greet some group of people through the open passenger window. At one point, a bag of marijuana got passed into the car, and Carlos told Albert to hide it, so he put it into the seat back pocket.
After this terrifying journey (with me the only one wearing a seat belt), we finally got to the rodeo and parked the car. About a long block away from the car, Carlos asked Albert if he had the marijuana. “No. Why would I have the marijuana?” asked Albert incredulously, “You asked me to hide it.” I was thinking the same thing when Carlos said, “For the Rodeo of course! Can you go get it?” At this point, I had figured out that the car belonged to Albert, and all I could think was that if I were Albert, I’d already have punched Carlos at least once by now. But amazingly, Albert calmly turned around and retrieved the marijuana, along with a small pipe. As he handed the stuff to Carlos, he said, “You’re a total asshole and I’m done with you.” At that point, he turned on his heel and stomped down the street. I felt deeply sorry for him.
By now, I had been racking my brain for about an hour trying to figure out a graceful exit. I’m sure some of you have already been thinking that I was nuts to still be around. But alas, in Mexico, things are different. People are super polite, and any kind of confrontation is to be avoided at all costs. I really could not think of a graceful exit. Besides, I figured that at this point, the worst had already passed, and once at the rodeo, we could all just sit and enjoy a relatively drama-free show. Or at least one free of personal drama.
Well, if there’s one lesson I should have learned by now it’s this: don’t imagine that you can predict what’s going to happen in Mexico with even the slightest degree of accuracy. Because that’s simply not what’s going to occur. Nope. But I went along anyway.
So we got to the gates of the rodeo and found out that all the good seats were sold out. And it turned out that Carlos was out of money and wanted me to buy his ticket. Fortunately, the Canadian woman had her own money, so I just bought two tickets, and at $120 MXN each (~$6.00 USD) it wasn’t worth arguing over. As we approached the gate, I began to panic. There were a bunch of metal detectors and a phalanx of policemen. Worse, they were patting down people as they entered. Though I wasn’t the one carrying the marijuana, I was nervous about being with someone who was. As we got closer and closer to the cops, I began to grow more and more nervous, a nervousness that hadn’t exactly started at zero given the events of the afternoon. Fortunately, my Spanish is up to having long conversations with cops, and I figured that my best defense was simply to explain that I had no idea what my friend had in his pockets, that it was none of my business, and that it had nothing to do with me. It seemed as good a defense as any, and I figured I was 99% safe. Moreover, Carlos knows how things work here and didn’t seem even slightly worried. To my amazement, Carlos was patted down and sent into the rodeo with nary a problem. I heaved a sigh of relief as I followed.
So after that, what else could go wrong? Too many bizarre things had already happened. Surely they couldn’t continue, right? But as we climbed up the stairs and into the bull ring, it became clear that it wouldn’t just be a matter of taking our seats and enjoying the rodeo. First, the stadium was absolutely packed. Second, there were no assigned seats, just long stretches of concrete bench, almost all occupied. The likelihood that we’d all sit together seemed slim, especially considering the size of the Canadian woman, who was not petite. After a while, Carlos and the Canadian woman found a seat together, and I found a seat next to a small girl, about 15 feet away. Carlos started buzzing around chatting with folks, leaving the Canadian woman alone. At this point I was happy to be by myself, and started to enjoy the show. Bulls were being ridden, various displays of horsemanship were shown, and other bulls were lassoed and hogtied. Handsome cowboys paraded before us and I began to relax.
But Canadian Woman grew restless, having left her friends behind, and unsure of where she was staying. Though she claimed to be able to find the place, she wasn’t able to tell anyone else how to get there. So she kept coming to my seat to ask me what she should do. “Well, call them, or text them on your phone,” I said. For some reason she didn’t seem to think this was satisfactory, and kept pacing and fretting. Finally she sat down again, and Carlos rejoined her. A little while later her friends showed up, including her rather disgruntled brother. Brother sat down next to me. And over the following 15 minutes, I was given to understand that Canadian Woman was a very trying person, that brother really didn’t want to be there, but that if he weren’t, worse fates awaited him. At this point, Carlos beckoned me to come sit with him and Canadian woman. As I got up, someone quickly took my spot. But as I got closer to Carlos, it didn’t look like there was a place where I could sit. I shrugged my shoulders, thinking “WTF???” and went back to where I was. Fortunately, my seat became available once again, and I sat down next to Canadian brother who was positively radiating irritation.
By this point, we had been at the rodeo for an hour and a half, and it was growing repetitive and the sun was going down. Carlos seemed to have given up on sitting together, and I was getting a bit bored, and tired, and tired of the very loud music and announcements which were playing incessantly. I also realized that whatever fantasies I had entertained about Carlos in the morning were about as fully dashed as possible, and I was eager to get away from him and the situation. I stood up, bade Canadian Brother goodbye, and shouted at Carlos. “I have to go.”
“Do you want me to leave with you? Where are you going?” he shouted back, somewhat anxiously. “No, I’m just tired and I’m going to go home. Thanks for the party and a lovely afternoon.”
I bade him goodbye, and then I headed out of the stadium and walked back to West Ajijic, wondering in my mind whether I had ever had a weirder day in Mexico. When I got home, I told Lisa the whole story. She listened in amazement. Given her relatively sheltered Gringo life here, the full depth of Mexican weirdness was something new to her. (Sometimes not speaking Spanish can be an advantage.) As for me, I think I’ve learned a valuable lesson. As unexpected as events in Mexico can normally be, once you throw Carneval, Gringos, gay couples, undertakers, and a rodeo into the mix, there’s literally no telling what might happen. As I’ve said before, you just can’t make this stuff up.