Mazatlán is the sea. The Oceano Pacifico. Twelve miles of sandy beach. El Faro, the lighthouse, the highest in all of the Americas, or in all the world, according to Mazatlecos, those from Mazatlán. It is rocky islands just off the coast and statue after statue along the Malecón, the walkway along the ocean. Rows of pangas, small boats used by fishermen and used to give short rides to tourists. Parasailing and kayaking, snorkeling near the islands. A water slide into the ocean. Sunbathing, bikinis, and topless women. Gaping men.
Mazatlán is high rises on the Zona Dorada, the Gold Zone, the tourist zone. Entire neighborhoods that cater to the the wealthy tourist. $300,000 condos and $200/night hotels. Trendy cafés and signs in English.
Mazatlán is drug wars. The war among those trying to replace Chapo Guzmán. It is extortion and gangsters in the neighborhoods. It is gunfire at night, in the clubs, in the barrios in the streets. It is the thirteen who were shot the night before I arrived.
Mazatlán is kindness. Men holding doors for women. Strangers helping a lost tourist, even walking out of their way to point out the correct street. Offers of food. Young women stopping to pick up something I dropped.
Mazatlán is traffic. Pedestrians scrambling across six lanes of moving vehicles. Cars and busses that blast through yellow lights. Honking horns and screeching brakes. Bicyclists and men on bicycle carts competing with trucks and busses on the roadways. Traffic jams in downtown Mazatlán Viejo, Old Mazatlán.
Mazatlán is El Centro, the downtown area. The mercado that fills an entire city block, bursting with stall after stall after stall of meats, vegetables, cheeses, taco stands, clothing, trinkets, purses and jewelry. And more. It is the the cathedral and the main plaza, Plaza Republica. Park benches and shoeshine stands. Wandering musicians. The small clubs where anyone can get up to sing with the band and old men play dominoes. Streets filled with shoppers and tourists, huaraches and Birkenstocks, mini skirts and aprons over housedresses. A man with no legs on the sidewalk, begging.
Mazatlán is public transportation. Truck-taxis with benches along each side running the length of the truck beds, the whole covered with tarps for shade. It is open-air taxis of small cars that look like offshoots of a Volkswagen Thing. It is city busses, each one decked out with photos, fringe, crucifixes, posters of the Virgin, saints and the Playboy bunny. Bus drivers who switch lanes into spaces so tight I wouldn’t try to put my car there, who talk on their cell phone while they drive, who text when stopped in traffic, who let their wives and children board without paying.
Mazatlán is small stores and enterprise. Tiny grocery stores every few blocks. Small restaurants on corners and in front rooms. Vendors on bicycle carts. Home garages turned into stalls where women sell snacks or men repair toasters.
Mazatlán is sidewalk nightmares. Sidewalks rise, they fall, they disappear. They are level with the street or two feet above it. They change levels, textures, angles and stability a dozen times in one block. Holes and cracks abound. Concrete, tile, dirt and brick, often all four along three connecting storefronts. Sidewalks in Mazatlán are to be respected, attended to while walking, and are not for the faint of heart.
Mazatlán is cosmopolitan. Many races, many nationalities, many languages. Theaters and museums. Public art. Business meetings in a café. Excellent coffee. Baguette, lobster, mocha, sushi. Fine dining. Nightclubs and waterfront restaurants, trendy shops. Women breastfeed in public.
Mazatlán is its barrios, its neighborhoods. Cars with speakers atop them cruise the street announcing fresh fruit, bread, or bottled water for sale. Neighbors in front yards or on the steps, chatting. Children playing soccer in the street. Fireworks at night because … well … because.
Mazatlán is her people. Mothers with babies and a gaggle of young children. A school outing with a long line of first graders and two harried teachers. Tourists with cameras, everyone with cellphones. High heels click click clicking down the sidewalk. Lovers oblivious to all others.
Mazatlán is still the sea. Fishing and fish markets. Dolphins and sea lions, seagulls and frigates. Turtles lumbering onto the beach to lay eggs, hatchlings erupting and scrambling to the water.