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Santa Semana – Pescadero, Baja California Sur, Mexico

Santa Semana

Pescadero, Baja California Sur, Mexico

The week before Easter has the reputation of being the most raucous of the Mexican fiestas. I had been warned, months in advance, to stay off the roads and to steer clear of public places after dark. As the week unfurled, I had no doubt as to the wisdom of such admonitions. By Monday, the town of Todos Santos was buzzing with rico Mexican families escaping the heat of La Paz for a vacation near the coast. By Wednesday, there was a solid line of traffic clogging the highway. The beer stores had scheduled extra deliveries and the grocery store set up a special cash register just to handle beer sales. By Friday, the beach had been transformed into a makeshift tent city. The sounds of oompah music blasting from crackling car speakers competed with the joyous screams of children chasing barking dogs through the surf. By Sunday morning, every waking drunk was suffering through a personal reenactment of the Resurrection.

In his book, Distant Neighbors, Alan Riding observes:
“While seeking points of security, the Mexican lives much of the time introspectively. For this solitude and self-restraint, the fiesta provides a vital catharsis….Firecrackers, trumpets, songs and shouts break the inner silence of Mexican men. Then, unlocked by alcohol, sentimentality, self-pity and frustration pour out, usually channeled harmlessly into popular songs that articulate the bitterness of unrequited love and the honor of violent death and at times expressed in unexpected outbursts of aggression…Without the release of the fiesta, Mexican society would be more unstable and unpredictable.”

Author Boye Lafayette De Mente agrees:
“Most of Mexico’s festivals are accompanied by a great deal of uninhibited drinking, and usually end in explosions of fireworks that often last for hours…Over the centuries Mexicans might not have been able to endure the incredible suffering imposed on them by the church and the state if it had not been for their festivals. During festivals, otherwise sacred customs are violated one after the other. Law and order often break down completely. Mexican sociologists say that what outsiders often mistake for unrestrained gaiety during festivals are manifestations of naked fury. They explain the country’s many fiestas function not to satisfy a pleasure-loving spirit but as a means of letting off repressed violence.”

Eternally suffering from a Cinderella complex, there was no way I was going to heed those dire warnings and sit out the biggest fiesta of the year. Pacifico was sponsoring a huge beach party at neighboring Playa Los Cerritos. Brightly painted signs around town touted futbol, volibol, boxing, a bikini dance contest, and of course, beer. I like beer…no wait, I LOVE beer.

The King of King's Beer
The King of King’s Beer
If I’d had any trouble locating the party, that is, if I hadn’t been able to hear the thumping sound system from the highway, the giant inflatable beer bottles would have been shining beacons, beckoning my thirst hither. I bought a giant bottle of Pacifico from an 8-year-old kid and joined the celebration. The beer was icy cold and priced the same as in the stores. Drifting through relaxed and cheery revelers, I contemplated the possibilities for such a celebration in the United States. If this were Santa Monica, there would be restricted parking, admission charges, wrist bands, I.D. check points, over priced flat beer, lists of rules (no coolers, no alcohol, no glass, no dogs, no smoking, no vending, no swimming, no, no, no…), and scores of mean-spirited security guards. Not exactly an environment conducive to letting off steam.

Although there were other gringos in attendance, this was a wholly Mexican event. Clearly, this was not for the benefit of the tourists. Nonetheless, we were entirely welcome among the throngs of families and drunken party-goers. As usual, we soon had a crowd of friends, old and new, passing around a bottle of tequila, buying tacos and mangos from strolling beach vendors. The mangos, served on a stick, peeled with a machete, then sprinkled with lime juice and chili powder, are an extraordinary delight! We cheered during the tournaments, encouraging anonymous futbol and volibol players in their intense competition.

If the fiesta is indeed designed for the express purpose of letting off repressed violence, then perhaps no single event is more effective than a lightweight boxing match. Nearly everyone on the beach crowded around the regulation boxing ring to watch two young men pummel each other in the head. Whoops and groans accompanied each blow as surely as if every man in the crowd had experienced the pain himself. The collective anxiety of the crowd rose and fell with the action in each round, peaking in an explosive burst of energy when a knock down punch connected. But the main event was yet to come.

Ringside, two particularly vocal borrachos were evidently expressing their intense disdain for the performances of the young boxers and undoubtedly bragging about their own abilities. After the last round of official boxing, at the frantic urging of the crowd, the two braggarts were admitted to the ring to demonstrate their fortitude. Staggering sideways, refusing head gear, they eventually accepted help with their gloves, thus handicapping them with the inability to pull-up their oversized and sagging denim pants. The bell rang and the drunks dribbled into action, stumbling and bouncing around the roped off stage. The crowd went berserk as the untrained boxers exchanged sloppy windmill punches, the flimsy slapping of leather against skin announcing each connecting blow. It quickly became evident which was the drunker of the two as the referee separated the already tiring combatants. But pride and machismo, fueled by the chanting of the audience brought them back to the center of the ring. Slap! Pop! BAM! A resounding left connected with a jawbone! All muscle tone immediately left his body as the loser collapsed face down into the mat. The spectators exploded into a frenzy of congratulatory high-fives and enthusiastic expressions of empathy and amusement. Everyone was thrilled to watch it and just as thrilled that it wasn’t them…this time.

Violent aggression is not the only way to let off steam, and soon the party evolved into a more sophisticated form of primal expression: the bikini dance contest.

Which, of course, I won.

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