Mexicans know how to throw a party! When their fiestas are steeped in tradition, such as Día de Independencia on September 16, they pull out all the stops with awe-inspiring results.|
La Manz was unusually crowded with Mexican vacationers choosing to celebrate this important holiday weekend at our beach. That most residents and visitors packed our plaza for opening night on the 15th was perhaps even more impressive than the official ceremonies. It was like one giant family reunion, and everyone – regardless of nationality or origin – belonged.
Laughter, animated chatter, and the shrieks of energized children played perfect counterpoint to the amped music and the pounding surf a few meters away. Despite the sauna-like heat and humidity, the dance floor teemed with constant movement. Whether from perspiration or alcohol, everyone glowed.
In villages throughout Mexico the celebration traditionally kicked off with El Grito, the cry that started the 10-year war for independence from three centuries of Spanish rule. Initiated in the predawn hours of September 16th by the almost 60-year old Padre Miguel Hidalgo in the village of Dolores in 1810, most villages now ring their church bell(s) and shout the grito at 11 p.m. on the 15th. Delegado Gilberto “Sombra” Varsas did the El Grito honors in La Manzanilla to resounding responses of “Viva Mexico!”
A reprise of the previous evening, the plaza filled again before sunset on the 16th for the greased-pole climb. I could find no reference to its historical significance, but it was a most hilarious event.
An approximately 20-foot pole with cross bars at the top was erected at the corner across from the delegado’s office and thoroughly greased with what someone called sapo de vaca. The slimy substance was gross, but effective.|
One very brave (or very crazy) person climbed a ladder and suspended bags filled with household goods, soccer balls, toys, and other unbreakable gifts that were pullied up to him on the crossbars. With no guy wires to secure it, the pole teetered precariously as he blithely went about his work.
Then the real fun began. Competitors threw sand on the pole for better purchase on the grease, to little avail. Two or three men formed a base at the bottom of the pole, another guy climbed onto their shoulders, and another onto his shoulders, etc. Succeeding layers of hombres climbed the human ladder, each team determined to be the first to reach the top and shower gifts on expectant onlookers below.
Gravity, grease, sweat, and the swaying pole, however, all worked against them, although the enthusiasm of the crowd never wavered. Each new group of contenders was greeted with raucous cheers and the appropriate “ooohs” and “aaaahs” as they climbed higher and higher, and great sighs of disappointment as hopes of victory slithered to the ground in a writhing heap of humanity.
After several hours of valiant but futile attempts to reach the top, Sombra brought out the ladder once again and someone took the easy way up to release the prize bags to the waiting crowd. The contenders walked away with splintered hands and aching shoulders, and lucky members of their supportive audience went home with some very useful stuff.
It’s been said that the entire world is Irish on Saint Paddy’s day. I’m proud to be among the gringos who were warmly welcomed to be Mexican on their Independence Day. Viva Mexico!|
The Independence Day celebration held new meaning for three expatriate-American La Manzanilla residents who were sworn in as imigrados, the highest status a permanent foreign resident in Mexico can achieve, on September 14 in Colima. Receiving their FM-2 documents in an elaborate ceremony at the Governor’s Palace were Nancy Chamberlain, Bernard Lewis, and David Olive. Saludos a todo!