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Carnival in Tepoztlan

Two or three of the best restaurants in town closed yesterday, and this afternoon, the largest coffee shop followed suit. This morning, I saw a truck coming in with police reinforcements from a neighbouring town. We expats are all passing on the word to each other about avoiding the place till next week, and looking for places to hang out that can be reached without passing through it.

Corona Virus hit us, you think? Or we had a dire prediction of an earthquake from one of the more noted local seers? Nope. It’s Carnival time, as happens each February.

Yesterday, the people who work in the market began pulling it apart. Every year at this time, it moves to the adjoining streets. They have to make space for a midway, a lot of oompah bands and dancing, and a huge milling crowd that will be impossible to push through by Sunday.

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Kids in home-made Chinelo hats parade down the Avenida Cinco de Mayo on Carnival’s opening day. The ones in the black outfits, near the left, are actual Chinelos.

When I first learned Tepoztlan had a carnival, I was optimistic it would be fun, full of folkloric activities and old traditions. Mostly, though, it’s just a matter of booze and food. And while I’m personally downbeat about noisy celebrations, I discovered last year that some of the restaurant owners can’t stand Carnival.

“I just hate the drunks,” one restaurant owner confided to me.

“Don’t they spend money, though?” I responded.

“One fight, and you can lose a lot of revenue,” he replied mournfully.

I’ve learned the hard way to stay out of town on the Carnival weekend, and to minimise my visits on the surrounding days, and I know what he meant. One time I went in to see what Carnival Sunday was like, and was compressed into a crowd that crawled and staggered down the main street and into the zocalo. I was possible the only sober person among three thousand people, and I’m by no means a disapproving abstainer. Once caught up in that mass of staggering people, I had no way of escape until they veered into the open space, and I could slip to the side of the mob and out of the surge.

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All mixed in with a brass band, people dance round the marketplace as Carnival opens.

The town council, I think, is trying to reclaim Carnival as a family event, as well as still one for local people, as it used to be. It doesn’t publicly start till tomorrow, but today there was an opening Chinelos’ dance around the marketplace, where the traditionally robed celebrants did their hopping samba led by a brass band and accompanied by two hundred schoolkids in home-made Chinelo hats. The largest parking space in the centre has a stage set up in it: the city fathers and mothers don’t want people driving into the downtown, and then drunkenly trying to leave it. The musical program is also promoted more this year than in the past.

There’s supposedly a ban on selling alcohol in the streets, but there’s also a rule that people who’ve held a Carnival vending permit for decades can continue to obtain it every year. A lot of those who have such permits operate small bars in the closed-off main streets. So, that idea is almost unenforceable.

I am, I confess, no fan of noisy celebrations, and as some other posts here make plain, Mexicans can make noise like nobody else. There are local people who are happy they’ll make a tidy sum selling enchiladas and quesadillas, or micheladas (beer with lime-juice and chili), but otherwise the event tends to overwhelm the town. It’s promoted online and elsewhere, then the place waits for the onslaught. Wiser residents stock up on basic food, and pretend it isn’t happening.

Feliz fiesta, folks: it’s all yours.