Carnivál in Mazatlán


Armed with a new (to me) brake line and renewed sense of purpose, I pointed my iron steed south towards the coastal city of Mazatlán, home to the world’s (disputed) third largest Carnival celebration.

Before I arrived though, I’d need to ride something like 500 miles in one day, the longest I’d done so far.  And actually, looking at the map now, I have no idea why I took the long route, but at the time it made sense.

The route...err why did I go this way again?
The route…err why did I go this way again?

This was also the first time I took the cuotas, or toll roads, a decision that, while allowing my DR to speed along at 80mph (and still be constantly passed), would cost me about $90 in toll fees.  Oops! I stopped in Durango for some lunch (and to rest my cheeks), before pushing towards the final leg to Mazatlán.

Now, if you’re unaware, there is a road known as Espinazo del Diablo, and it provides the conscientious rider with some of the best motorcycling in the world.  Sadly, it takes between five and six hours to ride, and, what with it being 4PM already, I had no choice but to continue on via cuota, a route that would take a mere two hours.

I pulled into Mazatlán right near sunset.  It’s the second largest city in the state of Sinaloa, and a major tourist attraction as well.  The border town of Villa Union is extremely poor, with people lined up near the checkpoints, trying to sell you water or chili covered food stuffs, but as you enter Mazatlán it becomes much more urban. I should mention (as my Dad mentioned to me many times on the phone), that Joaquin ‘Chapo’ Guzman had been captured just days before my arrival, so I was interested to see what the city would be like following this guys downfall.

With my phone running with only 1% battery left, I managed to find my home for the next 6 days.

The Funky Monkey Hostel, not to be confused with Hostel Funky Monkey in Laos (though they use the website, so yeah, there will be some confusion).

The Funky Monkey Hostel, an awesome hostel in one of the nicest neighorhoods in Mazatlán.  I borrowed this photo from their website.
The Funky Monkey Hostel, an awesome hostel in one of the nicest neighorhoods in Mazatlán. I borrowed this photo from their website.

The Funky Monkey is owned and operated by my (now) good friend, Salem.

The Doctor himself.
The Doctor himself.

Salem is about my age, though much more traveled; for seven years he backpacked around the world, and stayed at many hostels.  Ultimately he came to one conclusion; why should I wait until I’m old to retire? Why not retire now? So the man set out to do just that, touring around to find a decent spot to open his own hostel and live out his dreams.  And well, he’s pretty much accomplished it.

You walk in and feel immediately at home. Everyone is extremely nice, the staff and guests always make you feel included, and there is literally always something going on. It’s a place that feels good to stay and hang out in, a great base of operations for exploring Mazatlán, with a wealth of local knowledge at your disposal.

My first night I was treated to some free beer and some in-hostel partying, the vast majority of the guests planning to go out and see Carnival in it’s full range of motion the following night, a Saturday. This being my first real hostel experience (though I had stayed at others with an ex-girlfriend, we always got private rooms), I didn’t know what to expect but I was surprised by the friendliness and welcoming attitudes of all the other guests. Anyway, it was completely fine by me to stay in my first night, as I was pretty beat after riding some 500 miles that day.

The next day I got up late, walked down a few blocks and grabbed a salad to eat, having not exactly been eating healthy the past few days, as one does when traveling.  Walking back to the hostel, among the gated hedges carved like ducks, I heard a sing song voice call out.

“You wouldn’t happen to be staying at the Funky Monkey Hostel would you?” said the attractive Australian (nope, South African) girl in the passenger seat of the taxi.

“You wouldn’t happen to be asking because I’m a white guy walking around in a Mexican neighborhood would you? It’s right over there.”

And that was how I met Amy.



Amy has still left me pretty stunned many weeks later as I write this.  The girl has been traveling for over 10 years (!!!), and carries around a little map she updates by hand whenever she goes somewhere new.  I wish I had taken a photo of it, because it’s so cool, with pencil lines indicating ship crossings, and different colored pens for overland and air routes. When I asked her how she could afford all that travel, she looked at me like I had asked her how one breathes air. You just do it of course, and damn the doubting Thomases.  The details of her means are by mostly finding work on yachts and other ships traveling to far away lands, volunteering, and the occasional dive master gig.

I say stunned, because after talking with her a while, and sort of examining my life to this point, it had never occurred to me that traveling that way, no, that living that way was really possible.

I mean, sure, we read about it, in books, on blogs (like this one), but it’s different when you meet and talk to another person who’s actually doing it, who’s Indiana Jonesing it out there in the big world. Conversations like that don’t happen often (at least to me), and when they do, they leave their mark.

Anyway, I digress; suffice to say we got along famously.

That night a bunch of us headed out to experience Carnivál in all its glory.  That Saturday (March 1st) was to be a grand re-enactment of French invasion of Mazatlán through the medium of fireworks.

They were pretty incredible, exploding extremely close to the crowd after having been launched from, what looked like, the ocean itself.

And the people, my god man the people! They were everywhere!

Banda bands were on stages down the entire stretch of the Malecón (the longest in the world) whipping the crowd into a dancing frenzy.

Needless to say, I think I got home around 4AM, happy as hell.

The next day was more of the same; a late start to the day, punctuated by some of the greatest chilequiles I’ve ever eaten in my life, and then a slow crawl into the night for the big event; the parade.

These were so good. Available at a spot called Pura Vida in Mazatlán.
These were so good. Available at a spot called Pura Vida in Mazatlán.

Myself, Amy, this guy named Dane (whom I had coincidentally met before in La Paz, Baja and was/is bicycling down to Brazil for the World Cup), and another gentlemen whose name escapes me from Canada sailing his way along the Mexican coast all headed down to Malecón fairly early with plenty of beers to secure a good viewing point of the parade.

When it started, well, we were pretty disappointed, as beer truck and sponsor truck rolled by one after the other for a solid 20 minutes.  And then, nothing.  We couldn’t believe that so many people would come out just to watch beer trucks, but after about an hour, well, maybe they had?

In the meantime I got my blood pressure checked for 5 pesos. All good!


Luckily patience paid off, and the real parade started as soon as it got dark.  The floats were huge and brightly lit, and in between troupes of dancers from all around the area twisted and spun down the entire length of the promenade. Sadly my phone ran out of batteries, but I did manage to get some decent snaps of the parade (and Amy still owes me her copies, ahem).

Tired and happy, I once again headed home, though much earlier (and less drunk) than the night before.

The schedule of Carnivál events for Monday the 3rd had a bull fight and some fireworks as the highlight, but my mind kept returning to something I had missed.

Espinazo del Diablo.

I just had to ride it. A road with multiple elevation changes and over 2000 turns, are you kidding me? I’d never forgive myself if I missed out on that road.

I left a note, suited up and headed east.

It reads, “Dear Hostel Peeps. I’ve gone to crack the Devil’s Spine (Espinoza del Diablo). Should I fail to return at a decent hour, say by tonight (that’s “cerveza trente” in Spanish, free lesson for ya), undoubtedly two fates have befallen me: 1) I’ve met and duly charmed a mountain Mayan princess, and, her beign suitably impressed by my command of the local tongue, she has convinced me to join her in a life of luxury and royalty, and I won’t be back. 2) I’ve careened off the side of a cliff or experienced oblivion by running into a donkey and am dead. Please dig, rifle, and peruse through my belongings and notify my family should the latter have occurred. Also if someone could contact Warner Bros. and secure the movie rights to my story, well, that would be swell.”

So I suited up, and headed back east, riding the magnificent road all the way to small town called El Salto before turning around and taking the cuato back to Mazatlán.  The cuato itself is an amazing road, letting you bomb through 63 tunnels straight through the mountains at over 90 mph, crescendoing by crossing the Baluarte Bridge, the highest suspension bridge in the world.

It’s such a cool route.

I even got that all necessary “crossed the tropics” photo, even though I had crossed them a while back.


After returning and resting up for a while (and being berated for not having taken Amy with), about five of us headed downtown to see some Banda bands and fireworks.  At the time two American medical students studying in Guadalajara were staying at the hostel, and they had a truck, so we did as they do in Mexico and hitched a ride.

I think I almost fell out around one turn trying to catch a photo.


We posted up outside of the entrance to the party, and enjoyed a few beers, watching the people march into the Malecón.


That night the Malecón was PACKED. People were everywhere, and large groups would surge forward with 50 people attempting to fit into a space the size of a watermelon.  Apparently the number one Banda band in all of Mexico was playing in the town square. It was absolutely insane.



Salem wasn’t having any of it, and after losing everyone in the crowd, I also headed back to the hostel, calling it a relatively early night.

Tuesday came, and Amy, a girl named Susie and I decided to see what Mazatlán had to offer besides copious amounts of drinking and partying.

Susie liked to pretend she was a pro with the locals, for the jokes of course.
Susie liked to pretend she was a pro with the locals, for the jokes of course.

So, besides beach activies, Mazatlán has this church.


Hey look I'm actually in a photo for once.
Hey look I’m actually in a photo for once.

And it has this gazebo.

Oh, neat.
Oh, neat.

And that’s it.

Well we were already down town, so the girls decided to get their hair cut, and I wandered around looking for passenger pegs for my motorcycle, an errand that was ultimately doomed.



It’s pretty rare to find a Suzuki dealership, most motorcycles down here are the Italika brand or Dinamo, and when they hear Suzuki they just immediately shake their heads.  Because obviously everyone uses different sized pegs and wholes right? Of course not, but it’s difficult to convey that message with my poor Spanish. So, alas, there was going to be no ride for Amy around Mazatlán.

Later that night Salem invited me out once again; it was the closing day of Carnival featuring a second parade, and he was anxious to see at least one float this year, having sat out the parade on Saturday night.

So we took a ride down to his friend James’ house, in front of which sat a “red taxi” full of the elderly.  James was apparently showing them around the Carnival.

James and I in our elderly chariot.  These people got down though, I tell you what.
James and I in our elderly chariot. These people got down though, I tell you what.

Back on the Malecón, Salem, James and I walked around and just looked at everything.  There was a lot to see.

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Even the local authorities got in on the action.

The rest of the night is a blur, but we had a great time. We ended up back at James’ house, drinking some beers and just chatting a while, before retiring back to the hostel. James turned out to be hilarious.

I somehow bought some art work which may or may not still be at the Funky Monkey Hostel, because really, how are you going to carry around paintings on a motorcycle.

Dane had this to say about my purchase on his blog: “I had a great time and after some serious contemplation have decided I am giving up attending parades for lent. This is a picture of Phil whom I met in La Paz and reconnected with in Mazatlán. Phil decided way after closing time one night that the best addition to a multi-continental motorcycle trip was some decent sized artwork. Phil has given up collecting art for lent.”

Nursing the mother of all hangovers, that Wednesday, Ash Wednesday, was a pretty quiet day. Not much to report.

On Thursday my body pretty much shut down, it must have been some bad fruit I ate because I could not for the life of me get off the toilet.  I basically slept the entire day and night.

I did manage to join everyone for some food at an awesome place called Barracuda’s, afterwhich we headed to the movies to watch the thrilling Oscar blockbuster known as Pompeii for the princely sum of 10 pesos.  Yep, 80 cents to see a movie.


Friday say Amy taking off for the Baja. She was going to spend two months there with a friend, potentially working at a dive shop but who knows with her.  And do you know where she was staying? Why, the beautiful Cabo Pulmo of course. The universe has its own cosmic sense of humor.

So, I said my goodbyes.


And Salem said his.


We all made plans to meet up in Colombia during the month of May. Considering it’s nearly April and I’m just now in the Yucatán, well, we’ll see how that goes.Still, you never know. As Amy told me, “you gotta do what feels right for you and what you feel like doing! people and plans will form around your passion. [sic]”

Right on.

Saturday rolled around, and I had to, HAD TO get the hell out of Mazatlán. I had an incredible time there, and made some friends for life but I had well overstayed by a few days; it was already March 8th and I was due to meet up with some friends from Austin on the 21st.

Salem and I grabbed some final chilequiles at Pura Vida, I hopped on the motorcycle, and with a bit of a heavy heart, off I rode, some 1100 miles separating myself from my next stop, Oaxaca.