My Marvelous Mexican Midlife Crisis: Halloween in Vallarta

I love celebrating Halloween in Puerto Vallarta.  I know that I am a bit late.  People have already started to grumble about retailers and the commercialization of Christmas, but I haven’t had this much fun on October 31st in years!  Let me tell you about it.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard adults say, “Halloween is for kids.”  Here in Vallarta, however, Halloween is for everybody and as a result, it’s just more fun.  Don’t misunderstand, I enjoyed myself in Canada, but here I get to reclaim some of the fun and adventure that I lost when I became an adult.

As many of you know, in Canada, the children dutifully approach each house with its lights on and holler, “Trick or treat!” or “Halloween Apples!”  Adults ooooh and aaaah appropriately over the costumes, maybe say a hello to the waiting parents, and then drop candy into the kids’ bags.  It’s generally a pretty orderly process unless kids start cutting across lawns or zigzagging across the road to get both sides of the street. (Hey! It’s more efficient.  And let’s face it.  Most of us did it at least once—safety, be damned!)  Such was my experience trick or treating, so nothing prepared me for the boisterous free for all of the Malecon.

The practice of going door to door for treats really hasn’t caught on here.  Instead, many people go to the Malecon which is the trendy downtown boardwalk.  There, you can eat, visit with friends, hit the beach, listen to music, or even collect candy.  The Malecon becomes a giant carnival paralleling the ocean. The atmosphere is lively and loud.

To the best of my knowledge, the custom of giving out candy to costumed children arrived with Canadian and American expats.  Although I will admit that I did not do extensive research, I can tell you that every single person who has ever given my son candy on the Malecon spoke English.  Many Halloween patrons find a comfortable bench to sit on and give out candy to the children that come in droves.  Others like my husband and I wander around passing out goodies when a child walks by us.  There is absolutely no rhyme or reason to the system and kids with or without costumes collect candy.

There are other benefactors, however, who have brought candy dissemination, literally, to a whole new level.  There are a few restaurants on the Malecon that feature second and third floor patios.  Customers seated by the railings throw candies and small dollar store toys down to the street below.  It is absolute joyous bedlam!  The kids stretch out their hands, hats and Halloween bags above their heads chanting, “¡Queremos Halloween!”, which means “We want Halloween!”  Then the candies sail down from the balconies to the waiting rabble.  Sometimes they get snatched out of the air, but often they hit the boardwalk and anyone in the near vicinity dives to the ground to get the sweet treasure.  It’s like watching a happy school of land sharks engaged in a sugar feeding frenzy.  (Did you just flash back to Saturday Night Live and the Land Shark sketch?)

My son loves this spontaneous game.  There is nothing like the victory of getting a candy before the other kids.  And if he misses a candy, there is no time to be upset, because more is coming.  Talk about living in the moment!  My son actually gets fewer goodies than he did going door to door in Canada, but the candy he works for here is definitely sweeter.

DSCN0986-400x350I have a confession to make.  It’s not just the kids that enjoy catching the candy (Ahem).  Hey, I’m not the only one that does it!  That is part of the fun.  There are no set rules.  Some moms and dads are scattered through the mob while others hang around the fringes.  I have done both.  Last year while in the middle of the meIee, I got conked by a lollipop lobbed from above.  It was a sharp pain that made me laugh in surprise.  Actually, most of the parents who participate appear to be helping their children get as much candy as possible.  Being taller is an advantage, and your average seven year old usually can’t compete with the twelve year old standing beside him.

My son found an ingenious way to combat this. Along with other intrepid candy hunters, he stood on a wide park bench, thus boosting his height by about a foot.  Yeah, he was wildly excited, looking up and intent on one goal.  Get the candy before anyone else.  Who cared about where his feet were?!  I did.  The Canadian in me freaked out a bit.  Basically, I stood behind him with my hands on his waist to stop him from falling off the bench.  Hence the reason I got crowned last year.  To his credit, my son has practiced this technique two years in a row and hasn’t fallen off a bench yet.

This year, I guiltlessly claimed two pieces of candy as all mine.  One was a Jolly Rancher that fell down the front of my shirt, lodging itself in my bra—MINE.  The other was “apology” candy.  A lovely blonde woman accidently bopped me on the head with a candy. It ricocheted off my person into a mass of scrabbling young hands.  She called an embarrassed sorry down from the balcony.  Laughing, I called back not to worry about it.  After all, I had already experienced this the year before.  She then, purposely tossed another candy in my direction.  I snatched it out of the air crowing, “Peanut butter cup for Mom!  Woo hoo!”  No peanut butter cup has ever tasted better!

After being dive bombed by candy for a goodly while, we decided to make our way down the Malecon towards city hall where there were a variety of altars set up for the Day of the Dead.  On the way, we got distracted by an amazing drum corps.  They slowly worked their way through the boardwalk crowds creating a rhythmic pulse that vibrated through everyone’s body.  It was wildly loud, and made you feel alive.  Their music pulled us down the Malecon to a stage where they continued their performance in front of a huge crowd.  We listened a bit more and then continued south to city hall and the altars.

DSCN09871-400x350Each altar is dedicated to a person who has died.  This year, there were two or three for Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.  Personally, I prefer the ones dedicated to people who aren’t celebrities.  If you look at the altars, you can get a glimpse of their lives.  What was important to them?  What foods and beverages did they love?  What were their occupations and their passions?  If you stop and look carefully, you can potentially learn all these things.  It’s a three dimensional obituary and memorial adorned with brightly coloured paper, and lit by candlelight.  If you do not already know, there are also often decorative skulls included in the altars.  Some might say that this practice is morbid, but I think it simply shows a lack of fear.  Death is not the end, but rather, just another step on the journey of existence.   True, you no longer have your skin, but still beauty exists.  This is represented by breathtaking decorations on the skulls and whimsical skeletal figurines.  In fact, the most stunning altar that I saw this year was entirely made of decorative skulls.  Anything but morbid, it celebrated life in all its facets.

We crossed the street toward the Naval Museum.  The museum is not open because it is undergoing renovations.  So why am I telling you about it?   The museum is a landmark that heralds the beginning of a series of food vendors.  These small business owners collectively form an outdoor Mexican food court without a chain restaurant in site.    The vendors feature fresh juices, French fries, hotdogs, fried whole plantains, homemade pies, and tacos as well as other numerous delights.  After surveying the various offerings we opted for juices, fried hot dogs shaped like flower blossoms, French fries with ketchup and mayonnaise, and a whole fried plantain.  It was Mexican fast food at its best:  tasty and very inexpensive!  We went for seconds.  Yummm!

The evening was agreeably cool.  My husband and I were in our glory, relishing the fresh ocean breeze after the daytime heat.  Unfortunately, our poor son did not share our delight.  He was actually cold!  We decided to make our way back to our vehicle.

It was about 8:15 in the evening and the Malecon was now almost bursting at the seams.  We had to take care not to lose each other weaving through the crowds.  It was my least favourite part of the evening.  At one point a man purposely walked between my son and me causing me to break my hand hold on my son.  I won’t lie.  I was angry.   He was too lazy to move over a bit and instead separated a mother from her child.  Luckily, my son and I quickly found the other’s hand again.   I was actually quite surprised, because most Mexicans value family highly.  Moreover, they are generally very respectful of mothers who are with their children.  We chalked it up to the jerk principle.  You aren’t familiar with this principle?  The jerk principle states that in every human population, there is always at least one jerk!  Considering the number of people on the Malecon, I think the ratio of jerks to non-jerks was pretty good.

That one incident did not curtail my love of Halloween Puerto Vallarta style.  My family and I will definitely be back again next year, maybe with costumes!




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