It’s time to gather in the tiny village of El Cedral, on the island of Cozumel, for the annual “Fiestas of Santa Cruz,” which will run from April 26 to May 5, 2013. This is a celebration that began 164 years ago through a survivor of the caste wars on the mainland who believed a tiny wooden cross was what saved him from certain death, but it has now sprung into a party that attracts thousands with a celebration of life. There is much to do, whether you like music, dancing, history, or horse races, and it is absolutely the place to be in the spring. And, since I was finally over my own little battle with dengue, it seemed like the perfect way to get back to taking some pics and gathering some info. So, off I went with my landlady, Lesli, and her family who have a home in El Cedral and their own history with the town.
Although there are buses available at Chedruai throughout the days of the events, they were nice enough to let me squeeze into the family car. Since El Cedral is separate, and south, of San Miguel it takes about twenty minutes by car or moto, but a bit longer with the buses, I was told. Once we arrived they smiled and agreed to stop for a moment to let me grab a shot of the gates that lead into the little town and you can see that at the top of this piece. Then we turned and drove into the town and it was immediately apparent that this was going to be quite the event. There were cars everywhere, even though the festivities were just beginning, and everywhere you looked folks, mostly locals at that point, were walking towards the center of town. But, first, I had the opportunity to see the family’s weekend home and it is quite lovely. I had a few moments to walk around and take some pics while they finished getting ready. Lesli’s cousin, Lucia, the Queen of Independance, 2012 (she holds the title until September of this year), and Lesli’s daughter, Camilla, although only four, would both be participating and they would be wearing the traditional hipil dresses with decorative scarfs and the jabón for Lucia. I’ll have many pictures of these dresses later, so, meanwhile, I just focused on the flowers and the little touches that made it a home.
After all were ready, and looking quite lovely, we joined the crowd and headed towards the center of town as well. That is where the main hall, the church, some historical pieces, and a few small ruins dating from 800 A.D. were all then surrounded by the trappings of a carnival atmosphere. And, I’d like to add, the combination of colors was almost overwhelming. The favored Mexican reds and yellows were certainly there as was just about any other color imaginable. Put this together with the music, the people, many also dressed in traditional garb, and I couldn’t take pictures fast enough. It was going to be a good day.
Soon we were seated in the main hall. It was hot, but the breeze was blowing and the palapa roof was quite high, although one might miss the fact it was a palapa unless you stepped outside. There were colorful, rectangular decorations everywhere you could imagine. Folks were arriving in droves, again still more also dressed, you guessed it, traditionally. Although the women’s hipils were white with brilliant flowers on the bodice and hems, I noticed the men were often dressed less dramatically in white shirts and pants with a minimum of golden stitching and this was often topped off by white (think Panama) hats. I started to walk around and noticed that many gathered to take shots of each other underneath the sculpture that celebrated the festival. Seemed like a good idea to take a pic as well.
Back inside I stopped to see when Camilla, the four year old I’d mentioned, was going to be on stage. I’d been told that, apparently, the governor of Quintana Roo, and the mayor of Cozumel, along with various kings and queens of island events and local families would all be gathering together at one time to officially start the festivities. That moment was what Camilla was anxiously waiting for, but it had been delayed due to transportation issues. This really is the country where patience can be learned. So I grabbed a quick shot of her since she, too, was trying so hard to be patient, but then I headed out to see what else was going on.
The first place I came across was the church. It is, literally, in the center of town and it is quite lovely. In fact, I had the brief thought that if I ever got married again it might well be in such a place. But, that thought passed quickly and I headed back outside. Interestingly enough, what I saw next was such a contrast of ideas and imagery. Not twenty feet from the church was where the carnival booths were set up. Filled with either food, or games, they were, like Camilla, just waiting. I walked around and took a few pictures trying to avoid the sun, which had finally decided to come out here and there. Makes for better pictures, but it was getting hotter by the minute. I decided it was time to find the local store and get some Coke, a personal favorite since, in my opinion, it tastes so much better than the American counterpart. I began my search.
Before I went even twenty yards further I noticed the Federales were out. I asked if I could take a shot of one young man with a serious weapon and he happily agreed. It’s a personal thing, but I’ve always thought it was best to make friends with anyone who carries a machine gun. I thanked him and continued. Next I headed down yet another dirt road in my search for a store and noticed a local cafe was setting up with white tables and chairs and an abandoned boat for ambiance. Perfect! Seemed symbolic, somehow, of the Mexico I love where people just move on past and enjoy their lives. Then I saw a gorgeous, yellow bird of paradise growing up against a pink house as a background. Although the sun was hiding for a moment, I couldn’t resist. Then it only took a few more minutes to find the store after that and I slowly meandered back to the main hall with an ice cold Coke in my hand.
I could hear singing as I got closer. Once inside I noticed a young man in a cowboy hat (and pants that could not have allowed him to breathe) was holding court center stage. He had a fairly good voice, but whatever he might have been lacking in talent he more than made up with in personality. Although he was positioned in front of a backdrop that was clearly based on the town’s church he was certainly not preaching the gospel, and the ladies in the front rows were transfixed. Several more entertainers came after him, but then the local women got up on stage for a traditional dance and I had to get a shot of that. They were having so much fun that often they would just break down in giggles, but they never stopped dancing.
That was when all the dignitaries began to get on stage. The politicians began to speak, about the only time I’m glad I don’t speak the language, and then the queen of the festival was crowned. And, that was when Camilla, Lucia, and many others all gathered on stage together. It was what I like to think of as controlled chaos. We have it often here in Mexico. Combinations of people, voices, colors, but, somehow it all ends up making sense, but don’t ask me how. Then the photo session began. I was fortunate enough to be allowed up front to take pics, but I couldn’t take it for more than three, or four minutes because standing in the middle of a crowd under stage lights on a hot day is not my idea of fun, ever. In fact, I must have looked sad because two different people started fanning me, which told me it really was time to quit. Still, it was worth it since it was to be the last I’d get to see for the day. Lesli needed to head back to San Miguel and I was more than happy to ride along. An air conditioned room was sounding like a good idea.
But, there was to be a few more photographic moments on the way. And, as often happens, they were a clash of concepts that still managed to go well together. First there was the man who sold kibis (a middle eastern food that has, somehow, made it’s way to the Yucatan) from his portable unit attached to his moped. How does one not focus on something like that? Oh, and if you get a kibi, let me recommend the red onion stuffing, it really doesn’t get much better than that. But, after my snack, I was then given the opportunity to photograph three generations of proud Yucatecan women, Camilla, Lucia, and Minerva. They managed to look cool and serene even after hours in the sun and under stage lights, they have my admiration. And, it was the perfect way to end the day. As I headed home I realized that although I hope to get out to more events in El Cedral, even if I don’t it was still a great introduction to the oldest party on the island. Salud!