Viva Mexico! The Year-Long Party Celebrates Mexican Culture

by Sasha Savinov
Mexican Culture

Once in a while, life throws you a curveball. That’s precisely what happened to our year-long party this summer. Our plan was to attend the Phish festival in upstate New York, which was ironically named Curveball. When a massive storm hit the area and caused the local water supply to get contaminated, the festival was canceled at the last minute. After sulking for a solid two weeks, we decided to do our best with the lemons life gave us by focusing the year-long party on Mexican culture. Read on to find out how we celebrated Mexican culture with a few festivals and one amazing performance.

Swing and a Miss

It’s no secret that we’re huge Phish fans. We basically started dating when we were following the band around on their summer tour, and we even got engaged at a Phish New Year’s Eve concert. We’ve seen epic Phish Halloween runs as well, but we’ve never been to an actual Phish festival together. That was all supposed to change this year, as the band announced their Curveball festival for August.

Yeah, we got engaged at a Phish show.

When we started planning the year-long party, there were only a few things we were certain on – Carnaval in Brazil, WrestleMania in New Orleans, the World Cup in Russia, and the Phish festival in New York. Although the band didn’t announce it until April, all the rumors pointed towards Watkins Glen, NY for mid-August.

We cashed in some airline miles and flew up from Puerto Vallarta to Detroit, rented a car, and hit the road. Anticipation was high after an insane Phish summer tour, which unfortunately we had to miss out on entirely in order to pull off the festival. We had just bought groceries and were only a few hours away from the grounds when we got the bad news – the festival was canceled.

Down and Out in Ohio

Shock and disappointment took over as we found a random bar in Eerie to drown our sorrows a bit and decide what the hell to do. We contemplated camping in the area, but ominous clouds in the distance deterred us. My brother got on Airbnb and found a house outside Cleveland that could take our group of six for the night, so we turned around and headed back the way we came.

We were heartbroken and defeated. All summer, we had been busting our butts teaching English online and blogging in order to make Curveball happen. I even sold our tickets to Phish’s 2-night run in San Francisco and we skipped out on heading back to the Gorge with a bunch of friends. Now here we were in the armpit of America, drinking shitty beer and eating hot dogs in a random kitchen in Ohio.

Downtown Detroit

Trying to smile and pretend like everything’s fine.

There were talks of trying to salvage the weekend by heading to a different festival in Ohio. Once again, the weather forecast made us think otherwise. Plus, we were paying quite a lot for a rental car and couldn’t justify continuing to do so for this other festival. With our tails tucked between our legs, we gave up and drove back to Michigan.

Getting stuck at my parents’ house for a week in the summer wasn’t exactly what we had in mind for a “year-long party.” We did our best to make it a fun weekend by attending a friend’s birthday party and a free electronic music festival in downtown Detroit, but we were both still very, very bummed. I started a stupid fight with Rachel that made her really upset and was just being an unpleasant dickhead overall. It wasn’t my finest hour, to say the least.

Heading Back to Mexico

One bright spot in this shitty situation was that we were at least heading back to Mexico. We also had the flexibility to find something else fun to do that month. It could have been much worse. We could have gone back to a cubicle in middle America with no vacation time for the rest of the year…

Puerto Vallarta drone

At least we live here.

Back in Mexico, we decided that the year-long party had to go on despite hitting a huge speed bump. Our options were somewhat limited, as we really couldn’t afford to travel too far. Thankfully we live in Mexico, a fascinating country with a vibrant culture that always has something going on!

While there are plenty of awesome things to do in Puerto Vallarta, it’s a pretty small city that doesn’t have a whole lot going on in terms of festivals and shows. For things like that, we look towards the bigger cities of Mexico City or Guadalajara. The latter is only a few hours away from PV by bus, so we decided to see what was going on there in August. We were in luck, as there just so happened to be two kickass things going on in GDL at that time – a mariachi festival and Cirque du Soleil!

International Mariachi Festival

When it comes to music, mariachi is a huge part of Mexican culture. This famous style of music actually comes from the state of Jalisco, which is where both Guadalajara and PV are located. Every year, GDL hosts an international mariachi festival for a few weeks in August.

Mariachi festival

Mariachi Festival

During the festival, there are free mariachi concerts in the main plaza and several other locations throughout the city. There’s even a huge parade to celebrate mariachi music! In the evenings, there are gala shows in the gorgeous Teatro Degollado downtown.

These shows feature famous mariachi bands and cost a pretty penny. We only managed to find one ticket that cost under $100 as it was so last minute, so one of us was going to have to sit it out.

Guadalajara theater

Inside the beautiful theater.

Being the amazing wife that she is, Rachel let me go to the mariachi show while she hung out with a friend. I don’t know much about mariachi music and I couldn’t understand most of the lyrics, but it was a great experience. Seeing the inside of the theater alone made it worth it, as it’s a truly beautiful building.

The next day, we headed to a fancy shopping mall to catch the free mariachi performance there. The band was called Mariachi Samurai and they traveled all the way from Japan to perform in the festival.

Mexican culture mariachi music

Mariachi Samurai killing it!

We even hit up a few fancier restaurants and bars before and after the show. It’s nice being able to do things like this once in a while, and it’s much more affordable in Mexico than it is back at home.

Guadalajara

Being fancy in GDL.

Cirque du Soleil

As if the mariachi festival wasn’t enough, a Cirque du Soleil show was also traveling through Guadalajara. The show is called “Luzia” – a combination of the Spanish words for light (luz) and rain (lluvia). This show is based on Mexican culture, so it was the perfect time and place to catch it.

Guadalajara bars

Sampling some of the breweries in town.

Before heading to the show, we went on our own mini-bar crawl around the trendy Avenida Chapultepec. This street is full of cafes, bars, restaurants, and even a few breweries. Craft beer is big in GDL, and we had a great time bouncing around to sample different varieties. Of the places we hit up, our favorites were the Patan Ale House and Garden Chapultepec.

Mexican craft beer

Trying a flight at Patan Ale House.

We’ve seen Cirque du Soleil shows in Vegas, where they take place in theaters inside of the big casinos. This one was actually inside a massive circus tent, though, which was a much cooler venue for this kind of show. Tickets weren’t cheap, but we splurged on some good seats. Por que no?

Of course, it was an incredible show full of acrobats, contortionists, dancers, gymnasts, and more. If you’ve never seen a Cirque du Soleil performance, I highly recommend crossing one off your list.

Cirque du Soleil Luzia

What a show!

Here’s how they describe this show that’s inspired by Mexican culture:

“LUZIA takes you to an imaginary Mexico, like in a waking dream, where light (“luz” in Spanish) quenches the spirit and rain (“lluvia”) soothes the soul. With a surrealistic series of grand visual surprises and breathtaking acrobatic performances, LUZIA cleverly brings to the stage multiple places, faces and sounds of Mexico taken from both tradition and modernity.”

Mexican Independence Day

A few weeks later, we were able to celebrate Mexico’s Dia de la Independencia (Independence Day) in Puerto Vallarta. Americans eat hot dogs and burgers on our Independence Day, but in Mexico the most popular dish for the holiday is chiles en nogada.

chiles en nogada

Patriotic and delicious!

This is a green pepper stuffed with a mixture of minced meat cooked with fruits and spices, then topped with a creamy walnut-based sauce and pomegranate seeds. With the green, red, and white of Mexico’s flag, it’s the perfect dish for the holiday. I love hot dogs and all, but I think Mexico wins with this patriotic dish.

In the evening of September 15th, crowds gather in the main plaza of cities and towns all across Mexico. Of course, there are live mariachi bands playing in the square to celebrate the special day. The main square in PV was packed with locals, expats, and tourists alike.

More mariachi!

Just before midnight, the mayor came out to recite el grito – the cry of independence. The crowd joined in, shouting “¡Viva México! ” It was an exciting thing to be a part of  in our new home away from home.

After midnight, there was a huge fireworks display all up and down the bay to welcome the Dia de la Independencia. The Malecon was absolutely packed full of people who came out to watch the show.

Niños enjoying the fireworks.

Mexico sure knows how to throw a party! This was our first time celebrating a major holiday in Mexico, but it definitely won’t be the last.

Conclusion

Life may have thrown us a curveball with the canceled Phish festival, but I’d say we hit that next pitch straight out of the park. Instead of letting it get us down and ruin our summer, we did our best to turn things around and end the season on a high note.

We got to experience Mexican culture at its finest, taking in traditional mariachi music, feasting on delicious food, indulging in craft beer (and perhaps a bit of tequila), and celebrating one of the country’s most important holidays.

Viva Mexico!

At the end of the day, our experiences in our new home state of Jalisco were better suited for the original concept of the year-long party. Sure, we love hippie jamband festivals, but we also love trying new things and diving into different cultures. In the end, we’re happy that part of the year-long party was dedicated to Mexican culture.

As far as our Phish redemption story goes, we’re gearing up to end the year with their 4-night run at Madison Square Garden. What a perfect way to close out the year-long party!

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