Saturday, March 05, 2011

Gringo Day at Rebalsito Fiesta

Gringo Day at Rebalsito Fiesta: a small town fights for its life
Friday, March 04 2011 14:22 Tina Rosa
Guadalajara Reporter article

This year El Rebalse de Apazulco celebrates its 68th birthday since the formation of the ejido in 1943. A sleepy little town on Jalisco’s coast, Rebalsito is known for two things: the nearby beach of Tenacatita and the annual fiesta, which in years past has stretched to six debauched days of birria, dancing and bull riding.

Los Amigos de Tenacatita set up a table at the entrance, selling bright yellow t-shirts with the Unidos Tenecatita “Tierra y Libertad” logo. The official fiesta kick-off is La Farola, the evening street dancing on Thursday, February 17. This year, the mass commemorating the sixth anniversary of the death of Juan Virgen Medina, better known as La Zeta, is the same afternoon.

The wooden benches of the small church are almost full, and vases of lilies, carnations and mums adorn four pedestals. A beloved ejido comisario and unifying personality in the civic life of this rancho, La Zeta is much missed, and his absence is felt even more profoundly six months after the infamous night of August 4, when, just before dawn, Jalisco state police and muscle hired by Inmobiliaria Rodenas forced Tenacatita residents out of their homes and businesses at gunpoint. Since then, the investment and development group has held the Tenacatita beach hostage, blocking the public road with a chain link fence and gate manned by armed guards, depriving access to the people who have worked at the beach for generations: Rebalsito’s fishermen, divers, restaurant owners, tourist guides, and storekeepers. The malaise of sadness and frustration that hangs over the town is palpable. The community has staggered along in an economic void, scrabbling for a living, and supported in part by a group of foreigners and sympathetic Mexicans, Los Amigos de Tenacatita.

Chely, the plump and attractive dueña of the former restaurant of the same name, has had to relocate to Melaque, where she and her sister struggle to get a new business up and running. But, she assures me, she will be in Rebalsito on the evening of La Farola.

“We have to dance off the bad stuff,” she explains, gesturing with her hands as though flinging off sticky mud.

Just at dusk, the giant horno inside the casino is already lit with a roaring fire of coco husks. The oven, large enough to seat nine or ten people inside, on chairs, gets so hot you can’t rest your hand against the adobe side – the test that it is ready to accommodate the ten or 12 clay casseroles in which the birria stews for about five hours. Chile, a Canadian member of our group, Los Amigos de Tenacatita, estimates it will be dawn before the oven is hot enough.

It’s been years since the ejido has cooked the birria here – normally it was contracted out. But on August 4, 800 people lost their livelihoods. Now, the economy dictates a return to the old ways – do it yourself. The situation is desperate, as one inhabitant tells me sadly, “The town is dying. When that many people lose their work, everyone’s business is affected. You can’t even sell a juice on the street.”

Ten foreigners who have camped at Playa Tenacatita for over 30 winter seasons are now refugees along with the locals who have been ousted from their beach. We’ve come to Rebalsito this winter to show support for our Mexican friends and pump a little money into the community. Camping in the coco plantation of our friend Dobie, an expat from California who is now a Mexican citizen, we’ve shared meals, dispensed food to the community, thrown a Christmas party for the kids, strategized, and funded paint for signs and banners to hang at the fiesta, proclaiming the harm done to this community. At the entrance to town a banner informs visitors, “Las Playas son para Todos, No Solo para los Ricos. Salvemos Tenacatita – es nuestra Patrimonio.”

In the evening the band trumpets a rousing opening, and the young and the very young form lines. Some of us older folks get roped in by friends. Violeta is the only adult in a long line of children, and Dobie and I are on the end of a cracking whip forcefully manipulated by a young, very strong hunk. The idea appears to be to gallop forward, suddenly reverse direction, and swing the people hanging on to the ends into oblivion, possibly trampling the line behind you in the process. Two blocks into it, I end up on my butt – for the first time – wrong sandals! The second time I fall, I let my partners lift me to standing posture and decide to fade quietly into the background.

At dawn, Friday Banda Perla Blanca is back at it, playing a raucous Las Mañanitas for the ejido’s birthday while a handful of young people dance in the street on the corner in front of Novedades Montserrat, a storefront painted a cheerful lime green and pink.

In passing, I pat the big horno. It’s stone cold – uh oh. Some guys in a pickup come along and slide the door open; the fire’s gone out. They try tossing in some kerosene, but it’s too far gone. This doesn’t bode well for eating this afternoon, but they seem unconcerned. And, sure enough, some how they pull it off and by 3 p.m. about 200 guests, a smaller group than any year previously, are sitting down to a meal in the casino, and the birria is pronounced rica!

Los Amigos de Tenacatita set up a table at the entrance, selling bright yellow t-shirts with the Unidos Tenecatita “Tierra y Libertad” logo. They are an instant hit, and soon yellow shirts bloom all over the open-air hall.

Couples dance vigorously to the very loud music, swaying hips in tight unison, the women flashing their stuff in tight jeans, glamorous blouses and stiletto heels, while the men, in requisite cowboy attire, propel them around deftly.

Though there’s a poor turn-out the first two days, everybody shows up for Gringo Day – we’ve got a rep for putting on a good feed with plenty of food and beer for everybody. The tradition started in the late 70’s when the gringos camped at Tenacatita were invited to join in and sponsor a day of the fiesta. The foreigners saw it as an opportunity to give back to the community and serve the people who spend all winter serving us in their restaurants, stores and hotels.

The place is packed, and immediately we are plummeted into the frenzy of dishing up plates and serving over 550 people – men drag the pots of stew out of the horno with long pipes with a metal loop at the end –and soon we glop rice on plates and scoop chunks of tender beef and sizzling juice.

This is the last night of celebration, and the Plaza de Toros Juan Virgen M “La Zeta” is packed with people sitting on the tiered cement bancos. On the flat upper levels the local babes strut in their impossibly high-heeled boots, and people chat and dance to La Banda Perla Blanca while venders sell cotton candy and balloons.

The first big band, Brisa Azul, (inexplicably dressed in yellow jackets, not blue ones) is setting up on the huge, brightly lit stage. When they launch into their first number the music is so loud my whole body throbs with the beat. Meanwhile, up here on the elevated promenade, Banda Perla plays on – it’s a battle of the bands.

At last the line of riders stride in to the middle of the arena, wearing fancy fringed chaps. After each cowboy is introduced by name and town, they all kneel to pray – this is a dangerous business. It’s not like long ago here when the “bulls” were more like calves that had to be prodded into doing anything at all. We’re soon to see some pretty powerful and scary action.

But before the first bull, the announcer invites Chile and MaryAnn and Dobie, as representatives of the foreign community, to come down into the ring, where each is draped with a red silken ribbon and thanked for their work. It’s a proud moment for all of us.

Later, after the bucking bulls and fearless cowboys have sent hearts racing, the featured band, Yahir, starts up, but it sounds just like the other band to me. We gringos have had enough, so we pack up our boxes and carry table and chairs back to Dobie’s truck. It’s been an exhilarating and exhausting day, and we all fall asleep to the sounds of the band drifting through the palm grove of the compound, glad to be here and be a part of this town’s celebration and of its struggle to survive. But so much more help is needed.

2 comments:

James Parker said...

I am so pleased to read about Gringo Day. I am from Whitefish, MT. I have been lucky to serve Beer and barbeque at Rebalsito.

Please let me know how Oscar and Emma from Tenacatita are?

Hope to visit you again.

Jim Parker
jnaparker1@gmail.com

James Parker said...

I would like an update on Gringo Days at Rebalsito.

Does anyone know Oscar Ortega? I enjoyed myself at their park in Tenacatita.

Thank You
Jim Parker
jnaparker1@gmail.com

Related Posts with Thumbnails
Tenacatita - located on the northern end of Bahia Tenacatita. Normally a calm beach for water activities and is lined with seaside restaurants. La Mora beach, sometimes known as 'The Aquarium' is the best snorkling beach on the 'Costalegre' (Costa Alegre)

Sparks Costalegre
Costalegre Blog
Tenacatita Libre
Tenacatita Bay Bugle