Saints Peter & Paul Battle it Out in Mexcaltitan, Mexico
|Less than a mile around, Mexcaltitan sits in the middle of a Nayarit coastal lagoon of the same name. It’s said to be Aztlan, the cradle of Aztec civilization and the traditional birthplace of the Mexican people.|
A traditional and magical festival will soon be taking place in Mexcaltitan, a northern Riviera Nayarit fishing village that every year celebrates the island’s patron saints: San Pedro and San Pablo.
Since the arrival of the Spanish and evangelization, this small island lost in wetlands has honored both apostles by staging a battle between Saint Peter and Saint Paul every year on June 29th.
Teams representing the saints engage in the battle, and the winner will most likely be St Peter, who is known as the cornerstone of the Catholic Church. The teams may get a little aggressive at times, but they never cheat. At least that’s what people say in Mexcaltitan, a town which could be the mythical starting point for the pilgrimage of the Nahuatl tribes in search of Tenochtitlan.
The festival is colorful and unique. Shrimp-fishing characterizes this region, which is known as the ‘Venice of Mexico,’ and the Saints sail out very early, followed by a procession of parishioners from around the island to bless the waters so that the traps they’ve set get as close as possible to the three ton per night record that was set in the past.Afterwards, a shorter-than-usual mass is celebrated. This is followed by a battle in which the townspeople are split up in to two teams, each representing one of the two saints. The teams compete in a race all around the island, before taking part in a pagan celebration.
Each team then chooses their best sailors for another race, this one aboard enormous canoes carrying the image of their respective saint. They’ll circle around Mexcaltitan, propelling the canoe with sticks that are submerged to the bottom of the channels, like they do in the trajineras in Xochimilco – not with paddles like it’s done in the rest of the country.
Every year, San Pedro’s team invariably wins. “No, we’re not cheating. It’s just that San Pedro is even more miraculous and it’s better to commend fishing to him, as we don’t want to annoy him. The strongest contenders are always placed on San Pedro’s team, and this is why he always wins… but we’re not cheating, the competition takes place like any other,” said Hector Apodaca, a guard at the Museo del Origen, which was built to celebrate the island’s designation as ‘The Cradle of Mexican Culture.’
The exciting and festive environment that surrounds the races is just the beginning of a traditional party that includes dancing, food, fun, and fireworks throughout the night – all framed by a natural environment of incomparable beauty.
Mexcaltitan is located 21 miles northeast of Santiago Ixcuintla, approximately 1 hour from San Blas and 2 from Tepic. From Santiago Ixcuintla you must take the road towards Sentispac, and continue on towards the La Batanga pier, where you’ll have to take a boat to the island.
Where to Eat
Eating at Mexcaltitan is a whole new experience. This is the place that gave birth to the original recipe of the ‘cockroach shrimp’, and in no other place can they be found as crunchy, the ideal snack to go along with a beer. Fish in the zarandeado style, shrimp tamales, shrimp pate and aguachile from Nayarit complete the feast.
Where to Stay
It’s recommended to sleep in San Blas when visiting Mexcaltitan, as the travel to and from the island can be made with ease. In San Blas, one can find a room in comfortable hotels like Garza Canela, Hacienda Flamingos and Casa Mañana, among others.