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Flyers by the Sea

Published Feb 12, 2007 - (Updated Dec 11, 2012)

Featured in Vallarta Lifestyles Magazine, Winter/Spring 2007 issue.

The Papantla Flyers share their color, tradition and bravery with Vallarta’s visitors in daily ceremonies on the Malecon

When the day gives way to twilight a drum begins to beat, a flute sings along with the waves, and then a dance begins, four men flying in circles celebrating Mother Earth and the power of the sun. There’s nothing like a Vallarta sunset on the Malecon for experiencing the seduction of a Mexican icon: the Papantla Flyers, or Voladores de Papantla, who celebrate nature’s four elements (water, fire, earth and air) by flying around a 30-meter pole from ropes wrapped around their legs, heads down, arms open wide. Their costumes are colorful, consisting of bead-flowered vests, red cotton pants (the color of their own blood), multihued ribbons symbolizing the colors of the rainbow, and golden embroidey, sparkling like the rays of the sun.

Originally from Papantla, Veracruz, in the southern part of Mexico, the flyers are taught to take part in this ritual at an early age. The Totonaca elders in their families pass on the ways of their ancestors to the young, celebrating the fertility and union of God with human beings.

The ceremony begins with the caporal, or priest, climbing up the pole followed by four men representing the elements. They ascend triangle-like steps swiftly and, after an interlude of music, take flight. The priest continues playing, while jumping in small circles at the top of the pole, while the flyers make their way down, turning 13 times around the revolving structure before they hit the ground.

Mario, Santiago, Guadalupe, Crisantos and Claudio are miles from home, now in Vallarta to share their culture with the passersby. The weather dictating their schedule, on days with no rain they perform near the Seahorse statue four times each day, with the 8 pm show perhaps the most magical.

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