The simple profiles of some of the colonial churches serving different neighborhoods in Campeche City resemble Missions Espada and San Juan Capistrano in San Antonio, but peeking inside reveals ornate and colorful surprises.
The Black Christ on the crucifix in Iglesia San Roman is heavily visited by the faithful who credit the figure imported from Italy in 1575 with a multitude of miracles. The festival in honor of the figure is one of Campeche’s largest, aside from the far less reverent celebration of Carnaval.
We were in Campeche on February 2, El Dia de La Candelaria or Candlemas in English. Celebrated to commemorate the day Jesus was presented at the Temple in Jerusalem, El Dia de La Candelaria is the final day of the extended Christmas season in Mexico. During the evening mass, the pews of Iglesia de San Francisco were filled with parishioners accompanied by the figures of Jesus Nino dressed in new finery waiting to be blessed. So wished we could have taken photos of ninos. Numerous families had their doors wide open to their living rooms to welcome friends and neighbors to view their nativity scenes and eat tamales provided by those who found the baby in their slices of roscas de reyes, kings’ cakes, on January 6.
Hard to photograph against dark doors, wrought iron has not gone out of fashion in Campeche. The ornate designs vary as much as that of the cornices in the historic center. The material’s resistance to corrosion by salt air makes it a favorite for more than protective bars in a climate where maximizing air circulation through every portal is wise, but it also historically is preferred for indoor furniture and chandeliers.
While bars offer protection, their commonplace usage should not indicate Campeche is unsafe. Without referencing any actual statistics, our observations seemed to confirm how every resident there describes their hometown: Es muy tranquilo.
How safe is Campeche? In a large bustling seaside restaurant, someone felt comfortable enough to leave their cellphone charging on the bathroom sink. On a busy Saturday, someone casually left their keys in the ignition of his motorbike while he went into Walmart. With living rooms opening up directly to the sidewalk, families on our street did not hesitate to leave the doors wide open while gathered around the television set at night. Parents picking up children from the private preschool nearby would leave their cars running while they went inside to fetch their kids. Baby asleep in the car? Don’t disturb her. Just leave all the car windows down so there’s plenty of air.
Brrrrr…. The woman playing the guiro in the Campeche State Charanga Band, a brass band, one Sunday night in January expressed her surprise at how cold it was. Campeche is normally so temperate. This particular evening the temperature had plunged down to a frigid 65 degrees.
The mild climate means the Sunday night musical concerts on Campeche’s main plaza rarely need to be cancelled. We stopped by twice, once for a marimba concert and once for the charanga music. The lit cathedral serves as a majestic backdrop, and the concerts are followed by a sound and light show projected on the government building on one side of the plaza.
The surprising thing about the concerts was, unlike in most Mexican cities we have visited, no couples were dancing. Perhaps the Campechanos were saving their energy for their upcoming wild celebration of Carnaval.