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Last updateFri, 14 Dec 2018 4pm

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The ultimate culture shock test

New to Ajijic? You better buck up for the baptism of fire!

You’re on the verge of the Jekyll and Hyde season when the placid fishing village hyped by your friendly real agent agent transforms into a raging monster. Or rather, depending upon your mind set, a no-holds-barred party town.

Each year, from November 22 through November 30, Ajijic inhabitants let down their hair in celebration of the fiestas patronales. The round-the-clock festivity going on during this nine-day spell presumably centers on San Andrés Apostol, the town’s spiritual patron. But in truth, it’s a time when even devout folks may lapse from the day-to-day drudge, trading reserved behavior for wild abandonment of social norms.

Renowned writer Octavio aptly described typical fiestas in chapter three of  “The Labyrith of Soliutide,” his collection of meaty essays on Mexican life and culture.

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“During these days the silent Mexican whistles, shouts, sings, shoots off fireworks, discharges his pistol into the air. He discharges his soul. And his shout, like the rockets we love so much, ascends to the heavens, explodes into green, red, blue and white lights, and falls dizzily to earth with a trail of golden sparks. This is the night when friends who have not exchanged more than the prescribed courtesies for months get drunk together, trade confidences, weep over the same troubles, discover that they are brothers, and sometimes, to prove it, kill each other.”

Occasional acts of violence aside, the fiestas are noted for an incessant barrage of ear-splitting rockets, high-decibel music and infernal carrying on that is the bane of many a foreigner who yearns to live in civilized peace and quiet. Sorry, but it’s the life’s blood of the place you came to by choice.

Expats are obliged to figure out how to best cope with this unfamiliar cultural quirk. Some choose to hunker down at home in Anglo-Saxon solitude, employing earplugs and white noise to tune out the din. Others high tail it out of town for extended seaside vacations.

More intrepid souls might prefer to go just with the flow on the premise “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” Fearless, you can hang out at ground zero (the village plaza), getting in on the real “spirit” of things by downing steaming cups of canela (cinnamon tea). Spiked with a shot of tequila, brandy, or the traditional alcohol de caña (raw rum), the steaming brew is a sure fire mood-booster that doubles to fend off chilly night air.

Dare to live on the edge. Scarf down typical street foods laced with hot sauce. Jump aboard the bumper cars and ride the ferris wheel that revolves inches away from live electrical wires. Stand at short distance from the evening’s castillo fireworks tower as it showers fiery detritus over the crowd of spectators.

These are exhilarating experiences that may give you a sense of truly fitting in to your adopted hometown or instead drive you back to the sedate world your came from…and just one of many hurdles you’ll encounter as an immigrant in a strange new land.