I suspect one of the most frequently discussed topics by ex-pats is that of the unfamiliar and often loud noises to be experienced here at Lakeside. Of all the noises – barking dogs, crowing roosters, exploding cohetes, mariachi music, roving loudspeakers and church bells, it seems the cohetes (rockets) are the most bothersome- to Mexicans as well as ex-pats.
Rockets Away! – Cohetes have been around in Mexico for nigh on 500 years or so, it’s thought the Spanish conquistadors brought gunpowder from China with them when they landed here. Prior to that time, huge drums were used to announce to the people some ritual was to begin. That is still the main function of the cohetes – to herald the beginning of fiesta and to wake the gods, saints and mortals to make sure they’re paying attention! You may sometimes see the cohetero at the head of a parade, firing the rockets as the procession winds its way noisily through the street.
Cohetes are incendiary devices, some called Cohetes de luces (luminaries) – the ones you see into a starburst in the sky as part of a firework display. The noisemaker variety are called Cohetes de trueno ( thunder rockets) – aptly named! Only men carry out the making and firing of the cohetes only, these traditions often being passed from father to son and the coheteros (rocketeers) take their duty very seriously.
The rocket itself consists of a white paper wrapped cylinder, usually 25cm long and 6cm around and attached to a reed by which the cohete is held. Propelled by a gunpowder mix and ignited with a wick, using a lighter or lit cigarette, then with sparks flying, the rocket is launched by the cohetero, releasing the cohete with an upward sweep of his arm. The fast flying rocket reaches to the sky and explodes with a thunderous bang usually followed by many more in rapid succession.
The gentleman in the left photo takes out the cohetes one at a time from the package and hands them to the cohetero to fire while the young man in the other photo is setting up a rack of cohetes for a multiple firing called a Salva, amidst the smoke from the previous rocket firings. The whole process is potentially dangerous and great care is taken to shield them from flying sparks at all times.
Although cohetes are also used for entertainment, at public gatherings, even funerals, the main use is for festivals. The largest of these here at Lakeside is the feast of San Andres – Saint Andrew, patron saint of Ajijic. The fiesta begins on November 21st. and normally lasts for nine days and during this time, cohetes are fired all day and night – along with music and church bells! Ear plugs anyone?