Boogeying at Botaneros
By Susan Dearing
A "botana" is a free snack, usually given out in bars or "botaneros," where, as tradition dictates, as long as you keep drinking, the food is free. The snacks can be anything from peanuts, popcorn, fresh fruit, seafood, chicken wings, tacos, pork skins in green sauce, soup, or hot dogs.
Usually botaneros, such as El Caporral, open about 3 p.m. and offer live "Las Vegas-style" shows free, beginning about 4:30. There is usually a second show around 6:30 p.m. Times are approximate; remember this is Mexico. The busiest days are Thursday, Friday and Saturday. All botaneros are closed on Sunday.
During the first show, appetizers are brought out and drinks are served. If you're a beer drinker, the empty case is set on the floor by your table, and they keep track of how many beers you drink by how many empties go in the case. You can also buy a bottle of your favorite hard liquor, and the waitress will serve you set-ups. If you don't drink alcohol, and many don't, since a botanero is also considered family entertainment, your soft drink bottles will often be left on the table to keep track of what you drink. The waitress is not being lazy; she just has a different method of accounting than you're used to!
A botanero is one of the few places women can work as waitresses in Mexico. In restaurants that tourists are known to frequent, it is highly unusual for a woman to wait tables. The tips are better, so a man gets the job. In a botanero, the clientele is mostly blue collar workers who don't have a lot of money; therefore, the tips are smaller. Women can work there. Thanks guys! What a macho country! Although the girls don't speak a lot of English, you'll find they're friendly, and will treat you very well, no matter what your pocketbook can afford. Remember to reward them for their service and tip 10 to 15%.
There are various kinds of shows. Mariachis, impersonators of famous Mexican singers (We even saw an Elvis impersonator once!), dancers, magicians, male and female vocalists (sometimes even children--the "mini-Mariachis"), comedians, and circus performers. Many singers enjoy, and encourage audience participation. Each act is different and totally original. The music varies from traditional, to tropical, to modern. Many times the songs are in English. Some routines mix the traditional with the modern, as evidenced by two Mariachis accompanied by a lady Mariachi in a silver lamé bikini, with a serapé thrown over her shoulder! I enjoyed seeing a Mexican cowgirl strut her stuff in a not-too-traditional sequined bikini top, leather vest, white short-shorts, and leather boots with platform heels. At least the hat was authentic!
Birthdays are also celebrated at botaneros, and when you buy a bottle, a huge platter of food is included. If you made reservations ahead of time, you even get a cake!
Most of the singer's and dancer's costumes are hand-made and designed, using materials that are available locally, which really isn't much, compared to big cities, such as Guadalajara. They certainly deserve an award for best effort!
While the acts are going on, the waitresses circulate and sell raffle tickets. You choose a number, and it's left on your table. One chance is normally 20 pesos, or about $2 U.S. The "rifas" (raffle) wheel is spun and a dart is thrown in between acts. The M.C. announces the winner. The person holding the winning number gets the pot, which is about 160 pesos. The girl who sells you the ticket comes by to pay you the money, and you give her a tip. Everyone's happy! They don't begin the spin until all 18 tickets are sold, so you always have a 1-in-18 chance to win.
One act that is particularly fascinating to foreigners (and very popular with the Mexican audience) is "The Pimpinelas." The Pimpinelas are actualy a brother and sister duo, and their songs always revolve around the same theme: Wife catches husband with another woman. The pair on stage lip-syncs to the songs.
In the song, husband and wife argue, and the argument is about his defects as a husband (both physical and otherwise). His side of the story is that she's never satisfied, and that's why he needed the "other woman." The couple smack each other around a bit, ripping clothes and pulling hair, and then the "other woman" appears. The husband flaunts the cheaply-dressed, cigarrette-smoking tart in front of the wife, and they have more words. The heavily made up home wrecker taunts the wife and kisses up the husband. Finally, the wife, having enough of this cheap show, jumps on the floozy and they roll around on the floor, pushing and shoving, pulling hair. Finally, the wayward husband pulls his wife off his paramour by the hair, while he continues to lip-sinc to the song.
Though many foreigners are shocked, because they feel this type of show encourages violence toward women, it is part of the Mexican culture, whether we approve or not. During the Pimpinella shows, if you examine the faces of the audience, you'll even see the women smiling. Perhaps it's all too familiar, so it doesn't have shock value. Maybe they've been there. Perhaps it's acceptable male and female behavior. The men, of course, sometimes applaud. Whatever your opinion is, as a visitor to Mexico, it's a show that you'll never forget!
If you've been at the botanero for a while, and can still keep your eyes open for the second show, it usually tends to be a little more risqué (no nudity, however). If there is any food left over from the first show, it will be served at the second show, but don't count on much.
Botaneros are a part of the state of Colima's culture. They are rarely found in other states. Tourists are made to feel welcome, and entertainers will often make a special effort to speak some English, ask you where you're from, and thank you for coming. Many Mexicans bring their families here for birthdays or other celebrations; the shows are all considered family entertainment. Take a little time to experience the real Mexico, and go boogeying at a Manzanillo botanero.
There are many exciting things to do in and around Manzanillo. For more information, check out the ONLY tourist guidebook written about the area: "Manzanillo and the state of Colima, Facts, Tips and Day Trips," by Susan Dearing.