Those security concerns…

Earlier in the week I made the mistake of reading the US State Department’s travel warnings about Mexico, and specifically about the States of Sinaloa and Sonora, which is where the Mexican Pacific League baseball teams are all based. For comparison, this is the Australian Advice on Mexico, with which I am well-familiar and upon which advice I started my planning.

Some of the highlights of the US State Dept reading are:

One of Mexico’s most powerful TCOs is based in the state of Sinaloa. With the exception of Ciudad Juarez, since 2006 more homicides have occurred in the state’s capital city of Culiacan than in any other city in Mexico.

…defer non-essential travel within the city of Ciudad Obregon and southward

So, just to make this the highlight of my day, of course The Culiacan Tomateros are the second team I visit (after Mazatlan Venados) and the Ciudad Obregon Yaquis are the most northern point of my trip up the Pacific Coast.

I’d rather given myself the willies and shared that all over Facebook and Twitter. And other people wibbled with me and that has FINALLY kicked me into a bit of a slap-happy research mode.

There is a vast amount more detail in the US travel warning – enough to get exceptionally excited about if you don’t take the time to look at the map and figure out that most of the warnings about Sonora are for a triangle of desert up near the US Border.  The main things that are pointed out in the travel warning are drug-related violence/homicide and kidnappings.

The State-by-State homicide numbers across Mexico are here – I don’t know what the current trends are for 2013, but the places I’m planning on going seem to be in the process of getting less murder-y, which is nice for me.  Reporting seems to indicate that most of the killing is between TCOs or between TCOs and police. I judge that I would have to be pretty seriously unlucky and/or looking for trouble for this to happen to me.

And if you’re curious, this is what I’ve found about homicide in Australia on a 2 minute search – National Homicide Monitoring Report (published 2010, looking at stats from 2006-7) – 273 victims of homicide in all of Australia for a rate of 1.3/100,000.  Err – so the state of Nayarit (where I am now) has roughly the same number of murders as all of Australia and the population of Nayarit is about half that of my home city of Perth.

Kidnapping is the other big issue.  Official figures say about 1,000 kidnappings were reported last year, but the estimates of non-reported kidnappings put it at around 100,000.  These include abduction for an ATM withdrawal.  According to all the news and expat sources I can get my hands on, kidnappings tend to be targeted at Mexicans rather than foreigners.  The Australian Government isn’t too worried about anything but Express Kidnapping (ATM withdrawal kidnapping) in Mexico. Expat forums finger Mexico City, Vera Cruz and Guerrero as places it is most likely to happen.

So – it’s going to be First Class buses during the day, my dodgy cheap-ass clothing, one bag, minimal cash on person at all times, getting back to hotels/hostels early, asking hotel staff about the dodgy and safe places and following their advice and generally remembering that this is a baseball trip not a party trip and that Exercising a High Degree of Caution is appropriate.

Part of a high-degree of caution has been the decision to drop the Navojoa Mayos, as it has been nigh impossible to find a hotel near the stadium and I refuse to wander too far around town by myself at night after a game.  My experience in Pawtucket is that everyone drives and the stadium looks like it’s in something of an industrial district. I would love for them to tell me different, but at this point, no Navojoa for me, despite the relative closeness to Ciudad Obregon. The only way I will get there is if an Obregon hotel staff member wants to go and wants to drive.

I may also reassess the hotel I chose in Culiacan and move to somewhere more expensive, but surrounded by other hotels, instead of just picking the one closest to Estadio Tomateros. It does put me in the pricier part of town and I will look more affluent just by being there, but since kidnapping is not at the top of my list of security concerns, that will probably be OK and I will be in a much more travelled area.

It’s around about this time that I think I really would like to have a travel buddy. Especially a travel buddy who likes baseball enough to come do this with me.  It would be cheaper and I would feel a little braver.  The security situation is enough that the kind of ‘meet fans and hang out with them in bars after the game’ thing that I got to do in Chicago and Pawtucket and Lowell is not something I’m going to be able to do.  And that makes me pretty damn sad.

(June 2013 – AS safe and dangerous as ever – http://www.cnn.com/2013/06/09/world/americas/mexico-security/index.html)

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Tour de Liga Mexicana del Pacifico (Mexican Pacific Baseball League)

I love baseball.  I really, really do, despite having only come to it pretty recently.  A lot of my recent summer in the USA was spent ‘collecting’ baseball stadiums and I thoroughly enjoyed having some kind of organising principle to my time, once I decided that looking for real work was not going to happen.

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I may have collected a few pins and attached them to my Perth Heat Hat of Baseball Happiness. Just a few. I won’t bore you to death with all the photos of me pulling ridiculous faces inside the corresponding stadiums, but I promise that they exist.

I had half mentioned in passing to Liz-in-Melbourne that I might truck around one of the winter leagues after my stint learning to surf in Sayulita. Winter seasons of baseball (winter for the United States) include a bunch of South American leagues and the Australian Baseball League (yay, Australia!).  I was anticipating maybe going to the Dominican Republic or Venezuela, but there is a Mexican winter league, the nearest city is within 10 hours bus-ride or so of Sayulita, so… Mexican Pacific League (Liga Mexicana del Pacifico) is the thing for me.

Mexico’s regular season of baseball (Liga Mexicana del Beisbol) runs at the same time as the MLB season and has teams on the Eastern side of the Sierra Madres Occidentale and down the Yucatan Peninsula.  It’s classified as Triple-A level ball, despite no connection with the MLB farm system.  I can’t find a classification attached to the Mexican Pacific League, but their US imports seem to be coming from the A or AA system (she says, after briefly checking the recent playing history of the obvious imports on one team).

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Screen shot of the plotting phase – prices are in Mexican pesos, which is roughly 10:1 AUD once you take into account ATM fees, etc.

I planned, priced and paid for a US trip with 4 major league and 1 minor league ballpark in the space of 4 hours working in English.  It’s taking me much, much longer to do this with my mangled beginners Spanish (and incidentally, Aussie vowel sounds and a non-rhotic r, which means that even when I do know what I’m trying to say and have the grammar and syntax correct, my chance of being understood is still fairly low).

So this will be merely challenging, right? (Oh God why do I do this to myself? Every time?)

So this will be merely challenging, right? (Oh God why do I do this to myself? Every time?)

Simply working out where in town the stadium is, where the bus station is, where my accommodation is and how to get between all of those places on public transport can use up the entirety of the Spanish I can manage for the day before I’m even partway done. And occasionally my Spanish-for-the-day is entirely sucked dry by simple things like attempting to navigate the Tomateros website to find out ticket pricing.

I’ve very much been able to get by in Sayulita and Puerto Vallarta with no Spanish at all. Obviously I am trying to learn, because I am acutely embarrassed all the time to not be able to speak the language of the country that I’m visiting.  I’ve had 4 actual lessons and have gotten back into the habit of spending a chunk of time every day with Duo Lingo.  Plus I also play ‘the newspaper game’, which at the moment consists of ‘trying to figure out what this article is all about’ but in the future will include the ‘rewrite in the future tense as my own uncle’ activity and ‘opposites day’, which is rewriting the article to mean the opposite thing. I also used to have quite a lot of fun with ‘this actually happened to me’, but I think I knew an awful lot more French before I played those games.

I’ve also started collecting baseball words in Spanish 🙂

A list of relevant words, not in phrases, and only partially filled in.

A list of relevant words, not in phrases, and only partially filled in.

Rough field diagram, almost none of which has been filled in. Next time the Jaibos play at home, I'll be snaffling a small child with whom I can share vocab.

Rough field diagram, almost none of which has been filled in. Next time the Jaibos play at home, I’ll be snaffling a small child with whom I can ‘share’ vocab. Or you know, raid their brain. Whatever works.

My drawing of position players is largely untouched and I still have a tonne of questions.  I pity the poor person who sits next to me for my first game in Mazatlan. If they are remotely friendly I’ll be desperately shoving my stick-figure drawings into their face while asking ‘Como se dice en Espagnol?  Cual es la pelabra para…?’.

Speaking of ‘first game in Mazatlan’, my plan is currently looking like this:

  • Bus to Guadalajara – stay the night. Store a bag at the bus station.
  • Bus to Mazatlan – three days of baseball (or you know, maybe a couple of days of baseball and a day of surfing. Or some variation of same.)
  • Bus to Culiacan – two days of baseball
  • Bus to Guasave – one day of baseball
  • Bus to los Mochis
  • One day of baseball
  • Bus to Obregon
  • One day of baseball
  • Bus to Navajoa
  • One day of baseball
  • Bus to Hermosillo
  • One day of baseball
  • Fly to Guadalajara, collect bags, move in with host family
  • Start TEFL course.

Mexicali is just a little too far and quite frankly, the Australian Government’s travel advice about pretty much every place I want to go on this trip would probably give my Mum the willies – but their warnings about border towns actually give ME the willies and I’ve decided that as a solo female traveller with not-even-survival-levels of Spanish that I should give it a miss.  Perhaps next time I’m in the States I can trip down with… I don’t know… some people who make me feel safe and who speak Spanish really well.

Regardless, I’m looking forward to it and pricewise, it looks like the basics are going to cost in the order of $60/day for transport/accom/beisbol plus allow another $20 for foods and random small expenses (including more pins for my cap, which I have decided could also have all of the KBO team pins before it is actually too heavy to wear anymore). I have yet to price up the flight back to Guadalajara, but overall this is looking pretty feasible.  It would be slightly easier if I had an extra week before I had to be back in Guadalajara, but I’ll take this very happily.

I’m feeling pretty revved up about all the cool stuff I have coming up.  I’m so glad I’ve had this break in Sayulita, but I’m also really ready to be moving on and doing again.  Woot!

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Portland, Maine

Looking for accommodation in Maine over summer is one of those ‘three things, pick any two’ sort of activities.  Except it’s price, time and proximity that are your trade-offs.  I didn’t decide to get to all of the ‘day trip’ Red Sox affiliates until quite late in my stay in Boston and only left myself with 3 weeks to try and find accommodation in Portland (or within a 30 minute drive of Portland) for no more than ~$100 night, where I could reasonably arrive after a baseball game. 

Yeah, nah, as we say in Perth when we mean we understand what you want, but it’s not going to happen.  My original plan to drive up to Portland, see the Sea Dogs and then wend my way down Pawtucket to see the PawSox a week later sank without a trace when confronted with the reality of accommodation prices over summer.   The price of an extra couple of tanks of petrol and $11/night/6 nights to garage the car at NorthEastern University would have got me 1 night in the Portland Motel 6 and no time anywhere in Vermont.  Lots of driving and not going to Vermont became the preferred option.

I can see why Portland is so very popular, though.  Along with being very pretty, it is also a very relaxed and hippy seaside holiday town (she says, writing from Sayulita on the Riviera Nayarit – which is a very pretty, relaxed and hippy seaside holiday town). 

I think one of my favourite community signs was this one offering raw vegan treats or free reiki treatment for the return of a stolen bicycle.  Oh, Portland!

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This was also a town full of sneaky art and sneaky public participation art.

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Some rather marvellous guerrilla decoration of some locked control panels. As you do.

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I was particularly fond of the teenage girl who wrote “Before I die I want to marry Mike Trout”, especially as it seemed the rest of her family were “Who’s the guy with the fish name? Is he in your class? Do I need to give him the talk?” Go, young baseball lover.  May Mike Trout’s charms light the way into more baseball fannishness.

What also struck me about these were how wonderfully whimsical, witty and charming so many of these were.  There were also so many that are eminently achievable.  I would love to know whether these people follow through and do it.  I love a good achievement. They were such fun to read – take a moment to click and get the larger images, it’s worth it.

I also went for a wander out along the Promenade, which made me itch for healthy achilles tendons as it looked like so much fun to run.  Narrow paths, not too much up or down and the occasional spectacular view out over the bay to the islands and the bridges.

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I stumped along pretty cheerfully and was very pleased to come across a fenced off water treatment plant where they had taken the time to put interpretive signage up to cover a whole range of “What is it? Why is it here? What does it do? What’s that bit for?” questions.

Eventually I got back to the car and headed up to see the Portland Sea Dogs.  They were recently rated as one of the top-20 minor league parks to attend (my lovely Lowell came in at 57). I do not know who these people are or the criteria they used for their rankings, but it is certainly a convenient list to have for my next USA trip.

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Perth Heat hat of baseball happiness outside Hadlock Field.

I did really have a good time at Hadlock Field and it definitely has its own distinct seaside holiday-town summer feeling.  My two favourite non-game memories of the evening were the lobster tossing game, and how ridiculously excited the crowd got about the possibility of winning an inflatable cow. 

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Sou’westers, lacrosse sticks, plastic lobsters. I don’t even care that I don’t know what it was about, this is AWESOME.

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Yeah. It’s good. Real good. I should have skipped dinner and had three of these instead.
What me? Get fat in America? Never happened!!

I can’t even tell you which company sponsored the lobster-toss game, or what the prize was – I was completely fixated on my SeaDog Biscuit, which was a vanilla ice-cream slice sandwiched between two soft salty biscuits and is pretty much the best ‘sweet’ snack I’ve had at a baseball field.  The inflatable cow thing was just… I guess it has history?  Because I cannot figure out why it was so popular. And I had a hard time imagining a scenario in which one could give away a small inflatable cow and not have it turn into the kind of thing not fit to be seen by children. Or perhaps I’ve just been in too many cricket crowds.

And yet again, the company in my section was just delightful. I continue to really like baseball people where-ever I go.

Eventually I headed back to Boston. My original plan of just finding a nook on a side-road to curl up and sleep in the car just didn’t work with the number of people still out and about at 11.30pm.  So I drove into Boston from the north very late and got to go over my favourite bits of bridge spaghetti and down the luge-lane into North Station and pick my way home through the buzzing one-way streets of Back Bay.

I swear, half the fun of leaving Boston is coming home again, especially from parts north.

 

 

 

 

 

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Baltimore and Frederick

I headed for Baltimore as part of my ‘Mid-West and New York’ trip from Boston.

While I was there, Baltimore was in the process of setting up for a Grand Prix, so high chainlink fencing and stadium seating were being put in all through downtown.  This is not the most welcoming sight to see.

To no-one’s surprise, I aimed for Baltimore to go and see the Orioles play.  I’ve been told by multiple people that Camden Yards is pretty special and somehow the Orioles have wormed their way into ‘favourite team’ position over the Twins.

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 I think it’s pretty special too. I can’t think of another place where ‘pride of place’ equals ‘over the dunnies’.  But I totally get that EVERYONE is going to see them. So perhaps it’s just smart thinking on the Orioles part.

Given that Baltimore’s public transport is generally considered to be not-brilliant, I was very happy to find that I could catch a tram from the airport to Camden Yards and then very happy to find out that the Orioles front office have a luggage-storage facility onsite.  That made my 12.30pm plane arrival for a 2.00pm game much easier to manage than in most other cities I have been to.  Great job Baltimore!  Then the Orioles did their part with an expected win over the Rockies, but I got my Machado acrobatics and Davis and Jones both put away home runs, I drank a Natty Bo or two, so all was right with my world.

My couchsurfing host Andrew met me at the stadium to give me a set of keys and directions (and some delicious biscuits).  Another couchsurfing buddy, Michael met me at the stadium to watch the game.

I stayed on a fold-out couch in Canton, one of the inner-city harbour suburbs.  The area and nearby Fells Point are both charming and have clearly had a lot of work and money put into them.  The wider Baltimore downtown area is a very interesting mix of places.  My favourite Baltimore sight was definitely a fairly solid strip club district just one block down and on the other side of the road of the main harbour area police station.

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Just hanging out on the pier, fishing.  A guy further along was catching buckets of fish using shrimp caught right in against the wall. Said he was feeding the fish to his dog… and that thus far, his dog had not grown another head.

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Boats in the marina in Canton/Fells Point

Heading up the hill from the harbour along ‘historic Charles street’ takes you past some beautiful old buildings and museums.  The Charm City Circulator free buses cover just about every reasonably close tourist area and the metro is very easy to navigate.

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Randomly, in Baltimore

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Randomly, in Baltimore

I had never heard of the Baltimore Riots during the American Civil War.  Obviously, having spent a chunk of time in Boston, I went to a huge number of War of Independence sites, but the Civil War is not so prominent in the historical image Boston promotes. And while I have a vague (very vague) sense of what the Civil War was about and that it was very traumatic for America, I had no way to really connect to it.

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Here, have some history!

There is a trail of Civil War sites all throughout Maryland, but I came across the Baltimore Riots in a small museum housed in a converted train terminal on the edge of downtown. It was an appropriate place, because the original nature of Baltimore’s train connections with the rest of the country meant that the troops of soldiers on their way south had to walk across Baltimore on foot to get from northern train line to the southern train line.

The guys who had undertaken that trip the day before had reported how rough it had been. The Baltimore Police had mostly managed to keep it under control (as in, only one person was badly hurt).

So this militia is heading into a town that largely hates what they have been sent to do.  And shit went down big time.  The first Union deaths of the conflict occurred in Baltimore and were killed by civilians. And I never knew.

That tiny museum with just a few well-written boards and some very small interactive displays did a fantastic job of making me care about the emotional tenor of the town leading up to the riots and stressing me out about the decisions that individual people were making on the day – in all parts of the mob.  Seriously great job, museum people, you all deserve a hearty round of applause for pitching your writing perfectly and keeping the focus suitable for the amount of space you had.  If I ever find out who you are, I’ll totally buy you a drink.

Just as a connector, Maryland voted on the secession question in Frederick after the riot, which is where I headed off to next, on the trail of more baseball.  I didn’t spend the day up there, which is kind of OK as my spare hour turned into “What’s actually inside a CostCo?” and convincing the security guard that looking at pallets of huge containers of cake frosting is actually a valid tourist activity.

Frederick was conveniently close by and also had a number of people playing on the team who had played the previous ‘winter’ season for the Perth Heat.  They had a terrible game and probably had to put their short-stop on suicide-watch afterwards, but I had an absolutely delightful time with the few folks in my section.  One lady was at 17 years without choosing to miss a game.  I think I’m going to grow up to be her.

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Super-disappointed that my travel schedule missed the COWBOY MONKEY RODEO!!! I have mentioned that MILB has the whackiest and best promotions, right?  And also usually cheaper and better beer.

Had a nice chat afterwards with the catcher who was on the bench for the game.  It was REALLY nice to hear an Aussie accent and it’s nice to see him back on the Perth Heat roster for another season.

Fell off my GPS approved route on the way back into Baltimore and ended up in a pretty sketchy area with all attempts to leave it blocked by a freeway.  I’ve never actually seen head-height trees growing out of pavement cracks and blocks of buildings with smashed in windows that close to a town centre before.

So Baltimore – really, really interesting city.  My sort of place in that they care enough about food to publish a restaurant guide (woot!), great beer and pubs, love the redevelopment all through the harbour area.  Really, really curious about what is going on with the rest of the city outside that tourist range.  Looks like it could be fascinating and difficult work.

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