Culiacan Tomateros

Culiacan was the city I was most anxious about before I started this trip.  The travel warnings from the US Department of State about Sinaloa generally and specifically about Culiacan are pretty scary.

Culiacan itself, however, turned out to be something of a delight.  It certainly didn’t hurt that I was sent on from Mazatlan with a contact to meet in Culiacan, who is the kind of person who would brighten up anyone’s day.

Culiacan was also going to be the first time I actually needed to rely on my Duolingo “Level 7” Spanish to try and get around.  And unbelievably I had very few problems.  I made awkward, struggling conversation with the taxi driver about the weather, about what Perth is like, about what I’m doing in the city, about where he was from originally (just south of Culiacan), and about how I like baseball and he thinks that’s really quite strange.

The hotel was kitty corner to the Estadio General Angel Flores, which meant that I was comfortable to walk back after the game – people would have parked further away than I needed to walk.

Estadio General Angel Flores is one of the more welcoming stadiums that I’ve been to in the LMP. You can see the person in the ticket booth, prices are more than reasonable, the entrances are wide and easy to find and it was definitely the easiest stadium in which to find my seat.

Image

View from my seat. I want a Tomateros jumper. I’ve never had this response to a sports team’s uniform before (sorry Perth Heat!), but OMG I want one of these.

I fell madly in love with the Tomateros home uniform, but they didn’t have any in my size at the stadium, I missed the opening hours of the team shop by about 10 minutes on Saturday afternoon. (I arrived at 2.10pm, they close at 2.00pm on game days. D’oh!) and the team shop is closed on Sundays, so… no pink and maroon Tomateros jersey for me. I still want one though.  Kind of desperately.  Probably not desperately enough to go back to Culiacan for one, but maybe desperately enough to order one through the tienda en linea.

The second Tomateros game I went to was something of a disaster for the home team, with a final score of 14-3 and them being 9-0 down at the top of the 7th. The fantastic thing is that the crowd doesn’t desert when this happens.  They just kind of hang in there and keep having their own party. It was so dire though, that the mascots were working their asses off to keep everyone entertained. I get pretty focussed on the game, but I lost 1.5 innings to watching the mascots be hilarious.  The monkey mascot for Culiacan is pretty much a chaotic spirit of mischief and very, very funny. I was too busy having fun to take video of him being particularly hilarious, but I gotta tell you that the mascots worked HARD that Saturday evening.

The beer vendors wear high-vis, because it is vitally important that you be able to find one immediately, should you have an empty beer cup emergency. Also, the practice is to stack your empty beer cups onto the bottom of your current beer cup. I'm not sure if this is tidiness or a beer-consumption prowess display.

The beer vendors wear high-vis, because it is vitally important that you be able to find one immediately, should you have an empty beer cup emergency. Also, the practice is to stack your empty beer cups onto the bottom of your current beer cup. I’m not sure if this is tidiness or a beer-consumption prowess display.

Though the crowd was perfectly capable of making their own fun. For some reason the potato chip guy became the focus of some of it. Every time he called “Papas!” the crowd would cheer. Eventually it was clear that he was a focus of fun, so the mascots grabbed him to come stand on top of the home dugout for an impromptu Papas-off.

Image

No person was harmed in the making of these cevichurros.

Foodwise – I went for cevichurros hoping and believing that they were a beans and tomato thing.  They are not.  Instead they are pretty much every bar-snack ever crammed into a cup and covered with clamato juice.  My pathetic Australian tastebuds found the whole concoction overwhelming, which is odd, because I like nearly all of the components on their own.  Skinny crackers? Yes. Coated peanuts? Yes please! Cucumber? Panela?… Pretty much everything except the sweet sausage, which I really am not a fan of.  I didn’t manage to eat the whole cup, but since it was pretty much the entirety of my food budget for the game, I ate a lot more than I wanted.  I can’t decide if this or Crackerjacks are my least favourite ballpark food to date.

So the next game I treated myself to churros with a chocolate sauce injection.  I’ve been spoiled by getting them pretty much straight out of the oil at my churros cart in Sayulita, so these definitely weren’t as good, but they’re still pretty superior sweets. And I had the stickiest wings I’ve ever had. My face needed a shower all on its own afterwards.  So. Good.

Wings, baby. So. Good.

Wings, baby. So. Good.

My phone had no charge and I hadn’t yet realised that the USB cable was not working properly to charge it, so I have very few photos of Culiacan.

Image

Chililng out in the public park next to the Cathedral in Culiacan. The pathside evangelical pentecostal sermon was actually one of the easiest things to listen to in Spanish, as the repertoire of words and ideas is pretty circumscribed and I’m familiar with it. Not really sure what the seminary school boys made of it all.

Image

Pedestrian bridge across the river suspended under the traffic bridge. Fun to look at and fun to walk across. Roqsi tells me that the river is somewhat toxic, which is sad.

I did get into a couple of art galleries and it was really interesting to see actual art that wasn’t just for the tourist market.  Roqsi used to work in one of the private art galleries when it was a library and we had a good look around.  It was a really interesting exhibition of Sinaloan modern art and some of it directly addressed the drug trafficking and violence for which Culiacan and Sinaloa are known.  Sadly my Google-Fu is also failing right now, so I can’t even bring you an internet reproduction.  My favourite piece was a graphic and gory photograph called 6 cubic metres of organic waste.

There’s so much to see and do in Culiacan.  The malecon beside the river is gorgeous and there’s clearly a lot of money around. The city is absolutely pumping full of energy.  I would have liked to have had another couple of days here to explore quite a lot more and to get the hang of the bus system.

Culiacan was definitely a surprise highlight of the trip.

Your regularly scheduled selfie (sorry, it was the best I could do!)

Your regularly scheduled selfie (sorry, it was the best I could do!)

Advertisements
Standard

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)

Standard

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.

20130829_133842

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).

Plotting screen shot

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!

Standard