Tour de Liga Mexicana del Pacifico wrap up

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My collection of keyring memorabilia. From l-r. Los Mochis Caneros 50th anniversary, Obregon Yaquis, Culiacan Tomateros, Mazatlan Venados and Guasavev Algodoneros. So sad they didn’t have pins with the club logos on them. Every single club logo is really cool

The first thing to say, is that I’m so very glad I did this, both from the perspective of experiencing all of the baseball, but also very much as a (here comes the wank) personal growth thing.

I really didn’t know, starting out, exactly how this was going to go.  I don’t speak Spanish – not even enough to really be certain that I had understood the websites I was looking at.  And certainly not enough to feel confident that I would be able to express myself well enough for a taxi driver to be able to figure out where I wanted to go.

So really, it took me a long time to plan this trip to an uncomfortably low level of certainty about the outcome.  Given my time constraints between leaving Sayulita and needing to be back in Jalisco for the start of my course, I didn’t get the amount of time I usually prefer to spend in one place to find my niche and to be able to have lazy days and downtime if required.

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A rough guide to travel times.

Language didn’t turn out to be the barrier I thought it would be.  I rate myself as a confident beginner and it is amazing how far you can get with that low a level of language.  It also helps that everyone was so kind and generous with their time while trying to understand me.  It was far more generous than the kind of response I would have gotten in Perth, with minimal English.’

The games themselves were largely entertaining, fun baseball to watch.  I saw a lot more bunting from the lead-off and second batter than I anticipated, but there was still plenty of athletic, exciting defensive play, big bats and tense pitching duels.  Plus all the lovely little mind games being played all over the park which is such a huge part of the appeal of baseball for me.

In the same way that the dedicated fans of MILB teams I’ve met in the USA have a proprietary sense about the players that have passed through their teams, there is that same strong connection with players in the LMP teams.  In a couple of the stadiums, I was asked if I had heard of such-and-such a player, who played here x-many years ago.  I love that baseball fans are so good at that – still supporting individual players as they get traded and signed and cut and picked up all over the leagues.

And carrying on from that – the crowds really were fantastic at every stadium.  Probably the quietest crowd was in Mazatlan, which had the highest proportion of non-locals attending.  Going to an LMP game is just like heading out to a party.  I never saw any bad behaviour or people behaving like dickheads, or stirring up the fans of the visiting or home team.  The only game where I saw the crowd get really shirty with their own players was when Culiacan went down 14-3 to Mexicali.  And even then, there was still a lot of late innings cheering when Culiacan managed to put a couple of runs on the board.

This vid is the sound of the crowd in Guasave when their team was down 12-1 at the bottom of the fifth. Yeah.  You don’t go home or stop cheering just because your team is having a bad night.  Not ever.

Overall, the crowds were fun, NOISY and enthusiastic.  The stadiums were elderly, but with the exception of the Guasave Algodoneros estadio, they were all perfectly usable, and even that stadium was fine if you didn’t need to visit the team shop.

In every town I went to, people were amazingly kind to me and went out of their way to help a tongue-twisted foreigner, even when they thought I was an American*  If you’re chasing a ballpark/baseball experience, I would definitely recommend this trip. Thus far it is a highlight of being in Mexico.

It’s a completely different experience to going to the Majors or Minors in the USA.  The further north you go the more likely there is to be a banda band hired for the day.  Nothing can happen without the cheerleading/dancing girls doing the slow banda step and sway (and every set of dancing girls looks like they’re from Dallas for some reason).  I was thrilled to see the dizzy bat race get a go at a couple of the stadiums as between innings entertainment and love that I now know the Spanish words to “Take me out to the ballpark”.

The guys running the music and big screen are just as professional as anyplace else and given that most games are aired live in their market,crowds are still solid.

Half eaten elotes.

Half eaten elotes.

I’ve eaten some interesting looking stuff, but still nothing as horrendous (or thankfully as expensive) as Crackerjacks.  I’ve been really sick and I’ve caught a lot of taxis less than a mile due to the lone-female-at-night factor.  I’ve gotten to see parts of Mexico that I would otherwise never have gotten to see and I really liked them.  If it didn’t get so crazy hot in Sinaloa and Sonora over summer, I would seriously consider staying there.

Overall, highly recommended.  If you’re interested in baseball, or just interested in having a reason to get a little off the beaten track in Mexico, a tour of the Liga Mexicana del Pacifico could be well worth your time.

Aguilas De Mexicali Logo 

     

*side note, I had a guy yell at me in Spanish for a good 3 minutes on the Burros left-break, but as soon as he heard that I didn’t have an American accent, he was all sunshine and flowers and very apologetic for being loud and angry.

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Obregon Yaquis

The bus trip from Los Mochis up to Ciudad Obregon is one of the nicer ones.  There are mountains on either side of the road as you come up through a gorgeous agricultural plain.  The bus itself was also very pleasant with upbeat movies playing for the first time*.

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Just before the Sinaloa/Sonora border. Gorgeous, gorgeous countryside. Saw lots of rancheros ambling along on horseback.

The bus to Obregon started with the second half of The Lone Ranger (Johnny Depp version) dubbed into Spanish.  I have no idea what was going on, but I saw a truly fun train-chase sequence.  Then we moved onto a version of Snow White, that was also a lot of fun.

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The other side of the bus – broad agricultural plains across to the Sierra Madres.

I struggled with homesickness for a lot of this bus ride – probably a side effect of my first hugs for a very long time. You forget how good hugs are when you’re in a hug drought, but that really brought it home to me.

I hauled myself out to see the Yaquis play that evening.  Had a Sonoran style hotdog, which was pretty good.  And later I had a cup of elotes which I really enjoyed.

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Sonoran hotdog. Huge pile of stewed peppers/chilles/tomato under the mayonnaise and on top of the dog.

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Elotes! Delicious cup full of corn, mayonnaise, cheese and spices. However, I can barely think about corn without wanting to die, now. This may have been my culprit.

One of the best things about where I was sitting was the huge number of groups of girls who’d come out to the baseball.  There were three separate groups of young women in the spaces near me who’d cheerfully come to the baseball as their girls’ night out.

It was also apparent that Doug Clark is quite the fan favourite, with his every breath cheered quite relentlessly.  That’d be because he hit the winning homerun in the 18th innings of Carribean Series final in 2013, I expect.

The stadium and shop were pretty standard. A bit narrow into the seating area and poorly signed inside the stadium.  I ended up having to get someone to help me, since I was in Section 4 and none of the Sections are sign-posted in any way.  I’m pretty sure I was still in the wrong place, but since no-one else tried to move me along, I was happy to stay there.

My absolute favourite thing about the stadium is the ‘No food/alcohol/drugs’ sign and the ‘no guns or knives’ sign being right next to each other, with the vaguely menacing threat that you’ll be reported to the appropriate authorities.  Proximity makes it seem like the appropriate authorities are the same for unauthorised food and unauthorised firearms.  Tee hee!

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Second half of the game was pretty flat, even with banda and dancing girls, though that may well have been me, as I then spent Thursday morning throwing up and the next two days sleeping.  I was far too sick on Thursday to get to the game on Thursday night.

I wasn’t sure about whether or not I was going to Navojoa on Friday night, but was still struggling to maintain a consistent temperature on Friday night, so opted for staying close to the hotel instead.  I headed out to the horse-fair right next to the stadium and watched dancing horses for a couple of hours, but needed to be horizontal, warm and asleep before the fairground even got underway. (Note, I went home at 10.30pm)

Felt pretty good again on Saturday, but didn’t have enough time to do much except go for a bit of a wander around the city.

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Dr Gortarez’ cute selfie sculpture on the pavement. IMMD.

I liked Obregon a lot.  There are a lot of English schools up there and the city feels like there’s time and money and care going into it.  Then I looked at the climate graph and decided that it’s definitely not for me over summer.  4 months with an average high of 38 degrees. Blech. At least it cools down quite a lot at night, but still… no.

I would definitely go back.  I didn’t get to Cocorit and the Yaqui museum. I didn’t get to see the Yaquis win – though that doesn’t look like it’s a thing that will happen often this year.  And most of all, I no longer have those beautiful, dry mountains popping in and out of view as you wander through the city.  I’ve adored dry mountains where-ever I’ve found them.  That’s going into my list of ideal places to settle.  Which now reads – enough sunshine for corn, enough rain for cows, enough frost for hops, within 20km of the sea, visible dry mountains.

*I suffered through Halle Berry’s The Call on one bus trip. Seriously traumatising stuff! Occasionally, there would be a low murmur as all of the passengers went “Yeurgh” at the same time in response to some particularly grotesque piece of torture porn.  Though the subtitles to the movie did teach me “Ya esta hecho” which has been useful.

Obegon - Obregon sculpture

Former President of Mexico, Sr Alvaro Obregon Salido

Obregon - Moe's pub

Every town needs a Moe’s pub and a Simpson’s reference. Mmmm. Duff Beer.

Obregon - feria de los caballos

All the vaquero music you could ever want. Ever.

Obregon - plaza

Obregon plaza. It really is beautiful here in winter.

obregon - upside down eagle

Yup. Symbolism and stuff.

Obregon - stadium selfie

It’s vaguely possible that I was already sick. (Second innings)

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Los Mochis and the Cañeros (Estadio Emilio Ibarra Almada)

And on to Los Mochis!

Los Mochis doesn’t seem to have a central bus station, so I didn’t quite know where I was going to urn up. And then I couldn’t find the taxi stand outside the Norte de Sinaloa bus terminal, so there was a bit of messing around to get to the hotel.  Frustratingly, the bus had stopped about 3 streets away on the same block on its way through town – but that’s what you get with no internet access on the bus and very little knowledge of town.

Hilariously, an occupied taxi did eventually stop for me – and it was occupied by the bus conductor, so that was really nice.  We had more of a chat and that was pretty fun.

The hotel had a laundry facility, which was very exciting for me.  I pretty much emptied my bag into the washing basket and wandered around town wearing the only two clean items of clothing I had left.  I didn’t get very far, just enough to get my bearings and find a coffee shop with free wireless and then collapse in the shade.

I just want to wear this somewhere. Anywhere. I don't care.

I just want to wear this somewhere. Anywhere. I don’t care.

Winter in Los Mochis is still pretty damn warm, with average highs around 30 degrees, so I was still sweating pretty hard.  Of course, a little closer to sunset the temperature started plunging, so I headed back to the hotel for yet another very welcoming reception and an evening of sitting around in the outdoor canteen chatting with Sara and her son Paul.  With the help of google translate.

I would say that it was around about here that I started getting the hang of the Sinaloa accent and at least figuring out what words were being said to me, even if I couldn’t figure out how to pronounce anything comprehensible back to people.

I spent Tuesday morning roaming around Parque Sinaloa and listening in on a school group’s introduction to the trees.

Seriscape, Parque Sinaloa

Seriscape, Parque Sinaloa

The park was really quite lovely and interesting.  I had to laugh at the eucalyptus tree they’d selected for the arboretum.  A Tasmanian mountain species.  Poor thing was huge, but completely eaten out by termites.  Sinaloa is not really the ideal place for a tree like that.

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La Paz comienza con una sonrisa. These signs were even more common that Caneros signs. And people in Los Mochis smile a lot and are very friendly.

If it wasn’t so stinking hot over summer, I definitely would have considered staying and working here as well.  So many people went out of their way to talk to me in Los Mochis and make sure that I was having a good time and that I had everything I could possible need or want.

The Los Mochis Cañeros are the baseball team and I’ve been thoroughly enjoying their @verdesxsiempre twitter presence.

You're part of the team!

You’re part of the team!

As far as I can tell, they seem to have the slickest social media team and a really great promotional push.  One of the ways to identify a bus stop in Los Mochis is to find a streetside Cañeros billboard.  It’s a more reliable technique than looking for the actual bus stop signs, which have a tendency to disappear in all cities.

I expected that the game would be a lot quieter than the Sunday afternoon game, but Los Mochis was having NONE of that.  I just about had a heart attack when the banda started, having failed to see the band come in, having been watching the game.

This turned out to be a really enjoyable game to watch.  The starting pitcher for the Cañeros was really entertaining.  Started a bit rough, but pumped himself up and got it going.  Couldn’t help but want him to succeed when he was so riled up and expressive about it.  I think it was Ben Kozlowski, but that’s 100% relying on the box score to be accurate.

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Just a small amount of preventative icing. Super-fun to watch AND recovering from injury(?). This guy just keeps getting more and more likeable.

I also heard my first English in a ballpark at Los Mochis.  I quote – “C’MON JAKE!  HIT THAT SHIT!”  Never spotted who called it out, though.   And I’m sad to say that while Jake had well and truly hit that shit in the 3rd, he was not doing it in the 7th.

Ballpark food – Once again I took it very easy.  I’d eaten properly at the motel, so I just had a papas snack. Potato chips and hot sauce, guys.  It’s the food of the Gods.

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Was it wrong to eat 2 giant cups of this? Note – we can’t be friends anymore if your answer is ‘yes’.

Ballpark michelada senillo - lime, salt, beer.

Ballpark michelada senillo – lime, salt, beer.

The ballpark was easy to find, easy to buy tickets and easy to find my seats.  Team shop was accessible, welcoming and full of stuff, but pretty light on prices.

Leaving Los Mochis required hugs from the hotel and canteen staff.  Yeah.  Like I said. Spoiled rotten in Los Mochis!

Los Mochis - parque sinaloa - baby giant cactus

Baby sahuaro cactus

Los Mochis - parque sinaloa - agave

Agave (tequila) cactus

los mochis - parque sinaloa - dead gtree carving 1

Happy to meet you!

Carved tree stumps in Parque Sinaloa

Carved tree stumps in Parque Sinaloa

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How many chins do I have? Who cares? I’m in Los Mochis watching the Caneros! (Perth Heat hat, Lowell Spinners shirt, Caneros team shop. Not at all baseball obsessed. Why would you say such a thing?)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!)

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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).

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!

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