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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Guasave Algondoneros at Estadio Francisco Carrera Limon

I arrived in Guasave in the early afternoon on a Sunday. Outside of the touristy areas in Sinaloa and Sonora, Sunday morning is really very quiet, with nearly everything closed.  Guasave was shut up tighter than a drum.

If you’d seen my itinerary for Guasave it was a bit light on detail.  Because I don’t speak enough Spanish to know if the answering machine on the hotel I had selected was saying they’d call me back, or whether they were advising that the hotel had closed. What I did know is that there were plenty of hotels around in Guasave, so I was pretty comfy about arriving without confirmed accommodation.  Especially as my experience has been that I have little hotels and motels almost entirely to myself. There’s not too many people travelling around at the moment.

This feat of planning led to was me wandering around the address listed on their website  for one lap, before being freaked out by the empty streets and locked gates and settling for the posadas closest to the bus station, which was about 800m from the stadium.  Good choice me for doing this in the day and not trying to wander around Guasave at night.

I happily walked up to the stadium for the 3pm start, but Guasave had already made it quite clear to me that it didn’t want me walking around at night. The fences are higher in Guasave.  All of the business doors are locked – even during the day in the middle of the week while the businesses are open. The overall impression is that everything happens behind bars.

Anyway, Estadio Francisco Carranza Limon is around 40 years old and its interface with the outside world feels like it.  The outside is pretty unwelcoming and the entrances are narrow and you kind of have to push through vendors of various kinds to get into the stadium.  Once inside, trying to find the team store is a bit tough, but that’s mostly because I was expecting something quite different. The store runs along a wall, behind a shoulder high wall and then thick panes of glass to the ceiling. You deal with the cashier though a tiny chink in one of the windows. Just more of Guasave feeling like it’s getting ready for some kind of riot.

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Neither a prison, nor a Tecate brewery – this is Estadio Francisco Limon.

However, the seating is just fine and the Sunday afternoon crowd were seriously fantastic.  There were over 6000 in a stadium that holds 8000, so it actually felt pretty full.  The game did not start out well for the Algodoneros, who were down 12-1 to the Los Mochis Caneros after 5 innings.

This did not matter to the crowd whatsoever, who continued to be pretty rowdy.  Of course when the Algodoneros eventually did fire up for ten runs through the 6th and 7th, the crowd went absolutely nuts.  But everyone had pretty much run out of energy by the time the bottom of the 9th came around and the whole game ended with something of a whimper.

This video, however, is what the crowd in Guasave sounds like when the team is 12-1 down.

Fun and surprising things that happened –

  1. There is a song, that all of the fans know and sing, and along with it there is either mimicking two-hands-on-the-steering wheel while weaving though cones, or chopping stuff up with two big knives alternatively.  This only happened in Guasave and I have no idea what it’s about.  So fun to have something so completely unexpected, yet so unifying happen.
  2. The tomahawk chop is not even remotely dead and not even remotely confined to the USA.
  3. It is not only acceptable, it is encouraged by the PA guy and the screen to chant for the opposing team to throw a ball instead of a strike “Bola! Bola! Bola!”

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Both teams were heading out after this final game of the series, -Caneros to Los Mochis and the Algodoneros to Mazatlan, so both team buses were in the carpark. Gotta say that the Caneros bus is significantly sexier, but just about everything the Caneros do is sexier. Their promotional team is pretty slick.

Ballpark food – took it very easy, just salchicha and huichol sauce again. It’s my ‘old reliable’ of the LMP.

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Oh salchicha. You never let me down or betray me. You remain your own bland, strangely textured, meat producty self.

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Kids hunting for autographs.

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My fear of foul balls was not sufficiently allayed by the space left for the camera. One could have gotten through!

I had the worst brain-twitch the whole time I was watching the game, being completely convinced that I had seen one of the players play before. And I was right!  Good work hindbrain, that apparently stores seriously important information regarding people’s gait, posture, stance and swing.*

Guasave was the site of my absolutely dreadful attempt at Round 3 for the Australian Baseball League Fantasy competition.  This week was the first time I’d taken it vaguely seriously, so of course most of the players I ended up picking had horrible games.  The hotel staff were lovely about feeding me more coffee and biscuits while I doodled on baseball raffle ticket scraps. This was also the first hotel where staff were keenly interested in what I was doing and wanted to make sure that I was safe along the way.  Lovely, lovely peeps.

ABL fantasy league is serious business.  Have once again learned my lesson about srs bsns.

ABL fantasy league is serious business. Have once again learned my lesson about srs bsns. Also, I never won the bloody raffle at any of the ballparks. Dammit!

I also took the opportunity while in Guasave on Monday morning to do a bit of maintenance.  By this point in the trip, I’d been wearing shoes again for a whole week, after a month of being 100% barefoot in Sayulita.  Just because I can and I did, this is what my feet looked like before and after a pedicure.  And this is pretty much the closest thing to an attractive selfie I managed in Guasave, go me!

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*The player was Mark Hamilton and team was PawSox, whom I visited twice and whose social media person was kind enough to respond to my ??? and soothe my ticklish brain.   PawSox very recently put together a Mark Hamilton highlights package

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Venados, Venados, Si, Si!

Mazatlan! Famous in the 50’s as a getaway for Hollywood’s sportfishing elite and recently recognised as one of Mexico’s 13 manmade wonders – it’s a very appealing seaside city with five gorgeous islands in the bay, the world’s tallest natural operating lighthouse (now that Gibraltar is done).

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(Photo editing is randomly not working again – This is from the path up to the El Faro lighthouse, looking down over the port side of town, rather than the beach side of town)

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(Gorgeous statues on the Malecon near Olas Altas)

Travellers through Sayulita mentioned that one of their friends had opened a hostel in Mazatlan and so it was off to the Funky Monkey and Salem’s fantastic hospitality for me.  Which reminds me that I have to write a review for Funky Monkey.  Ahem. “AWESOMENESS.” That is all.

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(Salem and I developing the food tour of Mazatlan. Of particular note was a seafood restaurant out in Villa Union on the other side of the airport that was so, so good.  I would get very fat, followed by very broke, followed by very skinny if I stayed in Mazatlan for long. Yum!)

From my perspective as someone with very little Spanish and an horrendous Australian accent, Mazatlan was a very good starting point for me.  There is a strong American tourist and ex-pat presence in the town, so I was able to practice turning up with no clue about where I am or how to get to where I’m going and try out my Spanish on taxi-drivers with English back up if required.

While touristing, I met a few Snowbirds who were curious to know if the Mazatlan Venados were sucking again this year.  Um, sort of not really I don’t know? I saw them win a game and lose a game and they’re sitting in 4th and are over 0.5, so I think they’re doing OK for now, but they might want to get a wriggle on.

Mazatlan, the Venados and Estadio Teodora Mariscal have hosted the Carribean Series finals 5 times, the most recent being in 2005.  The stadium has a 12,000 person capacity, so it still feels pretty empty, even with a solid 5,000 or so people in there.

The Carribean Series? That’s the tournament where the winners of the off-season leagues in Mexico, Dominican Republic, Venezuela and Puerto Rico duke it out for series champ. Down our way, the Asia series is back up and running with some/all of the winners of the Australian, Japanese, Korean, Taiwanese and Chinese competitions.  Side-note to this side-note, Canberra Cavalry are playing Asia Series games this weekend (Saturday 16 and Sunday 17 November 2013) – give the guys a cheer.

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(This level of dressing up is in no way considered over-the-top in Sinaloa. Beautiful hair and make-up and tight clothes are the order of the day for women and the men are often dressed very well too. Despite this, I actually feel less like I’ll be taken behind the mountains and shot by the fashion police here than I did in SoCal.)

Estadio Teodoro Mariscal is pretty fancy for its age (built in 62) and the kind of things that would be a problem under other sets of regulations simply aren’t problems in Mexico.

You don’t have to get out of your seat to get beer, food, noise-makers… Toilet break and 7th innings stretch are the only time you need to get up and for those brief moments, the narrow concourses and lack of signage don’t really matter. I was a lot more uncomfortable at Wrigley Field.

This was my first experience of beisbol in Mexico and it was LOUD.   For a small crowd on a Tuesday night, they knew how to party.  I’ve now been to 3 parks and partying at the baseball has only increased across the week.

(The sound of a quiet Tuesday night out watching the Venados. I went for seats slightly further away on Thursday, as not only did I feel like I was sitting in the players’ laps, I also couldn’t see the whole field)

I had company at both games I attended. I went to the first game with a Japanese guy who was on his way down to Guatemala to teach umpiring. We were both pretty hyped to be going and he bought two Venados jerseys – one for him and one for his BFF.  Then I spent a lot of time looking around, deciding what to eat, drinking beer, buying raffle tickets and cheering loudly and he very diligently scored the game.  It was really nice to have someone to ask “Hey is that his second double?  DAMN.” and “Swinging very early, do you think they’ll move the field?” and he had sensible answers and cared and it was awesome!

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(Venados regular season ticket. Before it was clipped, I think it may be the prettiest ticket I’ve ever had. And it’s still pretty, even with its dimensions mangled.)

The second game I went with a crowd from the Hostel. And it was ladies’ night, so a bunch of us got in free.  This group contained several Europeans who were at their first-ever baseball game.  We were explaining the rules in a mishmash of English, French and Spanish.  This was also immense fun for me.  Apparently we were on the big screen a couple of times, which I mostly missed due to all the talking, eating and seat-dancing that needed to be done.

I skipped the Saturday night game to go to a farewell dinner and drinks for one of the hostel staff and later in the evening we bumped into some of the English-speaking import contingent from the two teams playing that series.  One of them was an Aussie guy from Melbourne – so that was fun to meet him and kind of mutually boggle at each other for both being in Mexico doing baseball things.

Tonight, I’m off to see a Tuesday night game again, so it is possible that we’ll be back down to midweek levels of noise and mayhem.

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(Still dragging my Perth Heat hat around with me 🙂 )

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Halloween in Sayulita

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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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