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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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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