Which, in case you’ve never been here, is a cheap way to travel around Mexico City, if you are willing to use a bus that’s way too full, with a driver that drives way too fast.
A Mexican beer only available at Christmas.
This is the final version. From the core of the earth out into space.
You can see this and all the previous version here:
Version six. Deeper, again, into the earth. Next bit is definitely gonna be the last bit. It’s the core.
And, here we go, the fifth section of Flower. Deeper into the earth again. FYI, I think version 7 will be the final version. Or possible version 8. Not quite sure right now. But for now, here’s version 5.
Expanding deeper into the earth: version 4 of Flower.
Version 5 coming soon.
Here is the third version, in which I’ve extended further away from the flower.
Into [booming echoey voice] spaaaace!
When I moved to Mexico City, I picked a team. There are three football teams in the city: Club América, Pumas, and Cruz Azul, all of whom play in the top division, the Liga MX. I looked at a map. Even though I’d seen América and Pumas play at their stadiums (Estadio Azteca and Estadio Olímpico, respectively) when I visited on holiday in 2008, I plumped for Cruz Azul, who were the closest team to where I was living at the time (and has been at all subsequent apartments). Pretty much everyone I know supports América or Pumas, but, that was fine. I liked the idea of supporting my most local team. It would also be disingenuous to pretend that I didn’t enjoy the idea of supporting the smallest team in the city, too. The fact that nobody I know supports Cruz Azul, though, made me a lot less inclined to go to the stadium. Until 2014. My girlfriend and I were looking for an apartment, and eventually found one just a block away from Estadio Azul, Cruz Azul’s stadium. My girlfriend is a Pumas fan. This new apartment was way better for my footballing interests than hers.
We are coming to the end of the regular season in Mexico. Well, it’s more complicated than that. I’ll explain. The 2014-15 season, as with previous seasons since the mid-nineties, is split in two. Before Christmas, there’s the Torneo apertura (opening tournament). This consists of each team playing every other team once, at home or away. After New Year, there’s the Torneo clausura (closing tournament). Same format here, just with teams playing the corresponding home or away fixture. After each of these tournaments, there’s a liguilla (little league). The liguilla is an eight team playoff. Essentially, quarter finals onwards. It’s a rubbish, overly complicated format for a season intended to make things more interesting. For me, Mr Logical Brain, it diminishes the achievement of being a champion if you can finish 8th over half a season, win a few playoff games and be the kings.
Anyway, last Saturday was the last home game for Cruz Azul in the Torneo apertura. After three seasons of not bothering to go to games, living around the corner has changed things drastically. Including cup games, I went to nine of eleven Cruz Azul home games. (I missed one when I was in Belize, and I missed one earlier in the season when I had food poisoning and really could not be too far from my own bathroom.) It’s been fun going to games. And it’s been fun to just go and buy a ticket from the stadium ticket office on the day of the game. Really, it’s the first time that I’ve regularly gone to see “my” football team since Lincoln City’s 1987-88 season.
It’s a relatively small stadium. 35,000 capacity, compared to Estadio Azteca (105,000) and Estadio Olímpico (69,000). Estadio Azul is interesting. Maybe not as pretty as Olímpico, or as impressive as Azteca, but I like that the pitch is below ground level. When you enter the stadium, you are at the front of top level of seating. From a living point of view, it means that the view from my window isn’t blocked by a big stadium, as Estadio Azul is about the same height as my third floor (fourth floor in American English) apartment.
It’s pretty cheap, too. Ignoring the cheapest section behind the goal where the hardcore fans go, you can get a ticket for 65 pesos (£3.02, €3.84, US$4.79). Unless–unless–it’s a local derby against América or Pumas. Then, the club puts the prices up. Well, that happens in England too, some games are more attractive, thus more expensive, than others. Here, though, with the Ticketmaster fee, that 65 peso ticket jumps to 423 pesos. About 650% of the normal price. Last Saturday was a local derby. Cruz Azul v. Pumas. What should be a game where the stadium is rammed full is a game where the stadium is half empty because of the price hike. It was a game with implications, too. The winner would more or less*eliminate any chance of the other team progressing to the liguilla.
I like being at Estadio Azul. I like that on match day, my street starts to fill up with stalls selling merchandise. I like that the street gets busier and busier as kickoff gets closer. I like hearing the hardcore fans, the porras, chanting and banging drums as they walk to the stadium. And I, of course, like being able to leave the apartment fifteen minutes before the game starts. There’s a far greater mix of men and women at Cruz Azul games than I’ve ever seen at games in Europe, and a mix of fans, too. Being the capital city, there are always fans of the opposing teams scattered around, even more so for local derbies. In my section up in the “cheap” seats, I’d say that about 30% of the fans were Pumas fans. Some of them alone, some of them mixed-team couples. Girlfriend and I would’ve been one of those mixed-team couples had she not had other plans.
As you enter the stadium, you are frisked. No belts allowed. That’s another benefit of living close: not having to traverse the city constantly tugging up my jeans. The Pumas section at one end of the ground was pretty much full early on. The Cruz Azul end of the ground not so much. Apparently, there had been some clashes with police outside the ground, which I assume accounts for that. The crappy PA played music. “Everybody Get Up” by 5ive. The cheerleaders (like yer proper NFL style cheerleaders) walked around the perimeter of the field to mucho whistling.
The breeze blew the smell of Domino’s pizza around. The vendors touted their wares. Like at baseball games, they bring beer and soft drinks and snacks to you. As game time approached, the big inflatables around the edge of the field were deflated. I kind of enjoy seeing those before the game. Four inflatable bottles (Tecate, Gatorade, Mexicola (a, er, Mexican cola), and Boing (a fruity drink)), and a couple of inflatable cement bags. Cruz Azul, you see, is sponsored and named after a cement company of the same name.
The match itself wasn’t so great for Cruz Azul fans. It reminded me of last season’s Liverpool v. Chelsea game (albeit at a much lower quality level). The home team looked by far the most dangerous, with the visitors content to defend (well) and hope to nick a goal. And Pumas did nick a goal, with the help of some awful linesmanship. A ball went out of play for a corner or goal kick (not sure who touched the ball last) but the Pumas player kicked it back onside, and from that, they scored. Cruz Azul continued pressing to equalise, but the Pumas keeper was having a great game. After a Cruz Azul player was sent off with half an hour to go, they continued attacking, but it was obvious that nothing was gonna happen, and in injury time, Cruz Azul got caught out in defence and there you go, the Battle of the Mediocre Mexico City Teams ended 2-0. The other Mexico City team, Club América, are top of the league and looking really strong. Considering how they’ve performed, they really should win the liguilla.
There’s one more away game left, but Cruz Azul need to win and for four teams to all not win to make it into the liguilla. But, they don’t deserve to be there. They’ve lost six of sixteen games, and not won a single away game all season. But, I’m looking forward to the Torneo clausura starting up again in January, and getting back to the stadium every other Saturday. It’s nice to be a regular.
One of the joys of Google Street View is knowing that if you miss something with your camera, you might be able to see it again. This is a school, I think, that I went past in a bus yesterday in Chetumal. Link to Street View view
Quick drawings done (with the TinyPixels iPad app) of a bus driver and a bus conductor on a Belizean bus the other day.
Or, as my mate Eric said, “Beardless Craig with margarita.”
More finger painting here
It was Hallowe’en, and the bar tenders were wearing big hats. I drew them as silhouettes. That was probably a mistake cos they just look like big black shapes.
More finger painting here
More finger painting here
More finger painting here.
Last morning in Belize. Up at 5am, a bit too early, really, but ready to go outside to watch the sun come up; something that has become a bit of a habit in Belize. When I opened the front gate, the dogs, Red and Grey, ran over, tails wagging. While they are looked after by the hotel’s owner and don’t seem to wander very far, they are still street dogs and sleep outside. It was, I’m not ashamed to say, an utterly lovely feeling to be greeted by two friendly dogs first thing in the morning. I’m quite sure they do that to anyone coming out of the hotel gates early in the morning, but at that moment, you can convince yourself that they like YOU.
I watched the sky change colour and a whole huddle of coots sleeping (?) in the sea seemed to wake up. There were probably around a hundred of them. Slowly the group split and they went about their morning business. They paddled to the rocks near the shoreline. Had a chat. Cleaned themselves. Dried off. Whatever it is that coots do.
A man holding his boots in his hand came out of the hotel quietly and got in his truck and drove off.
Life starts early in these parts. I like that. The older I get, the more I enjoy the early morning. You can keep your nightclubs, young ‘uns. Someone in the neighbourhood was blasting Spanish language R&B and Spanish language kids songs. Nursery rhymes and the like.
I sat on the wall by the bay, across the road from the hotel. A couple of other guests chatted with the hotel handyman. The handyman commented on an old guy walking by: “He got a young girlfriend!” one of the other guests asked the handyman (who, I’m guessing was in his late 50s at the youngest) where HIS young girl was. The handyman didn’t miss a beat: “I don’t make a fool of myself! I’m like a snake: I hit and run!”
I wore the day-before’s clothes. My bag was packed nicely, and I didn’t really wanna disturb affairs. I had fresh clothes laid aside ready to put on at the last possible moment before I checked out of the hotel. Less time on my body equals less time to get sweaty. But, by 9am, I was already sweaty and, I have to say, a bit funky, in the day-before’s clothes.
(Oh, one thing I forgot to mention in the last post was that there was this guy in the bus. Old Latino guy. The kind that can wear cream slacks, a yellow short-sleeve shirt and just carry it off, looking effortlessly cool. He had short grey hair. As we approached the place where he would get off the bus, he got a comb out of his pocket and combed his hair. That, dear reader, is an olden days thin that I enjoyed seeing. Getting off the bus after a day’s work and sorting out his look before he gets home. The last time my hair was combed was about three weeks ago when a barber did it after cutting my hair.)
I bought supplies. Some Belikins and British biscuits (custard creams, yo) and Dairy Milk. I like that Belize still sells a few Brit things that I can’t get in Mexico.
I had an average breakfast in a cafe. They had the radio on loud, it was a Spanish language Belizean station. The annoying DJ could not stop talking, every song he played, he talked over. He’d whack up the song volume for a second or two, then down again and continue yakkin’.
A guy on the street asked, “are you coming or going?” Not really knowing what he meant, but not really arsed about having another conversation that’d end with him asking me for a dollar, I continued walking and said “going.” He followed me and started his routine, he was really thirsty and wanted to get some water. “Here you go.” I handed him the half empty bottle of water I had in my plastic bag. He looked at it like I’d just put a turd in his hand, and said, “You gonna give me that!?” Yep, I am. You hustlers need to coordinate yourselves. You can’t all hassle the same people over and over again or they’ll end up giving you half a bottle of not-cold water and not giving a shit about it.
The day ahead of me was looking like it was gonna be full of waiting. I had nothing really to do in Corozal, and I didn’t fly from Chetumal airport until 8.30pm. I sat on the edge of the bed in the hotel watching a shitty movie called “Without a Paddle: Nature’s Call” with an electric fan positioned a few feet away from my head. I checked Wikipedia, and it’s no surprise to find out it was straight-to-video. I didn’t watch the end, but didn’t really need to. It was rubbish.
I kept telling myself not to rush. Take everything slow, Craig, you don’t need to be at the airport until 6.30pm. So what did I do? I checked out of the hotel at just gone 11am and went to the place where the small collectivo-style buses wait. Two dollars to the border. These buses wait until they are full before leaving. Six other seats needed filling, but, I was, as stated, in no rush. Three women who worked at the casino at the border got in. Then another dude. Two more seats filled, and we’re away. But, those seats stayed empty for a good five minutes. One of the women rapped on the window and shouted at the driver outside, asking if we could go, they had to get to. He said okay, but he took his time, like a child doing everything slowly because it doesn’t want to go to bed. He shouted at people in the general area, seeing if he could get at least one more passenger. I had Pitbull blasting right into my ear from the speaker that was, er, right next to my ear. The speaker sounded broken and distorted and the radio station wasn’t tuned in perfectly. Fun.
After getting the departure stamp in my passport and paying the US$20 exit fee—thanks for that, Belize; nice of you to dip your hand in everyole’s wallet one last time after a holiday—I saw a Belizean bus sat waiting there. I got on and I got to experience the new Mexican frontera. There are now two border crossings on the Mexico side. The old one is still used by pedestrians, but vehicles use the new one. I assume the old one will be closed at some point considering how big the new one is. The road is a big concrete and razor wire-sided road. The actual border bit is confusing. Not really any signs showing where you are supposed to go. It’s got the feel of not being finished. The immigration window was a low down desk set into a wall. It didn’t feel important; didn’t feel like I was entering a country. It felt like I was buying orange squash at a school fete or something. No glass or cameras or anything looking official. There were rubbish xeroxed-and-laminated signs saying “immigration,” and a couple of Day of the Dead pictures, and a poster of a skeleton in a disused mine or something. The woman glanced at me and filled in the official use only bits on the visa form and stamped my passport. All whilst having a conversation about her sister with a colleague. I quite literally could’ve been an Ebola ISIS hombre coming in to sneak okill order into the U.S. and kill everyone, right Mrs Palin? (Just joking, CIA, if you’re reading.)
At the customs bit, I waited with the Belizeans and other gringos for the bus to get checked and continue its journey.
Aaaah, it’s good to be back in Mexico; to see all those awesome Mexican things I’ve missed over the last couple of weeks: Scotia Bank… Applebee’s… McDonald’s… Dominos… Office Depot… Home Depot…
Sat on that bus, it felt nice that the end of my Belizean journey ended on a Belizean bus rattling its way through the streets of Chetumal, Quintana Roo. I got off and a big stupid rain cloud looked like it was ready to produce the delightfully wet mix of sweaty and rained-on, so I jumped in a cab to take the short journey to a part of town I’d been to before. A part of town where I knew I could get some good food and waste some time. Wasting time was the priority. I had eight hours to kill before my flight.
I went to Marisqueria Mi Viejo, a fish and seafood restaurant. Mexican beer went down well. It’s funny, after a couple of weeks of drinking exactly the same beer all the time, I got used to the heavy Belikin bottles. I ordered a second Victoria before realising there was about a third of my first beer remaining; the weight was about the same as a nearly empty Belikin. Food tip, should you eat fish and be down in Chetumal: try the fillet “al pil-pil.” It is, apparently, a local thing. Cooked in a light but spicy, onion-y sauce. Really really tasty.
I killed more time with a couple more beers and then went around the corner to the Museo de la Cultura Maya. It’s a good wee place. I mean, it’s not one of the world’s great museums or owt, but as small town museums go, it’s pretty good. Especially if you wanna waste some time.
It had air conditioning which was an undeniably nice blast. There a bunch of displays, explaining the history of the Mayans, there’s a few ceramic bits and bobs, and some reproductions of some of the major Mayan sites’ stelae. The main two floors have big fake jungle-y stuff along along the middle; the whole place is soundtracked by background jungle sounds, too. There are models of some of the structures, an explanation of what Mayans did with their days (growing maize, fishing, and stuff). After about twenty minutes, it occurred to me: I’m the only person in here apart from the couple of employees at the entrance. Yer Mayans were clever, what with all the astronomy, maths, and calendars. They had is thing called the Cieba, which was “the first tree.” I skim read the display, so I’m probably getting it arse over tit, but it seems like thats what they thought the universe was, a big tree, with a bird up in the heavens watching over the natural order, and an underworld called Xibalbá where go when we die that has nine lords, a god of death, and a mischievous demon. Rockin’.
I dunno, though, I dig all these types of ideas about how the universe works and the afterlife and such. But I absolutely don’t dig the Christian, Muslim, whatever-is-still-around, versions of this stuff. The Christian one, the one I have been exposed to most in my life, is dull as shit. This old dude lived her hundreds of years, he had old kids, blah de fucking blah. Boring. Boring and bullshit, too. I mean, at least the Mayan bullshit was interesting. But I guess the main point is that Mayans aren’t still banging on about it, killing people, fighting over a scrap of dirt in the Middle East, and trying to control what other people do with their made-up stories about a moody sky Santa and the kid that he had with another man’s wife.
Anyway, after the air conditioning of the museum, outdoors was a wall of humidity. Still four hours to kill. So I had a walk. Then saw a bar called Bar Peraza. Alright, you’ve convinced me, sign-that-says-”bar.”
It looked a bit sketchy from the outside. You couldn’t see inside, and there was a painted sign saying it was prohibited for women to enter. But the idea of having something to write about got the better of me. On the inside, it looked worse. Just a big open room with light blue walls and lots of white plastic Sol, Superior, and Tecate-branded chairs and tables. Painted in black on the walls was “CERVEZA.” Underneath that in red and yellow was “$20.00″ A piece of grey card covered the first zero and on it a “2″ had been erased in white paint and a black “3″ painted over the top. The ceiling fans were rusted and bent. The columns holding the fans had been spray painted fluorescent green. It was dark in there. Just one bare lightbulb over in the far corner, where there was a beer fridge, a microwave, a few bottles of salsa and ketchup, and a middle aged women who looked a bit like Kim Jong-Il. (Although, to be fair, Kim kinda looks like a middle-aged women, not the other way around.) Next to the kitchen-y area was a small stage with a pole in the middle from ceiling to floor. Well, well, well. It’s that kinda place. There were only three other people in there. All women. All employees. The Mexican music was super loud. Hurt my ears a bit. But they played Los Karkis, one of my favourite Mexican bands. They play fast silly music. It made me kinda happy to hear their music. I wanted to imagine that this club hops at night with middle aged, overweight, not-traditionally-attractive women letting lose by half-heartedly dancing around a pole for similarly-aged men. The most business they did for the 45 minutes or so that I was in there was from two sources: 1. The two beers I drank, and 2. The steady stream of men coming in paying five pesos to use the gents.
Okay, it was impossible to kill any more time without just keeping on drinking. So I stood at the taxi rank nearby and waited. One pulled up with a passenger already inside, and asked where I was going. The airport. He said, okay, and explained he’d take me there after dropping off the woman in the front seat. Cool. After she got out, we had a chat about Mexican football. He, like a lot of people I saw in Chetumal, was a Club América fan. We talked about Cruz Azul’s magnificent (for me, not him) 4-0 victory against América last month.
I was at the airport three hours before my flight. Not bad really when you consider I had eight hours to kill since crossing the border. Like the museum, the airport had air conditioning. And like the museum, when I nipped out of the terminal to have a fag, I was reminded of the humidity in this part of the world. I didn’t want to be in an air conditioned space, though. I wanted to feel the humidity for as long as I could. But as the sun went down, the mosquitoes came out, so it was bye bye humidity.
It’s a small airport. The entrance hall is has no seats. There’s a couple of booths selling drinks and snacks, and another selling ugly watches and perfume. There’s nowhere to sit apart from the floor. But I do kinda love the fact that there’s an Interjet ticket sales desk and that people were using it to get tickets for that evening’s Mexico City flight.
I caught a reflection of myself in the airport bathroom mirror. I had a small backpack—not much bigger than rucksack you’d use in your daily life. When I did my travels in 2008, I had a pretty big one, but I’ve come to realise that unless you’re going to multiple climates, you don’t need to take a load of stuff. Enough clean clothes for six or seven days in a warm climate doesn’t need a bigger bag. That’s my hot travel tip.
A security guy pulled back a glass screen door, and we all traipsed through to the check-in desk, then went through security and sat in the over-A/C-ed cold departure lounge. A kid with plastic spider about the size of his hand. He vroom-ed around and shot it with his bandaged index finger. Totally in his own wonderful world as the spider flew through the lounge, ricocheted off walls and then fighting in mid air with a toy helicopter he got out of his pocket, while the rest of us stared at, typed on, or talked into our devices.
I was sat in seat 1A on the plane. The logical, organised part of my brain was happy with that. The guy in 1C did his best to ruin that by being one of those people who refuses to just do what they ask re. turning off your devices. Yes, well done, Mr I’m-So-Important. The moon was bright and it was nice to see the clouds illuminated and the big dark shadow of mountains. We landed and the altitude hit me straight away when I walked to the luggage carousel. An impatient taxi ride humming Going Home to myself, and I was in the lift, opening the door, and giving girlfriend a hug. It was good to be back.
Right then. Thanks for reading. There has been a total of around 25,000 words in these 17 posts. Which is about half of the Great Gatsby. I hope you’ve enjoyed the unedited ramblings. Really: thanks a lot for reading.