Thursday, February 25, 2010

Villa Corona and Morelia

We spent a couple of nights in Villa Corona at a campground set in a Balneario, a Mexican water park. What makes Chimulco different is that all the water comes from underground hot springs. Every evening the pools are emptied and every morning they are filled anew with toasty 39 degree water. A few hours after our arrival another family in a VW pulled up in the space beside us. They were travelling with four kids (two girls aged 8 and 6 and two boys aged 3 & 11 months) in a popup! They're the only other family we've seen on the road and it made us realize just how easy we've got it with our kids. The four girls spent both days together at the pools, only coming back to the van to eat. Henri had found a gang of Mexican friends from Guadalajara who were staying in the bungalows on the grounds. The kids were in heaven and Wil and I took it easy catching up on some writing, puttering around the van and enjoying a couple of really nice meals with our neighbours.

Back through Guadalajara to pick up the repaired computer and on to Morelia for a couple of nights.
Morelia was a big surprise. The physical beauty of the city is astonishing. Gorgeous stone arches, cathedral, churches, libraries, squares abound.

We wandered around the town, admiring the architecture and also the gorgeous women, our friend Antonino should have come to Morelia. The kids had an ice cream and Wil got in line with a bunch of people at a gazpacho stand. Gazpacho in Morelia is not soup but diced fresh fruit -- pineapple, jicama, watermelon and mango in a plastic cup layered with salt, grated cheese, chile powder and a little dollop of orange juice. Fresh and sweet and savoury and salty, it hits all the pleasure buttons at once. We had a nice long walk on our way to find some supper, along the impressive aqueduct and through the Bosque. We got to see a torreador lesson in progress, an older gentlemen with arms folded across his chest giving advice to two boys about Henri's age, one hunched over with a set of bull horns, the other held the muleta and a toy estoque practicing his moves. A little further on we saw an amazing skate park, then a full BMX course and in between a fantastic park for the kids -- a dozen seriously high-tech climbing frames, exercise stations for the disabled, mini train and carnaval. The kids had a go while Wil and I talked about how liberating it is to play in a culture where safety doesn't come at the expense of any kind of fun. I can't imagine many North American cities willingly taking on the liability insurance required to host a BMX bike course.

We had a really nice supper and opted to take a taxi home. We talked to the cab driver about getting tickets for Saturday night's soccer game, a much-anticipated match against arch-rival Toluca -- the enmity between the two cities heightened by Morelia's Monarcas taking last year's championship in the Toluca stadium. He gave us some advice about what seats to get. He also told us the bonus of buying tickets for the Saturday night game were free tickets for the Wednesday game against the National team. He agreed to take us to the stadium to buy the tickets. We had to go twice because everyone misjudged the opening time but we finally got them and handed him the ones for the Wednesday night game. His son is in the junior Monarcas so I think he was pretty pleased.

We hit the market on the way back. The mercado independencia could only be disappointing after Oaxaca and Guadalajara but we had a good poke around. We stopped in the food section to try a birria de chivo, a goat consomme with chunks of meat and vegetable and a generous splash of chile sauce on top. We were on the lookout for the delicately-painted pottery I've been jonesing for but didn't find anything that caught our fancy, other than some little gifts for the kids' classmates and some soccer jerseys for the family. On our way out the kids spotted a table heaped with strawberries and we bought a big cup full of sliced strawberries with a shake of sugar, a big ladleful of cream and a big spoonful of strawberry marmelada.

Back to the hotel to dump our purchases. The Posada Don Vasco was our reward for doing a little footwork when we got to Morelia. It really pays to check out a bunch of places. We've found they're rarely what you expect and even more rarely how they've been described in the guidebooks. The one thing you can count on is being shown a crappy room first. A little perseverance and assertiveness usually lands you a very reasonably priced pretty room. We were in the only room on the third floor, a sunny space with a view of rooftops and the cathedral's peaks.

Back to the park at the kids' insistence. Henri's pitch was "it's as good as going to see Radiohead play all their songs for you, mum." How can I argue with that? All the rides were open -- a little train that choo-chooed around the periphery of the park, miniature versions of the pirate ship and a roller coaster, along with a few barf-inducing spin rides. There we even bumper cars. At forty cents a ride the kids had their fill and then we headed off to the game.

The cab driver was a fount of information about futból, the standings of all the teams as well as a myriad of other cool facts about Mexican culture. Thank goodness for cab drivers. Without them I'd be forced to pin down people on the street with my endless questions. On his advice, we ate before entering the stadium (for half the price) -- a plate of tacos dorados (deep-fried taco tubes filled with chicken served with shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes, crema & fried cubed potatoes) and a couple of bombas (bread rolls dipped in spicy chile oil and fried and then filled with chicken and sour cream or chorizo.)

The Estadio Morelos is surrounded by low mountains on three sides and the city below it on the fourth. We picked some seats on the centre line and put up little resistance to the vendors. "cerVEza, cerVEEYzaa, refresco, refressscos. Wil bought himself a beer in the only format available, a litre. We all shared cacahuates, toasted and salted pumpkin seeds & fava beans and passed on the steamed garbanzo beans in their pods. The kids had the Monarcas logo silkscreened on their cheeks. We watched the sun set and waited for the place to fill up. Forty-five thousand people is an astounding amount of people to fit into one building. We were treated to several parades of girls in matching skintight outfits & gogo boots carrying banners of the game's sponsors. They stood a bit awkwardly adjusting waistbands and flipping their always long hair. This kind of display would have been so different in the States. First of all, the girls would have been skinnier. I think Mexican men like their women with a little something to hang on to. Also, the girls would have been a precision unit. Here they stood in a variety of poses, at odd distances from each other, chatting or looking entirely bored until someone cued the first in line to get a move on.

About twenty minutes before kickoff our eyes were drawn by the sound of a bunch of drums beating in rhythm. The sight was something else. La porra (L'aporra sp.?) two thousand die-hard fans wedged into a corner, a sea of yellow jerseys bouncing up and down to the beat of the drums. They chanted, they whistled, they waved, they slam-danced, their energy & sound providing a constant throbbing beat to the action. I could not keep my feet still. Soccer pitches are enormous. A fitter bunch of athletes would be hard to find. Where they find the energy for those sudden sprints after eighty minutes of running is totally beyond me. Whenever the goaler put the ball down to kick, a deafening whistle was struck up by the fans and when he made contact with the ball everyone shouted "Buuuuurrrrrooooo" (donkey). All through the game, the action was telecast on a huge screen at the end of the field. The fans were invited to send text messages to a phone number and a few minutes later they would scroll across the screen. The messages of love were syrupy sweet "Gloria, we've been through so much but we will love each other for ever." I thank god for the little angel you brought into my life,

At half time, the Roshfrans girls ran out to the middle of the field and did a little choreography to Shania's Damn, I feel like a woman. Anytime they turned to face the Toluca side of the field the girls in the back (now the front) would get completely lost, only recovering when they did an about-face and could follow the one girl who had memorized the steps. While they danced, a couple of inflatable toys were erected midfield. When the dancing ended a race began between four fans from the stands. It started with a potato-sack race, then a climb over the inflatable toys, a run to the other end of the field where they spun in five circles with their forehead on a bat stuck to the ground, then a dizzied dash to kick a ball in the net. The very happy winner took home 10,000 pesos.

The game was a blast but sadly scoreless. We left ten minutes before the end to avoid the crush and to try to catch the light show at the cathedral in the centro. The show began the moment we arrived, a massive crowd of couples and families filling the wide avenue in front of the church. There was, of course, pounding music and an impressive fireworks display, each explosion marking another set of coloured lights illuminating the façade of the building (and what a building!) The kids got an ice cream cone and we wandered home, past mariachi bandmembers who had no doubt been working the crowd before the lightshow began.

Morelia, another winner.

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