Sunday March 27th
On my first full day in Mexico City I took to the west end of town, with the goal of visiting Chapultepec Castle and the Paseo de la Reforma. Myself, and three other Vs took to the street to begin our excursion through the heart of the city. La Reforma is a long, wide street that cuts through the centre of Mexico's downtown core. The eight lane boulevard is a key component to the city's transportation flow, but also it's history and tourism. The car lanes are separated from two extra lanes on either side of the street for extra transportation such as bikes and taxis who make shorter trips than those commuting in the main lanes. Beyond the road are wide sidewalks lined with statues and trees for those walking la Reforma. We stopped to admire the numerous politicians and figures of those immortalized at the side of the road as the Mexico morning sun danced through the leaves overhead.
As we distanced ourselves from the hotel we were entering a tourism and business driven district. Tall buildings came with more frequency as white open style malls welcomed those from the upscale hotels nearby. As we passed by the shops we came upon the Angel de la Independencia, or Angel of Independence. The monument is similar to that of Piccadilly Circus in London, England, where a monument is the focal point of a systematic round about. The tall white column sat shimmering in the sun as a gold angel, Winged Victory, stood atop the figure. The base had a number of steps where visitors could sit and take in the morning sun - which also contained a number of tombs of those who played a key role in Mexico's war of independence. It was another proud reference of Mexico honouring its rich history.
The statue was being circled by a mix of cars and bikes at different intervals as people were invited to bike the city. La Reforma was closed off to bikes for the morning while police officers managed traffic cutting through the street.
Beyond the statue was Mexico's Bosque de Chapultepec, the city's largest park and one of the largest in the Western Hemisphere. Measuring at 686 hectares, the park housed a number of street vendors, an outdoor bookstore, restaurants, the Museum of Anthropology, and Chapultepec Castle. After the others diverted to the museum I continued on to the castle which stood at on a large hill in the center of the park. Walking up to the castle there were families all over the park eating lunch and playing soccer - a lovely sight to see families making the most of their Easter holiday together (Happy Easter from Mexico Mom & Dad!).
The castle was simple and majestic as I approached it, black and white checkered titles reflected light onto the castle walls, a giant Mexican flag stood just past the gate. As I wandered the land there were beautiful views of the city in all directions. As I looked out I could see the mountains surrounding the capital while in the distance the tall buildings of La Reforma stood gleaming in the light, each one unique to the other. The city played into the hands of the castle with each direction offering a different view of the city. The park below showcased the families while ahead of me was Mexico City's business district. If La Reforma was to continue through the park and up the hill it would've cut right through the heart of the castle.
After making my rounds through the castle I returned to the hotel for the night's activities, a luchador match followed by a stop at Mexico's Tequila Museum. The bus ride was short to the 17,000 seat stadium as we all disembarked the bus, a handful of us buying a luchador mask for the event.
Now let me set the stage for this event, fully understanding I will not by any means do this justice. For those unaware luchador fights are similar to that of the WWE, scripted fights by multiple luchadores, or actors, fighting for honour and pride in the ring. We sat ten rows up from the event taking up three rows of hooting and hollering luchador fans. We were to witness five separate fights with multiple rounds involving 26 different luchadores.
While Robin was the V's favourite luchador, all of the luchadores were making their way through their scripted fights, playing to the crowd whenever possible. Pointing, smack talk and even body slamming each other outside of the ring was key to the showmanship of the act. After an hour and a half of backflips, fake injuries, and outrageously furry and tight costumes the final match came to a close with a triple body slam of Mr. Niebla, Mephisto and Rey Escorpion launching themselves over the top of the ring and landing down on their rivals below them. For the sheer comic value this was a must see when in Mexico - it's certainly and Easter I will not forget.
As we exited the spectacle we boarded the bus and adventured off to the Tequila Museum, another personal favourite of mine. Greeted with mojitos, sombreros and a mariachi singer our group toured around the multi-level facility wrapping up with a tequila and mezcal tasting. After learning how to properly sample and drink tequila it was time for one of our final shots. It was then one of the BC V's rose to his feet and declared "To Richard Hastings!" which was met with a call back and the sound of everyone finishing their shots.
As we finished our drinks we sang a song for Richard Hastings, then another for Canada, and then another. The night ended with songs being sung from the rooftop patio, mojitos in hand and the cool night breeze carrying our tunes over the square below. The night would wrap up shortly after that after the addition of some tacos, beer and laughs. The majority of us went to bed shortly after with the early wake up call to tour the Estadio Azteca in the morning.
Monday March 28th
It was an early morning to start our third day of travel. The group was destined for the Azteca for a morning tour followed by a trip to Aztec ruins and a quiet night before the Tuesday game. As we approached the stadium on the bus, the stadium, and the grounds, were immense. The 95,000 seat stadium stood at a distance from where the bus was parked while paid stadium graffiti circled the fences into the stadium, the official store and knock off vendors remained on the perimeter of the courtyard below.
After a slight hiccup with the tour guide arriving late, the group was marching up to the stadium excited and unaware of the cathedral that is the Estadio Azteca. As we waited for everyone to be equipped with tour wristbands a few of us found a soccer ball lying around and played keep up - now able to claim we have played soccer at the Azteca.
The tour guide began leading us around notable plaques of the stadium from the biggest goals, games, and tournaments hosted at the venue. The 86 World Cup and Maradona's Hand of God goal being some of the highlights. As we made our way inside the stadium we were shown the press room, home and away lockers and posters of past events, soccer and otherwise.
But it was the finale of the tour that was the most memorable. Coming up the winding stairwells below the field we walked out to pitch level of the Azteca, the stadium towering over us and around us. The blue sky was visible from the open roof, with the bold recognizable letters of "Corona" guiding our eyes down the seats to the pristine grass pitch that we stood beside. The V's half in awe half in picture mode clicked away as they wandered the stadium's structure with their eyes and cameras. It was a view well, well worth the wait.
The tour guide pointed to where our seats would be located for Tuesday's game, behind the goal in the upper ring where we all imagined ourselves the next day. Withdrawing from the Azteca after the tour we all picked up some street tacos and perused the knock off soccer vendors located next to the stadium.
We spent the remainder of the day hiking Aztec ruins on the city's limits, and while that was a sight to enjoy, it was the view on the way to the ruins that was incredibly grounding. As the bus took us outside of the tourist and business districts of the city we passed by one of Mexico City's favelas. Similar to the view from the plane in, we could see the multicoloured houses lining the hills leading out of the city. The land was entirely hidden from view as crammed together houses sat amongst crowded streets nearby overcrowded cemeteries.
The view, which lasted for a number of minutes, really showcased the poor living conditions that some of the residents are forced to live in. Our tour guide explained these residents were victims of a poor economy and a corrupt government, and despite the poor living conditions I imagined the unifying powers of soccer. What would it mean for those in the favelas to see Mexico win Tuesday, let alone win on a world cup stage?
The bus continued onto the hotel and the Vs, drained from the long day, sought out showers, food and rest. For two and a half days we've been able to take in Mexico City's people and their culture but tomorrow was the grand finale.
Canada in the Azteca, what the trip was all about. Forget the food and the culture - for 90 minutes we would support our country in one of the famous stadiums on planet earth. Regardless of the result, we'd be there standings, singing, and giving the players what they were going to give to us - their everything.
Until then, Allez Les Rouges.