Sunday, October 16, 2011

Welcome to the Pan American Games

On our anniversary waaaay back in July I surprised TJ with tickets to the 2011 Pan American Games Opening Ceremonies hosted here in Guadalajara. We finally got to use those tickets on Friday night. Totally worth the wait.

If you're not familiar with the Pan American Games, let's just say that, for the Americas, they're the next best thing to the Olympics. There's a torch relay and everything. And you can't have a torch relay without there being a final destination for the torch in question. And that, of course, means there must be an opening ceremony. For the Guadalajara games, the ceremony was produced by FiveCurrents, the California-based company responsible for the 2002 Winer Olympics Opening Cermony in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Not knowing what to expect in terms of traffic, we decided to head to Estadio Omnilife much earlier than one would normally intend. We had learned earlier in the day that there would be very little parking at the venue, so we opted for the Park-n-Ride option provided by a nearby mall. We arrived shortly after 5pm and quickly found ourselves lost in a sea of people. The organizers knew to expect crowds to arrive early and did a fantastic job providing entertainment (and beer!) to keep everyone occupied before the main event. There was an air show, food (and beer!) vendors, marketing ploys disguised as carnival games, and of course lots of Pan Am merchandise.

At 6:00 we headed into the stadium, grabbed some food (and beer!), and took our seats. We were pleased to find a gift bag waiting for us. Inside was a package of inflatable Aplaudidores (clappers), to be used during the Parade of Nations, and a flashlight. The game mascots headed out and did a little dancing to energize the early arrivals, and by 7:00 we were in rehearsal for the audience participation section of the show. Hence, the flashlights.

The Mascots
  • Gavo, the blue agave plant, represents the tequila production that has made this area of Mexico famous. He's my favorite. Probably because he looks so darned goofy. He just screams "I need extra love."
  • Huichi, the pink deer, represents the southern region of the state and pays tribute to its Huichol traditions and the female identity. She's my least favorite. Wears too much makeup. I call her Hoochie. And if you think I'm being harsh, please note that she is, in fact, working the pole in that photo.
  • Leo the lion (generic name, eh?) represents the strength of the people of Guadalajara. Lion imagery is also incorporated into the city's coat of arms. Leo's okay in my book but will always play second fiddle to ol' Gavo.
Huichi's giving Nomi Malone a run for her money.

The ceremonies began at 8:00 with the legendary Vicente Fernandez singing the Mexican National Anthem. Accompanying him was a mariachi band and an impressive demonstration of the Ballet Folklórico.


The Parade of Nations followed, beginning with Argentina and presenting the 42 attending delegations in alphabetical order according to the Spanish alphabet. Mexico was of course the exception to the rule. Being the host country, the Mexican delegation entered last and was greeted by a standing ovation and thunderous applause. Just minutes earlier, TJ had been chastised by an
usher for standing up and cheering for the US delegation. In our section it was apparently only okay to stand and root for the home team. And in case you're wondering, yes, when Mexico entered, we stood and cheered with the best of 'em.

Maná burst into song following the parade, and for a brief moment the organizers lost control of the event as half of the Mexican delegation abandoned their seats in an effort to rush the stage. All was calm by the end of the segment and the show continued as scheduled.

Then came the aerialists, followed by a video montage of the torch relay. Mexican President Felipe Calderón said a few words prior to the raising of the Pan American flag, and before we knew it, it was our turn to perform. Following the cues of our section leaders, we put on a light spectacle unlike any I've seen before. Really, it's best to let the pictures and video do the talking.

Columbian singer and hottie Juanes (bottom, right...No, really. He's there. I promise.) took the stage as the light spectacle took on a life of its own, continuing beyond the choreographed segment.

As the festivities came to a close, the torch arrived, igniting a series of pyrotechnics above the open-air stadium.

Who thought that one tiny torch...

...could cause all of that?

Alejandro Fernandez, son of Vicente, closed the ceremony with El Mismo Sol, the official song of the 2011 Pan American Games. The fireworks grand finale lit up the sky as images of Pan Am athletes were transposed upon the ceiling.

Alejandro, Alejandro...

All in all, this has to be the most incredible thing I have ever seen in person. As for TJ, his Facebook status Saturday morning said the following:

"Night of the Panamerican Games Opening Ceremony...
The best night of my life. It was a childhood dream come true."

Yeah, I rock.

TJ and I have both been fans of the Olympics for as long as we can remember. TJ loves telling stories of how he would fake illness during his younger years so that he could stay home from school to watch the winter games. He even managed to attend an event or two for both the 1996 Summer and 2002 Winter Olympic Games

And me? My parents, long ago in what honestly feels like another lifetime, once promised to send me to Australia for the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney. I am sorry to say that it never happened.

But all is forgiven. My parents, famous for promising trips to Walt Disney World that never happened, thus inspiring my eventual move to Orlando, where I met TJ, who wanted to start a life in the Foreign Service, resulting in my move to Mexico, where I am at the very heart of the Pan American Games...well, I guess they got me to the games after all.

Friday, October 14, 2011


Heavy rains may have prevented us from taking in the sights of the local ruins during Patrick's visit, but on September 24th TJ and I, accompanied by good pals Pablo and Gus, kicked Mother Nature's booty from Guadalajara all the way to Guachimontones and back. Or maybe she just took pity on us and gave us a sunny day. She owed us. This was our third or fourth attempt, after all (Note to would-be travelers: Guadalajara's rainy season runs May - October).

As has been the case with many other wonderful places that we have had the pleasure of visiting here in Mexico, Guachimontones has been inscribed onto the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites (July 12, 2006). Unfortuantely, heavy looting also placed it on the 2008 World Monuments Watch list of 100 Most Endangered Sites. I'm not sure what else is being looted, but I did read that stone is being taken from the site to build houses in nearby Teuchitlán.

So what is Guachimontones?

Good question. Nobody's 100% sure.

What is known is that this archaeological site, located about an hour west of Guadalajara, was home to the Teuchitlan society from approximately 300BCE to 900CE. The pyramids here are of a circular nature and are located within circular building complexes. It is believed that Volador ceremonies (rain dances that involve four people launching themselves from the top of a 30 meter pole while a fifth dances and plays the flute or a drum on top of the pole) were conducted here. It's origin can be assigned to the Aztecs, but that's really just a guess at this time.

At the current time, it's definitely not as impressive as Teotihuacan, but we can cut it some slack for being a newbie to the ruins game. The site was only found in 1970, with real research not beginning until1996. The site as it is currently excavated appears to consist of two pyramids and several platforms.

It's small, modest, and beautiful. All told, we probably spent only an hour or two exploring the ruins, asking Gus not to stand on the pyramids (or at least to not do so in such close proximity to the signs asking him not to), and hiking up a giant hill that we all swear is another pyramid waiting to be discovered...and yet it was an hour or two well spent.

If you ever get the opportunity, I'd recommend a visit. And please, do so before it's been ripped apart and used to build somebody's summer home.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Patrick Mans Up

Our friend Patrick visited over the Independence Day weekend. No, not the 4th of July. I may be behind on blogging but I'm not that behind. I instead refer to Mexican Independence Day, which is celebrated on September 16th.

Anyway, Patrick (You remember Patrick, right? We visited him in Houston last November.) was one tough cookie to get down here. He was a frequent visitor when we lived in Florida and even managed to pop up to DC twice during our nine month stay in Falls Church, VA. Yet almost a year into Mexico and we hadn't seen hide nor hair of him. I think he was scared. Hah. I know he was scared. He even went so far as to book and cancel a flight within an impressive 24 hour period. Yeah, buddy, I called you out like that. Much love.

I was able to con him into rebooking the flight by batting my eyes and saying "Please? I really miss you." Well, ok, so i think I might have said he was a bad friend and hella-lame. I don't remember. Either way, it did the trick. So how did Patrick fare in Mexico? Let's find out!

Arriving at the airport on Wednesday afternoon, Patrick was quickly whisked away for a fat slab of cow at one of our favorite steakeries, Un Romano y Dos Ladrones. We ordered a bottle of wine, three ginormous steaks, and a cold octopus appetizer. Other than the appetizer, a good time was had by all. Score: Guadalajara-is-Fun: 1, Mexico-is-Awful: 0

For Thursday, the plan had been to pawn Patrick off on a bus tour and have that entertain him until lunchtime, at which point I would send him home to wait on me until work ended. At the last minute I decided to take the day off, and boy was that a good idea. Thanks to the aforementioned Independence Day, streets all over the city center were closed, including the ones leading to and from the bus tour, which I think was itself closed for the day. We opted for a walking tour of El Centro, where we were able to tour Catedral de la Asunción de María Santísima and Mercado San Juan de Dios (two very impressive features of the city that will eventually make their way into this blog. We then stopped by Instituto Cultural Cabañas, where I was disappointed to find a boring church photo exhibit had replaced the Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera exhibit of the previous month. Fail. I was able to save the morning by enticing Patrick with the delicious comida tipica at La Chata. He was also able to help Father Hidalgo rile up the locals and start a new war for independence, which was very exciting for him.

An evening of good drinks and better friends at co-worker Pablo's swinging new pad sealed the deal on a great day in the city. Score: Guadalajara-is-Fun: 2, Mexico-is-Awful: 0.

Friday was supposed to be a trip to Guachimontones, but that got rained out. Fortunately, it turned out, as Patrick deadpanned "If we miss it, I'll still sleep tonight." We settled for introducing Patrick to the joys of chilaquiles and then making a day of it at Zoológico Guadalajara, which I suppose was a better option, as Patrick had been saying for two days that he really wanted to go there and I had been halfway ignoring him. The zoo was fun, as usual, but the line for the safari was ridonkulous and we had to forego the giraffe feeding. But Patrick was very amused by our Lindsay Lohan sighting: were in "Mean Girls," right?

A fun addition to the zoo is a Diego Rivera-inspired mural at the entrance that features depictions of many important-to-Mexico items, including Los Gigantes. Score: Guadalajara-is-Fun: 3, Mexico-is-Awful: 0., Saturday was the true star of this vacation. For that is the day that we boarded the Tequila Express. What this means is that we hopped on a train bound for the Herradura distillery and started drinking tequila-based drinks at 10am, took a tour of said distillery, had a lunch buffet and more tequila, listened to some mariachi, watched some Ballet Folklórico, took in some Suertes Charras (National sport involving lasso tricks), and hopped back on the Guadalajara bound train for some more tequila. Yep, you guessed it: Guadalajara-is-Fun: 4, Mexico-is-Awful: 0.

Sunday brought a whirlwind tour of the artisan markets of Tonalá before a sad return to the airport. Patrick was observed as grumpily stating "I've seen all of this stuff before," only to find two things he couldn't live without moments later, bringing our final score to: Guadalajara-is-Fun: 5, Mexico-is-Awful: 0.

Since his trip, Patrick has maintained contact with some of our new friends here in Guadalajara via Facebook, has attempted and failed to find chilaquiles worthy of the name in Houston, and has vaguely talked about a return visit to Mexico.

So there you have it, folks. Mexico ain't half bad. We've now had two successful visits and nobody has left traumatized. If you've thought about visiting, please do. We have about a year left before a new adventure begins in parts unknown.

And as for Gwen and Patrick, the only souls brave enough to make the journey thus far?

Y'all come back now, y'hear?