Musings of an Englishman who literally quit his life in Devon in mid-2012 to move to Tijuana to love a girl.
They ended up in San Diego where he became a TV anchorman (yes really...), they got married, and now they're living in England together.
Simple as that really.
Follow your heart, who knows where it will lead.

Crazy. Beautiful. Madness.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

The universal language

IT’S fair to say that wherever you are in the world if there is a communication breakdown between languages, it’s wise to speak the universal language of football.
Since arriving here nine months ago I’ve often found myself being stared at, blank-faced, by a Mexican wondering what the hell I was going on about.
However if my ignorance – or indeed stupidity – in grasping the language has taught me one thing it’s this: if all else fails mention Manchester United, David Beckham, or Christiano Ronaldo.
Smiles, laughter and nods of approval will be forthcoming.
In fact here in TJ, any mention of me supporting Club Tijuana (nicknamed ‘Los Xolos’) – as a Brit – will almost certainly be met with a hug, and the offer of dinner with the person’s family that evening.
Football is, and always will be, the universal language.
You can use it in any situation to get even the most hardened anti-foreigner to help you out…
Me: “Kay horra porvavor?” (pronounced in manner of English man trying to sound Mexican)
Mexican: “Que?”
Me: *point at wrist.
Mexican: “Que?”
Me: “Er… Christiano Ronaldo…?”
Mexican: “Ah… si, SI… FUTBOL!”
Cue nod, and friendly hand on shoulder.
Me: *points at wrist again.
Mexican: “Ahhh… cinco y medio.”
Job done.
Football here in Mexico is as big a deal as it is in England.
There is truly fierce rivalry and passion akin to something seemingly religious.
Los Xolos (pronounced ‘Cholos’) were only formed in 2007 and, in just five years, they’ve broken league and cup records for their efforts.

In 2010 they won the prestigious Apertura tournament, and last year they won the national Mexican premier league title – achieving the feat in the shortest time after promotion to the top flight in Mexican history.
A couple of weeks ago they beat the world club champions Corinthians, of Brazil, 1-0.
Such has been their meteoric rise to success, their stadium isn’t even finished yet.

Like the team, the stadium is in development

In the last few weeks Jacks and I have been lucky enough to catch a couple of games at Estadio Caliente, Los Xolos’ home ground.

Our first experience of 'Los Xolos'

For someone who is used to watching football matches in the driving rain in England, watching a game in bright sunshine with mountain views in the distance is simply magical.

Supporters take their seats at Estadio Caliente

The whole experience is nothing short of brilliant.
A carnival atmosphere is almost guaranteed with sections of fans having formed their own bands, complete with trumpets, drums and enough flags to rival those seen at The Queen’s diamond jubilee celebrations.
One of the most colourful and standout groups of fans are bizarrely known as ‘Masacre’ (translated in English as ‘Massacre’).
They take their seats in a kind of ceremonial pageant, which almost upstages the arrival of the players on the pitch.

Ti-juan-a dance?

Loud, proud and as flamboyant as you could possibly imagine, these guys are the die-hard fans who dance and sing through every second of the game – despite the score-line.
Parts of the crowd literally bounce up and down in time with the drumming, celebrating life like it’s the last party on earth.

Party time

The spectacle creates the atmosphere of an English FA Cup tie, but with a South American flavour.

Los Xolos test their opponents defence again

One of the most bizarre differences between English football and Mexican football is the technique used by companies to advertise their products.
Sure you have the advertising hoards surrounding the pitch, and the company stands within the ground, but these guys go to unusual lengths.
So picture the scene... the ref blows for a foul and play momentarily stops.
An announcer comes on the Tannoy system and, instead of asking for help in returning a key discovered in the ground to its rightful owner, he says this: “Hamburguesa con queso… ahora a Carl’s Jr en Tijuana”.
Yes, that’s right. Advertisers use every spare few seconds in the game to advertise their services and products – including cheeseburgers.
You almost expect to hear: “That goal was sponsored by Coca Cola…”.
Weird hey? If you ask me the FA is clearly missing a trick!
There are other more subtle differences between English and Mexican football.
When the ref blows for a free kick he marks the spot of the foul with some sort of white spray paint, and then again where the 10-yard point is where the opposing team’s player must stand.
The stadium scoreboards in North American football are also different in that instead of counting up to the game’s normal 90 minutes of playing time, they count up to 45 minutes during each half.
While there are no doubt many differences between English football and Mexican football, the universal outspoken disapproval of another team by fans is a global addiction.
And it’s no different here – but obviously the insults are in Spanish.
Even before the game has kicked off the banter starts with the reading of the players’ names on the team sheets.
“Numero uno for los Xolos…” – Cue loud cheers.
And then the opposing team sheet: “Numero uno for …” – Cue loud cheers of “PUTO” (‘faggot’ in English) for each and every name.
Once the game kicks off the goal kicks are also comedy gold.
 “oooooooooooooOOOOOOOO…. PUTO!!!!!!!!” shout the thousands of men, women and children crammed into Club Tijuana’s stadium as the opposing team take a goal kick.
I can’t help but laugh each and EVERY time, especially when they get louder.
It’s much like the “you’re shiiiiiiit AAAAAHHHHHHH….” heard in English stadiums across the kingdom during the same moment.
From comments made by Jacks during the last couple of games, I think I’ve got work to do in explaining the rules and ways of football.
“If it starts raining, do they stop playing until it stops?” she asked during last Saturday’s game.
During a goal kick I questioned the thinking of the opposing team’s goalkeeper in wearing bright purple shorts and socks with a blue and white striped top.
“Which one?” asked Jacks.
“Um… the only goalkeeper playing on the other team…”
I think I’ll wait a few weeks before trying to explain the offside rule.

Los Xolos' Fidel Martinez fends off two opposing players

Raul Enriquez on the attack

As I’ve said before, Tijuana sadly has undoubtedly one of the worst reputations and images in the world – not helped by Hollywood.
So to me with the city’s team nicknamed after sacred Aztec dogs, metaphorically it speaks volumes of the team.
Like the city itself, they are almost ‘underdogs’.
The attitude here reminds me of my birth town of Plymouth which was almost completely annihilated during World War Two.
It too boasts that gritty sense of belief, togetherness and pride in being media outcasts.
So I’m proud to say that I’m now a Xolos fan. And possibly the only English Xolos fan.

I wonder if they’re in the market for a foreign striker?
I mean, I played English Sunday league football for a few years… (ahem).
Game on.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Further food for thought - tacos

“DO YOU want some of THAT meat in your breakfast taco?” a Mexican friend asks me as we take our places in the queue at one of Tijuana’s best-known and most celebrated taco stands.
“What is it?” I ask.
Oh… no sooner had I asked, I realized that the long thick piece of meat being ‘shaved’ in front of me was in fact a cow’s tongue.

Shaved tongue anyone?

People say they enjoy going to restaurants where they can see the chefs preparing the food in front of them.
But on this occasion I beg to differ.
Taco stands – and the idea of simply pulling over on the side of the road and eating among strangers – are woven into the very fabric of life in Mexico.
They are inextricably associated with Mexico in the same way as a traditional fish and chip shop is linked to England.
The look of them, the smells, the tastes, even the sound of them, is so unique you can only be in Mexico.
And it seems that over the generations, Mexicans have developed a technique to eating tacos.
Much like the Chinese with their amazing ability to eat soup with a pair of chopsticks, Mexican folk devour tacos without any issue.
And me? Well… here I’m like a clown who got left behind by the circus.
The skill involved with eating tacos is something which I am yet to master and truly understand.
I’m sure it’s a secret art which has been whispered to young Mexican ears through the generations.
So what is the secret?
“Head down and eat fast,” is one answer from a Mexican friend here in Tijuana.
“Big bites, get your head close to the plate, eat quick, don’t talk, focus,” adds another.
Good advice.
However no matter how hard I try, I end up wearing the tacos instead of consuming them.

I mean, how hard can it be...?


It all went wrong from here

Napkin count for eating two tacos?
In the end I’m not sure whether the restaurant charged us for the tacos, or for the napkins.
I look around and other people have clear plates with no evidence that they ever held food.

As we leave the stand I’m fully expecting one of the staff members to shout after me (between giggles) “you haven’t finished your food…”
Yes I know, I’ve left most of it on my once-clean T-shirt.
New sense of the word ‘takeaway’.
Eating at a taco stand will never be classed as a fine-dining experience.
It is definitely not the place to take a girl on a first date. Can you imagine?!
“I really like you…” says the hopeful hombre with meat juice and chili sauce dripping down his chin.
Cheque please!
However with all jokes aside, the food is goooooooood.
“The beauty of these taco stands is that you can drive for miles and miles into the middle of nowhere, you can be starving hungry, and then you’ll just stumble across a random one right there on the side of the road,” one Mexican friend tells me.
“It’ll almost certainly serve the most delicious tacos you’ve ever tasted. They can be the shittiest looking stands, but they’re guaranteed to serve the best food.
“That’s how it works.”

I mean, you just won't expect this to serve Michelin Star food right?!

Urban legends are always associated with culture, and – given the national obsession with tacos – it’s only natural that there will be some myths surrounding such places.
“They’re good, but they’ve not been the same since my friend was killed who used to work here…” a Mexican friend proclaimed as we tucked into tacos in Playas de Tijuana on another occasion.
“Car accident?” I offer between bites.
“No, he was shot dead by a gang.”
“Yeh, while serving tacos right?” I add laughing.
“Oh, you heard about that?” he asks me surprised.
“Um…WHAT?! I was joking!”
Yep sure enough, a while ago my friend’s favourite taco maker/server was murdered while doing his job in this very taco stand right here in Playas de Tijuana.
Gulp. Bon appetit!
Sure, you never really know what you’re going to get at these stands.
Some claim that another stand here in TJ once sold ‘cat’ tacos.
Admittedly when you look at the meat it’s difficult to tell which animal it once belonged to.
You can get egg and shredded beef tacos, which is basically your ‘breakfast’ taco.
As mentioned above you can also get ‘tongue’ tacos; chicharron (boiled pork scratchings) tacos; chicken tacos; intestine tacos; chorizo tacos; and fish tacos – or a strange combination of them all.
It seems that anything goes.

I’m sure that if someone discovered traces of horse meat in any tacos here, there would be a queue miles long across the border into San Diego.
Most tacos with either a mix of, or all, beans, chili, cheese, avocado and fresh herbs.

A relatively 'normal' taco
And most are actually delicious.
But with each visit comes a new surprise for me.
Last weekend Jacks and I took our seats at a taco restaurant in front of a cauldron-like bubbling dish of stringed meat.
The ‘meat’ turned out to be intestines.

Sometimes you just shouldn't ask...

Worst of all… after we ate relatively ‘normal’ meat tacos, I discovered that the actual taco tortillas are cooked in the fat which the intestines are fried in.
Mmmmmmm… not.
Anyone hungry...?