Yesterday Hardy organized a taxi trip to the Sunday futbol match at the Estadio Rafael Mendoza Castellon which was located about 40 minutes away by taxi with good traffic. Traffic in La Paz can be a real challenge but if any mode of transportation is going to get you there quickly it is the aggressive macho taxi driver. They generally have one hand attached to the horn and the other to the wheel. In their minds they always have the right of way and one way streets can be traveled in either direction as long as the coast is relatively clear. There is no freeway system with clear exit and entry ramps – we’re talking city streets with traffic often merging from several different direction and pedestrians crossing in any manner that they dare. Taxi drivers in general do not recognize pedestrians as having any right of movement. Bikes may be even lower on their list. We’re leaving the bikes behind today and joining the top dog of city streets in his own workplace, his 4 passenger cab.. It does seem odd that when you hop, in these drivers resemble normal people and generally seem very polite and helpful, but that impression is quickly dispelled once you move back into traffic and they again display characteristics that force you to cringe and sometimes just close your eyes. We needed two taxis since there were eight of us, and asked both drivers if they could try to stay together so we would be able to find each other upon arrival. Mission accomplished. We arrived safe and at least physically sound at the stadium.
The Stadium as about half the size of the one we attended in Cuenca earlier in our trip. This one holds about 5000 people and the atmosphere outside somewhat resembled the old Viking’s Met in Bloomington in that there was every kind of meat and barbecue fired up as well as drinks and a variety of snacks available. Of course, at a much smaller scale than the 40,000 capacity of the American game and a lot less emphasis on beer salesman. These attendees are more family oriented and definitely into their home team, the Tigres. There are yellow and black jerseys , hats and pennants on most everyone. Several of us bought futbol jerseys and hats – then purchased our tickets through a webbed steel fence from people sitting on tables on the inner side. Their form of security I guess. You push your money through a gap in the fence and he shoves the tickets back in the same manner. We wandered into the oval stadium and looked for the most rabid fans to join on the concrete seats. There is no upper level seating so all seats are exposed to whatever the weather can bring. The stadium is mostly surrounded by high rock columns and spheres which make a great visual backdrop. Hardy leads us around the stadium where we sit in different places testing our environment – there is no assigned seating. We are looking for the loudest most rabid fans so we also can really get into the game. Seats along the middle are the most coveted but tend to be quieter. After a few fits and starts we settle into seats near the band and the bannered cheering section. The first half starts slowly, although the Tigres do donate play, they just don’t seem to be hustling enough to make successful attacks. I sit next to Rien and just below Hardy so I can learn from these two who have played and been fans all their lives in Holland and Germany respectfully. Offsides is a particularly difficult concept as there is no additional line on the field as in hockey to dictate it but it is quite clear to these two. Just about every referees call gets our section up screaming and complaining – a bad pass by one of the home team players is not easily forgiven. There is also constant singing by the bannered cheering section just above us and a lot of jumping up and down and hollering all around. I’m sure my Spanish language virgin ears have been attacked on all sides by swear words I can only pick up by their intensity whenever the Tigres give the ball up to the opposition, At halftime the score is still 0-0 despite several chances. During the second half the Tigres come out with new intensity. They completely dominate play and only inspired effort by the Nacionales goalkeeper is keeping the game tied. The Potosi team is called the Nacionales but are not the Bolivian “national” team. It is just their team nickname. Finally on some nifty passing in front the the goal, the local team grabs the lead. The crowd around us goes crazy and we too are inspired to jump and shout. The Nacionales backs seem to be broken and they don’t seem to have any answer for the Tigres advances except what their goalie’s quickness can provide. It is not long before the second ball enters the goal mouth and again the crowd explodes. The game is no longer a contest – light rain is now falling. The poncho and umbrella vendors have become everyone’s favorites – Hardy needs to buy one as he forgot his rain gear. The rest of us don ours and with just a few minutes left wait for the final score to become official. We are a long way from the exit – it’s too late now to try to sneak out through the crowd so we just wait as the people file along toward the exit. There are only a couple of exits – you must just patiently shuffle your way along despite the increasing downpour. Forty minutes later we were outside once again , looking for Terry and JR who had stayed near our original entry point near mid-field. We wait and look through the crowd at our agreed meeting place for the two other gringos but can’t seem to find them. Eventually the steady rain leads us to find taxis and a trip once aging through the crazy city street traffic to our hotel near the bottom of the city.
It was a great day of futbol for us – the level didn’tt seem as high as the two teams we watched in Cuenca but the spirit of the people in the stadium made that a moot point. It is that spirit of the effort and loyalty of the fans, and the resultant emotional expression that makes this day exciting for gringos.