Striking out from Mexico City, there are places worth visiting in every direction. Those covered in this chapter can all be taken in on day trips from the city DF, but many of them – and in particular the wonderful colonial cities of Puebla, Taxco and Cuernavaca – deserve more than just a quick once-over, and really do repay a longer stay.
Much of the region around Mexico City belongs to the State of México, whose capital is Toluca, to the west, but the state actually reaches all the way round the northern edge of Mexico City and covers its eastern side as well. Also encrusted around the capital are the small states of Hidalgo (to the north), Morelos (to the south) and Tlaxcala (to the west). The city of Puebla, though its state sprawls eastward towards Veracruz, is tucked in tidily next to Tlaxcala, just as Taxco is next to Morelos, though it actually belongs to Guerrero, the same state as Acapulco.
The heart of this region is the Valley of México, a mountain-ringed basin – 100km long, 60km wide and over 2400m high, dotted with great salt- and fresh-water lagoons and dominated by the vast snowcapped peaks of Popocatépetl and Ixtaccíhuatl. Since long before the Mexican nation existed, it has been the country’s centre of gravity. Even in the days of the Aztecs, cities such as Texcoco (now in the State of México) and Tlaxcala (now capital of its own little state) vied with Tenochtitlán (Mexico City) for domination.
Also in the region, and particularly to the north of Mexico City, you’ll be able to see much older sites such as Teotihuacán and Tula. Teotihuacán was the predominant culture of the Classic period and the true forebear of the Aztecs. Its style, and its deities – including Quetzalcoatl, the plumed serpent, and Tlaloc, the rain god – were adopted everywhere. The Aztecs, arriving some five hundred years later, didn’t acknowledge this debt, but regarded themselves as descendants of the Toltec kingdom, whose capital lay at Tula to the north, and whose influence – as successors to Teotihuacán – was almost as pervasive. The Aztecs consciously took over the Toltec military-based society, and adopted many of their gods: above all Quetzalcoatl, who assumed an importance equal to that of their own tribal deity, Huitzilopochtli, the god of war, who had brought them to power and demanded human sacrifice to keep them there. In taking control of the society while adopting its culture, the Aztecs were following in the footsteps of their Toltec predecessors, who had arrived in central Mexico as a marauding tribe of Chichimeca (“Sons of Dogs”) from the north, absorbing the local culture as they came to dominate it.Read More
Football in Mexico
Football in Mexico
As in much of Latin America, fútbol in Mexico is a national addiction, if not an obsession. Turn on the TV and often as not you’ll find a match. If you can get to see a live game, it’s a different experience entirely.
Football (meaning soccer, of course) was introduced to Mexico in the nineteenth century by a group of Cornish miners in Real del Monte, Hidalgo, and it was in that state, by descendants of these Cornishmen, that Mexico’s first football club, Pachuca, was founded in 1901. The football league was created six years later. The league follows a complicated ladder system: the first division is divided into three tables of six teams each, which are decided by the previous season’s placings, with the league champions placed first in table one, second placed top of table two and so on. The top two teams of each table compete in a play-off for the league championship.
There are two seasons a year: Apertura (Aug–Nov) and Clausura (Jan–June). At the end of the Clausura season, the two seasons’ winners (if they are different) compete to decide that year’s champion of champions.
Relegation to a lower division is decided over a two-season (yearly) loss average, so it is, in fact, technically possible to come first in the league and be relegated in the same season. However, relegation need not be the disaster that it might seem. Take, for example, Puebla C.F., who when relegated in 1999 simply bought the team promoted from Primera B (Curtodores), changed their name to Puebla and relocated them, which is perfectly legal under Mexican financial regulations. Similarly, there are no regulations preventing anyone from owning more than one team, which can lead to a clash of interests that are never more than speculated upon; suspicion of corruption is rife but rarely, if ever, investigated.
Matches themselves are always exciting and enjoyed by even the most diehard “anti-futbolistas”. Music, dancing and, of course, the ubiquitous Mexican Wave make for a carnival atmosphere, enhanced by spectators dressing up and wearing face paint. They’re usually very much family affairs, with official salespeople bringing soft drinks, beer and various types of food at fixed prices to your seat. Stadiums tend to be mostly concrete, with sitting room only, and can sometimes be dangerously overcrowded, though accidents are thankfully rare. The bigger clubs are those of Mexico City (América, Cruz Azul, Pumas – the national university side – Necaxa and Atlante) and Guadalajara (Chivas, Atlas and Tecos) and the games between any of these can draw crowds of up to 80,000, while smaller clubs like those of Puebla, Irapuato and Celaya may get no more than 10,000 or 15,000 spectators per game. The vast distances between clubs make travelling to away games impossible for many fans, one reason why smaller, more out-of-the-way clubs don’t get as much support. Passion for the game means that emotions run high, but this does not usually turn into violence. Opposing fans aren’t generally separated, but there’s a good relationship between them and an atmosphere of self-policing prevails – part of what makes it an ideal family occasion. The greatest risk is often to the referee, who is frequently escorted from the pitch by armed riot police. The players, on the other hand, are accorded a great deal of respect and the more popular ones tend to pick up nicknames, such as “Kikín” (striker Francisco Fonseca – Kicking), “El Pajaro Humano” (goalie Oswaldo Sánchez – the Human Bird), and “Cabrito” (zippy midfielder Jesús Arellano – Little Goat).
For national games, of course, the whole country is united, and football has many times been shown to rise above partisan politics. In 1999, despite being outlawed by the government, the EZLN football squad even played an exhibition match against the national side in Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca.