And now begins an attempt at telling all of you what my life is like here in Guadalajara. It’s not easy. I generally like to think of myself as a fairly calm person (apparently though, my dad has never thought so). But my experiences here in Guadalajara make me more mad and angry than I have ever been in my entire life. I constantly am throwing middle fingers at drivers, hurling chinga tu madre‘s at people, and growing upset at my misunderstanding of Spanish and the consequences that follow. But instead of starting the Guadalajara Chronicles with the bad parts I shall begin with one of the shining treasures of Guadalajara…POLO!
Many years ago (3) after hosting the entire Eugene Bike Polo team at my house while they played in the Oregon Regional Championships (ORCs) I became fascinated with the sport. A fast-paced bruising game of 3 on 3 where those lacking serious bike-handling skills and a wanton disregard for personal safety are punished with bike on bike collisions, mallet-whacks, and ill-aimed shots. It took me a year after my first ORCs to muster the courage and dive head-first into the game and submerge my sanity forever. Scrapes on elbows and knees were medicated with beer. Wounded prides were lifted with a camaraderie than only a fringe community can provide. Busted bike parts were replaced with busted bike parts. And after nine months of developing in one of the world’s most dedicated polo cities I packed my bags and hopped on my bike. And now, I am living and paying rent in Guadalajara because of the game.
If you’ve been a regular reader of the blog you’ll know that Guadalajara is not the only place I’ve enjoyed my favorite sport. I’ve played in Eugene, Ashland, San Francisco, and San Diego along the way. I have now played with players from 6 countries and 4 states. Right now, my roommate, Raul, is road-tripping from San Francisco to Seattle to partake in the 3rd World Bike Polo Championships featuring more than 70 teams from all over Europe and the Americas. The team, Heroes de Chapultepec (hopefully there will be some fans who can chant their name understandably) is representing all of Mexico (of which there are three leagues).
Raul is a rad dude. If it weren’t for him, I can’t say I’d be living in Guadalajara. But first I have to say that if it weren’t for bike polo I wouldn’t have met Raul. After I crossed the Sea of Cortez the first thing I did was search for where polo was played in Mexico, and sure enough…Guadalajara! I contacted the league in the city and Raul told me I could stay at his house. And (un)fortunately his girlfriend was moving out so I could take her rent.
When most people are on a trip they buy small things like a luchas mask, a t-shirt, some sorta handmade trinket. But what did I buy? A polo bike. An old Nishiki Backroads. Steel Japanese mountain bike made in the USA. If it weren’t for the rust I would say the frame is better than my touring frame. Well after making some adjustments and finding a kickass old bicycle license place from the 80’s Timber was ready to go and mess some fools up.
At the beginning of my polo career here in Mexico there was a stalwart crew of 20-odd players. But then Benjamin, the charming German, moved away, the ladies got girlfriends and so did the boys and now it is hard to find enough people to play a full 3 on 3 game. But that didn’t stop us from forming a small tournament of 6 teams. The Heroes de Chapultepec needed some practice before Worlds so they established themselves as the team to beat. But I aligned myself with some of the other Tapatio (the name of people from Guadalajara) talent and created their biggest foe. The SkankBoys.
The tournament was played on a painted hockey court that caused for a very slippery game. High speed turns were out of the question. There were two phrases of the tournament…”Pinche Cancha!” and “Fucking Cancha!” Both mean the same thing, it only depended on your native tongue for which one you proclaimed as your rear wheel flew out from underneath unexpectedly and threw you to the ground. The tournament was a round robin where every team played every team for 13 minutes to establish rank followed by a double-elimination tourney for the top four teams. In the 100 minutes of polo I played that day I slipped out at least 13 times. I love how the main photo of the video from the final game is of me sliding out.
After beating everyone, including the Heroes de Chapultepec, in the preliminary round, The SkankBoys were feeling pretty confident about a tournament victory. Sensing the end of the day and relieved of the outcome of the predicted championship match I proceeded to enjoy the day and drink beers at a steady rate in the sun. Never getting drunk, but always staving off sobriety. The original plan was to have the preliminary round on the Saturday and the real tournament on the Sunday. Well, due to the small turnout everyone decided to just finish it out. Thanks for the headsup…Cheers! *gulp*gulp*gulp.
The SkankBoys handled their first round matchup sloppily before having to play the Heroes de Chapultepec in the next round and losing convincingly 2-4. Climbing their way through the loser’s bracket they entered the Championship Game with a win that didn’t matter and a loss that did against the Heroes de Chapultepec. We hoped we had learned from our mistakes from the first game and that the water I’d been chugging had washed out the beer I had drunk. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case as after our first offensive attack I slipped out chasing Raul and let him have a free attack at the goal. One-zero. If you watch the video you’ll see us break down on defense again and let them score before getting our heads in the game. But missing three open-goal shots and scoring on a heavily-guarded one wasn’t enough to lift us past our enemies. Heroes de Chapultepec took the “v” home along with prize…a bag of coffee. Well jokes on them because Raul doesn’t drink coffee much.
But the story remains the same. All of my friends come from polo. After a bad week I have at least one or two days of polo to look forward to. And while perhaps my skill level hasn’t advanced (as realized after my brief trip home) I am still playing the game I love while living over 2,000 miles away from home. If you haven’t seen bike polo in person (and don’t have a team near you), check out the championship game from last year’s World’s tournament.