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The Journey (Short Story)


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The Journey

Day 1 - Mexico City, Mexico - Miles Travelled: 0

"Every journey must have its beginning. Today, the most important journey of my life begins in my home city of Mexico City, a sprawling metropolis that I have never set foot outside of. Yet ahead of me lies the vast expanse that is Latin America, a melting pot of language, culture and religion. Yet despite all those differences, there is something that unites us, whether we be Mexican, Bolivian or Argentinian. Is it those iconic images of Che Guevara, who dreamed of a united Latin America? Is it in the poetry of Pablo Neruda? Perhaps I will find out, but it is not the sole purpose of this journey. I want to see Latin America with my own eyes, but I also want to indulge my passion for the greatest sport on earth."

"Phase One: Preparation. The vehicle? A 1974 Ford Mustang. A gift from my father for my 18th birthday. It is falling apart, covered in rust and it leaks oil, but it is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. It will be my steed on this journey."

"Phase Two: Recruitment. My fellow Journeyman? Esteban Marquez, 19 years old like me, school friend and fellow football fanatic. He doesn’t exactly care where we go just that he escapes the wrath of his Draconian parents who are pressing for him to join the armed forces."

"I don’t see a need for more than two phases, I have my vehicle and my co-pilot. Now all I need to begin is to pull on my Mexico shirt signed by Blanco himself. All that is left is the open road. 15 countries to be explored by the two of us. New cultures to be sampled, and with any luck a football game to be attended in each country that we visit."

"We leave Mexico City and head south, bound for Guatemala our first destination on this epic journey. We both feel the buzz of excitement that comes from the open road. We cruise out of the city and soon Puebla, Oaxaca and Veracruz lie in our wake. The sun begins to set and the Guatemalan border approaches."

"Our journey has begun...."

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Day 12 - Ciudad de Guatemala, Guatemala - Miles Travelled: 946

Match Watched: Comunicaciones vs. Peñarol LM

"A significant anti-climax saw Esteban realise that he had forgotten to bring along his passport, when we were just 5 miles short of the Guatemalan border. I had been preparing to drive all the way back to Mexico City, but Esteban called his elder brother Raul who amazingly agreed to drive down and meet us to deliver it. I couldn't believe he was willing to come all that way, but when Raul arrived a couple of days later, I discovered he had motives of his own. He begged to join us on our trip and seeing as he had bailed us out and I was a firm believer in the more the merrier philosophy, I agreed."

"So significantly later than planned and with one more passenger, we finally entered Guatemala. We found a poor country yet one that is developing and recovering from the civil war that tore it apart a mere 15 years ago. On our way to the capital, we visited some of the Mayan ruins that dotted the countryside. We found the locals to be very friendly and welcoming, however we were keen to keep our wits about us as we had heard that crime was rife in this country. We eventually arrived in Guatemala City, the largest city in Central America. In places it is a beautiful city, especially the Palacio Nacional."

"Our first match of the journey, was the opening day of the Guatemalan league season. The three of us excitedly piled into the impressive Estadio Mateo Flores but only to find around 4,000 people in the 30,000 capacity stadium for the match between Comunicaciones and Peñarol LM. However the fans were in good voice. The standard of play wasn't exactly what we were used to in Mexico but it was an entertaining enough game. Just before half time, Comunicaciones gave the home fans something to cheer about when Tránsito Montepeque headed home from a really good cross. The fans were in good spirits after that goal but little did anyone know that an upset was on the cards."

"Carlos Quiñónez silenced the home fans in the second half when he prodded the ball home at the far past, after the ball had bobbled around in the box. Just three minutes later, the Honduran, Baba Güity gave Peñarol LM a shock lead when he exploited Comunicaciones pushing high up the pitch, stealing in behind and breaking away to finish and put the visitors into a shock 2-1 lead. Comunicaciones desperately tried to fight back but the upset was complete. The three of us had enjoyed our first match of the trip, even though we had been sat with the depressed home fans in the second half."

"We plan to stay in Guatemala City for a few days, before we set out on the next leg of our journey. Next stop Honduras!"

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Day 17 – Santa Barbará, Honduras – Miles Travelled: 1,158

Match Watched: Real Juventud vs. Marathón

”It took us barely a day’s worth of driving to get us in to Honduras. It left us with three or four days to kill in the country before we went and saw our next match. Again, just as in Guatemala, we found a country where the wealth is controlled by the few and the majority of people live in poverty. This was the country, that in 1969, went to war with El Salvador after rioting at a football match between the two countries. The four day conflict became known as the ‘Football War’, but as the locals were quick to inform us, the conflict was really about immigration from El Salvador damaging the Honduran economy, allegedly anyway.”

“We would soon regret travelling through Honduras in the middle of August, it was swelteringly hot and humid, at times the terrain becomes rather tropical. We battled through and arrived in Santa Barbará to watch the second match of our journey; Real Juventud vs. Marathón, a top vs. Bottom clash. The Estadio Argelio Sabillón was absolutely tiny and we were three of only a little over 300 that had turned up to watch the minnows host the powerhouse. It was pretty regulation stuff for Marathón as they eased to a win and looked far better than the home side. We had seen a Honduran score in Guatemala, now we saw the Guatemalan, Guillermo Ramírez, open the scoring for Marathón with a well placed shot.”

“Marathón looked so comfortable and they passed the ball around Juventud with such ease, almost toying with the home side. Eventually Erick Norales put them out of their misery, curling in a free kick to give Marathón a 2-0 win that sent them top, and Juventud bottom. It didn’t seem to bother the home fans who told us that Juventud were dead certs for relegation and were never going to beat a team like Marathón. We came away having enjoyed the game, yet worried we were cursing the home sides, after having now seen two away teams get victories.”

“We were keen to press on and leave Honduras, heading further south to the Equator, our next destination would be Nicaragua.”

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Thanks SCIAG

Day 23 – Managua, Nicaragua – Miles Travelled: 1,277

Match Watched: Walter Ferreti vs. Chinandega

”The car showed some signs of it’s displeasure at being driven on such a long trek and broke down a few times as we entered Nicaragua. But with the help of some local mechanics we soon got her back on the road. One of the guys who helped us, after a conversation about our journey, gave us a parting gift. He handed over a crumpled copy of a collection of poetry by renowned Nicaraguan Rubén Darío. Apparently he had undertaken a period of travelling through Latin America and as I flicked through the book whilst taking a break from driving, I could see why Nicaragua had been dubbed ‘The Land of the Poets’.”

“Nicaragua is without doubt the most beautiful country we have visited so far. The three of us were struck by the amazing scenery, from the dense rainforests to the beautiful beaches on the coastal drives. We eventually wound our way to the capital Managua and the Estadio Nacional Dennis Martinez to watch our next game. It was a season opener between Walter Ferreti and Chinandega. Again there weren’t many people here for the game, a little over 400 and when Pedro Mairena gave the visitors the lead, we thought that another away team could be benefiting from our presence. But a fantastic hat-trick from Wilber Sánchez ensured that the home side got the three points. Two right footed strikes and a header from the Nicaraguan international. All the goals were scored in the first half, as the second half rather petered out. But it was an enjoyable game nonetheless.”

“We leave Nicaragua with a heavy heart, it has been a country that has impressed us greatly. Yet Costa Rica now lies ahead of us and soon we will pass into South America, that thought spurs us on.”

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  • 3 weeks later...

Day 31 – Tibás, Costa Rica – Miles Travelled: 1,489

Match Watched: Saprissa vs. Puntarenas FC.

”New countries come in quick succession in this part of Central America, we arrived in Costa Rica ahead of time, so we had ample opportunity to explore this new country. Just like Nicaragua before it, its biodiversity is stunning. It also seems to be a developing country, the level of poverty nowhere near as bad as what we have already seen on this trip. The car seemed a bit more willing to stay the course, as I write we have had no problems since we left Nicaragua.”

“We had looked forward to this leg of the journey, Costa Rica is a small country but somewhat of a heavy hitter in North American international football. Serious rivals for us Mexicans! So we expected the standard of football to be the best we had seen yet. We arrived in the northern suburb of the capital city San José, Tibás.”

“Saprissa are one of the most popular football sides in the country and whereas the last few games we had seen had been watched by crowds of perhaps a few hundred, this time there were well over 11,000 in the stadium. And they weren’t to be disappointed as Saprissa stormed into an early lead. First, legend Walter Centeno rifled in a shot from seemingly miles out and then Jairo Arrieta made it 2-0 with a smart header, all before ten minutes had been played.”

“In the second half, Puntarenas staged a comeback and it began when Colombian striker Luis Lara, prodded home a loose ball from a corner for 2-1. Then with not long left Franklin Chacon’s deflected shot found the net and the visitors had drawn level. However, Saprissa were not about to allow an upset. Alonso Solis was on hand to put the finishing touch to a lightning counter attacking break. The home side had survived a scare to claim all three points.”

“We are going to leave San José in the morning. Our next destination is Panama, where we will cross continents from Central to South America, via the famous Panama canal which links the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.”

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Thanks El, struggled for time recently but hopefully I can start up again with a tad more regularity

Day 37 – Ciudad de Panamá, Panama – Miles Travelled: 1,804

Match Watched: Plaza Amador vs. San Francisico

”The land narrows and the jungles thicken, but we soldier on. This is our last stop in Central America before we move on to the vast mass that is South America. Every mile we travel, we seem to leave our comfort zone more and more. The cultures of each new land we pass through offer new differences to that of home. But we don’t mind, it is after all why we came on this trip.”

“Like everywhere we have travelled so far, Panama is country on the rise, yet with such disparity amongst its people. To see locals scratch around for a living against the backdrop of new skyscrapers being erected was an unnerving sight. However, as always it rarely fails to stop the locals from being nothing short of warm and welcoming. As we wound our way through to Panama City we crossed over the many waterways that run through the country, it was strange to one day see the Pacific Ocean and a few days later see the Caribbean Sea.”

“Panama City is by far the most incredible city we have so far. Horrendously overcrowded, but just looking at the amazing skyline at night and we would be forgiven for thinking we had made a wrong turn back in Mexico and ended up in Miami somehow. We arrived at the Rommel Fernandez stadium, a cavernous 45,000 seater only to find we were just three of a couple of hundred people that had turned up to watch the match between Plaza Amador and San Francisco.”

“San Francisco had had an unbeaten start to their league campaign and they rarely looked like registering anything other than a comfortable win against minnows Plaza Amador. It was the veteran Colombian, Carlos Vilarete that stole the show, scoring his third and fourth goals of the season. It was enough to seal a 2-0 win for San Francisco and to strengthen the calls for the uncapped Vilarete to represent Panama .”

“Tomorrow we board a ferry, headed along the length of the Panama Canal into the Caribbean and then on to Maracaibo, Venezuela. Then we shall begin our trek through South America. We had a bit of a wrangle over the fee of taking the car on board, but I don’t think any of us fancy hitchhiking across South America!”

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Day 48 – Maturín, Venezuela – Miles Travelled: 2,719

Match Watched: Venezuela vs. Peru

”Esteban and Raul suffered from seasickness on the ferry between Panama and Venezuela. I had no such problems, but the relief was plain to see on their faces as we docked in Maracaibo. The three of us stood on the dockside and watched the car being lifted on to the dock. Soon we were on the road and were amazed by the diversity of terrain in Venezuela, we arrived to the idyllic Caribbean beaches on the coast but this country is also one of rugged, windswept mountains, dense rainforests and not to mention sprawling urban expanses.”

“Venezuela or ‘Little Venice’ is a country where the sense of identity is steeped in the revolutionary ideals that are synonymous. It is the ‘Bolivarian State of Venezuela’ named after the 19th century Latin American revolutionary Simón Bolívar, who led the fight against Spanish rule. Now the petroleum giant is presided over by controversial president Hugo Chavez.”

“It is also possibly the only major Latin American nation where football is not the most popular sport. The locals are much more interested in Baseball which is the undoubted national sport. However, we journeyed to Maturín, to see for ourselves how football is gaining in influence and whether Venezuela are indeed a sleeping giant. The venue was the fantastic Monumental for the World Cup qualifier between Venezuela and Peru.”

“The home side desperately needed a win to keep their hopes of a play-off berth or perhaps even automatic qualification alive. And there would be no better an opportunity than against group whipping boys Peru. 50,000 people were crammed into the stadium and the atmosphere was outstanding, the most electrifying of the trip so far. The home fans did not have to wait long to be whipped up into a frenzy, when the cultured left foot of Gladbach midfielder Juan Arango, swung Venezuela into an early lead. Miku of Getafe in Spain, gave the hosts a 2-0 lead just ten minutes later, leaving the fans expectant of a comfortable cruise to victory. Peru were not about to lie down though and after steadily gaining a foothold in the game, Andres Mendoza pulled one back for the visitors. However it was too little too late and Venezuela got the win that kept them 4 points off the play-off, however with just two games remaining.”

“Suitably impressed we travelled on to Caracas and plan to stay there for a few nights before we head west and on to Colombia.”

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