Football, Ecuadorian style

Football. Best game on the planet. I’ve seen many games in England and the odd one or two in Vancouver. One thing on my list during this trip was to try to catch a live game somewhere. It proved difficult to be in the right place at the right time, but the stars eventually aligned and I got an opportunity to see a match in Quito, home of Deportivo Quito. The competition was the Copa Libertadores America (the South American equivalent of the European Champions League) and the opposition on the night was Velez Sarsfield from Argentina (I have no idea who they are either).

I hoped it would be a good game, certainly different from what I’d experienced before. And it was…from the crush of getting into the stadium, where half of it was closed and so fans had restricted points of entry and impatience reigned. We were packed into one side of the stadium, a decrepit-looking thing, though the views of the nearby mountains, with aircraft flying under the backdrop, made a stunning panorama. I was seated on bare concrete not far from the hardcore fans. The flags and banners were out, and the huge bass drums were being readied. Fencing surrounded the pitch, which was a shock. I can’t imagine fan safety was ever a priority for these occasions.

As the game was about to start, Velez got a typical away-team reception of a chorus of boos. There wasn’t a single away fan, unsurprisingly. The Quito chants were underway, the flares were lit and the drums rolled.

Into the game and I notice the differences. The pace is slow, like treacle. There’s little goalmouth action. The funniest part is when the referee, miles behind the play, books a Velez player when he made a foul. Just as I’ve seen on television many times, the ref races over and dramatically shoves the yellow card in the Velez player’s face. Hilarious. Right before the end of a desperately poor first half, a Quito player hoofs the ball downfield towards the Velez area, a real up-and-under. The Quito forward gives chase and falls inside the Velez penalty area. Diving, surely? No, the ref (again, miles behind play) agrees with the linesman’s flag to give a penalty to Quito. The fans go absolutely mad and the penalty is duly converted, 1-0. Then the flares really got going. A dozen of them. The fans chant, the drums bang louder. I’m surprised when some riot police jog onto the pitch to accompany the ref when he blows the half-time whistle.

It quietens down quickly, and the food vendors walk up and down the aisles selling their snacks. Nothing vegan, though, so I skip the offerings. I notice one young lad, shirtless, carrying a fire extinguisher, and wonder how he managed to smuggle it in. Quickly though, I spot several more lads with them. The players come out, and the extinguishers are let off in unison. Colour-coordinated in pink and blue, the air is filled with dust. The flares had already gone out, so the fire risk was minimal, and then the CO2 dust rains down on the crowd.

The chants continue but the noise erupts once again when Quito score early in the second half. It looks like they can play after all. Later I notice the ref has a paint gun to mark the ’10 yard’ distance at free kicks. He carefully marks where the ball is to be set and where the opposing players can stand. What an idea! Why don’t they use that in the Premiership?? When one of the players feigns injury (sorry, that’s my prejudice – all players in South America feign injury…) a golf cart comes on to cart the player off. Needless to say he is absolutely fine.

The game peters out, despite another goal for Quito. They win 3-0 and the crowd are happy. The chants continued throughout the rest of the game. An estimated 9,000 were there, though it was hard to tell given how empty the stadium looked on the other sides. But I didn’t care. It had been quite an experience for me and I enjoyed it, despite having to sit out in the cool mountain air. It wasn’t as good as English football, but you try telling that to the thousands of Quito fans who left the stadium, paying 10 cents to use the toilet on their way out.

Unfortunately I forgot to bring my camera, so here’s another picture of Carlos Valderrama…

Carlos Valderrama is Colombian, but you just can't beat that hairstyle
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A catchup: Some random thoughts from the road

It’s hard to keep up to date with everything that’s going on when on the road, such is the get up/pack/eat/ride/unpack/eat/sleep routine when cycling almost every day, and random thoughts occur as I ride that I don’t get the chance to post. So for a quick catch up, here’s a few recent thoughts from the road:

Smells – I haven’t really noticed the traffic pollution on the road – nothing more than the usual. It’s the roadside smells that have been the most intoxicating – eucalyptus has been a companion for a couple of weeks now and is life-enhancing when I catch it; fennel is also another common one – delicious, though I only once tried to dig some up to see if it’d make for good cooking…; fields of strawberries and raspberries. Strawberries. Mmm, strawberries.

Cloud computing vs cloud cycling – Cloud computing is the in-thing now but luckily no one has put their money on cloud cycling. No matter where you are, you have access to the cloud. Magic! But for a long time cloud cycling was a little too omnipresent and I wished it would feck off. No matter where I was, there’s the clouds…

US Post Office – US Post Office is impressive in the sense there are little post offices in the smallest places. Great if you need them. But try sending a parcel back to Canada when you don’t live in the great US of A. They needed a US address when I shipped my tent back to Canada. And being a traveller I can barely remember where I stayed the previous night, never mind have an actual address. Luckily a friend’s address came in handy. Bureaocracy at it’s worst.

Random roadside questions I – i) is it quicker if I cycle up this hill rather than walk? ii) where’s the nearest big town? (Big Sur wasn’t big enough, apparently) iii) how much you carrying? (shouted at me from a cyclist as I was doing 35 km/h downhill in the other direction)

LA I – Can’t see the smog for the fog (see cloud cycling above)

LA II – friendly drivers. Believe it or not, on my ride through the megacity that is LA I did not encounter a single bad comment from the road. Plenty of drivers could have been more courteous in giving me a little more space, but no angry shouts. Very unusual..

Random roadside questions II – I was surprised and increasingly annoyed when people (pedestrians, cyclists) who I pass throw out random questions about my bike weight, where I’m coming from, going to or just a ‘how you doin’?’ as I’m riding by. Most of the time I or they are well out of range before I can even respond. The more annoying part is just the shout of the question itself – no preamble, no ‘hello’ or any kind of greeting. Just shout my question, time is short! seems to be the attitude. I think most of these people aren’t even interested in my reply even if they could hear it. It’s all very upsetting to my British sensibilities…