Stateline.org reporter John Gramlich will be traveling through the states of Jalisco and Nayarit in Mexico for the first two weeks of the World Cup
I’ve been in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, for six days. This, of course, is to coincide with the World Cup, which six of my friends and I—all Americans—are watching here with rapt attention. As Americans in Mexico tend to do, we’ve been drinking cervezas, tequilas, and margaritas at every stop, probably too often.
Puerto Vallarta is right on the Pacific, on the banks of a sweeping inlet called the Bay of Banderas, or the Bay of Flags. Dark mountains rise up from the greenish-blue, very salty water. Rickety buildings perch perilously over a steep hillside. Friendly people are on every corner, hanging out along the cobblestoned streets of downtown, or Centro—usually offering taxis, tequila or sombreros. Margaritas cost $5; beers cost $2.50 or less. It’s probably much less if you’re not American.
Much of this place is what you’d expect of a beautiful but touristy Mexican resort: There’s a Senor Frogs, a Hard Rock Cafe, a McDonald’s, and a Subway, along with Mexican bars cloaked in myriad American themes, like the U.S. military or Predator, the Arnold Schwarzenegger-Jesse Ventura flick where the jungle comes alive and nearly takes out a group of hardcore American commandos (and which, incidentally, my entire group can recite almost flawlessly).
Here’s what I didn’t expect: Puerto Vallarta–even in the parts where there aren’t often gringos like us—was pretty much silent for five days of the World Cup.
Even through Lionel Messi’s magic in Argentina’s first game; through Germany’s 4-0 thrashing of the Australian Socceroos; through a surprisingly interesting game Greece 2, Nigeria 1 game today … the locals pretty much greeted the world’s biggest soccer tournament with a collective shrug of their shoulders. Many of the games, even ones as magnificent in name as Holland-Denmark, weren’t broadcast on national TV. Some bar owners boasted they’d have the games for us, and then didn’t. Even in the bars that did open early enough for our purposes—South Africa is seven hours ahead of Puerto Vallarta, and first-round games start here at 6:30 a.m.–other patrons quietly drank coffee while my group and I went berserk.
Was this really Mexico? Was this really the World Cup?
Thursday, finally: Question answered: Mexico 2, France 0.
El Tri, as the national team here and its fans here are known, awoke. The Mexican green and red was on every street. Businesses closed. Honking cars clogged tiny streets. The bars filled up by 12:30 p.m., an hour before game time, with young and old men waiting and nervously drinking coffees or cervezas while announcers from no less than nine (!) Mexican cities provided their own on-the-spot analysis.
Mexico threatened early and often, and when Javier Hernandez scored on an audacious 1-on-1 breakaway with the French goalie in the second half, Puerto Vallarta erupted. When a well-deserved penalty kick was called on the French ten minutes from time, national hero Cuauhtemoc Blanco—who is probably too old and too out-of-shape to be in the World Cup, if I’m being honest–made deadly work of it. Puerto Vallarta erupted again.
La Revolucion, the name of the bar we settled on, is on a steep hillside just outside a girls’ grade school and a church, and opposite a laconic bakery. Through the huge open window on the street—a street just up the road from the Pacific Ocean, incidentally–people regularly checked in for a score against the World Cup giants of France. Old men inside the bar watched in silent consternation. The few French opportunities were greeted with gasps. And when El Tri finally pounced on a susceptible French defense, a few minutes after halftime, La Revolucion was jubilant as every other bar in Puerto Vallarta as it celebrated its way to a sound beating of one of the world’s true soccer titans. Viva Mexico!
The Malecon, Puerto Vallarta’s boardwalk, filled up with people. Soccer balls went flying in the air, into a crowd of people that had suddenly gathered. And Mexico—dormant for five days of the beautiful game–finally came to life.