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One Night at a Venezuelan Soccer Game

November 8, 2012

Thrashing, raging, pushing, and shoving, or what many would consider a complete breakdown of anything civilized. There was about a 60-feet long by 30-feet wide man-infested box around the ticket booth at los Estudiantes de Merida soccer game in Merida (capital city), Merida (state), Venezuela…last night, Wednesday, November 7th, 2012.

I wish I could say I was surprised, but after living in this country for a total of nine months, in 2007, 2009, and again now in 2012, you’d have to be a fool to at least not have an inkling into the operational ways of the culture…how shit gets done…or doesn’t.

Los Estudiantes de Merida were playing a team from Barinas, a nearby state. This is the Venezuelan professional soccer league. Merida has a beautiful stadium, easily worthy of an intra-South American contest between countries.

One of my good friends here, Pablo, who I met in 2009, is a recent Chemical Engineering graduate of la Universidad de Los Andes in Merida (Merida, the capital city, with a population of 200,000, is nestled in a valley in the Andes Mountains, and home to the second biggest university in Venezuela, hence the name of the soccer team, los Estudiantes, but the team has no relation to the university), and is planning to head out east to the Oriental tomorrow (Merida is western) to begin job-searching in this oil- and mineral-rich, lucrative region. And so it seemed an obvious decision to cop a bottle of rum, Pepsi, limes, and a bag of ice, and head to the big Wednesday night soccer game for our last hurrah until I see him in who knows how long.

Pablo, Alan (another good friend of mine), and I left my apartment where I am staying an hour or so before game time. We walked quickly. Our destination, 15 minutes away, was a stop along the city’s trolley bus line, which connects a large swath of this long, skinny, sloped city (the primary directions people use here are bajando and subiendo, going down or going up), and is a somewhat recent and large investment Merida has made in public transportation.

Mostly, I think the trolley bus line works okay, but because of the game there was a particularly long line, which meant a 25-minute wait just to get on one. Drinks were poured in line.

Again, we are dealing with mountain terrain here, so when we got off at the stadium stop, we had to walk up a rugged path to get to the road that leads to the stadium.

As we entered through the general, open-to-the-public gate that leads to the area where you buy tickets, I began to sense what we were in for.  Many, many people come to these games without having bought their tickets yet; I’m one of them, and a line, or rather a blob, of maybe 90 feet extended out from the jail-like barred ticket windows, of which there were four or five (which for a game of this magnitude is woefully inadequate).

Pablo and I made our way to the through the trenches to get a good look at the war zone, which I began describing in the first paragraph. There had to have been around 75 or so rather brutish Venezuelan men pushing and shoving to their hearts content and inching their way towards the ticket windows, clamoring for the attention of the workers behind the bars: a mosh pit line of sorts. Everyone for themselves. Complete madness. And all I could think about was how did it come to this?

After a short rendezvous with the man-made frenzy, we said the heck with it. A few other friends of ours had caught up with us by now, and so, the five of us regrouped and plotted our next move…jokes the whole time from them to me about how “this is Venezuela, pana!”

It being Venezuela, we decided to just go to the entrance (there was only one) where they were taking tickets in hopes of sneaking in or bribing a ticket-taker.

It so happened that my friend Edilso, who was now with us, knew the main guy in charge of the entrance, and naturally moved for a bribe, which he seemed to be well on his way to accomplishing after we had gathered the cash, but the guy, possibly prompted by one of the various men just standing around in full Venezuelan military attire (many of whom had some powerful looking guns), had to run over to an office-type building that was connected to the ticket sales building.

Alan, slick as he is, had recognized one of the rag-tag ticket-takers on the far end, somebody he knew from a previous apartment he had lived in, and moseyed on through, leaving the rest of us still outside. Covertly, Alan went and asked this guy if the four of us could pass through. We had our in. Edilso, who had the money rolled into his palm, lead the pack, and gave the guy a quick “we’re the people that know Alan” gesture. We thought we were going to have to pay him, but we just walked right through and he never asked for the money!

We had also been concerned about not being allowed to carry in the rum, Pepsi, limes, and ice that we had, concerned enough to transfer them all into other, regular plastic containers before we had left, in hopes of some quality sneakage. Ha, we passed right through no questions asked.

So, there you have it folks: after avoiding the war zone, we had made it in without paying a single Bolivar and were fully loaded with booze. The game was a blast: we snuck down and got front row seats, downed the rum, and los Estudiantes de Merida won one to nothing with a header in the second half that had the place roaring….la vida venezolana….es una locura.

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