Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, Mexico - Ixtapa is the neighborhood that houses the Mexican workforce of Puerto Vallarta. Here is perhaps the closest you can get to an authentic working class Mexican lifestyle; and here is where you can see amateur soccer matches on a Friday night.
The soccer pitch (field) is a rundown affair according to any standards, with parts of the astroturf torn up and the wire caging ripped to shreds; but nevertheless fully functioning and clearly very popular. As you arrive you can see lines of spectators along the lengths of the pitch and sitting up in the stands. Even the stray dogs seem to be watching.
There is a real buzz in the air. Street vendors know that they can make money and sell cold drinks and snacks. There is a little boy who makes rounds with a washing bucket full of sugary doughnuts. A particularly good snack is a cob of corn dipped in cream cheese, though the cob with chili and lime is very hot and caution is advised.
We met the team before the game and they are a varied bunch of great kids who simply love to play soccer. Not only will the sponsorship money enable them to buy a uniformed kit, but it will also allow them to buy new shoes and shin pads. The average age of the players is seventeen years, and the youngest is Jesus at fifteen. Jesus is a short and wiry boy, using his speed and litheness to the advantage of the team. It is quick-paced, five-a-side action. Stand back a little from the cage if you don't want to get a fright from a flying ball.
There is certainly a great atmosphere here, and Ariel is very happy that he can do something to help. Between play children run onto the pitch and have a kick around. They are quite young children out playing at nine in the evening. No one seems to mind or take any concern. Everything is a very friendly and relaxed, but there is also a great deal of seriousness; an official referee is at the helm of everything, and each player has some sort of card credential that he must present before playing. The players say that they enjoy the competitiveness that the seriousness can bring.
At one point in their game an Internacional player goes down injured and holds his leg in pain. His other hand is over his eyes and scrunched up face. The vigilant referee blows his whistle instantly to stop the play. The players of both teams quickly surround him and do what they can to help. A boy has some gel that he applies, and another boy provides his ankle for the injured player to grip. They show great camaraderie and sportsmanship and support him as he limps off the pitch. You think perhaps if they could afford shin pads then this would not happen.
After an intense forty minutes Internacional unfortunately suffered a close loss. They shake hands with their opponents and come over to the side. You expect them to look frustrated and defeated, but their love for the sport keeps them smiling and laughing. They gather together for a team photograph that Ariel will send to Global Medical Projects, along with a very positive report that he is sure will result in their sponsorship.
The pitch in Ixtapa is located on Av Independencia and David Alfaro Siqueiros streets. This is the neighborhood of Ixtapa, about a twenty minute drive from Puerto Vallarta, and shouldn't be confused with the city of Ixtapa in the state of Guerrero. The games usually start at 8 pm on a Friday night, but are often subject to change.
About Kids Around The World:
Kids Around The World are a registered charity in Guadalajara who "aim to improve the living standard of the poor children and to break the inter generational poverty by means of learning opportunities through sustainable and quality education." Learn more at kidsaroundtheworld.org.uk.
About Global Medical Projects:Global Medical Projects are "specialists in arranging worthwhile medical work experience placements for Pre-university students, students in their vacation, students on their electives and qualified medical personnel." Learn more at globalmedicalprojects.co.uk.