*I now present Part II of the blog entry entitled "League of the Most Interesting".
The sun had barely risen past the horizon when I got my very early morning wake up for Day 2 of my adventure. No one knows exactly what is in store for us. All we do know is that we need to bring our jerseys and it isn't so wise to be out till after three in the morning partying if you are going to be awaken around six. Regardless, I get dressed as quickly as possible, grab a quick bite at the buffet provided for us, and grabbed a seat in the shuttle that will be taking us to our previously undisclosed location.
Now this part gets a little hazy because I was so tired, I kept falling asleep on the ride. However, during the brief moments when I was conscious, I noticed that there were less and less buildings and more and more nature flying past the window. Just when I fall back into a deep sleep; I am awaken by the sounds of the shuttle door opening. We have arrived halfway up a low mountainous range in the Valley of Oaxaca, near the archaeological site of Monte Albán. From there, we hike the rest of the way to the Monte Albán site itself, where we are greeted by huge stone buildings and ancient artifacts. Our tour guide Florencio, begins to explain that these ancient ruins were once controlled by the native Zapotecs, an ancient civilization that goes back atleast 2200 years. They left archaeological evidence at the ancient city of Monte Albán in the form of buildings, ball courts, magnificent tombs and grave goods including finely worked gold jewelry. While showing us what was once an ancient ball court, he begins to talk about the ancient game they played called pelota mixteca, a game that is similar to a net-less tennis game. Players wear sturdy, elaborately decorated gloves affixed to a heavy flat striking surface, using them to strike a small solid rubber ball approximately four inches in diameter. The glove can weight from 8-12lbs, and the game also has a scoring system similar to tennis. Players are usually in teams of five, and the ball is served by striking it off a flat stone, and hitting it on the return. As it turns out, the sport is still played locally in Oaxaca to this very day. Florencio introduces us to two players of the sport, who show us the gloves and balls they use, discuss how they play the sport, and then gave us tour of the ruins, plus acted as guides on a hike back down the mountains. We took the scenic route, which took us all over the mountains, into farms and villages, and after an hour or so, ended at the dirt field where the locals play pelota mixteca. We gather on the side lines and watch the teams play a game; all the while Florencio is describing what is going on. Once they wrap up their game, they meet at the sidelines and begin to strap the gloves on us. "Oh boy" I thought to myself, "they are really expecting us to play this game". (Please note that my actual thoughts were edited to keep the blog at a PG rating. Please feel free to use your imagination to know my actual thoughts.)
Now when you envision myself in your head, I am sure you imagine a devastatingly handsome, beyond physically fit, statuesque being, walking on to the dirt field without a concern in the world toward this sport because his superior athletic capabilities will surely show those Oaxacans who is the boss of this game. While the handsome part is still accurate, years of working behind a desk with no real will to exercise or maintain a healthy diet has caused me to lose some of that athletic physique and capability, while gaining a fear that I will make a complete fool of myself in front of the professional players and my fellow teammates. It's too late to worry about this now, so I push my fear aside, and step onto the field with my team and prepare to play. They split us into two teams, while giving us each a fifth person, who was one of the professional players. My team gets the luxury of serving the pelota first, so we let the professional take care of that. It turns out that strategy paid off, because the opposing team was unable to return the pelota, resulting in a quarter of a point to us. Once we score a full point, the other team gets the ball and begins to serve. Learning from our success, they also had their professional player serve to us with little worry about the ball being returned. This went back and forth for a few points until we started getting the hang of hitting the ball. A few of the times where we made contact with the ball, it simply sail out of bounds. Eventually, we start to hit the ball back to the other team. I even hit it back and forth...TWICE, a personal best! After some more fierce competition, we squeak out a win by one point. We say our thanks for all the help and instructions, and the Oaxacans in return give us hand-painted pelota balls. They wanted to show their appreciation for us wanting to learn the culture and play with them. it turns out that we were the first non-natives to play the sport in over 2,200 years. How incredible is that? We pack up our things, say good bye to the locals, and head back into town for a traditional Oaxacan lunch. That's right folks, we did all this before lunch.
We arrive at an outdoor restaurant, where we sit at a long wooden table under a straw hut. Before we feast on the local cuisine, each of us exemplars (that's the title us winners received) received a score sheet. What this sheet did was allow us to rate each other on the challenge we did on a scale of 1-5, in categories such as accuracy and nerve, etc... After that, we gorged ourselves on traditional and delicious Oaxacan foods and drinks. As we are wrapping up our feast, we receive another letter from the Most interesting Man along with an item we will need for our next challenge. In the letter, he congratulates us for putting up such a valiant effort and "mastering" the local sport, but our adventure is far from over. We are to rest up, for in a few hours, we will be going out for a nice dinner, so dress appropriately. However, our next challenge awaits us first. The item that came with the letter was an apron, but not just any old apron. This promotional apron had an insulated beverage holder, bottle opener on a retractable string, and hand towel all together. We now head back to the hotel, wondering what else is in store for us.
Later that evening, I freshen up, put on some nice clothes, grab my apron, and start meeting the others in the lobby of the hotel. Once we are all together, we head out into town. After several blocks, we head into an indoor flea market. We all huddle at the main entrance, where we receive one more letter from the Most Interesting Man. The letter is a list of ingredients that we need for a meal that will be disclosed later. We are each given one hundred pesos and are let loose in the market. Here's the catch: If you buy all the ingredients at face value, you will not have enough money, so we will need to negotiate. "Oh great, this should be easy for someone who can't speak the language at all." To make our lives a little easier, we decide to form groups and head out into the market. We need to get Oaxacan cheese, tortilla shells, five limes, ten fried crickets (yummmmmm), and sal de gusano (A powdered blend of salt, chili peppers and roasted gusano worm). Since we are in a group, we are able to obtain all the ingredients in record time, with spare pesos. We check back in at the front, and wait for the rest to show up. Once we are all together, we leave the market and head over to the restaurant, where we are kindly greeted and seated on the outside balcony overlooking the town square. Just as we get seated, we are told to put on our aprons, grab our ingredients, and to head over to the bar inside. Once inside, we are given another letter that states what we will be making. It is called a Michelada. It consists of 12 ounces Dos Equis, ¼ cup fresh lime juice, ½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce, ½ teaspoon hot sauce, ¼ teaspoon soy sauce, 2 tablespoons sal de gusano, and ice. Then rim a beer mug with lime juice and salt. Pour Dos Equis, add remaining ingredients, and stir. With the cheese, tortilla shells, and crickets, we had to make a side dish to go with the drink. Now I had a Michelada before, and made properly, it does not taste that good, so you can imagine how ours tasted. However, I didn't have to imagine, for after we made a huge mess in the bar and completed our drinks and dishes, we brought them back out to our table where we then tried everyone's dishes and graded every one similarly to the way we grade eachother for the first challenge. Trust me, there's nothing better than eating crickets prepared seven different ways. Mmmmmmm, mmmmmmmm.
After that was done, we had a fabulous dinner, with live entertainment. There were dueling mariachi bands. One was next to us and the other was outside the restaurant. Once we finished our meals, we decided that we wanted to go out to a club and party again, because we apparently did not learn our lesson of lack of sleep from the previous night. So we head out to a local club, where we danced with the locals, enjoyed some fine Dos Equis lager, and partied the night away. We head back to our rooms in the wee hours of the morning, again. Before I faceplant into my bed, I notice there's another letter from the Most interesting Man, along with another item I will need for my final challenge.
What does the letter say? What was the item he received? Well folks, you will just have to tune in next week when I present the concluding chapter about my induction into the "League of the Most interesting".