Morelia – overview of a Mexican town

2/22/2006 – What, no report on round four of the Linares/Morelia Super-GM? That is because Tuesday was a free day. For the players, not for the ChessBase news team, which continues to explore this beautiful town in the Michoacan region of Mexico. Such is our dedication that we will climb towers to give you an overview. Not for the acrophobic.

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Morelia – overview of a Mexican town

By Frederic Friedel

The Super GM tournament that is being held in Morelia is in its first break day. Time to pause and take a closer look at this Mexican city, which, if the organisers of the tournament have their way, may well become a popular resort for chess tourists from all over the world.

These are the two key hotels in the middle of the Centro Historico, the downtown area, with the Hotel Virrey de Mendoza, on the left, where the players stay, and our own Hotel Alameda on the right. The players do not have wireless Internet connections, as we do in the Alameda. Some of them "borrow" wireless from the Internet Café to the left of the hotel. But unfortunately the café closes down at ten or eleven pm. and the players are left high and dry.

The baroque Cathedral of Morelia dominates the skyline of the city. It was started in 1660 and took 84 years to build. The impressive stone building which rivals any in Europe, and has the tallest church towers in the Americas. In order to get an overview of the city we decided to climb to the top of one of the towers of the Cathedral, which is the dominating feature of the town.

The interior of the Cathedral is beautiful and impressive. Unfortunately we were told by the security guard that nobody was allowed to climb the towers. However, he did take us to the reverend in charge of the church, and when Padre Gustavo heard that we had come all the way from Germany to do Internet reports on the chess tournament he immediately granted us special permission.

That's Nadja Woisin with her video camera climbing the endless spiral stairs. Nadja is our Spanish new page editor, and in charge of most of the ChessBase operations in Hispanic countries. You guessed it: Nadja speaks fluent Spanish, just like a native. She also produces the video material on such chess adventure trips.

That's how narrow it gets before you reach the top of the church tower. The final stages of the ascent are conducted on all fours – or threes, if you have a video camera to schlepp with you.

Don't let her fool you, the lady is absolutely terrified! As she should well be, with no retaining guards, just a few steps from eternity. Up here you discover that human beings were really not built for heights. Leave it to the birds, I always say. They have built-in mechanisms to counteract gravity. We don't. We go splat.

That's me, taking the final few steps of the ascent, emerging through the hole-in-the-ground that leads to the top level of the tower. Today, a day later, I can still feel numerous muscles in my legs, most of which I did not know existed. They are now making sure I never forget that they do.

Incidentally, when we arrived in Morelia after our 23-hour odyssey, we were understandably exhausted. Even more than one would expect, I thought. For instance, on the first day I rushed from the playing site to the hotel to get my camera equipment, rushed back, up the stairs to the theatre – and was panting and wheezing like a circulatory challenged nursing home inmate. It was a bit alarming, until one of our Mexican friends explained that this was perfectly normal. The town lies almost 2000 metres (6000 feet) above sea level, and the air is noticably thinner. "You are always out of breath during the first couple of days," our Mexican friend said. I'm sure I would not have been able to climb the tower on the first day after our arrival.

And that's how foolish some people can be. I mean, how much further can you see if you climb a suspiciously worm-eaten ladder to a shaky wooden platform thirty feet higher up? It's probably some macho thing.

That's how big the church bells are. The main bell of the Morelia Cathedral is El Salvador (The Saviour). It weighs over 6,000 kilos and it's still in working condition.

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A view of the second tower, with the city and the surrounding mountains. About 200 km away there is the famous Monarch Butterfly reserve of Sierra Chincua, Michoacan. We hope to go there on the next free day. After all, about one hundred million monarchs think it is a worthwhile place to visit.

This is the old city, where the chess event is taking place. 1 is the players' hotel, 2 our own Alameda, 3 the Palacio Clavijero, where the games are played. It is gigantic and occupies more than a city block.

The Palacio Clavijero up close. The halls for the Super GM tournament and the giant Open are in the part to the right of the picture.

A view towards the extended town. The curved roof in the middle is the market, to which we will come in a separate report. Everything is very nicely in walking distance.

This, incidentally, is the 18th Century Hotel Posada de la Soledad, where we were first put up. Doesn't look quite as romantic from a bird's eye view.

Back to ground level. A young lady all done up in front of the church.

There is also a fair amount of poverty. After one of the press conferences I was approached by two very pretty young street children who asked me for money. I didn't have any on me. Then they asked me to give them a bottle of water, from the ones standing on the refreshment table next to us. Even though nobody was guarding the table they didn't just take them and run. Well brought up urchins!

In the courtyard below the Cathedral people play open-air chess. The whole city has caught the chess fever – you see people all over the town carrying boards and little bags with the pieces.

A simultaneous exhibition on the Cathedral square. The master takes all comers, of which there are many, new opponents taking the place of those who have finished their games.

Wherever you turn people are playing chess. We learnt that 80% of the many hundreds of participants in the Open were not from Morelia, but from all over the country. So this is a chess invasion.

Old and young, male and female, everyone's doing it here in Mexico. With great enjoyment, obviously, and with a fair degree of competence, as cursory glances reveal.

One of the cutest things I've seen: a human and a pigeon (left) kibitzing during the giant Open tournament, which has now finished.

On the main square next to the Cathedral there is always some kind of activity going on. Here it was the Clases de Capoeira, Samba Y Axe. This is some form of ritualised martial arts, performed by alternating members in the midst of a circle of chanting colleagues.

There were many girls amongst the participants, enjoying themselves every bit as much as their male counterparts.

The action is vigorous, much of it is artistic and acrobatic. The performance lasted for well over an hour.

In a more serene corner of the square artists offer their works for sale.

Some of the professionals offer photorealistic oil paintings, for the proud sum of 12,000 pesos a piece. That is around US $1,000.

The Cathedral at night, spectacularly illuminated. The town is rightfully proud of this architectural masterpiece.

Coming soon to a chess news page close to you:

  • ChessBase goes to the Market
  • Veselin Topalov takes on the Morelia team in Futbol

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Topics: Linares 2006
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