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Pan Am Fan Fest beats to cultural rhythm

October 24, 2011

While many sporting events are taking place all over Guadalajara, the cultural heart of the Pan American Games is the Fan Fest.

Although quiet during the daytime, this is the place to be at night, when it is absolutely bustling. Around 60 stands line Avenida Chapultepec, from Avenida La Paz to Niños Heroes, with stalls advertising sponsors and selling games merchandise and a big screen showing live coverage of the games.

There are four entrances to the fenced-off cultural area, which is replete with food stalls, bars and cafes. Over 30 public bathrooms have been temporarily installed, while paramedics and firemen are always on standby.

Open from midday, the Fan Fest begins to draw crowds from around 5 or 6 p.m. and is normally completely full from 10 p.m. until around midnight.

Just north of Niños Heroes a large stage has been installed, with daily live performances from 5 p.m. onwards. The live music includes salsa and mariachi, as well as performances from local rock groups and rap artists, suggesting the organizers are trying to appeal to a young audience.

Visitors must pass through metal detectors to enter the Fan Fest area, where there is a heavy federal police presence which even outnumbers the crowds during the afternoon.

“It’s all been calm so far, nothing has happened. There is a lot of vigilance in these main areas but away from here there might be more of a risk,” said one of the many security personnel at the entrance to the Fan Fest.

Despite the numbers of police on hand, the Fan Fest retains a jovial, relaxed atmosphere. In fact some elements of the police were enjoying the proceedings as much as anyone, flirting with Argentine tourist ambassadors and posing for photos with the local Minerva beer promo girls.

Members of the indigenous Mixteco, Purepecha, Tzotzil, Nahua, Otomi, Wixarika and Triqui tribes were all invited by the Guadalajara Ethnic Art Organization (GUARE) to set up stalls just outside the Fan Fest, selling handmade clothes, arts and crafts.

Inside the main area are tourist stalls promoting Jalisco’s various municipalities, different Mexican states and other participating nations such as Argentina and Colombia.

In the Guadalajara tourist stands visitors can get their photo taken with cardboard cutouts of local celebrities such as Miss Universe 2010 Ximena Navarrete, Manchester United soccer star Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez and former world-number-one female golfer Lorena Ochoa.

The Argentine stall is one of the more popular ones, in part due to the free empanadas being handed out and the promise of live tango shows on Saturday and Sunday at 6 p.m.

Disappointingly, as the result of poor organization, just five of the 42 nations competing in the games are represented in the Fan Fest. Just 22 days before the games, the Organizing Committee (Copag) passed responsibility onto the Jalisco Tourism Secretary (Setujal), meaning it was too late to invite more countries to participate.

In general vendors said they had sold a lot more to Mexican tourists rather than foreigners. Indeed, visitors from abroad, particularly the United States and Canada, are conspicuous by their absence.

On a recent inspection the only American tourists within sight were a couple from San Francisco, who “only found out the games were on after booking a trip down.”

Their admission that “we stumbled upon it,” is perhaps indicative of the general interest level in the United States. “People who are really into sports know about it, but not those only into American sports, who like many other Americans can be very close-minded,” said Gerard Green, who is on his “fourth or fifth” visit to Mexico with wife Caroline Valentino.

Meanwhile, three local university students who study close to the Fan Fest complained it is “difficult to get to school due to traffic disruption and changed bus routes.”

However, they see the games as a “good thing as it will change the perception of Mexico and benefit tourism by attracting people to Guadalajara.”

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