Before heading to Mexico for the first leg of D.C. United's CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal against Queretaro F.C., I was given the same gentle warning from friends and co-workers alike, to tread lightly and be careful in and around town. And you tend to forget this cautionary counsel, for a couple of different reasons:
First, Queretaro is difficult to get to from a travel perspective, at least if you don't live in either Dallas or Houston. The city and municipalities of Queretaro average 1,900 meters, or 6,200 feet above sea level, so it's somewhat isolated by nature. But Queretaro International Airport isn't much to look at, you pick up your luggage from a small buggy after making the walk on the tarmac from the plane to 'baggage claim.' So there aren't many (any?) nonstop international flights. Chances are you're coming in from Mexico City (as Steven Streff and I did on separate days), Monterey or points elsewhere. Then you make a fairly nondescript half hour drive into Santiago de Queretaro, going by your choice of service stations or occasional slums, before coming into town. Your travel into town is validated when you see the large statue of Fernando de Tapia, whose more well-known name of Conin is on the front of the statue. Conin helped the people of Queretaro force the Aztecs out of the city with help from the Spaniards back in the 16th century.
When walking through the historic center of Santiago de Queretaro, you could easily get that sense of being in Spain, in terms of the architecture and the atmosphere. Maybe having a margarita with an enchilada at 9pm lends its own contribution to this, who knows.
Perhaps more notable is that when advised to 'watch yourself' in and around town, you simply don't have much to worry about. Santiago de Queretaro does have a Spanish influence, but closer to the city near the Estadio Corregidora, things are more modern and more focused on whatever metropolitan results you want to attach to that, be it economical, cultural, etc. The Estadio Corregidora was built for the 1986 World Cup, and it was also a venue for the 2011 U-17 World Cup, which you learn from the plaques and/or signs that boast of this achievement.
Walking around the stadium you do feel the thin air, but you can choose to quench your thirst with bottled water or a Modelo, a 32 oz. big boy poured into a huge cup, which you'll pay less than $4 for. You can also choose from vendor food fare including hot dogs, small candies (recognizable gringo names or not), or a variety of local snacks which are more than affordable.
Even at 30, the infrastructure of the stadium is in good shape, with little in the way of dirt, broken seats or any other ephemera associated with RFK. The previous day found us walking through the locker rooms, down a surprisingly long corridor, and around a couple of flights of steps to get to the field.
Of humorous note, there is a urinal just around the corner, away from the steps and more importantly, public view. It's understandable why it's there; it is a long hallway to get to the field, but from a harder core aspect, where players shouldn't have to deal with such an inconvenience, I understand it. And from the field, one would be hard pressed to see that the stadium is 30:
In terms of atmosphere, its hard to describe. It's a big stadium, like RFK, so unless it's full, the chants and general noise didn't seem to convey a sense of intimidation...like RFK. You pick up occasional moments of 'Ole's' during successful passes, or even the dreaded 'puto' as Andrew Dykstra would send a goal kick into play. When Yerson Candelo's rocket went by Dykstra and into the upper 90, the place does explode, as you would expect.
But, for a team in the lower half of the 2016 Clausura, and who was playing in their first CONCACAF Champions League Quarterfinal, it just wasn't as electric as I anticipated. Perhaps, if Queretaro does beat D.C. and they play nearby rivals Tigres, such electricity will be available. But it wasn't the electricity that I felt last year when D.C. was getting throttled in Costa Rica, with a smaller crowd and older stadium to boot. Not better, not worse, just mildly disappointing. But in a brief two-day stay, lots of things were going against preconceived notion.
There are still signs of police and/or security when it comes to preparation, be it a huge bus of federales, or in the case of the away seats and media boxes, chain link fences. Folks are friendly, point blank and period. Heck, a photographer in the CONCACAF mixed zone wanted to take a picture of the D.C. United tattoo I have on my leg, and I was happy to oblige. But perhaps the best way to sum Queretaro up, as a game day experience, or as a town for a visiting fan, may be best summed up by an interaction we had in the stadium in the press box. An older gentleman, in his sixties, came up to the fence and asked if we had come down from D.C. for the game. We chatted for a minute about our respective teams' paths at the moment, and he paused for a second, looked around at the fence separating him from us, and said, 'we don't need this.'
And as far as Queretaro goes, you really don't.