|Me and Kerwin|
The nightmare that was Argentina had come to an end and now I was on my way to Venezuela for the tournament there. But first I had to head back to Peru to catch my flight and unfortunately I had another overnight wait but this time I just stayed in the lounge for the night. After the 12 hour layover I was back in the air this time flying to the opposite side of South America from where Argentina was. Towards the Caribbean meaning there would be warm weather. Not to mention I would only be a few miles off the coast of Trinidad and Tobago, so close to home yet so far away. The rest of the Trinidad team had arrived the night before and one more was coming in that same night that I was arriving. On my flight was 3 Peruvian players as well as the umpire for the tournament who was from Cuba. We got to the airport and guess what for the 2nd time this trip there was no transportation but unlike Argentina where the bus was just super late this time there was actually no transport organized for us. We had to take a taxi from the airport all the way into the heart of Caracas, a trip that took us almost 2 hours after leaving the airport with the traffic.
|Watching world cup in the airport|
So in Venezuela when dealing with money there is something interesting that happens. There is the legal exchange rate at which the banks and money exchange places offer you a 1 to 10 with US currency. Then there is the “illegal” exchange rate at which various people will exchange the money for a 1 to 70 exchange with US currency. That is a huge discrepancy for sure with regards to the money and if one was to actually exchange legally then shopping for anything (food included) all of a sudden becomes absurdly and ridiculously expensive. There was a Wendy’s across from our hotel and at the legal exchange rate a burger combo worked out to be around $15 US but at the illegal exchange it was only $2.24 US so quite a huge difference. This was good news to me as I only had a couple of bucks American left on me from traveling the past week so that made life good since the hotel came out super cheap when the conversion was done. I still wasn't able to make it through the week for food and had to borrow a few dollars from Solange which I am grateful for.
|Nice wad of cash|
So the tournament was scheduled to start the following day and we went to the courts to see if we could get a hit and check out the facility. When I walked into the arena I just felt it hit me a giant “are you serious right now” came over my face and in my head. The venue was horrible compared to the place in Argentina the week before even with all the incidents that happened down there. The building was nice but the ceiling was a glass roof. Worst of all it was an open air arena, there was slits and openings all around the arena, they tried to cover some of it but that did not help as the wind would just blow through and cause the shuttle to go whichever way the wind was blowing. That coupled with the glass ceiling that the sun traveled directly over and the duct tape, yes you head right duct tape courts, this was just shaping up to be a horrible tournament and I hadn't even hit a shuttle yet. So qualification was that day and we were able to get a hit in, it just felt impossible to play in that place. If you hit a normal clear or lift it would go rocketing out the back of the court. Yes where I train in Canada the clubs are ideal conditions which can be detrimental at times when you play and practice in these ideal places but have to play in the most random locations with random and ever-changing conditions.
Kerwin (the current men’s singles champion from nationals who beat me in the finals) had to play a qualification match and he won that so made it to the main draw. The rest of us played the next day so we got to hit more that evening and I realized that it didn't matter how good your skills were what mattered more was how well you could adapt to the conditions and play in them. Along with me and Kerwin was Solangel (current WS national champion) and Nekisha Blake (semi-finals in WS) so the 4 of us were representing Trinidad and Tobago at the tournament.
Now before talking about the tournament there are some things that one show know about Venezuela. It can be a very dangerous place for sure there is a lot of crime that happens and regardless of the time of day it is wise to be in a group and not wear to much flashy jewelry or items if you look like a foreigner. So this also meant that when it was late at night we wouldn't be able to go out to get food because there wasn't much around us aside from a Wendy’s and it closed relatively early. So the following day rolled around and main draw matches were to start I was just playing men’s singles that day. I ended up having to eat at the venue, they had some sandwiches available for cheap and that would have to suffice. Near the tournament hall though was one of the largest malls in Venezuela, Millennium Mall, which while gigantic was very modern and had tons of stores as well as a good food court where we could eat. Not to mention that we could also go there to kill time and browse around since there wasn't much else to do.
|Inside Millennium Mall|
|Just me getting ready to eat lunch|
The opening ceremonies took place and I was the 2nd match up playing against a local Venezuelan player. Unfortunately I wasn't able to adapt to the conditions and the match went horrible. I would either hit it out or simply make an error due to the irregular flight trajectory of the shuttle with the wind interference and the sun shining down from above. I was not happy with my match at all and felt like I let down my entire team and country. That was the end of singles for me, losing a match that I felt like I should have won or was capable of winning and would have gained some valuable points if I did. But the tournament was not over yet. I would be playing men’s doubles with Kerwin against a pair from Brazil and then mixed with Solangel against another Brazilian pair. Unfortunately neither of those matches went extremely well. In doubles things went well against the Brazilians and we didn't get completely destroyed, we were able to hold our own but the conditions proved to be our downfall. Mixed was another story and we had never played together before so it was a good experience for first time playing together.
So that was the tournament in a nutshell, horrible conditions and some unfortunate losses. The tour of South America that I thought would be easier turned out to be quite the shit show if I had to put it honestly. I was not happy with my performance in the least and just wasn't feeling great after suffering those losses. My first two international tournaments of the year and I was already loosing matches. But I still had to stay in Venezuela for another 3 days before I could fly back home to Vancouver, those were the longest 3 days of my life. There was nowhere to train even if I wanted to, the hotel didn’t have a weight room (neither did the one in Argentina) so I couldn't even workout or let alone go for a run. The only advantage to Venezuela was that it was warm and sunny out so I worked on my tan and got to wear shorts and t-shirts all the time. In the hotel there was no internet in the hotel room, there was only the free Wi-Fi in the lobby so that meant that all the players would come down and spend their time in the lobby surfing the net until the early hours of the morning. So time was passing and we would pretty much go watch matches in the day, spend time in the mall then go back to the hotel to sleep. One night when we were finished at the tournament Solangel’s friend somehow was able to get the ambulance that was there to drop us back to the hotel, so we got to ride in the back of an ambulance and yes they did turn on the siren for us. That was among one of the highlights of the trip, but not being able to walk around the streets limited the sightseeing to pretty much the hotel, tournament venue, and the mall. Not the most exciting time spent at a tournament that’s for sure, especially with the conditions of the hotel but for the priced that was paid I cannot complain.
|Everyone using the WiFi late at night|
|Night view from the hotel|
So the day came where it was finally time to go home, the Trinidad players left the night before and I would leave the following day. I was ready to head home after so much had gone wrong during the trip, but there was still one more thing to go wrong. A lot of us were on the same flight or leaving close enough together that we would all take the bus to the airport. Only thing is they never told us what time the bus would come. So I got up in the morning and went to get some food, came back to the hotel and people were in the lobby but didn't have luggage with them they were just using the internet. I asked what time the bus would come and the tournament referee told me around/after 2pm, that was quite a few hours so I said that I would go upstairs and take a nap then come back down and if something changed to reach me at my room. So time passed I napped and 1pm rolled around I packed up and decided to head downstairs as I didn't really have anything else to do in the room. I come into the lobby and there is nobody there, everybody already left an hour earlier than the time they had told me and nobody came to get me. I was mad but at the same time not surprised that something would happen yet again for the trip. After panic set in the tournament director (the same one who made us pay for a taxi from the airport) stepped in reluctantly and decided to pay for a taxi for me to the airport but demanded a refund be sent to him. He had left me and my teammates as well as countless others at the airport waiting to get driven to the city, failed to inform me of an hour change in the departure time and now was hesitant in helping me find a way to get to the airport and catch my flight.
So eventually I got to the airport, caught my flight and was off to Lima, Peru for the 3rd time this trip. I would have just a 4 hour layover and then catch my flight back home to Vancouver with a quick stop in Toronto. I was so happy to be going home and just so disappointed at the whole experience that I had in South America. It just made me realize that I didn't want to play those tournaments anymore based on the conditions and all the organizational issues that arose. I know that not all the tournaments are like that but that’s simply the risk that one takes when signing up and traveling to them. It ends up becoming more about who can adapt and play better in the crappy conditions rather than playing actual badminton. But now that I was about to be back home in Vancouver I would have just a few weeks until the Canada Open would be happening so I had to start preparing for that as well as the US Open the week right after.