During the last holidays our hockey development team of sixteen players accompanied by four parents and two team management embarked on a tour of a lifetime to Argentina.
After much planning, training and anticipation this year’s tour proved to be a wonderful experience for all involved. We departed Dunedin on a particularly cold last day of term, with high hopes of warmer weather to come. In Auckland, we met our tour manager, David Salta, who was to travel with us for the duration of our time away. Our flight to Buenos Aries went smoothly as the team settled into tour mode. This flight was for some of the boys their first experience of long-haul travel and on arrival in Argentina they ‘ticked off’ their first international destination. The weather on our arrival did not disappoint with pleasant temperatures ranging from 19 to 32 degrees each day of our time away.
Buenos Aries is a massive city with three million people living centrally and another 14 million people in the greater Buenos Aries area. The city is famous for its European style architecture and is a melting pot of different cultures. We spent about half our time in Buenos Aries. The remaining days were spent travelling to San Pedro, Rosario and Iguazu in the far north of Argentina. We also briefly visited Brazil, twice, because of an airport closure at one of our Argentinian destinations.
While in Argentina we played four competitive matches, one social match and had three intensive training sessions with a mix of the Argentinian national team coaching staff and international players. The team played some hard-fought hockey, and we eventually won two, drew one and lost one of our competitive games. We also lost our social game 2-1 on an ‘old school’ grass pitch against a club team of local girls who challenged the boys to a 30-minute game. The style of play on a real turf pitch was a bit difficult for our boys to adjust to, but the impromptu match was enjoyed by all.
As well as the training and playing matches the boys got to do a variety of activities including sightseeing, visiting museums, attending a tango show, horse riding, watching senior club hockey matches, a tour of Boca stadium and of course eating out. The boys had time to explore parts of Buenos Aries in groups and on one day they completed an ‘Amazing Race’ style competition.
Another dimension of our trip was the community service component. During the course of the trip, we visited a youth centre and an orphanage. At both of these venues, we received a warm welcome and were able to spend time with the children who lived there. The boys brought gifts of clothing and stationery, and I am sure took away a sense of how privileged they are in their own situation. The verse written above the College Library door, ‘To whom much has been given, much will be expected’ was particularly apt.
One key aspect of the trip, which permeated the whole experience, was the Argentinian people. The warmth of the welcome, the distinctly Spanish influence and the genuine care shown by the people we interacted with will be a cherished memory. Our local guide Pitu Molina did a fantastic job of navigating us through a wide range of situations where our basic Spanish would have left us floundering. Nothing was a problem, and his wealth of local information and contacts made our whole tour run like clockwork.
The difference in culture, scale of the cities and language created some challenges, but the boys soon got their bearings and worked out the Spanish for essentials with some sign language thrown in. Our after-match functions where the boys got to talk with the opposition and share meals were a highlight. Pushing outside of their comfort zone was a valuable experience for the boys, and most will have had their fair share of these moments while on tour.
We finished our tour by flying north to the Iguazu Falls. Due to runway maintenance at the airport on the Argentinian side of the falls, we had to divert to Brazil briefly. So we really did have a South American Adventure, not just an Argentinian one. The time in Iguazu allowed the boys to relax after the hectic schedule of the events earlier in the tour and get to see one of the natural wonders of the world. A particular highlight was the boat trip up the Iguazu River and into the spray of the falls.
The training and games were all of great value to our overall development plan for keeping our 1st XI hockey at the highest level possible in the New Zealand national tournaments. The chance to travel as a team and to share the experiences is of much worth, and the tour also gives many of our younger players a goal to aim for when they reach the senior school. This trip followed up our successful tour to Singapore and Malaysia in 2015, and it is hoped that we will continue to give our top hockey players the opportunity to participate in such fantastic sporting and cultural experiences in the future.
Thanks must go to our wonderful guides Pitu and David, our fantastic coach James and our amazing parents who all made the trip so memorable. Well done also to the boys who all played well, trained hard and behaved in such an exemplary manner. I look forward to working with this team and the many aspiring junior players over the rest of the season.