Colourful synthetics, dark bloody skin; rowdy exuberance, polite applause; going solo, doing it with brothers in arms; avoiding death or leaning closer to it. I’m aproachimg halfway on my expedition/holiday across the continents, looking for and at sports in all their guises. I’ve just left the sunny climes of Spain behind, and am enjoying the air by the banks of the Danube in Budapest, Hungary. I’m here to see a different cultures take on sport, for a bit of nationalism fuelling sport, but all hopefully a bit of weirdness. But before all that, a quick round up of whats been so far:
In Morocco there was football: on the streets, in the stadia and in the middle of nowhere; its simplicity and tribalism allowing it to take root wherever it finds itself.
In Spain there has been great diversity. I started with the swirls and swoops of the kite surfers in Tarifa. Men and women trying to fly, what joy.
After this I wound my way up to Cadiz, then across to Seville. Here I encountered the drama and passion of flamenco, and the ritual and (questionable) artistry of the bullfight.
After this I escaped to the Sierra Nevada. Here I dangled over some ledges, watched climbers scale sheer walls of rock, and pondered the draw of closeness to death. We seem curiously keen to put ourselves in such situations when being alive is so important to us.
From here I journeyed to Almeria, not sure of what I would find. In fact I found a puzzling question: what makes something a sport? I had concluded that bullfighting was not, as there was no true contest. But where did this leave the kite surfing or climbing I had watched? What about the flamenco that unveiled itself in a murky bar one evening?
I’m not convinced it is, but I was enthralled by it nonetheless.
Almeria also posseses some stunning coastline. This is not lost on the local surfers and paddle boarders, although I doubt it is appreciated beyond their tight knit circles.
Back on the less salubrious town beach I went in search of the dance-martial art of capoeira. Unfortunately it was not to be found, but I did chance upon the trio of beach volleyball:
Acrobatic local kids at flipping through the air:
And the surprising sight of Almeria University’s 7s rugby team stepping, offloading and strutting across the sand:
Cursing my arthritic knee, with memories of matches passed and dreams of matches unrealised plaguing me, I headed to Valencia, via Murcia. There was little in Murcia. There was however a great deal in Valencia. A stroll through the long city park (converted from the now diverted river bed) I watched locals play football and even more rugby. Two separate teams with great numbers in their mini and youth sections. Perhaps Spain is one to watch for the future in this regard.
From there things got a little less mainstream. First I chanced across a game of pilota Valenciana. Two teams (the classic red vs blue) swatted a little ball up and down the narrow street with their hands, ricocheting off walls and flicking it off the floor. “Dont let it bounce twice” I imagined them cry as I stood and tried to fathom the rules.
From the simple to the ridiculous, I next found two clown-costumed crews building towers out of their teammates. Mediaeval music, cobbled streets, a cloth-capped child perched on top; what year had I stepped into?
After that it got a lot more modern, with the dynamism of a handball game:
And the very American razmatazz of a basketball game:
Despite the odd looks I got (especially at the handball game, must’ve been the ‘tan” I had from a day at the beach) the two home teams won. Perhaps I was a lucky charm. Certainly I felt lucky just to be there.
In Barcelona there was just time to be reminded that for some people exercise is the game before I had to leave.
I also found out in Barcelona that my visa for India had been confirmed. So, come at me Hungary, Kyrgyzstan and India, show me what you’ve got?