Back to school

Trip Start Jan 25, 2007
Trip End Jan 25, 2008

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Flag of Guatemala  ,
Monday, October 15, 2007

My first real destination in Guatemala was to be Quetzaltenaggo or Xela as itīs called by everyone here. It was time to get back to school and brush up on the old Spanish, a fairly essential thing to have in Latin America. Iīd been getting on ok with my Spanish so far but decided to sign up for a week of one on one tuition. The package also included a week staying with a local family, a bit like the Spanish students we have back in Ireland. And just like the Spanish students we all spoke our own language once the classes were over. There were quite a few Americans in the school, a few English and Australian so English was the main language. An Aussie guy Tim was staying with the same family as me, we were both fairly big guys but the family didnīt seem to understand that we would need more food than their nine year old daughter and so we had to suplement our emals with trips to the local market. Breakfast usually consisted of refried beans and an egg along with of course tortillas.
The language classes were pretty good, thereīs only so much you can learn in a week but it was a good way to brush up on my Spanish. The real classroom of course is out talking to the people and trying to get on the right buses and stuff like that but the week of studying did help a lot even though it felt very strange to be back in a school environment with the bell ringing at 8 for classes to begin and ringing for breaks and end of class. At the end of the week we had a graduation where we all got our piece of paper with the approval of the Guatemalan Ministry of Education and a bit of a party.
I hung around in Xela for the weekend after classes, some of the guys from the class had told us about a rugby match that was hapenning on Sunday that was to be the first rugby match ever in Guatemala. This sounded like a bit of a laugh but I soon found I would have even more of an involvement than an idel spectactor. Talking to the guy who was organising it, an American guy called Josh, he happenned to mention that they didnīt have a referee for the game. I could see what he was thinking and eventually Tim and I aggreed to jointly referee the game. This was whilst we were sitting in the pub watching the world cup final so we spent the rest of the afternoon trying to go over the rules whilst having a few beers. Hardly the best preparation!
The day of the match seemed to start for most of the players with breakfast in McDonalds, clearly this was going to be a highly professional event. Most of the players ahd never played rugby before and the home team Xela had only practised scrums for the first time the day before. On the team were three people who ahd played before, Josh, Gregg (aka Johnny Wilkinson)from England and Jores from Holland. The opposition was the mighty Guatemala city who played in all black and had an Aussie and an Argentinian. Guatemala city did look a lot more prepared than Xela, they had clearly been together longer but this was still only there first game so anything could happen.
Of course the deciding factor would be the referees, a quick warm up lap around the pitch quickly showed how much the altitude would be a factor(nothing to do with lack of fitness). We had never reffed anything before and the first twenty minutes was all about reemembering we were refs and not spectactors. Being latin America the refs also came in for a lot of abuse from the players, especially Guatemala City but this only made us more stubborn. The important thing was never to change a decision no matter how bad it was. One of my favourite decisions was when I didnīt blow up for the most obvious knock on ever, one of the Xela players dropped a catch but I missed it even though I was looking straight at it.
Most of the problems were to do with the players not knowing the rules and the refs only knowing a few more. There were so many hands in the rucks the we usually just let it go and some of the offsides were laughable.
The seconbd hald was a lot better from a refereeing point of view, we had found our feet a bit and were more decisive in our decisions. This didnīt mean the decisions were better, just they were more decisive. The abuse from the players continued but we didnīt really mind. In the end Guatemala one 25-7, they were clearly a lot better in the forwards and this is what won it for them. As for the referees, Iīm not sure weīll be asked back again but it was a great experience and I have more of an appreceation for what refs do know. This could be the start of an illustrious tradition for Guatemala and it was great to be there at the beginning.
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