Argyll Adventures and Water Polo
My Dearest Readers,
I had flashbacks of Goran, the 6’6″ 29 year-old Croatian import who was a member of Whittier’s water polo team for the last 3 years upon meeting Arik. He’s a 6’7″ German who formerly swam at Dartmouth. He didn’t spontaneously rip me in half so that was a start. He gave me some info and I eagerly anticipated my first practice the following day. I had absolutely no idea what to expect.
I found my way to the pool, which was inconspicuously nestled in the back corner of an old boarding school in St Andrews, and I braced myself for my first ever indoor pool water polo experience. I met Coach Ian, a hulking former British national team member who traded his speedo for golf clubs many years ago. His hand dwarfed my hand upon shaking hands and he informed me that he used to play hole-set, the same position I play, so I knew I was in for some quality coaching. The first practice went well, aside from the difficultly I had breathing in the chlorine tainted, musky air (yes, it’s even worse than training in Claremont, a member of the pollution basin commonly referred to as the Inland Empire). Also, I wasn’t ripped in half by Arik, so that was nice.
Now, about two months later, I get to look back. I’ve had a plethora of unforgetable experiences with the team, and I’m so glad I decided to join, despite my initial hesitation to have any formal commitments while abroad. Many of my closest friends here at St Andrews are on the team and I always know that I have an awesome group of people to hangout with, both inside and outside of the pool (I hope they don’t read this, that would be embarassing). We’ve done some awesome activities as a team, like a coach-sponsored trip to Eden Mill, a brewery/distillery combination located on the fringes of St Andrews. I’ve discovered that coach-player relationships are waaaay different here.
Another perk of being with the team is the games we have to travel for. We compete with teams throughout all of the UK and I’ve been to Oxford and Leeds, two cities in central England that I never would have seen otherwise. Both of those trips involved brutal (6 hours+) bus rides, but at least we were serenaded by Michael Jackson for the majority of the way. Visiting Oxford, the oldest English speaking university in the world that also happened to exist before the Aztec Empire, was impressive and felt like I was sweating history in the pool. I swear that one of Oxford’s players looked strickingly similar to John Locke, but I won’t speculate. Playing the University of Leeds was also fun, their captian reminded me of the stereotypical, cocky British captain of the rival soccer that we always see in American movies, which upset me of course, because that meant I was the struggling American underdog. A few of the Leeds members were proud to have their lovely wives and children at the game as well. We played another match in Dundee, a neighboring city of St Andrews, but that wasn’t as glamorous. The competition here is not quite as intense as NCAA water polo, but it definitely provides great training and it’s neat to officially say that I at water polo internationally.
With that said, there are times that I regret not being able to fully commit myself to the team. I have the desire to see the world during my weekends and am very busy with other activities during the week so I’ve missed an important tournament and a few more practices than I would usually allow. Luckily, the team and coach all understand my situation and appreciate the time I can give them.
I missed an important tournament in Glasgow this past weeked, but it was for good reason – the Argyll Forest. The Argyll Forest is a spectacular region of Scotland located just northwest of Glasgow and the trip is one of the two weekends where IFSA, my abroad organization, arranges and pays for (well, Mom and Dad really paid for it) the entire weekend and its accompanying activities. We took a bus to the Argyll Forest and the drive there was gorgeous. Lochs on lochs on lochs and beautiful forests, along with other Scottish stuff. We even took the bus on a ferry at one point in the journey; I’ve never felt seasick on a boat, but being trapped in a bus is a different story.
We stayed at a castle-turned-adventure-camp (pictured below) in the middle of the forest with about 100 other IFSA students who were also spending the semester in Scotland. Day 1 was relatively uneventful until we left to go for a hike around 9:30pm with no light sources and these red waterproof suits straight out of Deadliest Catch. I’m a self-proclaimed macho dude so I thought the hike (more like a walk, psshhhh) was gonna be a walk in the park. Wow was I wrong! It turns out we were being led to do something called night lining, an activity were small groups follow a line of rope tied to trees that winds through the pitch dark forest. About halfway through, I deemed my group the Night Crawlers because it seemed like that’s what we were doing for the majority of the time-crawling. The forest was filled with mudholes and other obstacles like fallen trees, sudden drops, and the most dangerous of all – falling teammates looking for anything to hold on to. We finally made it through all three night lines of increasing difficulty and returned to the castle (that is so dang cool to say), covered in mud, drenched, and ready for bed.
Day 2 was adventure day. Unfortunately, we were expecting “a biblical amount of rain” so my ideal activity, spelunking, was canceled due to rising water levels. Luckily Ewen, my adventure leader, gave my group alternative options and we chose caving and kayaking. We hiked up to the caves through the forest in the pouring rain, and we were once again decked out in our funny red suits. We were also wearing helmets, headlamps, and harnesses, which I initially thought was overkill because of my macho-ness. THEY WERE NOT OVERKILL. It turns out that this “caving” wasn’t going to be the senior-citizen friendly caving of America where paths are lit and there’s a snack bar at the bottom. We entered the cave, and things were already more treacherous than I had expected. Ewen pointed to an 18 inch slot in the cave and said, “This is called the mail slot, see you on the other side.” I entered the darkness on my belly and struggled through the rain-soaked slot like a soldier crawling under barbed wire. About halfway through I took a deep breath, which was a bad idea. I couldn’t take a deep breath, the slot was too tight for my lungs to fully expand. This freaked me out a little and I decided to do what any logical person would do, panic and continue to try to take deep breaths. There was no turning around and even if I wanted to turn around, there wasn’t ample space. I was stuck and there was one way out. After about 10 minutes of crawling, we made it to the light and I was able to stand up, something that I had never properly appreciated. We caved for a few more hours and put the harnesses to good use. Then we hiked back down the hill, had lunch and hit the loch on our ‘yaks.
The kayaking was a bit windy, but still enjoyable as temporary rain waterfalls poured over the steep cliffs above down into the loch we were kayaking on. Ewen also surprised us with some fun kayaking games and a much appreciated thermos of steaming hot chocolate. To harness the power of the wind on our way back to the dock, Ewen had is link our boats and had half of us stand up and link hands to form a human sail. I was one of the lucky/unlucky ones who got to stand up and it was awesome, the sail actually worked and my andrenaline was pumping due to a few moments where my abilities to balance and stay dry fell into serious doubt. We made it back safely (except for one of us who couldn’t resist capsizing, sorry Rhoni) and then Rhoni and I decided to take a brief dip in the freezing loch. She probably chose to because she was already soaking wet, I chose to because there are a few screws loose inside my cranium. We returned to the brilliantly warm castle (still cool to say) and settled down for the night. We played Catch Phrase with a group of about 30 people and I learned that Scottish people seriously struggle with many of the common phrases in American Catch Phrase. Our poor leaders joined us and made fools of themselves as the suspenseful buzzer went off in their hands as they struggled under the mounting pressure time and time again, which is really just all part of the fun.