PGKA was off to El Salvador to introduce Inline Hockey to the country. That is correct, introduce, meaning it does not exist and there is zero knowledge of our sport. What they do have is a strong culture in speed skating and a president who wants to offer his members more. Luckily for the El Salvador Skate President, PGKA was up for the challenge and more than excited to take on the challenge. With time against us and limited resources both Pablo and myself emptied our garages. Turning one man's trash into another's treasure. We were able to scrape together about 20 sticks (Im talking oldschool woodies, and most of them already broken) but that didn't matter as long as it was the shape of a stick.
You see, when the news spread that PGKA was coming and Inline Hockey was going to be taught, the El Salvadorians took to the streets and started practicing. They did what any creative human being would do, that's right they asked mom and mom put brooms in all the kids hands. I kid you not, a day before we arrived a video was sent to us with the kids skating around and basically cleaning the street, with a coke can in the midst of it all. They had 2 goals and off they went.
When Pablo showed me the video, I was so excited to see the joy and enthusiasm.
What an honor it would be to go to a place where they would literally give anything for this opportunity. So with no time to spare, we leave Ecuador and fly straight to San Salvador, El Salvador. Another long adventure and many hours spent in airports, but it gives us time to reflect on where we have been, where we are and where we are going. A simple life hack to make sure we stay true to our course.
We make our way to immigration and hope for an easy interrogation after all its Covid-19 protocol these days and your paperwork needs to be in order to avoid any and all complications. As we get closer to line an elderly man, who appears to be wearing a homemade security jacket and a self made name tag asks to see our passports. (Probably the 4th person to check our documents in the last 100 meters) I've never fully understood the need to check, verify, re-check, re-verify, then do it all over again. It's almost as if everyone needs to feel important. (I know we're trying to reduce the unemployment rate and all but let's put the right people in the right jobs the first time over in order to save everyone a lot of time and effort.) Regardless, the man was friendly enough and told us to go into a specific line. Turns out this was the visa line. Now traveling with a Canadian passport and Brazilian we normally do not need visas but they wanted 10 usd for each passport. So we pay and we walk right back to the same guy who just checked our id’s 3mins ago. The entire same process over again. The man who watched us pay and checked our documents 3 minutes ago needed to see them again as who knows what could have happened while we were 10 feet away from him and still in his eyesight haha, but we obliged. ( Also note that nobody speaks english in El Salvador. Not sure why they have people working immigration who can't speak the universal language but luckily Pablo was always nearby to translate.) 🤞
Pablo goes first and I notice we are the line not moving. The lady is really checking his documents and even calls over another specialist to verify. Before I know it, my documents are needed and they are treating us as a group. I listen carefully trying to understand what they are saying but no such luck. They escort myself and Pablo over to this secured area with our bags and they call in a 3rd specialist to check the documents. By this time, Pablo has given them 2 passports (his military us one and his normal Brazilian) they also have my covid recovery letter, both our negative covid test and my Canadian passport. As Pablo calls the El Salvador Skate president to inform him of our delay. Pablo and I notice the one guy looking at our passports with a jewelers magnifying glass. 🔍
As if we would be dumb enough to cross immigration with fake passports haha, but they check everything then come over to try and chat to me. My response is simple, “No hablo Espanol '' So Pablo mediates. The guy asks, why is a canadian living in Namibia carrying an American and Canadian passport trying to get into El Salvador haha. “ Well sir, because he is married to a Namibian and that is where he has chosen to live, I dont know why, you should ask him and for the two passports well he is both Canadian and American. The guy eventually smiles and says you two enjoy your time here. He really thought something was up as I can only assume I was the first ever American/Canadian living in Namibia trying to get into El Salvador he had ever met ;)
So outside we taste freedom, but before we each have a chance to say a word, both our sweatshirts are immediately removed as the sweat starts dripping. Holy smokes, it's a tad warm lol and that was the last time we wore long pants and hoodies and probably the longest we went without ice cream. (If you haven't figured it out yet, we both have a steady ice cream diet)
We went straight to the hotel but not before visiting the Skate Federation headquarters. They had a massive and I mean massive cement track that was angled around the corners. (Skating and Cycling) and in the middle of it all was a huge cement slab, plenty big enough to erect a full size hockey rink. Next door was an olympic swimming pool and offices sat behind the bleachers. It would appear I was standing in the middle of the 2023 Carribean Games main venue which 32 countries have already agreed to participate in and the plan was to add inline hockey to it. (No Pressure at all for PGKA) At the time it sounded a bit optimistic to assume we could get an entire country ready to participate in an international event in 30 months when we were about to start at zero the next day, but who knows maybe they are quick learners, “I thought to myself”.
We eventually arrive at the Athletes village aka Olympic training centre where the hotel we are staying in is on site. On site, we find multiple swimming pools, about 12 tennis courts, 2 huge gymnastics halls and more archery than I've ever seen in my life, plus a 4 story hotel. There is also a mess hall and small gym along with other amenities an athlete preparing for a big event would need. We are very fortunate enough to be able to use one of the archery halls for Inline Hockey which meant two things for us, 1 - No sun 2 - 15m away from where we stay.
Our first meal was something I will never forget. They took us to the volcano, which was completely worth the effort once we arrived near the top. We could see the entire city as it was a clear day. To go along with the window's background view the meal was 5 star. We started the meal with a few ice cold cervezas and some fresh squeezed orange juice ( to keep the immune system strong) . For our starter we had a shrimp dish which was completely cooked with a lemon. They put lots and lots of shrimp wrapped with tomatoes and red onion and leave for 24 hours in a lemon wrap. The final resort is absolutely refreshing and so tasty, a game changer on the pallet. Up next was the mains, Pablo went simple and ordered a ¼ chicken and I did as the locals do and let them order for me. I ended up with a piece of pork, friend pineapple, some local rice and a baked potato. In true central american style there were lots of sauces to go along with the dish and some lovely spicy dip that brought the entire dish together. I don't have to tell you we all had clean plates and earned the right for pudding :) To finish the meal the others had coffee and cheesecake, myself and Pablo both went for the chocolate brownie.
Sold out hockey sessions🧐
Normally we try to keep to around the 25 skaters max per session ratio as it's just myself and Pablo and that is a lot of kids to handle. El Salvador was special in many ways. Imagine a country without any knowledge or prior inline experience but yet we had an additional 40 players who sadly we could not accommodate. Crazy to think how much interest there was when I am not even entirely sure they knew what they were getting themselves into but neither did we so PGKA decided to open up the training slots to more players and that is how we ended up with 40 players per training slot. The first group would be 40 skaters under the age of 10 years old. The second group would be aged 11 to 14 years and the final group would be 15 years and older. Each group was filled to the max and drill selection became somewhat of an art. We only had about 25 sticks in total, of those 25 they were all different sizes, curves and lengths making things more difficult than normal.
With English being spoken by literally know one, Pablo was over busy. My job was simply to set drills up and correct their hands when holding a stick and of course film/ commentate on exactly what we were doing. Anything further than that nobody understood me. Every time I corrected someone's hands and tried to explain, I ended up needing Pablo to explain again why I wanted that specific hand on top of the stick as that quickly looked at me funny and went back to the way that thought was correct.
The Broom technique 🧹
As explained early, hockey sticks were being introduced for the first time. About a week before we arrived they started practicing. In a moment of pure creativity they decided brooms were the closest thing they could get to a hockey stick. The biggest difference between a broom and a hockey stick is how the top hand is used to hold the stick. Perhaps on our next visit we will introduce curling and they already form down to science.
After about the 77th time we corrected the hands we decided to let them enjoy the moment and just sweep away. We figured a speed skater with a broom was a lot closer to a hockey player than where we were before we came :)
On day three it was time to play a tournament, we had 6 teams per age division and they all battled it out in their 90 minutes of rink time. Regardless of age or skill they understood the concept of the game. Each time their team came on to play they decided on who would be goalie while the rest all played the same position (puck chaser). Face offs consisted of every player on the rink except the designated goalies all with their sticks in the middle. Imagine 8 sticks swinging at the puck the entire time. Not much open skating was allowed as the man on man coverage was about as tight as I have ever witnessed with the occasional kid breaking away from the pack, turning their stick into a microphone and singing.
The important thing was everyone was having fun and they had all learned a new sport. Everyone was such a strong skater due to the strong community of speed skating which leaves me to not worry about the future of El Salvador and hockey. I am confident to suggest we will see them playing this sport in the near future and if were a fellow South American country I would be worried as they have an extreme amount of talent, work ethic and now they are learning the basics.
Thank you to everyone who made this trip possible, it will be something I will never forget and on behalf of PGKA and all of our sponsors we are so grateful for these wonder memories.