Sunday, November 15, 2009

A First-Timer's Trip to a Polo Match

On Friday afternoon, just moments before I was getting ready to wrap up my work and head home, my boss offered tickets to anyone in the office for the polo match for Saturday. I had no plans and had never seen a real match before (the other match I "saw" was when I was working) so I asked for them and was given a pair of tickets for Saturday and Sunday's game, just in case in rained on Saturday. So great, I'd finally get to see some of this famous Argentinian polo I hear so much about.

My boss was pretty excited about it, and another co-worker told me that it was the season opener for the 116th Argentinian Polo Open. He said there would be parades and music and all, so it'd be worth going to. My only problem was that on such short notice, not knowing too many people in this city, it was going to be hard to find someone to go with me. I'm sure there are tons of people who would have liked a ticket, but I just don't know them.

I tried as hard as I could, but no one was available or wanted to go. Finally, I got in touch with a friend of a friend, and she said she would go with me, but only for a few hours. We met up outside of the fields, El Campo Argentino de Polo, at 2:30 pm and went in. It was her first time at a match as well, so she wasn't able to tell me much about the sport. Outside of the main field was a walkway filled with vendors selling polo-related merchandise, the highest quality wines, and luxury cars. This was a rich crowd, for sure. To the side was a warm up field where an exhibition match was getting underway.

We walked around for a while looking at what was for sale, and eventually worked over to the practice game. One thing I've noticed is that from a distance, it looks like tiny people riding giant dogs. Depending on the action, they can be right up in your face with little separating you, or they can be way down the field, nearly out of sight. The field is just that big.

Shortly after sitting down I got bored, and we began joking around. It's probably better to have someone who knows what they're talking about to explain it to you. As the exhibition game ended, my friend had to leave, so I followed the crowd into the main stadium, where an usher brought me to the wrong side of the stadium, but it wound up not mattering. I sat next to two girls who were big fans, and they were able to explain what was going on to me. Meanwhile, the guy behind us yelled cheers throughout the entire game, really loving the action. At one point he was angry because people weren't applauding enough.

It's striking to me that everyone applauds for both teams, and there's absolutely no booing at all. There is no real side, as teams switch back and forth who scores on each end, and at the end of the day, it's just a friendly match. That doesn't mean that the jockey's don't scream and play hard, nearly ramming their horses into each other. At one point a player smashed his mallet into the forearm of an opponent. The player screamed in pain and yelled some swears I haven't even heard of yet, dismounted, and continued to scream.

Immediately an ambulance had rushed out onto the field, which was almost laughable when you consider that it takes 5 minutes or more for a golf cart to get onto a football field when a player could have neck damage. The game stopped for a few minutes as they checked him out, and then he mounted up again and continued. Though the sun was out and I was burning, the field is close to the river and the winds are strong. I was shivering with a jacket on by the end of the match as the sun was setting. It was a close game, but I left with one minute left when it was clear that it was over.

It was a good experience to see a new sport, even if it's a very elitist game. There were no parades, and I'm not sure how I missed that, or if it was just a bad translation. I don't know if I'll go back on my own dime any time soon, but if another pair of free tickets come my way, I'm sure I'll take the opportunity.

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