Maggie’s soccer team was invited to take part in the first ever feminine soccer festival in the small pueblo of Abejorral, health a small town about 3 hours away from Medellín.  Six teams participated in the event put on by the  Mayor’s wife to try to launch more sports and community activities within the town.  The teams participating were the host team – Abejorral, remedy two teams from Atletico Nacional – the select team and the school team (Maggie’s team), Medellín, Envigado and Bello.  Abejorral is a town of 21,000 people in “tierra fria”, meaning it’s a lot cooler than than in Medellín.  There would be a few hours of intense sun in the middle of the day, but the mornings and evenings were very cool.
The two Atletico Nacional teams, the Medellín team and the Bello team all arrived together on two buses (a long and very loud ride!).   A little while before we got to the pueblo I saw a police motorcycle waiting at a bridge.  I didn’t realize it was for us!  The police escorted us into the town.  Just as we entered the city limits a group got on the bus to welcome us to their town.  The buses drove through town honking the horns and taking a couple of laps through the main city square.  People came out to watch the buses arrive.  They treated the teams like celebrities.

 The girls all stayed in one large compound with a different room for each team.  Even with bunk beds and mattresses all over the floors, there wasn’t enough room for all of the girls, so they slept three to a smaller than twin size mattress for the whole weekend!  Corey, Alex and I stayed in a “hotel” across the street.  It was about $5 per person per night with a community bathroom, if that gives you any indication to the quality we stayed in, but we were glad to not be sleeping on the floor.

That evening, the girls were lined up and marched all over the town for a parade to launch the festival.  The city had a small band that led the way as the girls marched in their groups behind them.  That evening the mayor spoke as well as his wife, the sports director for the town, Maggie’s coach who had helped organize the event, and the town priest offered a blessing to all of the girls.

The next morning, it was time to get up bright and early for the first game.  Maggie’s team started the festival playing against the host team.  They won, 1-0.  It was a very big to-do to get the game started.  All of the girls lined up, were marched to the center of the field and then the mayor kicked the first ball to start the official opening game.

 The stands stayed pretty full the whole weekend, especially when the home team played or when one of the Atletico Nacional teams played against the Medellín team.  Professionally, both Atletico Nacional and Medellín are teams from Medellín.  Nacional is much more popular nationwide and fans are hard core.  When the two match up it’s always a very big rivalry.  You would think being that these are young girls playing that maybe it wouldn’t matter so much, but when the teams played against each other the stands were filled with people chanting, singing and taunting each other the entire time!

 One thing we loved about our time in Abejorral was the tranquility of such a small town.  There were just a handful of cars we saw the whole weekend and some of those were from parents who had driven behind the buses.  There were several horses tied up to front doors as we walked through the streets.

 Back to the games…the school team unfortunately was eliminated from the competition before the finals, but the final game was between the select team from Atletico Nacional and the hosting Abejorral team.  The place was packed and electric with excitement!  The select team from Atletico Nacional is full of the very best of all of the female players that had previously been part of the school team.  (Maggie is working to try to join the select team next January.)  Every goal scored brought confetti, balloons, something like silly string but more of a soapy concoction flying over everyone.  The final game was a lot of fun – especially since Atletico Nacional won by a big margin!

 The girls were presented with a trophy and everyone received a medal.

Although the select team won, the school team celebrated right along with them since they are all from the same coach and training groups!  They were given a victory lap to run around the field with their banners and the trophy.  They chanted for quite a while, celebrated, danced…just went a little crazy in celebration!

 This is Maggie’s coach, Diego.  Feminine soccer in Colombia is very new.  So many moms tell me they wish they could have played soccer as a kid but it just wasn’t allowed and most people believed soccer was only for boys.  Just an example, Alex and Maggie are in the same soccer school.  Alex trains with about 17 other boys and his coach trains them as a team.  The boys are automatically broken up into teams and given a coach and lots of extras that the girls don’t receive.  Diego is in charge of the girls.  Apart from one assistant coach, Diego alone coaches over 150 girls and breaks them down into about five or six teams.  He is working hard to advance feminine soccer throughout Colombia.  We think he’s great and is truly gifted with the ability to take such a chaotic situation and truly make players out of all of the girls.  He knows each one of them and truly cares about every one.

 After the big win, the night ended with the teams playfully chanting and taunting each other.  I know that may sound strange, but here it’s all done in good fun and not portrayed as rude as some might think that sounds.  The town brought in a DJ and speaker system and they had an all-night dance party to celebrate the end of the festival.  I heard most of them did not sleep that night!

Our last day in Abejorral the locals told us they wanted to take the girls to a special spot to swim.  Everyone was exhausted but they said it was a short walk and worth the effort.  So we began a journey that we had no idea would turn into a great adventure.  It wasn’t till we were well into it that we found out the short walk would be about 3 kilometers.

Our guide, it turns out, thought she knew a shortcut.  This shortcut led us through a cow pasture, literally up and down the rolling hills, steep inclines, climbing over fences and through barbed wire, through nearly non-existent paths and over small planks to pass over creeks.  We began doubting whether we’d ever actually arrive!

Going up one incline we stopped to take a rest.  There was no way I wanted to go back the way we came – it was too difficult!  So we took a breather and kept going.

 If our guide would have stayed on the road instead of taking us on the shortcut, it may have been a little bit longer distance-wise, but I’m sure the difficulty would have been much less intense!  In the picture below you can see where we finally met up again with the road.

 The end of the journey was worth it, though, just like they said!  We ended up at a small park with a beautiful waterfall and swimming hole.

 The girls jumped in and the water was freezing!!  Maggie may have made it for about five minutes before she got out and spent the rest of the time drying off in the sun!

 Most of the teams took the road and spent a while relaxing at the water, jumping in and dragging each other into the freezing water.  It was a great way to end the long weekend of intense soccer.

 How they still had the energy to climb this hill, I don’t know, but they loved exploring every part of the park.

 As if our journey to get to the park wasn’t enough, one of the locals said, “We’ve got some trucks coming to take you all back to town.  We know everyone is tired.”  We thought, “Great!”  And they called us to get in a truck.  Turns out, the truck was a very small truck with a canopy back.  Standing up we crushed 30 people into the tiny back end of this truck and took off.  Along the twisty, inclined, dirt and very bumpy road we lived through a real-life roller coaster.  I can’t lie, I was terrified and thought this may be the way we die!  Haha…we were all being thrown around side to side, forwards and backwards and all I could think about was a cattle truck we had passed a few weeks ago where the larger cows ended up falling onto a calf in front of us and the poor calf couldn’t get back up.  The ride in this truck was one of the scariest things I have ever done – and I’ve done some pretty adventurous things in my life!!

 The weekend came to a close and we made the trip back home on the bus.  One thing that is so common in Colombia is washed out roads along the mountain passes.  Here is one of those areas I wondered if our bus could get through, but we had a good driver who got us all home safe and sound!

~ Tona