Travels with Chess (2) - Spain


[Read Travels With Chess (1) - Brazil for additional context]

November, 2018, a year after we visited Brazil, I was once again boarding a plane for The World Cadets chess tournament. This time, my destination was a small city in Spain called Santiago De Compostela in the province of Galicia. Now one year older, I was competing in the Under 12 section.

This time around, we had a much smoother trip from the airport to the hotel, as we could actually find our designated transportation shuttle. This was a tremendous relief. After the distressing experience with transportation in Brazil, I was worried something worse would happen.

We arrived two days before the tournament started, partly to adjust to jet lag and partly to spend time sightseeing. During these two days, we visited a World Heritage Sight, the Santiago De Compostela Cathedral. It is considered one of the most important religious structures in the whole of Spain, particularly because it marks the end of the 790 kilometer (490 mile) Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route. The construction of this cathedral began in 1075 and carried on throughout the 12th century. Many extensions were added throughout the years, in various architectural styles, including Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque, Plateresque and Neoclassical. We also enjoyed the stone-paved narrow streets of the old city near the Cathedral.

Although I had been to many tournaments before, this Spanish location for our tournament was one of the most beautiful I have ever seen. It was within the provincial “City of Culture,” a world-renowned architectural complex designed by the famous architect Peter Eisenmen, the winner of a 1999 competition held by the Parliament of Galicia. The complex of buildings, which includes a museum of Galician history and a library, a New Technologies Center, Music Theater, Periodicals Archive, and Central Services and Administration building,

was designed to resemble a scallop shell, the symbol of the pilgrim’s road to Santiago.

While it was probably not the architect’s intention, the outside walls of the building became huge, entertaining slides for myself and other chess competitors. The walls were slanted sideways on an angle, allowing people to walk up on them with their hands and feet, although the higher you got, the more dangerous and difficult it became. Climbing became an effective way for me to reduce my nerves before the games.

Although it looked stunningly beautiful at the time, this amazing edifice, I later learned, was losing the government a lot of money. Apparently it has not been attracting as many visitors as needed to keep it profitable. Later, I read in the news that the project had already spent over double its budget, so the plan to construct the last two buildings was completely terminated. Regardless of the financial state of the building, I appreciated that I could play chess inside such an architectural wonder.

This tournament was a bit different from the one in Brazil. Here, the number of participants was unprecedented. It drew a record number of 851 kids from 86 different countries! In my section, the U12 Open, there were over 200 participants. I played against players from many countries, including Finland, Belarus, Russia, Israel, Mongolia, China, and, of course, Spain. Even though I did not win a medal, it was a precious learning experience for me. I was able to witness the genius of top players my age.

The tournament went on as normal, but the weather was unfriendly--it was monsoon season. When it was sunny and not raining, it was gorgeous. But for over half the duration of the tournament, it was stormy. On rainy days, the five-minute walk from the bus stop to the site was often exhausting, as the winds kept sweeping people off their feet and tripping them. My mom fell even over on the stairs once while we were walking.

Moreover, once we got in, we would be drenched in water. Some players brought dry clothes to change into once they arrived indoors. Umbrellas were futile, since the wind would rip them open and render them useless. There was a nearby convenience store--fortunately, the proprietor was Chinese, and I could communicate with him!--where players could purchase durable rain coats.

One day, we received a surprise. Our game for the day had been canceled because it was raining so hard that a flood warning was issued. We were told that the bus could be exposed to the danger of slipping off the roads. The driver also could lose his/her way easily because the storm made everything look like it was the middle of the night. Hearing this announcement was incredibly shocking, since I had never experienced anything like monsoon season before.

Additionally, this time, my mom was extremely careful about what I ate because of my unfortunate experience with food poisoning in Brazil. Even though I was very tempted to try an Italian restaurant near our hotel, I had to quench my desire until the end of our tournament. I didn’t get sick, so I was able to explore the city! After the tournament finished, I was able to finally enjoy great seafood and “Jamon,” a type of Spanish ham famous throughout the country. I will never forget the fresh oysters, the best I have ever had.

Another memorable experience for me was playing “Blitz,” (short games of chess) with other tournament competitors. These were the closest social interactions I have had with kids from different countries, and we were all able to learn from each other, even though we could not communicate with words. We all spoke “Chess.”

Although I did not win a medal on this trip, it was a precious learning experience for me. I was able to witness the genius of top players my age and experience Iberian culture.

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