The day after the Championships closed, most of the team were set to check out and begin their journeys home. Only Amy, Evie, Nicole, myself and the South Australians were staying on an extra day, so after getting a long awaited waffle from the breakfast buffet and saying farewell to our other teammates, the nine of us organised to finally see a bit of Cali. Up until this day, all we’d really seen of the city was what we had seen from moving vehicles, so we were keen to get out of the bubble that the the State of Hotel Spiwak and actually explore.
We had the hotel staff call us some taxis and we all paid 30,000COP each (around $15AU) to get three taxis to accompany us on the entirety of our adventure. For all the stigma attached to Colombia and all the concerns of catching taxis, all the cab drivers we encountered were more than lovely. They helped us out all day, taking pictures for us and just being generally helpful.
The first place we headed, was up the mountain to visit Jesus. We’d seen him all week from a distance, but we figured it was about time we went to have an up close and personal visit with him. We drove to the gates of Cristo Rey, and then had to walk the rest of the way up the mountain. The sun was scorching and the hill was steeper than it appeared, but getting up there was worth it to see the great view of Cali.
Seeing Cristo Rey up close was very cool as well. Fun fact, Cristo Rey is only four metres smaller than Cristo Redentor in Rio de Janeiro, so he’s still pretty big, and luckily for us, he casts a nice cool shadow so we could get some respite from the burning sun. There’s got to be some kind of metaphor there.
We headed back down from Cristo Rey and our next top was San Antonio, a church in town. In front of the church is a square that just so happened to be host to artisan markets that day and a band that was playing Colombian music. We bought souvenirs from the markets and salsa danced the best we could to the music. The band even translated a lovely message to us, telling us that when we go home to let Australia know they are always welcome in Cali. It was so lovely and beautiful and the people were so wonderful and kind that it made me want to go to every person who made ignorant comments about Colombia and who profiled and joked about the people and give them a good slap. Never once did I feel unsafe, I mean, it was close the time we broke down, but even when we were broken down, we were never approached or felt threatened and our driver only did the best he could to make sure we were back on our way. We were so well looked after.
After our stint at San Antonio, we decided to go commercial again and find another shopping center where we could grab some lunch and spend some more of our money. After getting way to overwhelmed in an Adidas outlet store with massive discounts, the four New South Welshmen said farewell to the South Australians and headed back to our hotel.
All week we’d been hanging out for a swim, and we knew that the pool closed at 6pm and was going to be closed the next day which would be our last day at the hotel, so we rushed home to go for a dip. Once we finally made it to the pool at 4:45pm, we were informed that today the pool would be closing at 5pm. Annoyed, but still keen for a dip, we hopped in for 15 glorious minutes of fun in the sun.
Once we were kicked out of the pool area, we decided we didn’t want to party to end there, so we went up to our room, filled up the bathtub, and the four of us squeezed in. After filming a very weird vlog, Amy decided to pretend that my soap dish was a conch shell and she was a mermaid servant, bathing the mermaid princesses (I told you it was weird).
After we’d had enough of that, it was time for one last meal at Crepes and Waffles. We went all out and pigged out on delicious savory crepes and then devoured ice cream treats fit for mermaid princesses. We just so happened to bump into the South Australian’s one last time, so we gave them all big hugs and said our farewells.
After our dinner, we headed back to our room to begin the task of packing all our junk away. Well three of us did. Evie fell asleep and we mocked her profusely for snoring. Our plans to organise our room never really happened that whole week, so all our things were strewn about the place. Of course, it felt like we had accumulated so much stuff, despite us barely having shopped, and we were still planning one last shopping trip the next morning! It didn’t take long before we all decided to follow in Evie’s footsteps and get to bed, so we would be well rested for the epic journey home we still had before us.
The day we found out our order of skating we were out to lunch with the South Australian girls. The Show Group time slot for official practice was from about 7am to 10am and each team had 15 minutes and would train in the same order as we compete. So we didn’t really want to draw too early because that would make our Saturday a very long one as we would have training in the morning, competition in the afternoon, followed by the Grand Gala and the Closing Ceremony in the night. However the skating order draw gods gave us a firm middle finger as we drew third. Not as rough as drawing first, but meh, it meant we had to be at training pretty darn early.
When my alarm went off at 4:30 am I wanted to cry, but today was the day, the whole reason we had traveled for 48 hours. Game day. We had an early breakfast and got our taxis down to the venue.
We’d spent nearly a week sitting up in the stands, looking down at the venue from up high, peering down on the competitors rolling around in the warm up area and now here we were, looking up. It was quite bizarre being on the other side, seeing the whole place from a new perspective.
We suited up in our gorgeous Australian Leotards, everyone looking fab, and pushed our way through Argentinians and Italians to get our time in the sun (literally, dude the glare from the sun that morning was brutal).
We had fifteen minutes and we knew exactly what we needed to do to milk every second. We skated our positions, then skated our key section of the routine before doing a complete run through. After a week of skating on the awful plastic floor of the training venue, to finally get on the glorious, smooth concrete surface of the official venue was something divine. We skated our routine strongly and cleanly and we were really happy with how we did. Over the course of the week, things had begun to fall into place at the last minute. Parts were tightened up, arms were matching better, facial expressions were improving. This would be the second last time we would hear Fatboy Slim’s “Right Here, Right Now” and know we had an exhausting five minutes of skating ahead of us.
We felt great after our official practice; we were hot and sweaty, but everyone was in good spirits and ready for the real thing. We popped back home and started the clock, we had about four hours to get everyone’s hair and makeup perfect.
Evie was in charge of hair and I was in charge of makeup, and neither of us had gotten a chance during our busy week to trial anything on anyone despite saying several times that we would. Evie settled on a beehive, and I decided to recreate Twiggy’s look, we recruited another skater from outside of our team, Sarah and we were good to go (our routine was a 60’s theme if you couldn’t tell from that description).
We all met in my room and I got started on my own makeup, praying to God that I wouldn’t stuff up and end up with black eyeliner smeared all over my face. Four hours and one Subway run later and we had eight skaters fully hair’d and make-up’d.
After one last review of our official practice footage, it was time to head back to the venue. It was show time.
The roll-around, warm up area was busy at the best of times, but during the team events it was pandemonium. Fourteen teams, all with eight to twelve skaters each, all decked out in crazy outfits, it was like some kind of even more bizarre circus. Before we skated, I didn’t even feel nervous. I was just pumped to get out there. This was going to most likely be our last hurrah as team Platinum. Four years of Platinum, two for me, coming to an end and I was just ready to get out there and put on a show.
Competing at World’s is like having an out of body experience. I’ve only done it twice and after both times, I had little memory of actually doing it. I remember having the best time and I remember being happy with how I skated, but everything in between was a blur. Standing there in position, waiting for the music to start and counting in the first movement and it was like I just left my body and didn’t return to it until I was back in the marshaling area awaiting our scores. I didn’t hear anything other than our music. I didn’t see any individual faces except my team members. I didn’t think about anything except what I was doing.
We were very happy with our skate. We did the best we could on the day, and we told our story. When it was all over, we could finally relax and enjoy watching the other teams compete. After our even was the Large Show Group event and following that was the Grand Gala, where the medal winners of the week had a chance to skate again and entertain the crowd. The Grand Gala was great except for the fact that I hadn’t eaten since 3pm and by this point was absolutely starving.
When the Grand Gala ended, it was time for the Closing Ceremony which consisted of a bunch of speeches in Spanish and a lot of selfie-taking. It had been a huge week and everything for the last year had built up to that day and when it was over we were all exhausted.
Evie was pretty keen to go out after. The Italians were hosting a little celebration in a conference room at the hotel and I said I might make an appearance, but the second my body hit the bed once we got back to our rooms that night at 11pm, I knew there was no way I was going out. So my roommates and I had a quiet night in and got the sleep we so desperately needed after the crazy week we had just had.
The next several days followed this general routine. We’d wake up bright and early, eat breakfast, go to country training, train, come home, eat lunch, head to the competition, come home, do some off skate, eat dinner, sleep, repeat. Training sessions became less and less exhausting as the days went by. The floor didn’t get any less horrible, and the heat didn’t get any less crippling but we felt a bit better about it all. In our rare moments of free time, we’d explore the shopping complex.
We hit the supermarket and looked at all the weird and wonderful food. We bought some random fruit to try, we’d try out all the different restaurants. Our restaurant of choice ended up being Crepes and Waffles, so Colombian, I know. I swear, I ate sushi, teppanyaki, Italian, Mexican, Subway and crepes. All Colombian classics, right? One thing that we discovered was amazing was the Limonada de Coco. Coconut Lemonade. Holy Lord it was good.
The people we bonded with most were the South Australian girls. They were so supportive and friendly and actively cultivated a spirit of unity and team-togetherness. We couldn’t skate a program without them hollering encouragement from the sidelines. We, of course hollered back. We shared crazy taxi rides with them and had lunch with them. If you had told me when I was 8 years old that I’d be on the same team as and having lunch and hanging out with Tammy and Amanda Bryant I would have told you to shut up.
After hearing all the comments people made about Colombia before I left, I was tentative about going there, but there was never a time while I was there that I felt unsafe. One of the big things is dodgy taxis. As soon as you walk out of the airport at Bogota a sign reads “Don’t get into unregistered taxis” so it’s obviously a problem. But at every taxi rank, at the hotel and at the venue, there were security people and even police verifying the legitimacy of each taxi and making sure everything was in order. And the taxi drivers were lovely! I mean, none of them could speak English and hardly any of us could speak Spanish but we still managed to have conversations through pointing, gesturing and laughing. The only time when it was a bit hairy was on a day after country training where there was a protest in the city so the traffic was intense. In an attempt to cheat the traffic, our taxi driver took us a convoluted way through the back streets. Unfortunately, the back streets were also chocker block with traffic. (Side note: In traffic, people on motorbikes, just drive up on the footpath like it’s no big thing.) Suddenly, the driver pulls over and makes a gesture that we interpret to mean that he’s hot and needs a drink of water. We very quickly learned that what it actually meant was that the engine was hot and needed a drink of water. So he got a bottle of water out of the boot and started cooling down the engine while we sweltered in the sun on the cramped backseat. Then he disappeared for ten minutes while he got more water. Panicking, that we didn’t know where we were and the taxi wouldn’t start and not wanting to hail a random unverified cab in the middle of the city, we hung tight until eventually, the engine started. What should have been a 20 minute trip took us over an hour that day. Not funny. What was funny, however, is that the sketchy hair salon we broke down in front of had a huge photo of Taylor Swift in her “Fearless” days as the model. Pretty sure Tay-Tay doesn’t know that she is endorsing a dodgy hairdresser in Cali, Colombia.
When we weren’t training on skates at the rink or sweltering in taxis, we were doing video analysis of the morning’s training on Esther’s king sized bed or doing some off skate matching. A couple of days we did the off skate in the gym as you’d expect, but one day when the gym was occupado, we ended up doing our off skate practice on the rooftop terrace at the hotel to an audience of confused shopping center patrons. It was pleasant up there in the evening but it was extremely windy and none of us wanted to lose our jackets in the breeze during the costume change so it was very high-stress.
Most evenings were spent watching the competition. The venue was a cycling velodrome with open sides, through which you could see the mountains over the horizon and the Jesus statue looking on from his spot up the hill. The open air feel was nice, until you realised that you had to add glare off the floor, intense wind, dirt being blown in onto the floor and being blinded by the afternoon sun to your list of things that make competing stressful.
The days flew by, and before we knew it, it was time for Robert’s Long Program where he finished 12th, and then it time for quartets and before long, it was the day we had waited and worked for.
When the plane touched down on Cali soil at about 11am on that Saturday morning (was it Saturday? It was such a blur) my whole body heaved a sigh of relief. My friends and I had been in transit for around 40 grueling hours and after our long-haul flight from Sydney to Santiago, our 12 hour layover in Santiago (which turned into 15 hours after delays) and our last two legs to Bogota and finally Cali, the sight of Stephanie, our volunteer guide was one for sore eyes. She greeted us with a huge smile and we collected our luggage which all arrived safe and sound. My luggage felt about as heavy as the bags under my eyes as we lugged it out to our team manager and our minibus. The first thing we noticed when we hopped into the minibus was that there are apparently no road rules in Colombia. Or if there are, no one follows them. Despite the fact that the road seemed to appear fairly smooth, the half hour trip felt more like a rollercoaster than a bus and as Evie pointed out several times, it was quite beneficial to wear a sports bra.
All we wanted to do was sleep in a bed. In Santiago, we had managed to score a few hours worth of naps in between Cards Against Humanity matches, on the seats at the gate, but it didn’t really suffice. Of course we weren’t allowed to sleep. We had to get ourselves back into routine which meant staying awake until Cali bedtime, plus the opening ceremony was that night.
We arrived at the hotel, checked in and met with the rest of the team before heading down to the food court for lunch, which I ordered in a combination of non-existent Spanish and awkward pointing. Team Manager Nigel took us on a speed tour of the complex which consisted of the four of us incredibly jetlagged and achy girls scurrying weakly behind him. The complex was fantastic. It was an open air shopping complex with a gorgeous four and a half star hotel right in the middle which was where we stayed.
My roommates, Amy and Nicole and I found our room (we were upgraded to the top level so that was a bonus) and tried to organise our lives before getting ready for the opening ceremony.
The bus ride to the venue was just as, if not more, horrifying than the minibus ride. Amy had bought a burrito on the go to eat on the bus, and swiftly discovered that it was a terrible idea as she got more on the floor and on her face than in her mouth. Arriving at the venue was intimidating for one, it was absolutely crawling with armed security. We were moved from place to place until we finally found where we were supposed to be. Some people went to get photos with other skaters, but I was so tired I just hung out with some Aussies and waited for people to get photos with us.
The inside of the venue was crawling with media so I turned on the happy for the cameras despite wanting nothing more than to just curl up in a ball and sleep. I’ve never wanted to pass out more than during the opening ceremony and when we were finally released to either go home or stay for the salsa entertainment, we all opted to go home. It was unfortunate to miss the entertainment, but as we sat half asleep in the gutter waiting for some taxis we realised that going home was a pretty decent idea. Even though we thought it couldn’t get worse, the taxi ride was even more horrifying than both buses. The funny thing I noticed about the roads in Cali, was the fact that even though no one seemed to be following the road rules, and everyone seemed to be driving like crazy, all the traffic seemed to have a way of working itself out.
We found out that we had our first training session the next day at 10am, a fact that none of us were overly thrilled to hear in our state of crippling lethargy. We got our dinner, and headed to bed, we had two king single beds and a trundle, so I, being a martyr, took the trundle the first night and immediately regretted my decision. That thing was like a slab of concrete.
In spite of the incredibly uncomfortable bed, I crashed almost instantly and only randomly woke up once, resisting the urge to check my phone and ruin my sleeping plans with bright screen light.
We awoke the next day, bright and early, and feeling slightly better and headed downstairs for a 8:30 breakfast at the breakfast buffet. Just quietly, breakfast buffets are the only reason I do these trips to be honest. We dined like Queens on our freshly squeezed juices, omelets, granola and yogurts and other random South American things before grabbing taxis to the country practice rink.
The practice rink was a hockey rink, complete with blue plastic ice-court floor and blue white and yellow barriers. It was almost identical to the old Skate Worx rink I grew up in except for the fact that it was open air.
The first training session was rough. It felt like learning to skate again. The air was thick and hot and it felt like trying to skate through mud. We didn’t go overboard, but we did push ourselves a little bit and while it felt good to make progress, we were all the colour of beetroots once we were finished.
We headed back to the hotel to get some lunch with the team before heading off to the rink to watch Robert skate his short program. Robert did an awesome job and ended up coming tenth! That meant that he got to skate in the top groups which was such an amazing effort.
We headed back home at last and hit dinner at the the beds, ready for another long day.