NSAF at Cali22 World U20 Champs—Getting there is half the adventure

by Jim Spier

It’s always an adventure traveling to another continent for one of these championships.  I have been to almost all of the World U20 meets (formerly World Junior) since 1988 – missing only the first in Athens in 1986 and the last in Kenya in 2021.  This trip was no different.

We all used our airline points to get to Cali and, in such case, you are at the mercy of the airlines in terms of scheduling.

In my case, I had planned to fly from Miami to Cali, with my originating flight from Savannah to Miami on a separate record.  At first, my flight to Cali was a nonstop from Miami on Saturday afternoon, in which case I would have flown to Miami on Saturday morning and continued on to Cali.  But about a month ago the airline changed my Cali flight such that it left at 8am on Saturday, connecting in Panama City, then on to Cali.  That meant I had to fly to Miami the night before and stay overnight.

Because the meet required a Covid test within 24 hours of picking up the media credential in Cali, I had arranged to take it at the hotel via a “Telehealth” company.  I did so 10pm on Friday night and it was successful.  I now had all the (digital) paperwork required to get my credential (which included the covid vax test document, the covid test results, the Colombian immigration form and my passport).

The hotel shuttle service to the airport did not start until 7am, so I had to arrange for a taxi at 5:30am.  I had checked uber rates for that time and they started at $35.  It was less than a mile to the airport from the hotel and I considered walking.  But I found a taxi for a $13 flat rate and got there on time.

I made my flight and my connection in Panama City, then on to Cali.

At the Cali airport there were meet volunteers on the way to customs who were there to make the entry process as easy as possible.  They sent us to the express line, which was a good thing since it was estimated that the “normal” line would take over an hour to get to an agent.

Once I picked up my luggage, I was escorted out of baggage claim by another meet volunteer, avoiding the normal baggage check exit path.  Outside the terminal, I was greeted by another volunteer who arranged for a private car to take me to the hotel (it must have been a case of mistaken identity since I am not normally afforded such luxury).

I had made the hotel reservations back in March (using our hotel points).  At the time the hotel was the Four Points Sheraton, but it changed to the Sonesta in May.  I was assured that our reservations were valid even with the hotel change.

When I arrived they had no record of all this.  After a half hour of negotiating they finally relented and I had my room.  But there was also supposed to be one for Joy Kamani.  That took another 10 minutes, but I finally got hers as well.

There are 2 elevators in the hotel, each about 4 feet by 4 feet.  There are stickers on the floor that say “Please stay 2 meters apart.”  For those who are metrically challenged, 2 meters are a little over 6 feet.

Next step was to get my credentials.  The credentialling center was about a mile from Stadium, which was about 3 miles from the hotel.  But I checked with the meet volunteer desk at our hotel and they told me that I could go to the Tower of Cali hotel, which was literally one block away.  I did so and got my credential.  Now I was all set.

Since I had not eaten all day I decided to try the restaurant directly across from the hotel.  It could be called a “local joint” and basically offered only chicken, fried or roasted.

The U.S. dollar against the Colombian peso is very strong right now. $1 = 4200 pesos (I exchanged for 1:4000, so a bit less).

I ordered roasted ½ chicken with potatoes and sweet plaintains (and a beer).  I didn't realize that the half chicken was half of a REALLY BIG chicken.  And I thought the potatoes (plural) were going to be fries, not 2 whole baked potatoes!

Anyway, I think I came in under budget.  The meal cost 19,000 pesos  (19,000 / 4000 = $4.75!!).  Generous guy that I am, I left the waitress 1000 pesos tip = 25 cents).  (It's interesting that she brought me back 1000 pesos in coins, not in a 1000 peso note.  I guess she was hoping I would leave some, not all, of that as a tip.  She probably would have been happy with 500 pesos - 12 1/2 cents).

Fortunately there's a refrigerator in our room.  Since I could only manage half of what I ordered, I brought back the other half to the hotel.

By the way, the chicken was one of the best I've ever had.

I am now all set.  All that I had to do at that point was to wait for Joy Kamani and Steve Underwood to arrive on Sunday.

As I mentioned previously, when using airline award tickets, one is at the mercy of the airlines for scheduling.  If we had paid for the ticket, it would have been a 3-4 hour flight for Joy from Houston to Cali – not so in this case.

Joy left Houston at about 4pm on Saturday, flying to El Salvador.  After a short layover, on she went to Bogota, arriving at 2 am on Sunday.  Fortunately, she went through customs there and, at that early hour, it was virtually deserted.  Four hours later she left Bogota, arriving in Cali at 7:30am.  Then on to the hotel.

Rather than take a nap, she decided to have breakfast then get her credential, which she did.  When we got back she said she would take a 15 minute nap.  Three hours later she was ready to go!

We decided to walk to a mall about 2 kms away.  I had lost my binoculars some time during the prior year and wanted to buy some new ones.  That search was unsuccessful, and Joy offered to let me use hers.  I took her up on that offer.

We walked to the Hotel Spiwak, adjacent to the mall, one of the team hotels.  There we ran into Collin Burkhart’s parents.  Collin was part of our Project Javelin Gold, having won the Nike Outdoor Nationals javelin in 2021.  He has since become an accomplished hammer thrower, now attending Penn State.  He made the team in that event.

Joy had a 5pm photo orientation at the stadium so we headed there.  That was done by 6:15 or so and we decided to go to dinner.  There was a pretty good seafood restaurant about a mile away called Pedro Junior.  We took an Uber there (for the princely sum of 75 cents) and had a monster meal totally $25 for both of us.  Then back to the hotel for some serious rest and on to the meet the next day.

Meanwhile, Steve Underwood had some serious travel issues.  One would have when you consider his itinerary:  Windsor, Canada to Toronto, Toronto to NY La Guardia, NY JFK to Bogota, Bogota to Cali.  (Beggars can’t be choosers when it comes to award travel).

Of course his flight from Windsor was late.  But so was the one from Toronto.  However, he arrived in Toronto after U.S. customs had closed (!?) so was not allowed to get on the Toronto flight.  So now he’s in Toronto at 10pm.  They arranged for a flight the next day at 11pm (bypassing New York)!  Poor Steve!

There were no hotel rooms available within 20 miles of the Toronto airport so Steve decided to spend the night at the airport.  He finally left at 11pm on Sunday night, connecting in Bogota, then on to Cali, arriving Monday morning.

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