There are some experiences money could never buy; I was once offered the opportunity to play football with Masai tribesmen, absolutely priceless! These experiences leave you with the most wonderful memories and have often arrived in the most unexpected and surprising ways; Playing in the Bolivian National Blitz Chess Championsips is up there with the best of them.
Back in 2001, and following quick introductions the day before, I turned up at a sports stadium in the centre of Santa Cruz de la Sierra as a special guest invitee to the tournament.
(aside: Santa Cruz capital of the sweltering eastern plains is Bolivia's economic powerhouse, and home, according to Mario Vargas Llosa, to the most beautiful women in South America.)
Things in Bolivia seldom seem to run on time or quite according to plan, and of course, this tournament was no exception. On arriving at the stadium, 1o minutes before the expected start, I was told we were playing at a different venue, and coaches would be along shortly to transfer us.
An hour later, still no coaches and I was wondering why we simply hadn't walked. As we piled hastily into players cars and drove and drove, I began to realise why. We left the city far behind, paid our toll on the highway towards Brazil and bumped along as the road degraded into dirt track. Some 20 km out of the city, we arrived in a small village, took a left off the 'main road' and meandered through the houses before reaching the long approach to a 'Ponderosa' style ranch.
Round the back, was a long open-air veranda, bellowing 'bolivian fiesta' music, a huge ice filled dustbin complete with bottle upon bottle of beer, and the chess boards arranged on tables on the veranda. So this was chess bolivian style!
My main concern was not the beer being passed around liberally, nor the music, nor the opposition which included IM Johnny Cueto, and a young soon-to-be-grandmaster Osvaldo Zambrana. No, my biggest concern was that I was supposed to be meeting a potential father-in-law for the first time back in the city that evening. Oh well, how long could a blitz tournament last?!
A half decent tournament, including a draw against Johnny Cueto, slight intoxication, a last round in almost pitch darkness, and it was still before 7pm. I wouldn't be too late, just 'bolivian late' getting back to the city. What they'd neglected to tell me, was that no-one was going back to the city; it was churrasquera / fiesta time! Unfortunately duty got the better of us, and with some desperate pleading that we really did have to leave, one player took pity, foresook his beer temporarily and ferried us the kilometre or so back to the main road.
A bus journey sat next to a chicken later and I was in the city with one of the most incredible memories starting to burn itself indelibly into my brain... I suspect some of those guys are still partying.
If you fancy a game in Santa Cruz, visit the plaza and play in the open air or contact Javier Monroy at the local chess association.