12/14-12/15: Background and Arrival
The South American Orienteering Champs were held on the Brazil/Uruguay border
near a town known as Santana do Livramento on the Brazil side, and Rivera on
the Uruguay side. Its really a single town with no border crossing area, in
fact, I walked into the Uruguay side without realising it the night I arrived
when looking for a place to eat. In terms of latitude, its location would
be equivalent to about the Georgia/SC border in the US. December is summer
south of the equator, of course, and it was hot when I arrived (40C/104F), but
fortunately it wasn't quite that hot for the races.
Getting there from PHL was three hops, Miami, Sao Paulo, Porto Alegre by air,
then a 500K drive. The drive took about 5 hours, which wasn't too bad.
Alternatives would have been 3 hops thru Montevideo, and about the same length
drive. Certainly wasn't a particularly easy place to get to for only a
weekend of racing, but I was curious to see what the O scene was like in
South America, and this seemed like the best chance I would possibly have for
|View from room 515 of Hotel Jandaia, Livremento
The drive, and the races, were in a part of South America known as the
pampas, sort of hilly, gaucho (cowboy) country. I was trying to think
of what other areas it reminded me of -- it was sort of like parts of Texas
or some lower Front Range areas (tho wetter), and Latvia (tho hillier), but
are imperfect matches. I was driving along and didn't see to many trees, and
no parks, and was wondering where races could be held. In fact, I only drove
thru a total of amount 500m of forest the whole drive out there. I got the
sense, tho, that there was enough moisture that the area would all be thickly
forested (temperate, not jungle or rain forest) if the hand of man were not
One thing you don't immediately think of when going to South America for
O is your compass. Competition compasses made for the Northern Hemisphere
don't work south of the Equator. Apparently, there are compasses
balanced specifically for South America, but I didn't have one of these.
I did have one specifically balanced for Australia (or so it was claimed),
so I packed that and hoped for the best.
The language in Brazil is Brazilian Portuguese, and Latin American Spanish in
Uruguay. In the border town I was told they spoke a dialect called
Portenol, which, fortunately, was close enough to Spanish for me,
as I was getting nowhere with the Brazilian Portuguese pronunciations.
Virtually no one on the street spoke English, tho I was lucky enough that
some of the organizers did.
12/16: Model Event
I was told that I would be picked up at my hotel for the model
(via e-mail, before arriving), and I must say, the organizers went out
of their way to make things easy for me. As soon as I checked in at
the hotel, they were automatically called and notified of my arrival,
then I had a ride waiting for me to take me to the model the next day.
The model was on the Brazil side, about a 15 minute ride from town (at the
Parque de Eventos Jose Rufino de Aguiar). My ride was
"J. F.", one of the course setters for the long distance race. I asked him
who made the map, if they had European mappers; he replied "my friend made it".
He kept warning me about the vegetation -- "be careful, you will get lost". He
told me the point of the model was to see how the vegetation was mapped. That
pretty much became the theme of South American mapping and course setting
to me -- it seemed to be all about the vegetation and vegetation
features -- not much mention (or use) of contour features.
I was more interested in the overall quality of the map, whether features other
than veg would be useful, and whether or not my Australian compass would work.
I realised right away that I had no known good points of reference to test the
compass (I mean, I didn't know if the map were true), but I did notice that the
compass settled quickly, and seemed to work normally. I also noticed point
features didn't line up all that well, but at least the compass got me pretty
much in the general direction.
|Be careful of the green, you will get lost
I noticed that none of the controls were on contour features. I also noticed
that all of the controls were "yellow to orange" level, in US parlance [M14-M16
level]. I noticed that veg features were common choices for control points,
and expected the real races would be like this also -- yellow
course orienteering with veg features and no real use of contour features
(I turned out to be somewhat right). I did go into the green a bit, and
it was somewhat passable, the problem was the contour mapping just didn't
make sense, and non-contour features were placed wrong with respect to the
local contour features. For example, I found clearings mapped as being
in reentrants as actually being on the spur, and the fence junction (#40),
was on the other slope of a drainage than what is shown.
Moreover, the vis in the green was extremely poor, I made a note to not go
thru the green under any circumstances, unless I had a good handrail that
would contain the control or connect to another such handrail, or a
catching feature along those lines (contour independent line features).
I noticed the fences all seemed to be relatively correct, except for
the unmapped ones. I didn't expect any controls to be placed in the
green, as I did not feel that could be done fairly (I turned out to be
wrong about this).
|Only patch of white woods in Brazil
Later, I tried to find out more about the mapping for all the races.
I never was able to find out where the base maps came from. I heard
a rumor (unconfirmed) that GPS was used in the field checking (if true,
a dubious proposition given some of the thick canopy in play). I was
told they had "difficulty drawing hills", and was asked if I had any
expertise in that area (not being a mapper, no). Their plan going
forward seemed to be to use satellite photos available on the Internet
for future mapmaking (and they asked if I had experience with this -
again no), I suggested aerial photos and European base mappers; I got
the impression that this was out of their budget. (The races were
cheap: USD 7 for 3 races and a model; they specifically stated a goal
of keeping entry fees extremely cheap so the sport was available to
everyone (they also declined e-punching for budgetary reasons)).
There were only about 15 people at the model, about 5 Argentineans, 5
Brazilians, and a handful of Europeans. I suspected that model events
weren't part of the local race preparation culture, or more likely,
people had to work and just couldn't take off for a model event like we do.
12/17: Relay Champs
[Full map and routes
The relay was on the Uruguay side, about 5K from town at a municipal park.
I was placed on a team with two Europeans, the reigning woman's world
MTB-O champion (Michaela Gigon - AUT), and Paul (H21E - IRL). No one
wanted to run first, and somehow I was stuck with that honor.
The relay was what I would call a "sprint relay" (but WT more around 22 per
leg) -- it was a real common sense format, something I'd like to see more
of in the US, rather than the class/different course system we use now.
Simply 3 loops, all about 2.5K, forked, with each team running the loops
in random order. The courses were all yellow to orange level, so just
about anyone could do them (except anything near veg was a bit bingoish).
The terrain was much more open than the model, with scrubby trees and
brush, and the occasional nasty/thick/bingo parlour.
|Typical relay course terrain
I ran an ok, but not great race. I had trouble with punching -- there were two
controls at each point, and the second one had a different code than the code
you were looking for. Moreover, the real code on the other control was taped
over, so you had to look really hard at it, so it took a bit of time verifying
your code. Finally, the locals hadn't gotten accustomed to punching quickly,
so long queues formed. I did lose alot of time punching, and also made a
pair of small booms, probably losing 3 minutes overall on the short course.
I was at #9 when I heard the first cheering, so I figure I was that far back.
I also had the longest loop by about 200m, so that is worth some time, so
I'm not sure I would have been close to winning my leg even with a perfect
race (estimates ranged from me being 2-5 minutes back -- I never saw any
results of any kind). I ran 9 min/k; it was hot, about 35 degrees.
Our other runners had good races (tho Paul lost his card, and 2 minutes looking
for it), and he crossed the finish line in 5th place. We has a mixed team, but
were listed in Men's open, not being sure of the classes ahead of us, I wasn't
sure if we medalled or not, and only learned that we were third in class when
our team number was announced (in Portuguese -- we all looked at each other --
is that us?) at the awards ceremony. We were first mixed, tho.
There were about 50 teams total, I was happy to walk away with hardware for a
not so great race; perhaps I left one place in the forest, not more.
12/18: Middle Distance Champs
[Full map and routes
The middle champs race was in the same park as the relay, at a really nice
staging area near a lake on the other side of the park. Beer concession there,
nothing like pounding a few brewskies before the race on a 35 degree day.
(I declined). I was curious how I would run against the top locals.
The answer is not particularly well. While there was certainly an element of
home field advantage (being accustomed to running fast in the heat and the
maps), and an element of bingo, it was clear that the top people here are much
better than me, at least with this style of course setting and terrain.
The middle was about 5K, and the first part was quite simple; I blew thru it
somewhere in the sixes (unfortunately, my splits are lost), despite the fact
that #7 was hung on the wrong feature. Heading for number #9,
tho, I started looking for the old ladies, because that seemed to be the only
thing missing from the bingo parlour. There was this huge trail
along the way to #9, which I could not seem to locate on my map, but I did see
a steep hillside with nasty veg, so I figured my control was up there somewhere.
I followed an unmapped trail up the hill towards the sound and sight of
thrashing, and found something orange. We'll count it as a spike.
Following the trail along the ridge to #10 seemed reasonable (there wasn't
the same concept of trail grading as in the US -- that thing was a mowed
turnpike), but again I could not solve the way to force success on this
one. I was not so lucky as with #9, and lost about a minute conducting
a search thru some nastyish veg. Turns out, IMHO, the feature was farther
from the trail, in a different spot relative to the the contours, and
the feature was hard to see among the supporting debris. Bag was
also hung on the wrong side of the feature based on its description.
#11 they didn't describe which cliff of 2 in the circle; seemed logical to
follow the stream to the closest one, but the stream forked along the
way. I got lucky taking the correct fork, then figured to head to the
second cliff when it wasn't on the first one. 2-1 so far. I was finding
the map difficult to read, I think due to the printing and the
amount of detail.
#12 they didn't say where on the cliff, but I correctly surmised the middle of
it. #13 was where I lost the most time, clearing somewhere in flat, nasty,
veg. I claimed bingo due to the number of unmapped clearings in there, tho in
retrospect, I feel the three minutes lost were more my fault, as success could
have been forced with a careful appreciation of the contour picture going in.
Problem is, I didn't really trust it (it didn't seem right), but it goes back
to the point I once made of having to assume there is a way to force success, as
you are no worse off if you were wrong. I was also bonking, as hard as that
is to believe on such a short course, but the heat and lack of water stop
anywhere will take its toll (I generally prefer heat, but hadn't trained in
it in a long time, and prefer water with my heat).
The rest of my progress was hampered somewhat by a really nasty thorn that
lodged in my shoe. It took about 15 minutes after the race to get it out.
I was able to run after some adjustments, and navigationally I was fine
(tho slower -- bonking and thorn) for the rest of the race, despite a
small wobble on the somewhat bingoish looking #17.
My time was 51:10, tho they listed me at 55:28. The listed WT was 40:24.
If all the times are off by 4:18 (as someone stated), that would indicate
a WT of around 36 minutes, putting me over 40% behind the Brazilian winner
(all H21E runners were listed as Brazilian, except myself). If we take
out my 4 minutes of problems, I'm 30% behind the winner with a perfect
race (tho in heat, non-technical terrain). This compares to being about
46% behind Carsten Jorgensen and Thierry Gueorgiou at the Middle Qual at
WC (tho with mistakes). I don't know if one can use this limited data to
guess where the top Brazilians are relative to the world's best or
not. I heard that some top Brazilians would be going to Europe next
year, so hopefully we'll see.
Despite my problems with the map, and perhaps some different ideas I
had in terms of course setting, this was an enjoyable course, and
seemed "mostly fair enough", as local conditions go, to determine a
12/19: Long Distance Champs
[Full map and routes
On the day of the long champs, I awoke to torrential rain. As J. F. was course
setting, I had to drive myself to the race, and driving in Brazil in built
up areas is not particularly easy, as maps are hard to find, and roads are not
marked well. I was navigating to Parque Santa Rita Nordeste on the Brazil side
with a hand drawn map on the back of a napkin, thru torrential rain and flooded
roads. Fortunately, it was near the model area, and I was able to find it.
I was told the "long course, H21E" was only 6K, and this turned out to be true.
I figure you ought to be able to do anything in 10min/k, and a time of 60
shouldn't look too bad. I was once again warned about the vegetation.
I moved thru the first 6 controls without too much trouble, grumbling that #4
was a bit bingoish, and placing the water symbol right on the attack to #6
probably wasn't up to international standards (I navigated to the water
symbol, then could not really read what I was doing). I did the first 6 in
about 18 minutes, not too bad considering the steepness and the horrible
weather (getting thru even the easy looking terrain wasn't as easy as it
looks). This put me right on a 10 minute pace.
Then it only took 49 minutes to find #7. The green was looking pretty nasty,
so I decided to climb all the way up the hill along the fence, along my game
plan of always use strong handrails. I couldn't find the fence junction at
first. Eventually I found it, and then that trail (which was dubious, little
more than a deer trail in the green), which I followed until it split, contrary
to the map. The fork I took petered out, and I could not re-find the junction.
The green was brutal, especially in the downpour. It wasn't thorny tho -- the
only thorny plants were cacti and wait-a-minute vines. I figured to contour
over and have a small chance of finding one of the ditch features, the trail,
or the bigger reentrant. Eventually I found the clearing to the southwest
after not finding any of the above. Verified the shape. No trail leading
out to the northeast as mapped, so I went thru the jungle on compass, up
all those lines. Hit a ditch, ok, followed it to a rootstock
with a flag, ok, I know where I am again. Down the ditch to the
boulder, over to the spring -- no spring, no trickle, no flag, no trail,
eventually back to the clearing.
|Speculative 71:41 minute route from #6 to #8
Try again, this time I climb 20 lines all the way up to the cliffs where the
number 8 is printed. Back to the rootstock, as and attack as carefully as
one can under the circumstances. I realise it is tough to keep a bearing
thru jungle on a dubious map when you are unsure of your compass, but how
can one force success. When I missed a second time, I figured perhaps
that rootstock was wrong.
So I decide to verify that. All the way back to the fence junction north of
#6, then all the way up to the other fence junction northeast of the rootstock.
Careful attack of the rootstock and I can't hit it. Someone points and locates
it for me. Now in field checking mode. Walk to the boulder. Ok. Walk to the
spring. No spring, again no ditch. Ok, I'm not going crazy. I must have
climbed 100 lines by now. I'm thinking "what would Eddie do"? I often
think this during races, and it helps. The only thing I know is that I
am going to finish this course, and for it to count, I have to do it in
three hours. I figure every control isn't going to be like this.
So I just wander around the dark green hoping to find something useful, and
eventually I do: a runner in a Uruguayan uniform who points, unsolicited, and
says diez metres. I figured it was off by 500m from where it was
mapped, based on my troubles with #8 following, but a miss is as good as a mile
So at this point, I decide I'll be happy to simply complete the 6K course in
Even tho I didn't know where I was, #8 looked easy enough. Just slog up the
hill thru the green and collect on the veg boundary. I could find no features
in route, tho I expected to find some of the stuff I found when looking for #7,
and when I got up there, I did find the veg boundary, but the "green
slash" was 4m tall, and just as thick, just a different species of green than
was on the hillside, so that was no help. Moreover, I could not find the
fence, and found myself looking at a steep downhill on the other side. I had
absolutely no clue where I was (and it turns out I wasn't going crazy, the
same experience was reported by the winner of D21E). I had to go all the way
back to the fence junction between #6 and #7, thru the green, then follow the
fence. Only a 22 minute split this time.
#9 was a lone tree in the jungle. 25cm diameter. Not sure how this got mapped
among the other trees, much less became a control feature. Did spike it by
blind luck, tho. En route from #8 to #9, still could not figure where I was
on that first attack to #8.
#10 was a spike, but a 7:39 split for 130m. Talk about a treacherous hillside.
There was also an unmapped canyon here -- it went the whole side of the hill
up to down and was at least 3 lines deep. I imagine this is the feature
represented by the dry ditch.
So I'm thinking things couldn't get much worse, now that I was off that
hillside, and I should complete the 3 hour tour with no problems. Then
I notice water has gotten into the map case, and pretty much the whole
rest of the course is being obliterated (as I read my competition map now,
the only printing left is numbers 5,6,7,8, and 20). So I memorize what is
left of the course as best I can, and notice the overprint is bleeding
into the back of the paper.
|Fortunately enough lines and circles bled thru the back of the drenched map to figure out the course
I navigate the rest of the course like this, using memory and the bleed from
the back of the map to figure where the course went, and the control
descriptions to figure what feature. The terrain and weather really
aren't much less brutal, and needless to say, the splits didn't get much
better. Some things that should just seem easy end up being off by 10m,
and in poor vis/mob, that adds up to minutes here and there. The only
thing of real note in the rest of the course is that there were alot of
unmapped rocky hills around #18, and I'm pretty certain #19 was
mishung/mismapped pretty badly (14 min for 100m; and on paper, this is
hardly a difficult control, even with the printing gone).
At about #20, I look at my watch, don't think I have enough time to make it,
then realise I started my watch 2 minutes early (so I could track my time
o do all the pre-race machinations, which were attach the control
descriptions, paper punch card, and study the map, all in the downpour).
I cross the finish line with a time of 2:59:07, just barely making it, and I'm
quite happy with that result.
I'm told the WT was 80 min, but people I talked to DNFed. I do see a
handwritten note in Portuguese with the first lines reading "proteste H21E
no #95 [control 7]", and as the H21E results for day 2 were conspicuously
left off the final results, I speculate that the protest was upheld, but
I could not stick around at the time to see for sure. I think its not
so much that it was mishung, but perhaps just mismapped so completely
that it was impossible to force success. Someone told me they thought
it was 50m off and 2 lines down, whatever that means
in the context. But there were so many other problems that it probably could
have been thrown out if #7 where fine.
Well, this becomes the hardest course I've ever completed. I think it was good
rogaining or extreme O training.
Still, all and all, a good trip. Got to spend alot of time with the locals,
and talk O, despite language problems. Everyone I met was super friendly.
I don't think they are blessed with the best terrain, but they are
enthusiastic about orienteering, and I think they have some really good people.
I tried to get a feel of how widespread orienteering is in South America. I
was told there was some activity in Columbia, Chile, and Ecuador, but that
almost all the activity was in Brazil and Uruguay. Argentina has a few
maps but no clubs, and about 100 orienteers, some of which made the trip,
one of which who has also run in PWT and O-Ringen. Argentina seems really
intent on building their program up, and on developing equestrian O.
There were about 240 runners, mostly Brazilian, with URU and ARG the only other
South American countries represented.
I tried to find out how big the scene was in Brazil, I was told there were
about 15-20 clubs just in the state the races were being held in (Rio Grande
do Sol; Brazil has 25 states, and as a country, is a bit larger than the US
lower 48). I got the impression that the level of activity was on the same
order of magnitude as in the US, but certainly not more.
Well, despite my long distance race problems, it was worth going. I'll go back, but
I'm really interested in going back in 10 years and seeing where the O scene