I’d been staying in the scenic lakeside town of Bariloche in Argentina. The town is famous for its ski slopes, but I’m not a skier and I was there in the Argentinian summer, when most of the snow had melted away.
The more normal activities to do in the area include hiking, rafting, kayaking, scuba diving, horse riding and cycling. But, when I heard that a bunch of guys from my hostel were off paint balling, I made it clear I wanted to join them.
I’ve never been paint balling before. It’s one of those activities a lot of my girlfriends aren’t interested in. Either they’ve seen the bruises their friends have received, or they are forever put off because of that episode of Biker Grove, where PJ gets blinded by paint.
I have to admit, I had his Geordie whining in my head as the cab pulled up to the centre. I remember that clip as clearly as if it were yesterday. It’s probably cost the paint balling industry a small fortune by scaring off my entire generation.
Nevertheless, it was time to bite the bullet. The paint balling centre is a short cab ride (about $40ARS) from the centre of Bariloche. I’d gathered with the boys from my hostel that morning, and we’d headed over to the local Jewish hang out – an experience in itself!
Despite having dated a Jewish guy for 2 years back in London, it was still pretty interesting (and daunting) to sit in a room in the centre of an Argentinian town, surrounded by Israelis of various levels of commitment to the Jewish religion. Some were wearing the scull cap, tallit (prayer shawl) and tefillin (leather boxes containing scrolls of parchment), and praying fervently in a small room to the side.
I felt like an imposter as the rest chatted in Hebrew and wrote backwards characters in their notebooks.
We pulled up to the paint balling centre 15 minutes later and I started to have pangs of doubt. I’d never shot a gun before, let alone hit a target, and I was about to go head to head with ex-military soldiers! Perhaps it wasn’t the cleverest decision.
We got dressed up in minimal protective gear – a mask, a helmet and a plastic apron that denoted which team we were on. And we were ready to go.
$85ARS bought us 100 bullets each. We stood in a circle and played a variation of ‘Paper, Scissors, Stone’ to decide who would be on which team. Better that than the painful school yard technique of team captains selecting individuals until the weakest stands alone looking pitiful…that would definitely have been me!
Each team got a big inflatable donkey and hid it behind the last barrier on their side of the field. We made up our own rules. Anyone who was shot had to leave the pitch. The winning team was either the one that shot all the opposing team’s members, or the one that managed to steal the other team’s mascot and bring it back to their base.
The initial run wasn’t too bad. Everyone was so preoccupied with finding good cover, behind a wooden fence, sand bags or metal barrels, that they weren’t shooting too much. But next came the inevitable stalemate.
I sat behind a plank of wood for what seemed like forever waiting for some movement and not daring to dash to the next, for fear of being pummelled with bullets by the reds. Eventually, I got bored and made a dash for it. Miraculously, I made it unscathed, but as I hid there catching my breath, one of the other team came from behind the corner and shot me in the leg.
Man, did it hurt – but only momentarily. And when I saw the injury my opponent had received in the crossfire, I felt a surge of pride.
We played a few games until the bullets ran out and I returned my weapon feeling relieved to have survived, and also glad that I’ve never before been in a situation that relies on good shooting ability.
Would I do it again? Probably. It was a blast. But maybe next time, I’ll work on persuading my female pals back home to accompany me, rather than going head to head with a group of well-built guys trained in mortal combat! For the record, this is what my bruises looked like…for weeks after…