Not quite the World Cup: ‘Hot pants’, haircuts and prayers, playing rugby Peru style

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Amigos: The Arequipa Bulls and Lions

As the fireworks begin, turning the all black Auckland sky into a dazzling celebration of colour, I feel a little alone.

When I discovered that a little drinking hole in the Peruvian city of Arequipa was  screening the Rugby World Cup Final, I was over the moon.

I don’t think I’d felt so excited since I unwrapped the Christmas paper to become the proud owner of my first rugby ball aged six and a half (halves were important in those days).

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Mon dieu! I cannot believe zey are showing zeir behinds on ze big screen

On the night of the big final there is a good atmosphere at the Wild Rover, with our French friend proudly painting the red, white and blue flag on our faces

I spend some time arguing the virtues of rugby over American Football to a couple of american amigos keen to learn more about the game.

Yet as I prop up the bar at gone 5 in the morning I can’t help but wish I could share the moment with some fellow rugby players.

The man sat next to me chirps up: “You know, there are two rugby teams in Arequipa.”

I smile. The best things usually come from a drunken chat with a bloke in a bar.

The following day I quiz Carolina, the Peruvian daughter of the lovely family with whom we are staying, about rugby in Arequipa.

“Oh yes, one of my students at the college where I teach plays for a team. I’ll give him a call,” she says.

Five days later I find myself squeezing into the tiniest pair of shorts (hotpants would be a more accurate description) and the tightest top (breathing is overrated right?) I have ever worn.

Throw in some holey socks and a pair of borrowed boots a couple of sizes too small and I am all set to play for the mighty Arequipa Lions.

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And now to unveil the new shade of Dulux: Sheer White

An older fella wanders over. “G’day mate, I’m Kris from Australia,” he says. “Now these blokes haven’t been playing the game for long, but they’ve got hearts as big as anyone.”

“I’m a bit worried about my fitness,” I say as the 35 degree sun commences its daily attempt to pierce through the factor 70 suncream and fry my pale skin.

“Oh you don’t need to worry about that, the altitude’ll smash ya lungs up long before any lack of fitness kicks in,” he adds with a chuckle.

At 2,380 metres above sea level, any kind of exertion is, of course, likely to be hard work.

I am introduced to Andre, Coco, Pepe, Christiano and the rest of my new teammates.

After some more cross-questioning it emerges that I am playing in the city’s inaugural 15-a-side tournament featuring a team from Lima, one from a Peruvian frontier town called Tacna, a team from Chile and Arequipa’s only other team – the Arequipa Toros (bulls).

Praying for victory and to avoid injury

Our first game is against the local rivals. We receive an impassioned team talk (although the coach could just have been telling us what he had for breakfast, for all I understood!)

A circle is formed and the captain leads a prayer. I’ve never listened to a prayer before a rugby match before and while I’m not religious at all, it feels quite respectful.

The game begins.Unfortunately the Bulls manage to rampage through the Lions’ generally solid defence to score the game’s opening try after about 10 minutes.

The subsequent kick is slotted through the widest, most lopsided, converted football goal posts I think I’ve ever seen.

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Lopsided posts and the Peruvian flag flying in the distance

I begin to feel my throat tighten as the limited supply of surrounding oxygen struggles to find its way to my lungs.

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The Arequipa Lions pack down against the Bulls

Instinctively I begin bawling out instructions in Spanglish (my half-cocked attempt at speaking the language).

Their technique might not be perfect, but Kris is right, these fellas do have hearts as big as anyone. They tear around the pitch tackling anything that moves.

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Knackered!

We are playing 20 minute halves and and ten minutes into the second period I substitute myself and collapse on the hard, dusty grass.

As I look across the pitch I realise that this is one of the most beautiful settings I have ever played rugby in.

Below the near-clear blue sky two snow-capped mountains jut up, while further round the horizon is the dormant volcano of Mount Misti.

The ref blows up to signal a victory to the Bulls and I jog (well hobble) back on to the pitch to shake some hands.

Rugby is a growing sport in Peru, with some 16 teams now existing in the capital of Lima.

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Mount Misti rises towards the horizon above the rugby game

There is even a team, Alianza Rugby Club Olimpico, based in the Amazonian city of Iquitos,  a place so isolated it can only be reached by plane or river.

The national team participated in its first tournament in 1999 and in 2003 they won their first ever game against Colombia in the first qualifying match for the 2003 World Cup.

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Let go of my ankle ya bugger!

All too soon it is time for our second game against Tacna. They are strong and well drilled and although we get on the scoresheet, unfortunately we still come away second best.

“How you finding it?” asks Kris. “Tough,” I reply, trying to grab some shade under a temporary canvas shelter.

“You can’t question the commitment of these lads,” he adds. “The captain has to carry portable lights to every training session. The lights aren’t great, you’re either in complete shadow or being blinded by the glare, but all the players turn up without fail and train for two or three hours.

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Peru’s Lions Rugby Club badge

“They’ve only been playing for a year or so, so they’ve still got a lot to learn, but they are so keen.”

He is interrupted. “Felipe, Felipe, come here,” shouts Coco. I tentatively stroll over and they sit me on a step. I assume my initiation is going to involve having a bucket of water or beer poured over me, but no, they whip out a pair of scissors.

“Now time for a haircut, señor…”

I tell him he’ll be lucky to find some, but he manages to lop off some of my few remaining strands and everyone cheers.

Although our two losses mean we are eliminated from the tournament, the lads of the Lions and the Bulls are so enthusiastic they ask to play each other one more time at the end of the day.

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Peruvians in traditional dress look on slightly bemused

And so, in failing light, I drag my beleagured, ageing body on to the pitch again and I manage to round things off with a try. Pretty rare for me these days.

We say a final prayer before heading for some beers. I take the opportunity to introduce them to a drinking game which seems to go down well (and certainly helps to speed up the rate of consumption).

The captain of the Tacna side invites Sophie and I to come and stay with him for a few days to meet his family and to coach the team a little bit.

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Spot the llamas!

I tell him I’m no coach, but that I’d be delighted to do whatever I can.

He offers me his rugby shirt. It’s the first jersey I have ever worn that is emblazoned with llamas!

We chat for an hour about the Rugby World Cup final.

I no longer feel like a lone rugby fanatic in Peru.

About travellingtoothbrushes

We are a couple of journalists with restless toothbrushes. Our teeth scrubbers seem unable to leap out of their respective washbags to take up a permanent residency on the bathroom shelf. So, we've decided to let them live the way they want to and take them on a trip around South America...
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64 Responses to Not quite the World Cup: ‘Hot pants’, haircuts and prayers, playing rugby Peru style

  1. Tia Annegret says:

    What an exciting post!!! Here in Germany we could only watch a 30 minute digested version of the finale – if you want to see a real rugby diaspora, come to Germany!!!
    You also seemed to have found the first fool proof way to loose weight… travel through south and
    central and middle America for 7 months on a shoe string and do lots of strenuous exercises:-)

    Joules has put me on skype.. will sent e-mail with details …
    LOL and LOL and LOL

    • Hey Annagret!

      Yes, sounds like Germany is more of a rugby wasteland than Peru… I think saying that I am doing ‘lots of strenuous exercises’ is stretching the definition somewhat!

      Look forward to a chat on Skype🙂

      Love Phil and Soph

  2. What a fantastic post, I had no idea there was rugby in Peru – although I know there is a teeny, teeny bit in Colombia, mostly led by the expats… please blog again about how the training sessions go!

  3. Tony C says:

    Cracking report Felipe. It reminded me of trying to play 5 a side football at altitude in Zambia more than 25 years ago. Thinking myself reasonably fit at the time, I ran around as usual for about 10 minutes before suddenly not being able to breathe.
    I had to spend the rest of the match in goal.
    Anyway, really jealous now you’re in Peru!
    All the best to Sophie.
    Tony

  4. Dave says:

    Heart warming stuff! I’m sure there must be a moral about the unifying qualities of sport to bring people together!

    Ps. The RWC final was a damp squib! I reckon your team would have put on a better show!

  5. Mum and Dad says:

    We loved it too. Typically your greatest contribution seems to have been introducing your team mates to a drinking song!

  6. Pingback: Peru Online: October 2011 | How to Peru

  7. Kris Oates says:

    OK, Phil and Sophie, We are on board the blog, Etty and I will be back in Australia with a couple of weeks and your blogs will have to fill in the travel void that we shall feel on our readjustment to our normal life. Loved the rugby blog , but did not appreciate the manner in which you “photoshoped” to make my legs appear so skinny !… Hasta Luego,, Kris Oates

    • Heya Kris, yeah mate it took aaages to make your beefy pegs ‘appear’ skinnier than mine. You’ll note that I also had to pump over the exposure in Photoshop as well to get rid of your incredible tan😉. Great to meet ya, hasta lluego, Phil

  8. Anonymous says:

    Awesome Phil… I’m so proud of you! What a great experience…

  9. Fox@n says:

    Wow great post. looks like fun!

  10. Rugby is insane!! Good looking dudes, though… :o)

  11. Those ARE some pretty sexy uniforms…😉

  12. valentinedee says:

    Cute blog and great pictures. I’m not a sports fan of any type, but your pics and story was quite interesting.

    http://valentinedefrancis.blogspot. com

  13. Fantastic post!! I LOOOVE rugby (watching, not playing! lol!), so this was right up my alley!

    Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!🙂

  14. Steve says:

    Great post guys, thought I better finally comment as I enjoy your blogs so much. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed, not quite sure what it means although it sounds painful! Keep them up.

    Little Bro

  15. Eva McCane says:

    rugby is hot. the shorts are a little high, but it’s so rugged and manly that i can overlook that detail. wish there were more rugby in the states. yum.
    http://www.icouldntmakethisshitup.wordpress.com

    • Hi there,

      Like I said in the post I did my best to convert a couple of Americans during the World Cup final, I think I made some inroads! If the US ever embraced rugby properly as a nation, the rest of the world better look out!

  16. Tim Shey says:

    Here in the United States, I remember reading a bumber sticker. It said: “Give blood, play rugby.”

  17. hungry4momos says:

    Great post!! I remember having similar sentiments when the Rugby World Cup was going on. I live in Brooklyn but am from Singapore, and am used to rugby being everywhere. But none of the sports networks were showing the match (naturally) so I spent hours searching for a site to stream the match online (a ballsache to say the least) and stayed up til 4 am to support the All Blacks. But when they won, got a barrage of happy, drunken phone calls from back home. So in a way I was able to join the celebration.

    Congrats on freshly pressed!

    http://www.stowawaytrain.com

    • Thanks very much.

      I was secretly rooting for the All Blacks even though I’d allowed a French friend to put the tricolor on my cheeks! I’m glad they came through. About time the Americans realised what an awesome game it is and broadcast it!

  18. gaycarboys says:

    Looks like great fun. I’m jealous of the trip too btw.

  19. Anonymous says:

    Terrific post – captures the wonderful spirit and friendship rugby can instill in anyone. My playing days are long past, but I can just feel the unmitigated joy of hauling my creaking body around the field, trying to shake off the effects of last night’s one too many, but somehow loving every second of it! Great stuff and long live the wonderful world of social rugby🙂

    • Thanks very much for taking the time to comment, chuffed to hear that it managed to bring back some happy memories. There can’t be many better games for making friends than rugby I reckon, I’ll keep hauling my creaking body around the paddock for as long as I can🙂

  20. Anonymous says:

    Another bumper sticker: “Rugby players eat their dead” – This unfortunately hit quite close to home because of the true incident when a team had to – well, ya know, make do – due to the lack of food when their plane crashed in the Andes. I think it was a Peruvian college team on the way to a tournament somewhere.

    Yet another: “It takes leather balls to play rugby” – read into that double-entendre what you will cuz it’s true!

  21. Anonymous says:

    Damn fine post here — and that’s coming from an American who hails from a place that’s enamored with its own variation of rugby. I appreciated the lesson at the bar, by the way, even if I may have gotten too “battered” to recall all of it.

  22. ckardish says:

    The last anonymous was Chris, by the way, in case you didn’t catch that.

  23. What did you say the name of that drinking game was .. lol

    Cheers,

    Ron

    • Not sure what you call it, kinda hard to explain, but I’ll try!

      Everyone sits around a bar table and places both hands flat on the surface. But the hands are placed inside the hands with the person either side (so his palm rests on the table inside yours).

      One person is elected to starts by saying ‘to my left’ or ‘to my right’. and taps his hand once on the table. The next in line then taps their hand and so on round the table. That’s how the game continues until one person taps twice and then the direction reverses, or if someone taps three times it skips a hand.

      It’s surprisingly tricksy when you’ve had a few! Not sure I’ve explained it very well, but I tried!

      Phil

  24. abichica says:

    Ooh my Gosh!!! Those pants are way way too small..i mean seriously, look how super snug they are..😀

  25. Haha!
    It’s like wrestling in crowd,…😀

  26. Julio Eiffelt R R says:

    it is time for testosterone hormone…🙂

  27. Pingback: WordPress features a Peru blog (not ours) « UweC Peru

  28. Anonymous says:

    MY NAME IS CESAR members of the “BULLS RUGBY CLUB IDUNSA” and I am proud to have PLAY AN ENCOUNTER WITH PHILIP AND HAVE SHARED EVENING WITH A FEW BEERS, BEST description might not have given the RUGBY Arequipa, BUT WE ARE A SMALL GROUP WE LOVE THE RUGBY AND IS PART OF OUR WAY OF LIFE, THANKS FOR THAT POST PHILIP AREQUIPA BULLS AND WHEN YOU WANT TO THANK YOU CAN COME TO THE CLUB AND WE FEEL PART OF

    • Thanks very much Cesar. It was a fantastic to play with you guys and thank you for being so friendly and welcoming. I hope I can play another game with you guys one day. I hope a lot more people now know about the growth of rugby in Peru.

  29. MY NAME IS CESAR members of the “BULLS RUGBY CLUB IDUNSA” and I am proud to have PLAY AN ENCOUNTER WITH PHILIP AND HAVE SHARED EVENING WITH A FEW BEERS, BEST description might not have given the RUGBY Arequipa, BUT WE ARE A SMALL GROUP WE LOVE THE RUGBY AND IS PART OF OUR WAY OF LIFE, THANKS FOR THAT POST PHILIP AREQUIPA BULLS AND WHEN YOU WANT TO THANK YOU CAN COME TO THE CLUB AND WE FEEL PART OF

  30. Wow what a post. looks like fun!

  31. Finn Holding says:

    Great post. Reminds of a story from my playing days after I’d been on rugby tour to Majorca and played against the local side, Costa de Calvia. Some years later I was playing for a different club here in the UK and I got talking to our new Spanish prop and it turned out we’d played against each other on that very hot dusty day in the Med. What are the chances of that? Turns out after a few beers it was the best game either of us had ever played in! I love rugby.

    • Haha! Majorca, there´s another place I never knew they played rugby. Although I suppose there are a few ex-pats out there. It´s funny the coincidences in rugby eh. The question is did you get the better of the Spanish Bull prop in the beer stakes?! Cheers for taking the time to drop us a note Finn and chuffed you got something out of the story. All the best, Phil and Sophie.

  32. barrycyrus says:

    Kinda amusing how the colossal types of men are clad in tiny shorts for this sport. Haha.

  33. That’s very generous of you Barry, No one has ever described me as ‘colossal’ before.

  34. muneeb34 says:

    Great Blog i come again to your blog …..:)
    see this
    http://www.allitreview.com/

  35. Zack laser says:

    Very cool I’ve bookmarked ya on Digg under “Not quite the World Cup: ‘Hot pants’, haircuts and prayers, playing rugby Peru style | travellingtoothbrushes”. Thanks.

  36. andrew gunman says:

    Hi Philip, just read your story in Rugby News, I thought it was brilliant. I’m about to start teaching rugby at the German School here in London. I hope I have similar experiences.
    Cheers
    Andrew Gunman

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