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