Hiking to the ruins at Machu Picchu was an experience I could never describe. Being able to spend the whole day letting my imagination run wild as I envisioned life among Inca royalty was, at the time, sure to be the pinnacle of my holiday.
Little did I know that in only a few days I would soon have one of my most amazing travel experiences.
The last leg of our Peru holiday brought us to the Tambopata Nature Reserve and Refugio Amazonas eco-lodge in the Amazon Jungle. This was a remarkable, tranquil place secluded from cars, towns and people and surrounded by nature.
The passionate staff members work from sunrise to sunset, ensuring meals are prepared and the guests are out experiencing all that the Peruvian Amazon has to offer. However, there is one hour during the day that is most certainly theirs. A time where only a few staff can be spotted around the lodge grounds and when the majority of guides, cooks and bartenders disappear into the forest to rejoice in a staple of their culture, football (soccer).
When I got wind of this daily routine (which borders on ritual), I knew I had to play – for me this is what experiencing local culture is all about. I begged my guide JC to bring me along, knowing very well he had no obligation to, but sure enough he agreed.
At 2pm the next day JC showed up to my room and asked if I was ready to go. I was promptly informed my hiking shoes wouldn’t do, so after convincing my roommate to let me squeeze into his size 9 designer sneakers (ouch) I was off. Here I was, with the staff of the Refugio Amazonas lodge, in the middle of the Peruvian Amazon, running through the forest jumping over rocks and branches. I wasn’t sure how far we were going, but you could feel the excitement.
After running for a kilometer the trees cleared and an amazing football pitch appeared. Using large branches as nets and borders, here lay a picturesque retreat that they created to escape for one hour every day.
I will never forget scoring my first goal and all my teammates being so excited, cheering and giving me high fives. The locals were so inviting and welcoming, which is a big reason why that one powerful hour of my trip holds a very special place in my heart.
And thanks to a couple from Denmark who stopped momentarily to watch the game, I have photos to remind me of that fantastic day! #hearttravel 🙂
Feature image c/o Michael Sadowski, Flickr.