We arrived at the Newark airport at 6am, checked in our bags and were handed our tickets – which read 1A and 1B. The trip started off a whole lot more comfortable than we anticipated, because boom, my friend Jordan and I were bumped up to first class! Talk about a good way to start a trip. We arrived in Lima with the less attractive news that they had lost my bag – I received it a week later.
Well, it could’ve been worse – I had my camera and thankfully a black t-shirt, which proved to be very durable. Unfortunately, my sneakers and ball were in my lost bag. That didn’t stop us from checking out some courts in Lima, snapping photos and slapping some Buckets & Borders stickers on the local backboards. We never found any pickup games in Lima, which was probably for the best, because I don’t think I would have fared so well in my Vans.
Finding a soccer field was much more likely than coming across a ball court, but we still managed to find some epic courts – we just had to look a little harder. Playing with the locals is always the goal. My brother, Jordan and myself played kings court and got shots up in Lima and Cusco, but the winning experience was in Arequipa.
Arequipa is Peru’s 2nd largest city, famous for its surrounding volcanos. Our first attempt at finding a court was a fail. After asking numerous locals and walking the streets for a couple hours, nada. The next day, Manuel, the owner of our hostel began making phone calls to his friends to see if he could help us find a court. We were given a couple of locations to check out, but unfortunately they were both locked up when we arrived.
As a last resort we jumped in a taxi…”holà, cancha de baloncesto?”. Thankfully, our taxi driver, who’s name was Alex, was beyond friendly and determined to help us out. After driving around Arequipa for half an hour, we hit the jackpot.
Hidden in the narrow streets of Arequipa we came across a court with a surrounding view of the volcanos and 13 Peruvians just about to jump into a pickup game, perfect timing. We started to put up shots on the opposite hoop and within 30 seconds we were approached by Juan, who spoke very good English, asking if we would play with them.
Some of the players spoke English, while many didn’t – regardless, every one of them shook our hands and introduced themselves, damn, they were welcoming. After that, it was time to hoop. We split up into 3 teams of 5 to play kings court. If you scored, you kept the rock and headed back down the other end of the court. Peruvians, for the most part are pretty short, so there was lots of ball movement and cutting, which made for some fast-paced pickup.
It was my first time playing Peruvian pickup and also my first time playing pick-up with my cheek full of coca leaves. Yes, coca leaves are the plant that produces cocaine, and no, you don’t get high from chewing the leaves. Instead, Coca leaves are used by the locals as a naturel ingredient to deal with high altitudes. Playing at 2400 meters above sea level was an experience in itself and the coca leaves appeared to help, or at least we thought so.
After playing for over an hour, we embraced our new amigos, took photos together and handed out some Buckets & Borders stickers. The response we got when we explained the Buckets & Borders concept was overwhelming and I’m proud to have 13 more guys as part of the Buckets & Borders community.
I learned a lot of things in Peru. I learned that Peruvians are extremely humble, friendly and welcoming, that Manchu Pichu is truly breathtaking and Quechua is a native language spoken in many of the mountainous regions. I learned that Peruvians love sandwiches just as much as North Americans, that Pisco sours are great (but to not have too many), and that ceviche from Juanito’s iconic restaurant is a must try dish if you’re in Lima. Most importantly, I learned once again that basketball has a presence all over the world and that Peruvians, like many of us, love the game.
Mucho Gracias, Peru.