(Bad, Sweaty) Football in the Amazon Jungle

The midfield was sometimes overcrowded; at other times, entirely empty. 

When you’re already sweating profusely and panting like an overweight St. Bernard, while sitting in the shade, a game of football (some of you may be forgiven for calling it 'soccer') is not highly recommended; there again, when you have four hours to kill because your boat engine has broken down, any diversion is welcome.

Our Bolivian-American goalkeeper was a study in concentration ... and low body position. 

You do expect the football-mad locals to be more willing to run than you, though, having been brought up in the Amazon heat. Sadly, Aldo, our excellent guide, and the left wing in our four-man team, had had too much bush meat as a child and was less mobile than Jan Molby in his post-Liverpool days. 

Moreover, the length of the grass, which had not been macheted to meet UEFA standards, and the weight of my hiking boots, were not conducive to silky, ball-at-feet play

The 'ultras' were in customary bullish form. 

Our opposition were the police that manned the La Torre post, on the edge of the Tambopata-Candamo Nature Reserve, in Madre de Dios Department, Peru. They also appreciated any break from their daily routine, which mostly involved card games - with a set of ‘adult’ playing cards - and working out with their home-made barbell, in between the occasional stop by a passing speedboat to fulfill the visitor formalities. 

The more sensible among our group, that was on its way to the Tambopata Research Center, found a shaded seat from which to shout some encouragement ... but mainly laugh at our incompetence. 

This unforeseen delay and impromptu football match reminded me of something I'd learned while working as a tour leader: some of the most memorable travel experiences occur when things don't go entirely according to plan. The remoteness of much of northern Peru, and particularly the Amazon region, mean that glitches do sometimes occur; but luckily, the locals are always on hand to assist and help the time pass agreeably. 

Players and spectators mingled after the match on the team speedboat. 

For a great gallery of photos from this trip, by professional photographer - and occasional goalkeeper - Sergio Ballavian, have a look here (photos #40-85).