The day I didn’t know I was a soccer fan

When one feels independent, there tends to be a level of confidence that accompanies.  In my case sometimes it is a level of over-confidence.  A very high level.  I struggle with confidence in a lot of things, just like any other young woman but….. I’ve had moments that would lead some to believe that I sometimes take more than the recommended daily dosage of confidence.  It is in these moments that I have questioned my sanity, endangered my life, and/or made some hilarious memories.  The story of over-confidence that will take place in this post is simply one that I find amusing; one to put in my bank of personal anecdotes to laugh about later, which I have.

In the summer of 2013 I was lucky enough to have an opportunity to travel to Peru with some friends of mine for a travel study opportunity.  I had never traveled with a group before, only alone.  So I wasn’t sure how I was going to handle being attached to other people all the time.  I have a tendency to wander.  A lot.  Especially in foreign countries.  But throughout my time there I actually discovered that having company wasn’t so bad.  I enjoyed making memories with my fellow students who I eventually called friends, but I still made sure that I took some time to wander around by myself (something I was technically not allowed to do).  One night our group decided to hit a big soccer game that was taking place at the Garcilaso Stadium in Cusco.  I know nothing about soccer, nor do I care to know anything about it but I agreed to go.  Soccer is such a huge international sport, and it’s particularly popular in South America so I figured it’d be a great event to attend in terms of experiencing some good, zesty, South American culture.

Before the game, we all met up and walked together to one of the best markets in Cusco.  For anyone planning to travel to Cusco, the market on Avenida Del Sol is spectacular.  With its large amount of space and selection there is something for everyone in this market.  Most importantly it is not paired with a meat market so you don’t have to worry about your stomach churning at the sight and smell of a pig’s head that has been sitting out for hours, maybe even days.   When we arrived at this market we located a couple of vendors who were selling jerseys for the Real Garcilaso team.  It was at this point that I realized just how big of a deal this game was.  The boys we were about to watch play soccer were actually men; professional men to be exact.  Their jerseys were being sold throughout the city of Cusco!  And we, the tall, fair-skinned Americans, were buying some to wear to the game much to the delight of the locals.  After haggling with a few different vendors to lower the price from an already extremely low price, we exchanged our soles (Peruvian currency) for rather hideous pieces of baby blue material that doubled as advertisements and were stamped with numbers.

I wish I could spend more time right here explaining in great detail how amazing the game was to watch.  But I cannot.  I can tell you that the stadium was packed full of passionate Peruvians and Argentinians who were chanting, screaming, clapping, and waving around inflatable toys.  Not too far behind from where we were sitting, policemen stormed in, broke up a fight, and charged back out dragging reluctant and angry spectators with them.  Beyond the stadium, Cristo Blanco- the city’s huge white statue of Christ, was lit up in the night sky and was situated perfectly on the hill as if he were placed there for the sole purpose of watching this game.  Seeing as soccer is religion on that continent I would venture to guess that at least some of the people of Peru believed He was.  But as far as the game goes… I don’t even remember the score.  I do remember that it was dangerously low which I thought was odd for a professional game but it turns out that it was actually a pretty typical score.  Some even argued that it was an ‘exciting’ score but I didn’t see how.  I also remember that someone was injured within the first 2 minutes and subsequent injuries followed in frequent increments throughout the game.  Most importantly, from what I could tell from a distance, #20 was kind of cute.

After the game, I and two of my three roommates went out for dinner at a little Italian restaurant near our host mother’s house.  Due to the game we had missed dinner so we figured we’d treat ourselves to Cusco’s version of Pizza.  While sitting in this restaurant, we were being stared at from all angles and our servers seemed more nervous to wait on us than we were trying to order in Spanish.  By this point in our trip, being stared at was something to which we’d grown accustomed.  Especially me.  Having blonde hair with glimmers of natural red, dark eyes, and extremely fair and freckled skin made me something of spectacle in this area.  Not only did the locals stare but they also followed, whistled at, made kissy faces towards, and tried touching me often.  So sitting in this restaurant with all eyes flitting towards our table, I felt perfectly at home.  Or as “at home” as one can feel in Cusco.  😉

While we were waiting for our food to come, speed is not rewarded in this country, two gentlemen walked in and sat down at a table just behind and to the right of ours.  They were dressed very nicely in what I would consider at first glance as American attire.  Their shoes were Nike air maxes, which I had only ever seen in North America.  They also had really nice phones and Nike Jackets.  Not to say that all people in Peru are poor, not all of them are, but a large portion of the people we came in contact with did not dress like these two gentlemen.  In addition to their upscale clothing and gadgets, their skin was significantly lighter than most I’d met in this area.  I was convinced that they might be Americans so I craned my neck to try and hear what they were saying.  But unfortunately for me they were just out ear shot.  I knew that if I could see them I could read their lips, but they were situated perfectly behind me to make me look like an obvious stalker if I tried to read what they were saying.  If I faced forward, turned my head slightly to the right, and looked out of the corner of my eye then I could see them, but not enough to determine their nationality.  So I gave up creeping on the handsome, potential Americans and decided to focus on conversation with my friends instead.  I figured we’d be here a while seeing as no one in the restaurant felt any need to hurry and cook our food, so I took my jacket off to get comfortable.  Doing so revealed my newly purchased jersey with my favorite number on it, 11, and gave the impression to my restaurant spectators that I was a huge soccer fan.  Eyes were staring holes through me from each direction but the ones burning the hottest were coming from that table just behind me and to the right.

During the course of the meal I could feel these two guys looking at me frequently and while I was partially flattered I was also little annoyed.   I would glance back every now and then hoping that being caught staring would motivate them to stop.  Instead I ignited some sort of flirting game that I was not familiar with.  When the pizza and pasta was securely settled in our stomachs and the check was paid after jumping through multiple hoops in the forms of language barriers and confused waiters, I pulled my coat on and followed my two friends. Being a few years their senior and an experienced traveler, I  felt protective of them and did my best to keep them in sight at all times.   On our way out we had to walk right past our potentially American admirers and I was excited to see if I could understand them and possibly make some traveling friends.  However, as I walked by their table and glanced in their direction, one of them promptly leaned forward and whistled.  This, to me, was an obvious tip that they were not from the states, because my looks are simply average here and never elicit a whistle from strangers.

With a little disappointment, I had a nice laugh about it and then continued to follow my friends around the dining area, down the stairs and out onto the street.  Once outside they asked me what I was smiling about.  I answered, “Didn’t you see those two guys?  They whistled at us when we walked right by them! And they were by far our cutest admirers in this country!”  To which they responded, “What?!  How did we miss that?!”  They then proceeded to talk about how they had neglected to do their Spanish homework for the next day, which included interviewing a local by asking basic questions such as ‘where do you live?’ and ‘what’s your favorite color?’ in Spanish.   One of them joked that we should go back to the restaurant and ask our handsome admirers to do the honors.  And this, finally, is where my memorable (at least for me) moment of over-confidence comes in.

I was feeling kind of spunky and invincible even so as soon as they suggested it, I locked onto the idea of returning to the restaurant and having those fine young men help my friends with their homework.  I turned to the girls and said, “Well, what are you waiting for? They’re right inside, let’s go for it!!”  Their eyes widened and they slowly and subconsciously retreated from me in unison. “Ummm no way,” they replied, “that would be so embarrassing!”  Normally I probably would have told them they were right and continued on my way.  But instead, as the self-appointed leader of this group, I ushered them back to the door insisting that it could hurt nothing to at least try.  We spent a good five minutes arguing at the front door before I finally appealed to them by explaining that we’ll probably never see them again so the worst that can happen is they say no, and we get to see their attractive faces for an extra moment.  And the best that can happen, we make friends with attractive foreigners.

*I would like to a note here that I do not recommend doing this.  The dangers of kidnapping, sexual abuse, and human trafficking (my personal experience to come later in the blog) are very real.  When traveling, especially as young women, it is critical that care and caution are greatly utilized in encounters with strangers.  I was simply feeling… over-confident.  I consider myself very blessed that this encounter is a memory to smile at and nothing more.*

Swinging both doors open, so as to make a grand entrance, I bounded across the threshold and back up the stairs; my two friends following me like shy school girls. Walking upright and purposefully, I gave the impression that I owned the restaurant.  With the way I had captivated the attention of all in the restaurant simply by being ‘the white girl that came back’, I might as well have owned the whole city.  The waiters all exchanged confused and worried looks, (they might have been worried that I was angry), and then promptly lined up against the wall to make room for me and my hesitant followers.  All attention on me, I marched right up to table where the gentlemen with which I had inadvertently flirted earlier sat.  Their jaws dropped in disbelief and eyebrows raised in amusement and curiosity.  I turned to the one I thought was cuter and said, “Hey, do you speak English?”  Both of them looked at me blankly and then they shook their heads together saying, “nooooo.”     “Perfect,” I said turning to my friends who were about 10 feet behind me with eyes wider than our onlookers’, “they’re all yours girls!”

Sitting at the next table over I watched my poor friends stammer and stutter over their basic Spanish to try and convey that they needed help with a homework assignment.  One of these men, kept his focus on me and invited me to join him at their table.  I obliged, but ignored his efforts to speak to me because my Spanish was even less than my friends’, nonexistent in fact.  For the next ten minutes I was sufficiently entertained by an interaction in which none of the participants understood the others.  One of my friends kept asking a basic question and one guy would respond by saying something and then making dancing motions.  We assumed he was saying that he liked to dance, but an amused waiter came over to translate and informed me that the two men had actually been asking us to go dancing with them the entire conversation.  They couldn’t have cared less about what my friends were asking, they just wanted the cute American girls to go out with them.  This was something I should have foreseen; the blood runs hot in those Latinos.  Once I was aware of this, I promptly interrupted and informed my friends that we would be leaving now.  The idea of flirting with cute foreigners was great as long as it was in a crowded restaurant but the idea of going with them elsewhere unsupervised?  No thanks!  But unfortunately for me my overly high level of confidence was starting to wear off on at least one of my friends at this point and pulling them away was harder than expected.  I escorted the other two girls back out of the restaurant, only to find the persistent whistlers hot on our heels.

I had zero intention of letting them see which direction we were heading home, so I told the girls that we’d stay and talk to the men for a few minutes at least.  They both knew that I carried a knife in my purse and I reminded them that it was there just in case.  I also texted a good friend of mine from our travel group, who I knew would be walking this direction for our previously planned meeting, and informed him of what we were doing and where we were.  Having taken these precautions, I felt relatively safe and obliged our foreign fans with conversation while standing in an open, well-lit area.  Or at least the best conversation my English could offer their Spanish.  One of them, the one I thought was cuter, kept pointing to my jersey and then giving me thumbs up.  He would mumble something about my jersey and then point to himself and his friend excitedly.  I assumed they were big fans of the team and kept brushing it off, trying to explain to them that no amount of understandable Spanish was about to come out of my mouth.  The only things I could say comfortably in Spanish were, “Donde esta el Bano?” and “No hablo Espanol! One of which was irrelevant at this moment and the other was being completely ignored.

The cute one pulled his phone out and opened up a translating app.  The persistence this guy possessed was quite astounding.  How he had interest in a girl that he couldn’t understand was beyond me.  But then again, I did think he was cute as well.  He handed the phone over to me to show what he had translated and as I read the text I was dumbfounded.  I thought surely there had been a mistranslation somewhere.  In my experience, those apps are not always the most accurate and dependable.  I showed my friends what he had typed and their jaws joined mine on the ground.  These men were claiming to be on the professional soccer team that we had just watched; the very team for which we were sporting jerseys and apparent fandom.  I used his phone to fact check this information online (my phone was just a cheap, old loaner).  Sure enough, there they were on the team’s website listed and pictured on the roster.  Numbers 11 and 20.  And suddenly their persistence made so much more sense.  Not only were we exciting foreigners to them, but they also thought we were huge fans!  Here we were thinking that we’d get to talk to a couple of random cute guys for a moment and here they were thinking ‘SCORE!!!’, or whatever that would be in Spanish.

They continued their efforts to get us to go dancing with them, likely thinking that their status as soccer players would work to their favor.  But something about the gestures they would make whenever they talked about ‘dancing’ made me think that they were looking for a lot more than just dancing.  I shook my head with a smile and said, “Sorry gentlemen, call me when you learn how to shoot a basketball.”  Obviously they didn’t understand and just smiled in return.  The next few minutes were filled with laughter, smiles, and what I assume was flirting on both ends.  I took a picture with one of them and then made one final attempt to explain to them that, while talking was fun, I was not going ‘dancing’ with them nor would I allow my two innocent friends to.

Finally they seemed to understand and conceded.  My new friend hugged me and kissed me on the cheek, and then both men turned and walked away.   Once they were out of sight I felt comfortable enough to start our walk back home.  A walk that I remember being filled with wonderment and laughter.

Had we really just met and flirted with two professional soccer players, while unknowingly wearing their jerseys?  Why yes, yes we had.  Who knew that just a few seconds of too much confidence could lead to such a fun memory for me.  I am still Facebook friends with the handsome #20, Edgar Acosta, today.  A few months back he sent me message saying “hey, are you the girl who didn’t go home with me that one night?!”  As it turns out, not ‘dancing’ with him left a bigger impression on him than ‘dancing’ would have!

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