My son and daughter were breathing hard. I was breathing harder. Three-on-three pickup basketball is a good workout but if you are not used to playing at 11,000 feet, your lungs can feel like they are on fire. (more on Sunday morning pickup basketball here) The three of us were playing against three cusqueño men in their early 20’s and we led for the first 10 minutes but then the altitude started getting to us. After my son hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key and my daughter stole the ball and converted it for a layup, we were huffing and puffing and we didn’t score again, losing by a bucket.
For the next few months the pattern was the same. Juan would call me a day before a practice or game and give me the name of some school where we were playing and we would rearrange our schedule to make sure she got there. Once he told us to be at a school that we’d never heard of that was around the corner from our apartment. We walked there and entered a door off San Blas square that we passed by every day and discovered there was a large school inside with a very nice outdoor basketball court in the middle of the interior courtyard.
Within a couple months, we were due to leave Cusco. I never got Juan’s phone number (I’d always wait for his last-minute calls) and we went 2 weeks without a call from him, so we were never able to say goodbye to the team. Despite this, it was a great experience for us and particularly our daughter. She is now proficient shooting hoops at sea level as well as two miles high in the Andes.