Latin men always ask the same question.
“How old are you honey?”
Well, I’m 28 and I refuse to lie.
“Too old for you sweetheart,” I should probably reply, because I’ve noticed a rather disturbing trend in my trip around Peru and Bolivia.
You may remember the tale of my 24-year-old tour guide. He almost engineered us into sharing a hotel room – and presumably a bed. (Read here)
But would you believe me if I said he was the oldest of my would-be suitors during these past five weeks?
In Cusco, I went for lunch, before a night out dancing, with a cheeky-faced Peruvian.
I can’t remember how I gained the impression he was 25.
But I was happy with the situation until he mentioned he was actually 22.
“Hang on, how old did you say you were?” I spluttered into my drink.
“I’m 22. I mean I’m 25,” he laughed, with that I’m-lying-but-you-know-you-love-it face only a true Latino can muster.
“Which is it? Are you 22 or 25?” I insisted.
“Definitely 25,” he laughed again.
“I’m going to need to see some ID,” I warned.
He turned serious.
“Vicki, what does it matter how old I am?” he demanded.
“I think you have a problem with your age. I also think you have a problem with having blonde hair and blue eyes.
“And none of that is important.”
(Hmph, I thought. You try being the only blonde in the village)
Later, in Bolivia, I cycled the Death Road with five Argentine lads. The scenery during our four-hour cycle was superb – if a little dizzying.
Afterwards we had lunch at the edge of the jungle and I enjoyed a deserved beer with the others, before noticing our 21-year-old guide was sitting alone.
“Would you like to join us?” I asked, wandering over to his table.
“Oh no, senorita, it’s okay,” he replied.
“Why don’t you have a drink with me instead?”
He poured me a papaya juice and the conversation opened in a familiar fashion.
“So,” he began.
“How old are you?”
“I’m 28,” I replied.
“And do you like Latin music?” he continued.
“Oh, I love it,” I grinned in reply.
“Salsa, merengue… I love all of it.”
“Great,” he smiled, pouring me another juice.
“Would you like to go dancing with me tonight?”
My eyes widened and, inevitably, he read my mind.
“Oh senorita,” he purred.
“It’s only seven years.”
But my favourite is still the Chilean – Juan Carlos – I met in Copacabana; a fun and laid-back town on the edge of Lake Titicaca in Bolivia.
My friend Carolina and I spent the night there ahead of a boat trip to the sun island.
You should have seen the boy’s eyes brighten when he heard my English accent.
“I love England, I love it,” he said, scrambling onto the bar stool next to me.
“I’ve been twice, to Old Trafford. I’m a Manchester United fan,” he said proudly.
Now, I may not be the biggest football lover but Juan Carlos’s enthusiasm was as infectious as his sense of humour.
I particularly enjoyed him telling me ‘you could rip open Wayne Rooney’s chest and roast a chicken on it’ – which, I think, means the striker is passionate.
Similarly, he had a lovely habit of saying ‘open bracket’ whenever he wanted to change topic – followed by ‘Where were we when I opened that last bracket?’
After about an hour – in which I became more knowledgeable than Alex Ferguson and Jack Charlton combined – I finally asked the obvious question.
“So why are you a Manchester United fan?”
“Ah,” Juan Carlos said, his eyes twinkling.
“Well, I remember when I was nine. I watched them beat Bayern Munich to win the Champions’ League 2-1. Two goals in the 90th and 92nd minute. It was unbelievable.”
That’s nice, I thought. Non-natives can always name the ‘one game’ that made them fall in love with their chosen team.
But then I remembered. I watched that game too. And I wasn’t nine-years-old.
It was in 1999.
“Er, how old are you Juan Carlos?” I asked casually.
“Oh, I have 20 years now. And you?” he replied.
“I’m 28,” I laughed, but he shrugged and the football talk resumed.
Suddenly, somewhere between Dimitar Berbatov, Darren Fletcher and an Arsenal related ‘open bracket’, it was 1.30am. The bar was closing.
Our group of ten – including Carolina, Juan Carlos’s Chilean friends, a Dutchman and an Irish girl – were discussing where to head next, but I wasn’t listening.
Our boat was at 8.30am the following day, so I figured the night was over.
Juan Carlos obviously thought the same and yawned theatrically.
“I’m tired. I’m think I’m going home to bed,” he whispered.
“Would you like to join me?”