Monday, May 7, 2012

A SLEEVE STUFFED WITH STOLEN TOILET PAPER


THURSDAY MAY 3, 2012, A SLEEVE STUFFED WITH STOLEN TOILET PAPER
It was another terrible night’s rest.  I barely slept from the constant coughing, and sneezing going on in our room...and when I was just at the point of dozing off again, one of the Dutch girl’s who had been having a late night conversation in the room the night before, decided to jump off of her bunk, bang into things, and scream “FUCK” in a loud whisper.  I was aggravated to say the least, and it seemed that fast as I fell asleep, two hours had gone by and I, alongside the rest of the room, was quickly woken up when Dutch girl #1, got out of bed and decided a little before 7 would be a good time to pack up all of her shit, giving little care to anyone else in the room.
There was zipping, crinkling, more zipping, more crinkling, the ruffling sound of clothes being packed and unpacked.  Violent throws of trash loudly thudding into the tiny plastic bin.  It was ridiculous.  Then Dutch girl #2 woke up.  She yawned and stretched; a loud cry from the pleasure of a morning stretch.  I understand, but when there’s 6 other people sleeping, it’s the time to keep your mouth shut, no?
She proceeded to get out of bed, in her lacy black undies, and as she bent over to pack up her stuff, I opened my eyes, to see a black piece of string tucked away into her ass.  What a way to really wake up!  When the two were done talking, slamming lockers, packing, coming in and out, and finally gone, it turned out that they just sat downstairs for an hour or so, not even needing to pack at that ungodly hour.  With everyone in the room awake now, we decided to get up and maybe do something.  
Eefke and Kirsty met up with a guy from the hostel who was going to look into overnight treks in Colca canyon, and I stayed behind and did a little writing.  When  I felt I had enough, I went downstairs, meeting a nice English girl named Rosa, and had a bit of a chat with her before Pete (the sick and sneezy one from our room) joined us.  He had showered and was feeling much better.  We sat there waiting for at least an hour, before we all started to get antsy and decided we were going to meet the girls at the market.  Just as I began to write them a note however, they returned and we set out in a giant group, adding one more before we left, for a total of 6.  At the market, while we all sat drinking juice, Nancy (overwhelmed by the number of us exceeding her amount of allowed chairs), began juicing.  A man from our hostel spotted us and sat down with us to have a chat.  His name was Salva and he was from Spain.  A few people not wanting to wait, went to other women, while Kirsty, Eefke and I stayed loyal to our favorite mujer de jugos, Nancy.  
Pete ordered first, We told her to give him something for his cold.  She added “alfalfa” leaves to his juice, different from the alfalfa I know, it was just a flavorless green leaf.  Then she added honey, and some different fruits and handed it to him.  He let us all try it.  It was delicious!  And would hopefully help heal him.  I asked for a few things, in which Nancy responded and asked if I had ever tried guava.  I nodded, and she made me a special one with that.  Sweet and filling, I was quite happy with my last juice, and said good bye to Nancy until the next time, asking her to remember me.  She nodded and we walked away. 
The boys headed back to the hostel, while we girls decided what we wanted to do.  Just as we were walking out however, we noticed some of the sales women at the exit eating something wrapped in plastic that looked quite delicious.  It was fried yucca stuffed with different fillings and after Rosa got one with some green herbs and cheese, Eefke got one solely stuffed with cheese, and we were all hooked.  I got one to share with Kirsty, asking the woman to put a little salsa on ours.  She warned me that it was hot, I smiled and told her it was ok, and about a third of the way, Kirsty, full from her empanada and her juice, left the rest to me.  I was full, but it was so delicious, I couldn’t help resisting and ate the whole thing.  I slightly regretted it after as the dense fried ball of carbohydrate and fat sat in the pit of my stomach, but my head was happy from the sensations my tongue was sending it, and it all evened out. 
We walked for a bit in a direction we hadn’t yet gone, and after going a few blocks, a woman waved us down, and came close to us to talk.  She warned us the neighborhood was peligroso (dangerous) and to take cuidado (caution).  She asked where we were going and when we told her it was just a walk, she told us it wasn’t the place, it was not safe.  We walked back down the street we came, seeing her at the corner telling us to turn, thanked her, waved goodbye, and continued in our path.  We had just come up the street and nothing had happened, we would be fine.  
We stopped into a little shop where I noticed some locks and asked how much.  The old woman sitting there  simply told me no. 
“No puedo comprar este?”  I asked, pointing to a lock I saw.  Once again she told me no.  Did I do something to offend the old women in the shops here?  Did I smell?  Did they just not like tourists?  We walked on down the street looking for more where I stopped into the next shop.  A teenage boy was behind the counter helping an elderly woman and I waited patiently until he could help me.  
I held up Eefke’s lock and asked if they had any like hers.  He shook his head.  
“Este?”  I said pointing to a small black lock. “Cuanto Cuesto?”  He pulled the lock down and handed it to me. 
“2.50” he said.  It was a done deal.  I now had a crappy black lock, but a lock that could fit the lockers at that.  Rosa now deciding she may want one, stopped into the next store spending 50 sol cents more than I, to buy a far better lock.  It’s ok, I liked my shitty one.
We walked back to the hostel, where we sat for a bit, before I went with the girls and their tall Russian friend Andre, to go check out different prices for the trekking trip.  When Andre and Eefke had nearly finished booking theirs at one place, Rosa and Kirsty went to check out another.  I stayed with Eefke and Andrew in hopes of visiting the church, however not wanting to pay to see their museum, we’d have have to wait until later when we could just check out the church for free!  We went to get some coffee while waiting for the girls.  Let me tell you, the Cusco coffee company swirming with tourists serving Starbucks like drinks, could kick their ass.  Their coffee was far far tastier, as I learned from drinking the (highly reccomended by Eefke) cinnamon frappe.
If I wasn’t full enough from juice, and a fried yucca stuffed with cheese, I was now about to burst from the cream and sugar syrup in my coffee drink.  Hopefully we’d walk it off!  Andre talked about going to the cinema.  He listed all of the movies out, and said there was a theater in Cusco.  Neither Eefke nor I really enthused with the idea, we tried to sway him away from it. 
“How about a movie at the hostel?”  We asked him.  He was not sold.  Back at the hostel, Kirsty and Rosa walked in just after us, and after discussing it, none of us wanted to go to the movies, but rather the supermarket, so they could stock up on goodies for their trek.  I just wanted to walk.  We broke the news to Andre that there probably would be no movie, and he wasn’t too thrilled; though he did come to the supermarket with us.  Rosa, who didn’t want to join us, in the end decided to come, complaining the entire time about why we were walking so far, why didn’t we just go to a little street stand, and finally when we were in the store, about how she liked the small stands better.  Well, then love, ya shouldn’t have come!
While the girls went straight for energy bars and cookies, Andre headed for his water and vodka.  We shuffled through the store until everyone had gotten their goodies, and headed back to the hostel to watch a movie someone had put on.  "Burn After Reading" ended ubruptly and had me saying “WHAT THE FUCK DID I JUST WATCH?” when it was over.
The girls went out for dinner and I sat on the couch, waiting the longest hour for a taxi to come and pick up Rob and me.  Though his bus was a half hour later, he decided sharing the taxi was the best idea for him, and even thought about trying to change his time to my bus; we’d sort that out when we got there.  When 6:45 came, the girls were not back, and our taxi had not arrived.  The woman at the front desk called, and I saw her face sitting there in disgust as the guy put her on hold, and then never bothered to pick back up.  
“Creas que es mejor se vamos aya?”  I asked pointing to the street.
“Si.”  She said.  Then proceeded to tell us it would be cheaper too, but to make sure he was actually licensed and had a a radio.  We walked to the street corner, stood on the edge of the sidewalk and waved down every taxi, that eventually drove past us.  Finally, the tiniest of taxis that ever could be, stopped and we tried to fit our bags in.  Rob didn’t see a radio or a license, though the rosary beads hanging from his front mirror made me feel ok about him, however the fact that Rob did not, also paranoid me, and being that we were having trouble fitting our bags in, and were now scared, we let him go.  We now had even less time.  
We continued the waving down process, finally another small car stopping for us.  He had some sort of number on his windshield. That probably counted for something.  Rob was not sure of the situation, but being that the guy had stopped his car, gotten out to help us put our bags in, gave me the price I wanted without having to barter, and we were running late on time, I told him it’d be fine and we hopped in. 
“Radio?”  Rob asked the guy, using his hands to show a walkie talkie like radio being held in his hand and going to his mouth.  
“Si!”  the driver said enthusiastically as he raised the volume to his Peruvian folk music.  I couldn’t help but laugh. 
I figure if you start conversations with people and make them like you, you have less of a chance of being hurt in the end, because whether or not they want to “drive you down back alleys” as Rob had told me, they still have a conscience. 
I asked him about traffic and Peru; if he was from Arequipa, and if he’d traveled anywhere.  His name was Hilberto.  I liked him.  I watched Rob’s face as we went down narrow streets.  His entire body tightening up in fear of us about to be slaughtered, our organs sold to feed Hilberto’s family.  Once again I laughed to myself.  The best was when we turned a corner onto a dark dirt road.  It was right before we hit the station.  I knew this because I went the day before.  Rob however was quivering inside, I just knew it.  To calm his nerves, I made sure to make it clear.
“Estamos aqui, no?”  
“Si.”  Hilberto responded.  “Es aqui!”  He said as he pulled up beside the side of the station. 
“I could see ya getting scared.”  I evily laughed as I said to Rob.  At the station with a good amount of time to spare, we went inside to Cruz del Sur to ask about changing Rob’s ticket.  He was told he’d have to pay extra, but the seat next to mine was free.  He paid the extra 28 sols, and it was done.
Why was it, that I had been sacrificing myself of water all day to prevent myself from having to pee on the ten hour bus, but as soon as we got to the station I had to pee like a whale about to give birth?  With everything done and out of the way, we wandered around aimlessly looking for the bathroom, Rob finally telling me it was upstairs.  I trudged myself up, out of breathe from the altitude by the time I got to the top, and headed to what looked like a ticket office window.
“Necessito que pagar?!”  I questioned. 
“Si.”  The man behind the window said. 
“Pero, tengo una boleta. Yo pagado!”  I said, telling him I had a ticket that I had paid for!
“Dame, puedo ver.”  He said. I took out my ticket, he took a quick glance at it, handed it back to me, and with a slight cocky smirk, his hand gesture led me to the stalls.  I no sooner realized why I had to pay.  There was no toilet paper.  Good thing I too had none.  I did what was only natural, drip dry, and went back to Rob who was standing there, holding his massive bag as he waited.
We walked now to the terrapuerta, or the bus terminal where I assumed we would wait for our bus outside in the cold parking lot with a group of other people.  I was wrong.   Instead, it was an organized actual station area. There were barely any Peruvians as we had taken the more “expensive”, supposedly secure line, living in luxury for our 10 hour ride.  
We walked up when our bus was called, and our tickets were checked.  However we had forgotten (aka not known) to buy a tiny pink ticket to staple onto our bus ticket, as proof of our leave.  Just another gimmick for money really, but we spent our 2 sols to get it and headed back to the man at the Cruz del Sur counter.  The man checked our tickets, looked into our bags a bit, and we headed to a waiting room with the other passengers.  
It was unlike anything I was expecting, or really ever experienced.  This waiting room was filled with comfy couches, a place to fill up your water, and bathrooms, free of charge, and wait for it, get this, toilet paper!  Yes, an unlimited (well... I shouldn’t go that far)  but a great supply, of toilet paper!  I was overly joyous.  I pulled a backpacker, and stole a bunch of toilet paper for the ride.  And soon enough, we boarded the bus.  Little to my expectation, it was 2 stories.  Yes a 2 story, double decker, stacked bus.  I sat on the bus, in the last row, on the isle in between Rob and the bathroom.  I had withheld myself of water for the entire day just to prevent myself from having to pee, and here I was, a sleeve stuffed with stolen toilet paper, next to a clean bathroom.  I began to rehydrate.  On top of everything, our seat nearly pulled out into a bed, we had a footrest, and like a transformer, our foot rest could fold up, and embedded into it, was a stationary table in which we could take out and put back for use when food was served.  What was this magical bus we were on?!
I pulled my seat out immediately into it’s bed, and lay down.  There was a blanket and a pillow, and in unwrapping it, I found it smelled like the best flowers ever.  I immersed myself in it, in hopes of it maybe making my sweaty self smell better.  
Within the first ten minutes of leaving the station in Arequipa, a skinny, high strung bus stewardess began handing out bingo cards.  From what I understood of what he was saying as he handed them to us, the winner got a ride back to Arequipa, but seeing as we were for the most part travelers and backpackers on this bus, I didn’t understand what the point in this was but I decided to play anyway.  After a few calls of numbers, I had bingo.  I called out and the long fidgety guy working the bus standing behind me calling out the numbers grabbed my blue bingo card from me.  He read over his numbers and mine, and realized I had won.  Then the question was asked.
“Pero vuelves en Arequipa?”  he looked at me with a raised eyebrow.  
“No.  Pero me voy a Lima, puedo usar para este?”  He shook his head and went on to call more numbers.  After another 5 people had won, none of which were returning to Arequipa, I asked him again.  Saying something along the lines of “C’mon man, just use it for Lima!”  He didn’t find my humor as amusing as I did, and went on to yet again, call more numbers.  Finally someone won who could actually use the ticket, and the game was over. 
A movie with the ever so talented Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz was put on.  I sat and glimpsed at it every so often, Rob playing on character, me the other, voicing what we thought they were saying.  We talked for ages, realizing we were the only people actually having a conversation on the bus of quiet people, and finally getting tired, decided to try to sleep.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

RIPENING CHEESE IN THE SUN


WEDNESDAY MAY 2, 2012,  RIPENING CHEESE IN THE SUN
It was a better night’s rest than that of the day before, though still not spectacular.  I had no plans of anything today other than going back to the market and trying some more local food, and so, there was no rush of any sort.  I got up, took my time getting ready, and Eefke Kirsty and I headed out to Mercado San Camilo.  Inside we went straight for the food stalls.  Stall after stall, older peruvian women serving the same items to hungry comers.  One stall was particularly crowded today, but being that the day before they were all equally packed, we figured they would all be delicious.  We settled for one with people that was not too squished, and ordered a rocoto relleno; a stuffed pepper.  The woman behind the stall asked if we wanted the ever abundant potato with it, in which we all agreed, no.  We had been in Peru, all of us no more than a week, and had already had enough potatoes.  
We stood behind the stools lined with people in front of the stall, leaning on empty stall behind us, next to an old woman with no teeth who sold cheese.  
“Hay queso!  Queso fresco!  Hay queso!”  She’d yell softly.  While we waited for our pepper, I asked her about the cheese; What the differences between the rounds of cheeses were.  She told me a whole explanation, half of which I could not hear, gathering very little of what she was actually telling me but acting as if I had gotten it all.
Our pepper was handed to us over the tops of the heads of people by the curly headed woman with painted eyebrows who ran the stall, and we dug in.  A small round red pepper (rocoto), stuffed with meat, onion, spices, olives, eggs, a hint of nuttiness, topped off with one of the quesos from the old woman’s cheese stall, was all it was, but the simplicity of the dish was what made it so delicious.  Eefke and I both noticed however, that a lot of Peruvian food that we had tasted so far was quite salty, and the same went for their sweets, which were insanely sugary.  They had a heavy hand at both, but their food was none the less, bueno.  
After sharing our pepper, we walked to get some juice from our new friend Nancy, who smiled and told us to be patient, as 4 out of her 5 stools were being taken up at the moment.  A couple sat and leaned into each other sharing juices.  Two old businessmen looking types sat as well, eating fruit salad topped with a pourable strawberry yogurt and honey.  When the couple left, we charged at the seats and ordered.
Eefke got the fruit salad, as it looked incredible from what we saw.  I ordered Kirsty a strawberry, banana, and mango juice and I got a mango, banana and cheramoya juice.  She sliced everything up by hand, placing it into the blenders, and a few minutes later, we had juice.  When I finished my first cup, she filled it up again and 2 1/2 cups later, I was full of juice and refreshed.  I showed the girls to the empanada stand, where they each got one and we walked out of the market.  
Then I remembered, I hadn’t gotten the giant cheese from the Peruvian mountain woman of yesterday.  We went to look around, but she was not there.  Luckily enough though, as we went out another exit, there was another quite plump old woman, in traditional garb, long pig tail braids and hat. She sold  a few kind of cheeses in different sizes from a cooler she left in the sun.  I asked her for prices and found a small queso fresco wrapped in a leaf, I had to try.  I was overly joyous to have found a replacement for yesterday.   
We carried on now, going for a bit of a wander and then back into the center, to the tourist office, to ask if there was anything we HAD to do.  We were told  to go to Mirador de Yanahuara, and from there we could take a taxi to an even higher look out, Mirador san Carmen Alto.  We headed off for the first point overlooking the city, walking across a bridge, up into the other side of the city until we hit another big street.  From there we looked at a map and realized it was the street we were originally supposed to take across for a cleaner cut path.  Now we needed to find the cross street,Calle Misti, but where it was, that was the question.   We asked a young guy, and he pointed us across the busy street and one block up. 
When it seemed as clear as it was going to get, we ran across through a good deal of fast moving cars to the center of the road, and then again when the other side was clear.  Now where was it from there?  Eefke went and asked an old man at the corner, who told us to go straight and then turn left.  He told her it was quite far, and when she questioned him asking how far, 30 minutes?  He shook his head and said less.  It was not THAT far, in our opinions.  A security guard watching us from above at a Peruvian chain chicken restaurant came down to help, and the 2 gave us different directions and sent us on our way.  Who to listen to?   We saw a lost looking tourist and a camera in front of us who was asking questions to a local, and decided to follow him, but ten minutes later when he turned down a small street and entered a hotel, we went our separate ways.  We stopped into a small store where Eefke asked the saleswoman for directions, and we turned around, went 2 blocks, turned right and saw the Plaza.  Up a small hill and a set of stairs and we were all out of breathe when we reached the top.  The altitude was killing us and it wasn’t even that bad.
We took some pictures of Arequipa’s dormant volcano, El Misti, and walked around. A large tourgroup of older white women in poker hats arrived now, coming to the view point of Mirador de Yanahuara, to take up the entire space.  I asked one of them if she could take our picture, and she began speaking to me quickly in French to which I’d respond in Spanish.  She took our picture, obviously understanding nothing of what I said.   We thanked her, and she walked back to her other French friends.  
A mother was taking a picture of her son, and I asked if she wanted one of them together.  She was thankful and handed me the camera, her son afterwards asking if he could have one with me, pulling Kirsty over as well.  We smiled for their camera, and then the mom switched places with her teenage son, squishing herself in between me and Kirsty, and smiling proudly.  
“Con la gueras!”  I said to her.  They thanked us again, and we walked off to find Eefke.  We went across to the church, which was closed, meeting up with a girl who had stayed at our hostel the day before.  I spoke to her, she said she left as the hostel was too English.  I remember her screaming “FUCK” the other day as she burned her hand on a fork she had stupidly left in a hot pot.  “Metal conducts heat idiot”  I remember thinking.  She gave us a glare, as she walked away.  Nice to see you too!   
A few more pictures and we were ready to head to the next look out point.  A few taxis sat in front of the church, however only one contained a driver, and we went to him and asked for a price.  He gave us the honest answer instead of trying to rip us off, and we took it immediately.  When we got to Mirador San Carmen Alto, it was just a hillside view, close to the volcano, overlooking the entire hill of the city and the farm land below.  We asked our driver if he would wait for us and he in turn smiled and parked the car.  We asked if he could take a picture for all of us and he happily got out and came down the hill to help us.   Then he asked if he could have one, pulling Eefke in with him; he wanted a memory.  He went back up to his car and drove it down to us, slowly following us in the automobile, getting out to explain things about the land and volcano.    He took a picture of the 3 of us for another memory and we drove back into town, giving him a good tip (he made out quite well from the 3 of us). We said good-bye to Edu, our favorite new taxi driver.  
We walked back to the hostel.  I went straight for the kitchen to cut some of the queso fresco, which didn’t smell so fresh at this point.  I scraped off the pungent smelling rind.  It tasted fermented and I hoped the cheese inside would be better.  It was chewy and filled with air pockets, salty and smooth.  I put it in some bread the hostel had left out from breakfast and brought it to the girls to try.  We all liked it, had a little snack, and sat for a bit to relax.
It was around 4 pm when Eefke suggested we go look at an exhibit about a preserved Inca girl, and we set out in search of El Museo Santuarios Andinos (Museum of Andean Sanctuaries).  It was in the vicinity, though we weren’t entirely sure as to where.  On the way, my tummy rumbling, I decided to stop into the fruit shop that helped me with directions the first night and get a few baby bananas.  The man, nor his wife or daughter were there.  Just an old woman with a down expression and glazed eyes.  Her skin was dark and wrinkled and she refused to look me in the eye.  When I brought her back 5 bananas, she slowly counted them in her head 
“Cincuenta.”  She said.  
“Cincuenta?”  I confirmed.  She glared directly at me, though still not looking me in the eyes.
“Gah, she looks evil!”  Kirsty softly murmured.   I laughed and the 2 of us scrambled for 50 cents so we could get the hell out.  The man of the store, most likely her son entered now, and she pointed to him in an act of “give the money to him”.  I handed him the coin and we walked out. 
“Cincuenta?!”  She yelled. 
“Si, es cincuenta!”  I answered back.  She made another hand action as if telling me to get out, she wasn’t talking to me, and we left as the man nodded to his mother.  If the old woman had been there the first night, I probably would not have returned.  
Up and around the corner, we realized the museum was even closer than we had expected.  We walked in, bought our tickets and waited for the English tour to start.  15 minutes later, we, as well as several large groups of French people were brought into a cold room to watch a film about the girl.  Were we on the right tour?  Everyone around us was speaking French.  We waited, and as the film started, English was spoken, with French subtitles.  When the film ended, they broke us into two groups; French and English and toured us around, showing us artifacts, giving us information, and finally, allowing us to see Juanita, a tiny tiny little girl, enclosed in frozen glass case. 
The story of Juanita, also known as The Inca Ice Maiden, and Lady of Ampato in short , goes a little something like this.  Around mid to late 1400s, a young girl between the age most likely of 12-14 was killed as an offering to Incan gods.   When found in 1995 by famous anthropologist Johan Reinhard on Mount Ampato, it caused a positive stir in the scientific world, because of how well preserved the body was.
However I had a problem with the story.  It said that these children willingly sacrificed themselves themselves for the higher power of their gods, but how did we actually know this was true.  They were led up a treacherous climb, nearly starved, given drugs and fermented corn alcohol known as chicha,  and then when they were really out of it, they were bashed over the heads.  Does that sound like something a tween or teen would really do?  At least not in this day and age.  But enough of my opinion. 
After the tour, we asked the women who worked there for a suggestion on a typical non-touristy restaurant.  The began speaking back in forth in spanish. I heard one say to the other, 
“Pero es turistica, no?”  The woman shook her head.  And they pointed us in the direction of it.  She had told us it had a good view, which made me a little suspicious of it if were really a touristy place.  The locals don’t care as much about the view, we all know that.  After walking a short distance from Plaza Arma, we began to be the only tourists within site, and it seemed as if things would be good.  But when we reached a hotel with a fancy restaurant (that was closed) overlooking the town with the same name they had written down for us, we both had to skip it.  That being said, it led us to where we ended up having our fantastic dinner.  
A few steps more from the hotel, on the right hand side of the street, we noticed a man cleaning a grill.  Behind the grill situated on the sidewalk, was a small restaurant.  No one was inside, but we decided to go for it.  We asked if it was open, and the man gave us a big smile and led us in.  He told us what he had for that night, and asked what we were interested in.  I told him we just wanted to try a few different things.  He was quite excited by this, smiled some more, and scurried off to the kitchen. 
He came out holding a plate with 6 skewers on it and ran to the grill.  His wife (or at least I think it was his wife)  came to escort him, holding a bowl filled with what looked to be oil with some herbs, and an herb bunch of some sort of floral looking plant (perhaps huacatay) which he used to brush the oil onto the meat and grill.  His wife brought us 1 glass of chicha morada (the purple corn drink) and I, being the only one of us 3 that had already tried it, had the other girls taste it.  They were hesitant at first, but finally took a sip.  Then 2 more glasses came out, and we all had to drink our own.    
Before our food was served, Pasqual brought out a greenish brown salsa to our table.  I took a taste.  It was so familiar, and yet so different from anything I had tasted.  There was a taste I was unsure of.  I questioned Pasqual, who intrigued by why I was asking, told me how he made it and the ingredients he put into it.  Huacatay,  was the stumper.  I later learned it was an herb.
Pascual himself, brought us each a plate containing 2 skewers, a piece of their giant corn and grilled potatoes.  He smiled at us, told us it was antichuchos, and walked away to prepare our next item.  I thought it was heart, I was sure it was heart, but while talking about it before the food came, Kirsty grew nervous that it might be, and I told her it was just beef.  I asked his wife as she came over to us, what part of the animal it was, and she touched her chest and proudly said “corazon”.  
“It’s the shoulder.”  I told Kirsty with a smile on my face.  I was a terrible liar.  The meat was a bit chewy, but it had tremendous flavor from both the marinade and the grill.  The next course was nearly ready.  He brought us each a large breast of chicken, in which it looked as if he had squished down with a weight.   It was sweet, and had the same underlying herbal tones as the heart.  I asked him what was in it.  He was again, overly joyous, and a little confused to my questioning him so much.  It contained a bunch of ingredients I knew, but then again a stumper.  Aji Colorado.  Thanks to a bit of googling, I learned it was a pepper.
A third and final course came to us, once again served with corn, but without potato (thank goodness).  This time it was a very thin steak, marinated in the same mix as the other meats.  It was chewy and hard to cut, but the flavor was once again amazing.  He brought to our table, an extra steak on a small plate, and we all sat there staring at it, trying to figure out what exactly to do with it.   We cut little pieces off, put it on our plates, and pretended to have eaten it.  We were full, and hoping we had no more coming. 
“Basta?!”  He asked.  We agreed.  “Quieres una cervecita?”  He asked me?  Now normally when ‘ita’ is added to a word in Spanish, it means something small.  But seeing as the night before when we were asked if we wanted ‘sopitas’ and giant bowls of soup came out, we were a bit hesitant.  I didn’t want one, but taunted by his words, Kirsty’s face lit up, and he brought our 4 large beers to our table.  
“No no no! Solo uno!”  I said enthusiastically.  He laughed and placed the ‘cervecita’ (LARGE BEER) in front of me.  I put it in front of Kirsty and we sat there talking finishing our drinks, while Pasqual cooked for some new customers now, cheering us with his beer.  
When we were finally done, I took a quick picture with Pascual, we said our goodbyes and we walked home.  We were full and smiling like Pascual, walking down the street stinking of BBQ smoke.  
“Can I smell you?”  Eefke asked me, after smelling both herself and Kirsty, compared the smokiness.  We laughed, and decided to walk to the supermarket to get some candy to eat while watching a movie at the hostel.  Neither the store, nor any of the little shops on our way back had anthing we wanted, so Eefke decided to share her Dutch candy (salted licorice and other chewies) while we watched The Change Up. As I sat there, I attempted to sew up my hole ridden leggings.  
By the end, we were tired and went to bed, or at least tried in between an English bloke’s constant sneezing, and the Dutch girls who came in late and decided inside of our room would be the best place to have a 15 minute conversation.  Even my ipod couldn’t help me now.
©2012 Jami Cakes  All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

A TAXI RIDE FROM THE GREATER HELL!

TUESDAY MAY 1, 2012, A TAXI RIDE FROM THE GREATER HELL!
I didn’t sleep very well.  I woke up continuously throughout the night from the girl in the top bunk across from me coughing, sounding like she had bronchitis and was about to die.  The boy on the bottom bunk next to me was snoring, and the French couple behind me taking up the bottom and top bunk were strangely breathing in unison, every so often the guy crying out in a moan or groan.  It smelled like feet and it was cold, and by 4:30 am when I had woken up for what seemed like the 10th time in the last 4 hours, I could barely fall back to sleep before one of the noises would wake me up. I put on a little Ed Sheeran and tried to block everything out; it was not enough.  By 8:30 I was awake lying like a stone in my bed, still trying to go back to sleep, but with the French people packing up their things and the room filled with light, it was apparent I wouldn’t be getting more sleep.  
I got up, got ready and went to use my computer, to skype with a friend back home.  But as I began calling, a friendly American boy wearing a beanie lined with alpakas and long braided tails cheerfully came up to me and began talking to me.  Not trying to be rude, I smiled and answered him, telling him I was about to skype when my friend answered, and the boy walked away.  A bit later I saw him down stairs and apologized, as I was not trying to be rude.  
“Oh I know!”  he responded and smiled.  He was from Chicago, and a boy with him, also quite smiley from Berlin.  I spoke with them both for a bit discussing our travel plans, before Eefke arrived from her 12 hour train journey. She walked in to the hostel with her giant back pack, looking exhausted.  She dropped her stuff off and we went for a little walk to the local market, El Mercado San Camilo.  We passed locals vending items on the street, small shops, and bicycling ice cream men. Finally, when we weren’t sure how much further we were to go, we passed a back entry to the market where men led carts of potatoes and other produce inside.  One man saw us looking and let us in.  We entered a miraculous wonderland of locals, produce, meats, fish, dairy, items for the house and of course women cooking food!  
We walked around, taking pictures and asking questions.   
“Que es este.  Que es este?  Que es este?” Were continuously heard from our mouths, and one mans’ stall in particular intrigued us both.  
“Sabes que es este?”  he in turn asked us pointing to a bunch of tiny hanging skeletons.”  I had an idea.  “Ranas!”  He said.  What on earth was he doing with a string of hanging frog skeletons?  “Y este?  Sabes que es este?”  He asked holding up some shrimp.
“Camarones!”  I said.  “Para chupe de camarones!”    He smiled. 
“Si.  Y este?”  He said pointing to a fish. 
“Pescado!”  I responded. 
“Si, pero es trucha.”  He said as he squeezed the eyeball.  This man had to have been in his late 70s, with dark oily skin, a good head of dark hair and soft eyes.  He had wrinkles and missing teeth, but such personality in both his features and demeanor. 
“Como te llamas?”  I asked him. 
“Me llamo Pasquale!”  He said in a big voice.  He asked where we were from, and after Eefke replied saying she was from Holland, he could only assume we were from the same place, saying one day he was coming to Holland! 
“Puedo tomar un foto de te?”  I asked, holding up my camera and pointing it at him. 
“Porque no!?”  He said with a chuckle.  He was making my day.  One of the best most characteristic people I had met in the past few days and I wanted an actual memory of him.  I showed it to him.  He smiled, and we parted ways. 
We walked around some more now, stopping to get a lúcuma; the sweet potato like fruit Gustavo had showed me the day before.  I was now able to show someone else, and we split it, walking about eating our lúcuma until we were stopped in our tracks.  A procession complete with a Virgen de Chapi, the virgin of purification, being carried by four women, with candles and flowers, was followed by a large band and a bunch of other people who just wanted to be part of the celebration.  They played and marched through the market, after going upstairs to light fireworks, in the enclosed market space.  I guess they don’t have regulations here.
We finished up our lúcuma and headed to find some more to eat.  There were stalls filled with people eating typical food.  There were cases of Rocoto relleno, a stuffed pepper filled with meat, cheese, and other goodies and baked in the oven, usually served with none other than Peru’s favorite item, potatoes!  There were pots of soup, and stewed chicken; Rice with vegetables and lots of delicious looking items.  We started at one stall where a woman and her young daughter yelled.
“Lechon! Lechon! Chicharon!”  It got our attention, and after giving us a sample piece of their lechon, we sat down and got a piece of chicharon.; though that was not all we got.  Complete on our plate, alongside our thick piece of deep fried fatty pork, chopped into pieces, were boiled potatoes, canchas, and a shaved onion and tomato salad.  We ate a good portion of it, barely making a dent, before asking if we could take it to go.  We thought they may have thought we were weird, but after seeing the guy next to us do it, who was indeed a local, we knew it was ok.  Bag of pork intact in my bag, we headed on.  Juices!
The juice section was a long row of woman after woman selling the exact same thing as the woman next to her, kind of like the rest of the market.  There were tiny stools set up in front of each vendor, and they were elevated on a platform above you, the only way to get out through was a tiny door that they’d have to crawl through.  They’d take your order, and then start peeling and dicing your fresh fruit of choice, place it into the blender, puree and then strain it.  You’d get a tall glass of the sweetest juice ever (with no added sugar to my shock! Nancy, our favorite new juice woman was very proud of this as she held up her sweet mango) and when you finished your first glass, they'd top it off with left over from your batch, and then again if there’s more.  I had two giant glasses  from Nancy, which left us happy and extremely full.  Neither of us had room to try anything else at that moment.  I debated extending my stay just to make sure I had enough time to try everything.
We searched for some fruit, buying a rather large (yet the smallest available) papaya from a woman in the fruit section and then after questioning her for some limes, we were directed in the vegetable section.  How strange, but low and behold a giant display of limes.  We got 2 and headed to see more of the town.     Right before you hit Plaza Arma, there is a Jesuit church, Iglesia de la Compañia and we went in to see how their display differed from other churches.  It was rather large, filled with people as there was a service going on for this day of holiday, dia de trabajo (labor day), and a beautiful gold leaf covered churrigueresque style alter.  
All of the sudden I heard someone calling my name and it wasn’t Eefke.  Who else could it have been?  It was Marie, the girl I had shared the taxi with the night before.  I guess Arequipa for tourists is smaller than it seems.  She walked with us back to our hostel so we could drop off our fruit, but after standing around for a while in the hostel, Eefke and I both began to feel tired.   We decided to meet up with Marie at Plaza Arma an hour later, but when we got there a few minutes late, she was no where in site.  We waited 15 minutes more, but when we did not see here, we decided to go to the bus station and search out cheap tickets for our upcoming ventures to Cusco.
We stopped the first taxi we saw and a man with a young face pulled up.  We asked for the price.  
“8 sols.”  He responded immediately.   In my bad Spanish of which I only know present tense, I told him I took one the night before for 5 sols.
“Es una feria.”  He said to me.
“Entonces, 5?” I asked him again. 
“No, 7.”
“5!”  This went on for a few minutes until Eefke chimed in, for us, it wasn’t dia de trabajo.  He laughed, paused, and let us in.  When we got to the station I gave him 6, as he had asked before we won.  It wasn’t the actual price, it was the feeling of succeeding in a barter battle.    
In the  bus station, we walked over to Cruz Azul, the supposed trusted company, also meaning they were the most expensive.  Eefke and I both checked prices out online, and they were about 97 sols for the cheap ticket. However at the station there was a special offer on and I got the more comfortable seat for my 10 hour voyage for only 59 sols. I was happy with it, and we both bought tickets. 
We headed back outside to find a taxi, seeing a lone backpacker who appeared to be looking for one as well.  We saw our prey and went to strike.  
“Are you heading to the center?”  I asked.  She was, and it turned out not only the center, but the same hostel.    I chose a taxi driver, and for 7 sols, even with bartering (the bastard)  we hopped in.   Before pulling away, a police officer asked where were heading.  
“Plaze de Arma.”  He responded. 
“No, Calle O’Higgins!”  Eefke piped in.  I told her it was fine, I was sure it was just easier to explain the central square.  I was wrong.  When we got to Plaza Arma, just a 5 minute walk from our hostel, an even closer car ride, he went in a strange way, taking us across a bridge and around a completely different section of town.  Pulling over to talk on his phone several times, insisting he knew where he was going, as Eefke, the girl who had the best directional sense ever, and had been here for all of 6 hours, told him how to get to our hostel.  
“Creo que 5 es mucho ahora.” I said, slightly joking with the guy, that we didn’t want to pay him.  He gave me a “haha you’re funny, not!”  laugh and continued driving.  After an extra 15 minute scenic tour through the city, we finally got to our hostel. 
We rested at the hostel for a bit and when hunger finally hit, we went out for a walk to see where it’d take us.  We ended up somewhat out of the touristy area, passing Pollo alla Brasa after Pollo alla Brasa, but when we finally came to one that seemed more like a casual restaurant packed with people and even more packed with spit roasting chickens, we stopped in.  There were at least 25 Peruvian families sitting and eating when we walked in and it seemed as if everyone, at the same time, looked up.  We were the only non Peruvians in the place, aside from the only blondes.  We smiled and walked slowly in trying to figure out how the system worked.  
We walked up to the cash register, me in the lead, where the man behind the counter asked if we wanted to eat in or out.  
“Aqui”  I had told him.  And he told us to find a table and wait.  The only empty one we could find, still had food on it, so we took a seat and waited for our waiter to clear it off.  It was a funny concept to me.  Plastic tables and chairs, with normal locals, and chicken and fries, but the waiters were wearing button up shirts, and vests, as if it were something fancier than it was.  Was it a pride thing?
Our waiter began talking to us incredibly fast, about what we wanted.  We all kind of looked at him blank faced as the table around us watched in fascination.   It was as if they were all sitting there thinking “What are they gonna get!?”  Being that the menu was limited to pollo and the fixings that came with it, we didn’t have to think too much.  We looked at the menu listed on the wall, the prices re written over the old prices with paper (something we thought had to do with most of the price increases for the day, as it was dia de trabajo)  and we each wanted 1/4 pollo.  Our waiter came back.
“Pollo si?  un cuarto si?  Sopa, sopita?”  He asked.  
“Si?  Picca?”  Eefke said to him.  We just agreed with him, not entirely sure of what he said until he left and we slowed his words down.  A minute later he came out with 3 large bowls of soup.  They were green from a large amount of cilantro.  There was soft rice, chicken bones, onion, and 2 of us got lucky enough to get some chicken feet.  Kirsten, the English girl who we found at the train station, even had a piece of organ in hers, which after I asked if I could have, she couldn’t give it away fast enough.  I regretted my decision almost instantly as the gamey overcooked chewy piece of what ever part of the chicken was sat in my mouth, my teeth constantly grinding against it until it was small enough to swallow.  I tried to eat my chicken feet, but not wanting to look like a pig sucking off all the gelatinous outer skin and spitting bones, I refrained.  By the time we had nearly finished our soups, none of us were that hungry for the rest of our dinner.  
We had no choice as 3 large places covered in massive amounts of fries and giant pieces of chicken arrived in front of us, with a slightly spicy salsa on the side, and a salad of shredded iceberg lettuce, sliced tomatoes, and cucumber in a salty oil came to our table.   We all stared at our plates in excitement and fear and dug in.  By the end of it, none of us had finished, but we took our chicken to go, and soon after walking out, we passed a mother and her toddler selling candies on the street.  We asked if they wanted the chicken and the baby couldn’t have been happier, reaching her hands out to grab it and smiling.  We felt instantaneously good.
We passed an ice cream place, where the girls got some cones, and I tasted an icey mix that had toasted coconut on top of it, made with cheese.  It was definitely interesting, with the flavor almost of a coconut cheesecake.  We walked along, not entirely sure of where we were going, when we hit a bridge.  Was it the same one we had driven across earlier with our taxi?  Down and to the left of the bridge was a giant supermarket, and we headed down the stairs on the right of the bridge to get down to check it out. 
We needed water for sure, but decided to peek around for any random item we could find.  Nothing extremely out of the ordinary, though in comparison to most of the prices in Peru, I found it insane how expensive their cereal was.  I could buy a few meals for the price of a box of Kellog’s, and wondered how the Peruvians afforded it!  Water in hand, we checked out, having a race of the lines, where had it not been for some weird waiting when the people in front of me got to their final few items, I would have won.  I handed my water to Eefke, who bought it for me so we wouldn’t be stuck there for the next half hour, and we walked back up the stairs, all out of breathe by the time we finished climbing them, and headed back to the hostel.  
On the way a couple and their friend waved at us, trying to use their English skills. 
“Hi!”  They said with great enthusiasm and smiles. 
“Hola!”  I shouted back.  “Helllo!”  I squealed.  The girls laughed at my pronunciation and we continued on back, taking a new street to bring us to our hostel.  We finally made it and headed up to our room to relax.


©2012 Jami Cakes™ All Rights Reserved