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

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