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

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