The life is to eat. Or to die...

Trip Start Jun 06, 2007
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Trip End Ongoing


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Flag of Peru  ,
Saturday, June 16, 2007

The Andes.  The backbone of South America, stretching over 5,000 miles along the western coast of the continent.  The cascading waterfalls longer, the valleys greener, the peaks closer to the stars, and the mountain people more abundant than any mountain range I have ever stepped foot on. 
 
There were five of us that set out for the three day journey.  Cheridyn (a dear friend from St. Olaf and a Peace Corps. Volunteer in Peru), Ryan, John, David (a native of Peru and a coffee farmer near Canchaque, our guide) and I set out from the campo village of Canchaque, through the mountain dwellings of Suchile, and to our final destination, Huancabamba.  The beauty and life of the land possessed me.  Cheridyn and I walked ahead and descended into a valley of green mountain pastures where the small village of Suchile was tucked away.  We passed flowing fields of golden wheat underneath the great blue and white sky and next thing we knew we were dancing, skipping, and laughing down the trail.  I´ve never frolicked for so long and felt good about it... 
 
Neither of us expected the excitement and energy to continue at that level, but as we hiked closer and closer to the village we realized we were in for one of the most unique experiences of our lives.

We walked in a village where no gringo had ever walked before (at least for a long, long time).  This was confirmed by the enamoured stares and frightened cries of the children.  Imagine them thinking, ¨Who are these white aliens?¨  The older villagers had enough years to have seen a white person before so they took a more proactive course of action in response to our presence.  They brought out five small, simple, wooden stools for sitting.  We sat in silence, staring at our surroundings.
   
An assortment of animals splashed in the mud around the kitchen hut.  Pigs walked around with sticks shaped like a triangle around their necks, fastened by tweed.  Chickens and turkeys walked about our feet, dogs looked for food and attention, sheep bleated in the field.  It reminded me of Charlotte´s Web.  I was just waiting for the animals to start dancing and sing in unison the song, ¨Chin Up!¨ from the movie.
    
Before the chorus of animals began to sing we were invited into a cramped, rustic, village hut.  Inside was an arsenal of eats.  Our stomachs were in for the baddest bowel battle of their lives. 
    
The battle field was dark and eerie.  Smoke was pluming from the archaic oven and the coals illuminated the faces of our overly generous hosts.  The Señora stirred at the kiln with a grimace on her face from the heat and smoke.  Then she packed their culinary cannons and fired the first volley of food. 

Potatoes.  So many potatoes!  Five large bowls of potatoes (of which there are over 3,000 varieties in Peru).  Cheri made the comment that the bowls that each of us ate were equivalent to the Thanksgiving portion of mashed potatoes at her family gathering.  I gave thanks that we all survived the first volley.  

The second volley was deadly.  They unintentionally introduced us to the biological weapons of the sierra.  Leche.  Milk, directly from the cow that ate shit-encrusted grass outside the hut.  I actually thought it tasted good.  It was a milky pourage and some cheese.  Everything would have been fine, except John was lactose intolerant.  But how could we explain such a condition to people who asked if we breathe air in the United States like they breathe air in Peru...  Poor John.  And Cheri got a caveman sized portion for her modern woman-sized stomach.  We were getting nervous.  The main dish of turkey, rice, and potatoes was being passed around as we spoke.  We had to act fast.
     
With reserves of room to pack food away Ryan and I skilfully scarfed all of our food down.  I followed Ryan´s lead and asked for a second portion.  This was a perfect distraction for Cheridyn to put several of the potatoes in her pocket and Ryan to take John´s cheese from his bowl.  We ate, John writhed on his stool, trying not to puke, Cheri finished her few remaining potatoes and secured the ones in her pocket.  We were alive, but the battle with our benevolent opponents was far from over. 

The silence and staring was next.  I imagined the first encounters of Spanish explorers with the Incan tribes of antiquity.  No words to share.  We lasted about 30 minutes in this manner.  Then I decided it was time to present treasures from across the sea.  I brought out baseball cards that I purchased to write notes on and share with Peruvians I met along the way.  The people were appeased!  They stopped firing food at us, stopped staring blankly at us, and began staring at statistics of baseball players like Jim Thome, Cal Ripken Jr., and Bo Jackson.  I´ve never seen anyone so interested in the batting average of some no-name right-fielder from a major league baseball team.  Later that night I noticed one of the male hosts lying down to bed with the card and a candle in his hand, continuing to stare with wonder at the treasurer from the United States. 

Regardless of this small victory we still had to escape the dark battlefield.  John was using all his strength to keep the food from exploding out his body and Cheri had to drop the potatoes from her pocket and some from elsewhere.  Ryan soon discovered his excellent capacity to communicate with these people (he is fluent in Spanish) and used his expert skills to initiate the movement out of the dark, smoke-filled kitchen and we retreated into the wide and fresh Andean Infirmary. 
            
The rest of the night included guitar strumming, singing songs of Simon and Garfunkel and some church praise songs (the only ones we had memorized), and a whole lot more sitting and staring. 
            
Bedtime was interesting as well.  The four men of our group slept on a queen-sized bed space on the rock solid floor with layer upon layer of old blankets.  An eight foot wooden plank served as a pillow.  I saw every 30 minutes pass on my watch that night. 
            
The next morning our hosts were up with the sun.  The four of us groaned out of bed, celebrated to see that Cheridyn had survived the night with the Señora, ate a quick and huge breakfast and began to make our farewells.  The people asked for one more song before we left.  We sang, "Leaving on a Jetplane."  We took a group picture and were on our way.
            
It was a positively primitive and incredibly unique experience.  There were moments that night when I seriously considered seeing if I could stick around and work and live with the people for a few weeks.  They did invite us back, and I´ll be back in the villagehood in July... We´ll see.
 
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Comments

mwrusert
mwrusert on

It isn't like the boundary waters is it.
Hey bro,
You're really doing it Harry! That last blog was the exact vision I had of your trip to Peru. I'm sure there will be many other communities and peoples to immerse yourself in. More leche to turn a stomach, and somewhere out there is a herb-encrusted guinea pig just waiting for you to consume. Go get it bro. Remember I got you on the 8's. God can calm the most disrupted stomach- you know that.
Love you bro
Mike

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