Sunday, February 29, 2004
Woke up with a tongue like a camel’s armpit after last nights’ post hot spring excursion to a disco or few. Needed water and some hangover nourishment ASAP. Climbed in the motorcar (tuktuk), and didn’t ask any questions as we headed off for breakfast. But the ride was taking an awfully long time. We headed off the road into a jungle path which was uncomfortably bumpy - and looked uncomfortably familiar. As we drove up, the realisation hit me. I reluctantly sat down at the ‘restaurant’ table and took a gulp of air. 13 pairs of big liquid brown eyes watched my reaction as I was served with their Saturday treat (and source of livelihood). We each received a meaty leg on rice, the charred, clenched little paw sticking up in the middle like a candle. “Help me!” ventured Wooloo in a rare interjection of English, scratching the table top with his breakfasts’ paw. I tried not to panic as hangover nausea hit me. I’ll just have a drink and relax, I thought. A little boy with a snotty nose brought me a bottle containing an opaque pale yellow beverage (with extra black bits, which I took to be flies). Chicha
- a ancient and traditional alcoholic drink distilled from maize. “Don’t drink that” whispered Tito. He needn’t have worried! I feined a smile and nibbled tentatively at the minature leg. 13 pairs of eyes looked away and, blessedly, carried on with their business. The guinea pig (known as ‘cuy
’ in Peru) was quite tasty, actually. But you really have to watch all those little bones.
Saturday, February 28, 2004
Arrived in Rioja, in the jungley eastern region of Peru at seven in the morning, after 13 hours on a bus with fellow passengers who think that chickens are acceptable hand luggage and that toy mobile phones with extensive, piercing ring tone options are amusing divertions for their three year olds throughout the journey. After relaxing at the hotel, we went to a waterfall that flows out from beneath a mountain and swam in the freezing cold water – very invigorating indeed. Then stopped off at our taxi driver (friend of a friend) father’s house to waste some time before going to an outdoor hot spring after dark. When I say house, I use the word in the most generous application, as really the house is a small rustic shack constructed from bamboo. The place was right out in the jungle, with a big cleared space for a football pitch, and absolutely loads of unkempt children. They were all interested in the gringa visitor and readily proferred an amazing variety of jungle fruits for me to try. One, called aguaje, oddly involved individually peeling hundreds of tiny purple diamond shaped scales off to reveal an orange fruit, quite dry, which I can only liken in flavour and texture to cheese. One of the oldest kids was looking after a six month old baby. The father, a man of 60, appeared from the dense jungle vegetation carrying a impressive machete and several sticks of sugar cane. Tito asked him if all 13 children were his. “Yes,” he said, glancing over the mob and swelling with pride, “God is great”. Meanwhile, his knackered looking wife was darting in and out of a shed from which various squeaking noises eminated. I went to investigate. Guinea pigs! Loads of the cute little furry bellied mammals chomped leafy greens contentedly. Ten minutes later, as I sat outside, the wife emerged again. She took a couple pegs and hung what was formerly a guinea pig, but what was now sliced open and without innards, on a line. The squeaking decreased as more gutted guineas were hung out to dry. My mum (guinea pig lover) would have a fit, I thought.
Monday, February 23, 2004
Rabbit for lunch today. Tito told me it was chicken, it was only after I’d eaten it that I realised something was amiss with regards to the bone structure. Now, I realise that rabbits are bloody stupid animals, and certainly only exist for to fill a space in the food chain, but I do have a weakness for small, furry, twichy-nosed creatures. Jorge, Tito’s dad, has decreed that he is fed up of mucking out bunny poop and buying food, and starting from now all 48 will gradually be consumed. I shan’t go up to the roof to feed the bunnies anymore, I can’t watch them disappear one by one... besides, I really don’t need to know the personality and characteristics of my lunch.
Tuesday, February 17, 2004
I must say the traffic in Chiclayo is absolutely horrendous. Today as we were driving through the extremely congested city centre, two out of three traffic lights were defunct. There are traffic police everywhere, and although they look very fetching and official in their bottle green uniforms and sizeable cream plastic hats, they don’t seem to have any effective purpose whatsoever. In fact, that seems to be a pervading theme here. Officials are for show only, and corruption is rife. Actually, corruption IS the system. Tito has been trying to get his driving license renewed after his 11 year has gotten nowhere. It looked like he was going to have to go through the whole driving training scheme again - a lengthy and expensive process in Peru, as elsewhere. Don’t bother, said the officials at the Min of T, if you get stopped just give the policeman a five soles (85p) bribe and be merrily on your way. However, Tito still wanted to get some proper, official documentation. So today he looked up a friend in the police force and paid him a visit. “I’d really like an official letter stating I’ve lost my license” said Tito. “Sure,” his friend replied, “and I’d really like a beer.” The letter would have to be stamped by the mayor, and also by the chief of police, and guess what? Seems they’d like a beer too. So, Tito took them all out for a little spin in the sexy blue Celica and a few beers. Now he has all the documentation he needs to drive in Peru.
Saturday, February 14, 2004
Today we went into town with Tito’s mum and dad to look for a bed, which was pretty weird considering the kind of witticisms bed testing seems to call for. You know, about how the mattress had better be mighty strong considering the kind of usage it’s going to get, etc. Anyhow, this means that we have officially moved in, and can no longer escape to the hotel. We are now living with: Tito’s mother and father - Glavis and Jorge, sister Perla, her husband Javier (inexplicably nicknamed Wooloo), and their baby Celeste (seven months), brother Arturo (charm personified), and his daughter Keila (six), and grandfather (93). Being the only child of two only children myself, this gregarious living arrangement is certainly a change for me. I am not a little anxious about this...
Thursday, February 12, 2004
“I saw your husband with another woman yesterday” guffawed Tito’s obese, diabetic uncle to his sister, who wore a resigned look. Seems he shares Arturo’s way with words. The family were arriving in droves to check out Tito and his betrothed gringa (foreigner). Whilst being individually very welcoming, they were, en masse, somewhat overwhelming. I thought I’d prepared myself. I knew they’d be asking a lot of questions. “Well, Tito, when will you be having children?” asked the same uncle (father of nine). “Perhaps when we have money, jobs, a house, a car, and some security.” replied Tito, rather sensibly, I thought. “Oh,” uncle said, surprised, “are you sure that you don’t want children now, or is it that you just can’t have them?”. I sputtered into my cebada
at this insult to Tito’s masculinity. The questions came thick and fast: Do you like Peru? Can you salsa dance? How many children do you want? Do you want boys or girls? Can you cook? Can you teach me English??? I was much relieved when people began to relate amusing anecdotes, taking the focus away from me. Peruvians love to tell a story using big gestures and sound effects, and most tales are received with racous, and occasionally borderline hysterical, laughter. The anedotes lose their spontaneity somewhat when translated for me, but I still almost peed my pants when Perla, Tito’s lactating sister, recounted how a superstitious neighbour with earache came round the other day to ask her to squeeze breastmilk in her ear (a request she could hardly refuse), or when Tito’s dad told us about the time he wore the shell of a television set home from his job at an appliance repair shop (to avoid ruining his pristine white trousers and white shirt in the muddy water of a torrential rainstorm). Everyone is a real character; my face ached from smiling and my sides from laughing when we finally broke free and returned to the hotel to relax with few beers.
Friday, February 06, 2004
“So, I hear you want to be Tito’s property!” quipped Tito’s brother, whom we had met up with for lunch. I raised my left eyebrow, but said nothing, forking forcefully into my avocado salad. I studied their faces for similarities, and wondered if Arturo was a total wanker, or if he thought that was a funny thing to say. It continued as we looked around a department store. He regarded the kitchen appliance section thoughtfully. “In the future,” he said, “that will be your life.” I was getting fairly near boiling point. Tito gave me one of those sheepish, calming smiles he reserves for situations when he knows that, later, he may be killed. “It’s Peru, baby...” he whispered in my ear with a kiss. And yes it is, indeed, Peru.
Thursday, February 05, 2004
Touched down at Jorge Chavez International at 11:30pm; fairly overwrought after 24 hours of continuous travelling. Had changed into something less comfortable in the 747 loo, all that was left to do was to wrench suitcases off belt and powder nose/reapply lipstick before proceeding through the gates. The image of Tito’s face hung in front of me like a dangling carrot. I threw back my shoulders and strode confidently through the doors... smack bang into a massive montage of hundreds of anxious Peruvian faces. I scanned the crowd as I approached – black hair, brown eyes, caramel skin – all disconcertingly similar to my carrot. The crowd scanned me. I began to perspire, and tried desperately not to look like a rabbit caught in headlights. I glanced down so that tears could fall from my eyes without smudging my mascara. Looking up again I finally saw him approaching, in full vibrant technicolour, growing larger by the second. He squashed a dozen red roses against me, and we kissed and sniffed and gazed at each other with rapture. If my life was a movie, this would bit would be in slow motion, and would cut to views of fireworks, and cannons firing, and images of us running through fields of sunflowers. I half expected the crowd to erupt into thunderous applause. They didn’t. Tito steered me through to a waiting taxi. The journey is blurry, but when we got to the hotel I showed him my new leopard print Kookai negligee. I think he liked it.