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.

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