48 Hours

10 Oct


Eight days into my Peruvian adventure, I don’t have much in the way of comparison as to a “typical weekend”, but in the past 48 hours I have survived an uncomfortably close call in a taxi, drank snake-infused liquor, eaten beetle larvae (video embedded below) and fried jungle ants, thrown a big house party, and seen/done a whole lot more worth remembering.

Video: I attempt to cajole Johan into eating grubs with me

Kooky Castles and Taxicab Terror

Late Saturday morning, I got my first experience riding in a colectivo (shared taxi).  A group us from the office (me, my roommate Melissa, two PIMCO consultants Yun and Rod, our co-worker Pilar, and her 8-year old son Johan) squeezed into a car for the short ride over to Lamas.  Lamas is a town a dozen or so miles from Tarapoto, and famous for having an extensive traditional Quechuan (native peoples) community.  The people here still dress in traditional clothing, are primarily farmers and traditional artisans, and, until recently, all lived in the traditional adobe-type houses.  (Unfortunately, a deadly earthquake in 2005 leveled most of the town, leaving hundreds of people homeless.  Some buildings since have been built in a more modern style.)

Ironically, the primary tourist attraction there doesn’t have anything to do with traditional culture.  The Castillo de Lamas is an interloper — an imposing replica of a traditional European-style castle, towering over the native Quechua village.  Apparently some years ago, an Italian named Nicola Felice came to the town, bought the land, and decided what he missed was a touch of Europe.  So… a giant castle.  Naturally.  We had some fun speculating about what kind of eccentric madman could be behind something like this.

(And as it turned out, Sat. night I was eating at one of the more upscale restaurants in downtown Tarapoto, a swanky joint called Cafe d’Mundo.  The owner?  None other than Nicola Felice!)

After spending some 3 or 4 hours walking around, snacking, shopping, and enjoying some delicious pizza in an awesome hilltop cabin run by an old German ex-pat couple, we decided to head back.  The colectivo we piled into looked like it belonged in a junkyard scrap heap (aside from having a stripped interior and missing several panels, the front passenger door didn’t work, requiring one to enter the vehicle from the back and climb across). So as we set off, we were all making jokes about the car’s “amenities”.

Then it began to rain, heavily.  And our seemingly somnolent driver inexplicably began to speed dangerously, weaving across the road to pass the mototaxis in front of us.  At our suggestions that he exercise a little caution, he bristled a bit and chose to ignore us.  All of a sudden, we hydroplaned.  He lost control of the car completely, and for several seconds we skidded across our lane to the other side of the road, then back again, and then slid around some more.  Very thankfully, we did not get hit by anyone else, nor careen off the road.

Unbelievably, the incident only seemed to spur worse driving, until at last Melissa channeled her full fiery Venezuelana personality to curse, threaten, and otherwise totally eviscerate this imbecile.  When we finally got out at our destination a few minutes later, still breathing sharply, I noticed that the tires on our Frankencar were completely bald.

From Now On, All My Booze Bottles Must Have a Snake at the Bottom

Photo c/o Yun

Late Sat. night, several of us went over to the favorite watering hole of Dan (American volunteer), who seemingly has more of a pulse on the local culture than many locals I’ve met.  La Alternativa is one of two bars mentioned in Lonely Planet, and is described as such:

“More like a medieval pharmacy than a bar… potent Amazonian tonics and brews are for the tasting — but not for the faint-hearted.”

It’s a tiny one room, featuring a large snake on the wall and several shelves behind the counter of mysterious-looking bottles.  Your eyes are most easily drawn to a couple on the top shelf — large containers of what appears to be briny, dirty water — and settled at the bottom, entire snakes (which I was told were of the venomous variety).  This image I found via Google search is a good approximation.

Viborachado, then, was obviously what I was going to be drinking.  Step right up, a glass for me, por favor.  And let’s see…  First off, these are strong.  Yun, Rod, and Armandine (Swiss volunteer) all tasted it and hated it.  (And Rod would tell me the next day that he experienced some hallucinations afterward.)  But for me, down the hatch it went, and–in accordance with the drink’s reputation for making one feel invincible–damn if I didn’t feel like a million bucks.  Especially after I made a few friends and earned some respect in the bar when I drained a second viborachado (illustrated in the video below taken by Dan).

Video: Dan describes the making and drinking of my snake & liquor drink

One side note about this viborachado: I realized later that I’m pretty sure this is one of those Amazonian aphrodisiacs that are famous in the San Martin region.  By the time I got home that night–if following the advice of those Cialis commercials–I should have called a doctor about my extended “problem”.  Instead, a much-longer-than-usual stay in my icy shower transpired.

The Nargundkar Academia de Béisbol

Tacacho, maduros, y cecina

Early on Sunday morning, I found myself at Mercado No. 3, a large, bustling, open-air market dedicated to everything from fresh juice stands to butchered meats and produce to electronics and home supplies.  I was with Yun, Melissa, Pilar, Johan, and my landlady Carol.  (Carol, my surrogate mother here, owns the group house I’m currently living in — Melissa and I share the downstairs unit; Carol and Dan live upstairs and have a separate entrance.)

When Melissa and I decided to throw a big backyard BBQ at our place on Sun. night, and told Carol about the idea, she took it upon herself to prepare a king’s feast worth of traditional regional dishes for the effort.  So she came with us to the market and we relied on her expertise to acquire all of the many ingredients she needed.  I’m sure I’ll be writing more about the market in future posts, as I expect to be a frequent vistor.

Late that afternoon Carol came down to Melissa’s and my unit, and began preparing a staggering smorgasbord of delicious food.  As her and Pilar worked their magic, I got to see (and smell) everything up close and was beyond excited.  Around 6pm, after some severe mishaps out in the backyard trying to get the charcoal grill lit, Yun, Armandine, and Rod also came over, and we commenced the feasting in stages.

Starting with plates of hormigas (fat, black, leggy ants, fried and quite crunchy) and suri awiwas (looks like caterpillars, are apparently beetle larvae), we went on to cover highlights such as tacacho (above left in pic; balls of mashed plantains with some spices mixed in, sometimes pork bits, I think, and crispy plantain chunks), cecina (front right in pic; popular local smoked-and-cured meat), maduros (center in pic; plantains, which we grilled), yucca, BBQ chicken, juanes (ubiquitous local dish of rice, chicken, olives, etc. wrapped and cooked in a banana leaf), and probably a half-dozen others I’m forgetting.  All washed down with cold Cusqueña beers.  By the time we were done, we were all carrying 3rd-trimester food babies.

And of course, what’s a good backyard BBQ without some wiffleball?  Or in this case, using an empty 2.5 liter water bottle as a bat and a wadded up paper ball to teach Johan how to play baseball.  I’d managed to find a TV broadcast of the Cardinals-Brewers playoff game here, and was using or inventing what vocabulary I could (“lanzador” for pitcher, “bateador” for batter, “agarrar” to catch, “primero/segundo/tercera/casa base” for the bases, and lots of gestures) to explain the sport to Johan, who surprisingly picked up on everything quite quickly.  We took turns batting and pitching in the backyard for a good hour, until Johan managed to actually hit one over the wall of the yard.

He now also knows the phrase “home run”.


6 Responses to “48 Hours”

  1. nj October 10, 2011 at 9:02 am #

    Yo I think the Nationals just drafted that Johan kid, thinking he was a 17 year old venezuelan stud second baseman.
    Nice work.

    • Jay October 10, 2011 at 11:18 am #

      Haha, I had a partially drafted email to you in which I made a Smiley Gonzalez reference, but you’ve beaten me to it. Pues, you may also be interested to know that when he beaned me once, I dropped the bat and ran and tackled him, so he now understands “charging the mound”.

  2. Belen October 10, 2011 at 10:31 am #

    woww… these posts are getting fancier by the minute! (embedded videos/pics/etc)..although i have to say that the grammatical errors are now evident to even ME!…are you forgetting english jay!?!?

    all of this sounds amazing! i just wish i could go back in time and erase that image of you in the shower….oh well, i’ll have to live with that….

    btw, its’s CUARTA base, not CASA base 😉

    keep having fun! besos.!!!

    • Jay October 10, 2011 at 11:24 am #

      Ahhh, I think I *am* forgetting English. Probably for every word of Spanish I learn, I lose a word of English. Soon you will be regretting reading stories I post about being “internally hot”, hehehe…

      Ah, and because we’re talking about baseball, which has a “1st/2nd/3rd base” and “home plate”, “casa base” was the one made-up term I had to use, since I explained to Johan that “cuando regresas a casa, ganas un punto!” A quick Internet search reveals the commonly used terms are more literal: “el plato” or “jom”.

      • Some Moslem October 11, 2011 at 1:11 am #

        Considering how popular baseball is in Latin America, I’m pretty sure there are words for this stuff already, Jay. 😀

        Jay: I don’t always drink beer, but when I do, I prefer it venomously boner-inducing.

  3. neha October 15, 2011 at 1:36 pm #

    that sounds whack…so i told my friends about your snake-infested drink, and this girl told me they have it in vietnam too…crazy!

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