Peru, Part 3: I Ate The Whole (Guinea) Pig!*
Peru offered many experiences that differ from my usual activities in the United States. In addition to dusting off my Spanish, I tried local culinary delights that aren’t available–or aren’t acceptable–in the U.S. At the same location where we stopped for the weaving demonstration, we feasted on a lunch prepared by the family who hosted us for the afternoon. They made delicious bean and quinoa dishes, cooked corn with kernels the size of a nickel, and, of course, the local crop: potatoes. There were dishes upon dishes, brought out steaming fresh that we feasted upon. The main course consisted of chicken and a small slice of guinea pig. Yes, you read that right: guinea pig.
I’m a mild meat-eater, favoring vegetarian dishes at home because of the ease and expense, and because it’s easy to make a vegetarian meal for one person; most of my meat-heavy recipes are better suited for two or more, and, although I love leftovers, it’s a lot of work cooking, and there’s no one there to appreciate your effort. While I don’t consciously avoid meat for any reason, I do try to be a responsible meat-eater whenever possible. But, when in Rome, as they say…
The guinea pigs there are larger and less kindergarten class pet-like than they are here, and curiosity and a desire to culturally blend in outweighed any feelings of forsaking a furry friend. Besides, the hosts cooked one guinea pig for all 27 of us, so my portion was roughly the size of two bites. So what does guinea pig taste like? Well, guinea pig. It doesn’t have a strong comparable flavor, although it leaned on the pork side (pig indeed!); alpaca, on the other hand, tastes a lot like venison. But that’s for a different day.
Regardless of what we were eating, though, the food was always fresh and tasted amazing. The favorite dish Sara and I tried was aji de gallina (which translates to “chicken’s pepper” or chili chicken in English), which is made of chicken in a creamy yellow and spicy sauce (made from yellow chili, cheese, milk, bread, and walnuts). It is served with rice, sliced boiled potatoes, hard-boiled egg, and black olives.
After our trip to Ollantaytambo and with a few days of early mornings, travel, and hiking under our belts, Sara and I were ready to sleep in (after all, that’s part of vacation, too) and have some time to explore by ourselves. I’m so glad we did.
While the rest of the group toured a salt mine and circular ruins at Mara, Sara and I checked out El Mercado de Miercoles (the Wednesday Market) to see where all the local food came from before heading to Las Ruinas de Pisaq, on recommendation from our guide, Jesus.
Jesus told us to hire a taxi near the market because Pisaq was too far away to walk. We had seen several motorcars (three-wheeled motorcycles with covered seating for passengers) in the area, so we approached the driver of one and asked him how much it would cost for him to take us to the ruins near Pisaq.
“Pisaq?” he said, looking confused.
“Las Ruinas de Pisaq,” I said. That’s about all I could say in Spanish. “Cuanto cuesta?” How much?
“For taxi o motocar?” he said, mixing Spanish and English. “Taxi?” He called over his friend, who had a very nice town car taxi and after more stumbling in Spanish (on my part), we were on our way. It was an hour-long ride. Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too far to walk, and laughably far to be riding in the back of what is essentially a rickshaw. Especially since the roads in Peru didn’t have speed limits much, that I could tell, but every so often there would be a speed bump. So, our cab driver would gun it up to 50/60 miles per hour (except the kilometric equivalent) and then slow way down at each speed bump. He also beeped. All the time. I estimated he beeped about 200 times in that hour-long ride. Apparently, beeping is a catchall: greeting, “Hey, you’re going to slow/stopped at a green light,” “Look out, I’m going around you/coming at you,” etc. It wasn’t long blaring honks, more like mild toots,**** but still. I thought New York was bad.
When we got to the ruins, we were so glad we came.***** It was beautiful there, and so quiet. Far less popular than Ollantaytambo or Machu Picchu. Just us and the ruins.
Jesus had told us when he recommended this trip that we should allow two hours. My Spanish wasn’t great, though, and when it became clear that we needed our taxi driver to get us back to the hotel (instead of walking down to the town to catch a bus or hoping we could grab another taxi), I didn’t feel comfortable asking him to wait two hours for us. These ruins had two parts, the initial part with a fort-like structure and ruins on the other side of a mountain (and through a tunnel) that you had to hike to. But, of course, we didn’t know that at the time, so there was a part further down that we didn’t quite get to. Reason to go back…we did make it partway, though, and I was able to take some pictures.
We made it back to the hotel in time for the pisco sour demonstration and to meet up with the rest of our group for dinner. And we did get to ride in one of those motor cars on the way home from dinner. 🙂
Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten about Machu Picchu! That’s the focus of next week’s post, Peru, Part 4: Machu Picchu or Baby Llama Drama. Stop back and read all about how I almost fell off the “Lost City of the Incas”…
*Okay, I didn’t eat the whole guinea pig, but our group did. And the mother/daughter pair went out to dinner one of the nights and ordered–and ate–an entire guinea pig. So someone did.
**Points if you get this reference!
***This one too.
****Speaking of mild toots, check back in two weeks for part 5: Dos Sara(h)s, Con Gas 🙂 Yes, it is what you think it is.
*****And Sara was glad we weren’t moving any more. All that speeding up and slowing down plus the altitude plus riding in the backseat plus a series of sharp and steep switchbacks had her feeling a little queasy. No queasiness over the guinea pig, however.