08 May 2011

Mothering Sunday Cusco-style

I awoke a couple of times in the night. The first time was before midnight because of incredibly loud booming sounds. Had Peru gone to war since I arrived? Luckily, no! It was, in fact, the sound of huge firecrackers going off, and they’ve continued throughout the day. I asked my new boss Jim about this – it seems they’re common for any kind of celebration. It may be a saint’s day – I did see some women dressed up in national dress parading a religious statue through the streets on my way out this morning – or it may just be because it’s Mothering Sunday here in Peru.

Cusco
The second time I woke with a splitting headache. I took a couple of Panadol and it soon passed … luckily, because the last thing I want is a bad dose of altitude sickness. I have medicine for that, the procurement of which was a mission in itself. My doctor prescribed Acetazolamide tablets, which the travel doctor (I had to go to a specialist travel doctor for my yellow fever jab) subsequently told me was NOT a good idea as I’m allergic to sulphur-based drugs, which it is. Great! If the altitude sickness didn’t get me, the severe case of anaphylactic shock might have!

Jim's beautiful daughter
I awoke this morning to a brilliantly sunny day, unpacked my bags and enjoyed a hot shower before a taxi collected me from my hostel and took me the 8 kilometres to meet Jim, his wife Camilla and daughter Ariana at their house. The main road south alternated between smooth tarmac and corrugated dirt, and the buildings on either side varied from semi-modern blocks with reflective window-glass to half-built adobe-brick hovels, the latter being the most common. The cars and multitude of mini-buses are mostly old and the traffic chaotic, but there are traffic lights, which people obeyed, and there were traffic cops on duty.

From Jim’s place we grabbed another taxi (they’re cheap, if you know Spanish and haggle hard – I, of course, got majorly ripped off coming in from the airport!) and headed further out of town to a restaurant in the countryside. This was where Jim and Camilla had their wedding reception but don’t imagine a fancy building with expensive interior décor. There was an open-air kitchen, from which mouth-watering smells filled the air, surrounded by grassy fields alongside a stream. And, though it was only 11 o’clock, the place was packed with local families, sitting around tables under shady trees or on blankets on the grass, some playing football or volleyball, others just chatting. We met Jim’s mother-in-law and sister-in-law, who had grabbed us a table, but sadly the anticipated meal was not to be, By the time Camilla got to the front of the queue, the kitchen had run out of food! You’d have thought they would have anticipated the higher than average demand on Mothers’ Day, but no! You have to remember this is Peru, as Jim explained, where almost nothing runs to plan and patience is the greatest virtue! Lesson one!


We packed up our belongings and grabbed another taxi to head further out along the main highway to the little town of Saylla, renowned for its chicharrón – that's deep-fried pork – restaurants. (I was particularly grateful that we hadn’t gone on to the next town, where guinea pig is the specialty!) This is no place for a vegetarian, as I’m quickly learning, and we were soon tucking in to huge platefuls of the pork, huayro potatoes, boiled kernels of corn called mote, and a salad of onion and mint, with a side dish of crackling – but not the conventional western-version. Here the pigskin is hung in the sun to dry (see photo, above left) and then deep-fried to produce something akin to rice wafers. It was all delicious, and it was far too much for anyone to eat but it’s normal here to take a doggy bag home – nothing is wasted!

My Spanish is severely lacking so I couldn’t follow much of the conversation, but Jim explained much of what was being said … and provided so much more information about everything else besides. And Camilla and Ari both speak English and smiles seemed to work well with the in-laws, so, all in all, it was wonderful welcome to Peruvian family life. Thanks, Jim and family, for sharing your Mothering Sunday with me!