Number of People with Nothing Better to Do

Friday, January 29, 2010

La Hora Peruana

One of the biggests frustrations here in Peru is La Hora Peruana (Peruvian Time). If you set an appointment, charla, meeting, etc. for a certain time, it will almost certainly start late, if it starts at all. I get it - it’s a lot more relaxed, tranquilo way of life and they’re not slaves to the clock like we are. But damn can it be frustrating! Things to do while waiting for your meeting – play Tetris on your cell phone (high score – >73,000), read a book, bullshit with other people waiting for their meeting to start, talk to someone about how hot it is, go back home & check emails & come back (sometimes 2 or 3 times), avoid looking at the woman breast feeding right in front of you, wonder what’s for lunch, look at the clouds (when available) and decide what kind of animal they look like, meditate, stare at the mountain across the valley, plan a vacation, call fellow Peace Corps Volunteers (they're probably waiting on something too), work on your dopey blog that no one reads anyway, say “f*ck it” and start on time.

One of my first assignments in Spanish class during training was to go out and interview people about what the Hora Peruana meant to them. Nearly all said it meant waiting and starting about 30 minutes to an hour after the scheduled time. One electrician I interviewed in the street replied very adamantly that the Hora Peruana means things start “en punto” (on the dot, right on time). Of course he had been ringing the doorbell of a house for about 15 minutes waiting for someone to show up for their appointment.

Maybe Peruvians would make good Cable Guys?

Peruvian Dog

The Peruvian Dog is a hairless dog that kind of looks like a bald chihuahua or Ren ("Stimpy yoo eediot") except a little bigger. The owner of a hostel I stay at in Lima brings her Peruvian Dog Gordito by the hostel whenever she comes by. It has dark skin with freckles and a patch of wiry, strawberry blonde hair on his head. The Peruvian Dog has been revered for a while as evidenced by Pre-Incan ceramics. The hostel owner is very fond of her precious dog and goes on about how pretty her dog is. It was a very friendly dog, but pretty???

When you pet the dog it feels like you’re rubbing an old man with dry skin and a sunburn.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Rio Grande nearly claims another mojado

Today felt like a full-on Peace Corps day. I went up the valley to do some enquestas (surveys) and check out the water systems of some of the smaller pueblos. We got about halfway up the valley when we came across the first Rio Grande Crossing. It’s raining up in the sierra now so the water was too high to cross in the Datsun station wagon we were riding in. Fortunately, a front-end loader was crossing the river and going up the way a bit so the driver, a Spaniard, a representative from the municipality and I hopped into the bucket and they took us up the rest of the way.

At the second river crossing we came across a truck that was stuck in the middle of the river. Three days ago, the truck was loaded down with a large Ingersoll Rand air compressor and a bunch of bed frames and mattresses headed for a mine upstream. Today, mattresses and frames littered the roadside and the truck sat in the river waiting for the Caterpillar (the Pride of Peoria) to pull it out before both the truck and the air compressor were lost.

The operator of the front end loader started moving rocks around and tried to lift the truck out with a chain attached to one of the teeth on the bucket. Of course that didn’t work. We watched for a while to see how this “mission imposible” was going to turn out but had work to do. I saw the truck the next day being hauled off in a flat-bed 18 wheeler. No compressor or beds (presumably the miners are sleeping on the ground and pounding at rocks with hammers and spikes).

After doing our work, we caught a ride back in a buster-ass Nissan Sentra with a borrowed battery and borrowed life to the manual cable car crossing. The representative from the municipality took notes of all the things the cable car needed – a couple of new pulleys, grease for maintenance, a rope.

A floor I added as I stepped into the rusted out bucket.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Peruvian Food

Chicken noodle soup for the soul?
Pachamanca a la tierra - Under this blessed mound, meat, potatoes and spices are being cooked over hot rocks. Real pit barbeque!
Pachamanca - Soup's on!

I remember applying to the Peace Corps and thinking what would the food be like in one of these strange, exotic places. Would I be eating monkey brain on the half shell, ox dick soup, fried fish sphincter? Would I share a moment of laughter and humility with my host family after biting into a sheep’s eyeball squirting the juice all over myself? Fortunately and unfortunately, no. I haven’t eaten anything that exotic. I did have a bite of cuy (guinea pig) at a food tasting and did have soup with an entire chicken foot and hearts, liver, and gizzards in a pension with thatch walls and roof. But other than that nothing too exotic.

When I got my assignment for Peru, I looked on Wikipedia to see what kind of food they eat here. First on the list – sweet potatoes. I thought to myself “F#ck! The one food on the planet I detest, they have 32,000 varieties of.” Thankfully I’ve only had to choke down sweet potatoes a handful of times since I’ve been here and I’m getting used to them poco a poco.

The typical daily Peruvian diet is pretty basic – rice, potatoes, and chicken. Fortunately it’s served up in a variety of ways so it doesn’t seem like you’re eating the same thing every day.

Breakfast – A typical breakfast for me these days includes some small rolls baked fresh daily at the local bakery with some avena - a runny, sweet oatmeal. I have had full-on fried pork chops with rice and sweet potatoes, rice with diced onion and tuna fish, spaghetti with a red sauce, fruit salad, and bread with olives (watch those pits) for breakfast. It’s no sausage and egg McMuffin, coffee and hash browns but it gets me through to lunch and is probably better for me.

Lunch is the main meal of the day here in Peru. I eat at a pension for lunch. A pension is a restaurant where the locals eat on a daily basis, the owner of the pension keeps track of the meals you eat and you pay at the end of the month. Lunch starts off with a bowl of hot soup, generally some variety of chicken noodle soup with a squeeze of lime and a little spoonful of spicy aji sauce to give it a kick. The soups are pretty tasty but when it’s 100 degrees out, beads of sweat start to develop on my forehead (which of course extends all the way to the back of my skull). Segundo (2nd course) - chicken, rice, and potatoes in its various forms.
Occasionally beef is substituted for the chicken.
On these days I get excited for the beef but am reminded straight away that the beef here is, well… it sucks to be perfectly frank. I’ve taken up eating fried beef liver from time to time not because I particularly like liver but it’s a change of pace and has something by body seems to be craving (likely iron).

Dinner- Variation on lunch except without the soup

Some of my favorite Peruvian dishes: Pachamanca - various kinds of meats, potatoes and spices cooked over hot rocks all buried in the ground for several hours. This is a meal that takes many hours to prepare so it’s for special events and is similar to our Thanksgiving feast. I’ve had it a couple of times (once for Thanksgiving) and both times it has been absolutely phenomenal! Sopa seca con carapulcra – spaghetti tossed in a kind of pesto sauce with a side of a dried potato in a tangy reddish sauce. Cebiche – raw fish, onion and aji “cooked” with freshly squeezed lime juice. The juice at the bottom of the glass when you’re done is called Leche de Tigre which is supposed to be good for hang-overs and your sex drive (there’s a number of ways I could go with this but since my conservative Texas family’s reading…). Anticuchos - Grilled slices of beef heart on a skewer with a side of aji sauce.

Overall the food here tastes pretty good and there’s not a whole lot of picking at it with a fork wondering what the f*ck it is and where you’re going to spit it out when the family’s not looking. If the food here would have been inedible, I would have employed the method used by my cousin Jay when he was a kid in the Phillipines – store the food up in one or both cheeks during dinner, spit the wad out in a paper napkin, and toss the paper napkin on roof after dinner. Thankfully I don’t have to do that since the clothes lines and the cats are on the roof.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Peace Corps Weight Loss Program

I’ve been getting a lot of comments lately on how I look like I’ve lost a lot of weight. I have lost a lot of weight but I was kind of fattening up before I left eating pizza, burritos, McDonalds and whatever else I didn’t think I would be able to get here. That and I drank a lot of beer with the folks I wasn’t going to see for a while. I was probably 235 - 240 when I left but that was kind of an inflated figure (so to speak). My normal weight before was about 220-225.

Since I’ve been in Peru, I’ve lost about 50 pounds (I'm at 190 now), much of it muscle weight. This is in spite of eating a ton of carbohydrates – rice and potatoes nearly every meal. The reason I think I’ve lost so much weight is because I haven’t been working out on a consistent basis, I don’t eat near the amount of protein I did in the US and the overall stress of adjusting to new food and a new life style has done a number on my appetite. Since I’ve been at site, I haven’t been eating as well as I should just because I don’t feel like eating a big meal when it’s hot (and it’s always hot) or my stomach has been jacked up.

But don’t worry Mom. I’ve adjusted to the food and way of life, I’m adjusting to the heat, I’ve been working out again and my digestive system is back to normal. My appetite is back in full force so I expect I’ll be putting some weight back on. Also, the mall in my capital city just opened up a Pizza Hut, KFC and what appears to be a Mexican restaurant with enchiladas so I hope to bulk up a bit.

I’d buy that weight gainer shit that I used in high school but it didn’t work then and I doubt it’ll work now.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Nazca Lines - Part II

When I first got to site, I took a walk along the top of the cerro that separates Palpa and Rio Grande with my site mate Jess and Muñante, a guy from the municipality. As we were walking on the top of the cerro, it was apparent that we were walking along Nazca lines. Turns out they were giant triangles with parallel lines. There is also a design of a whale up there but you can´t see them in this picture. My town is in the upper right hand corner. A caserillo in Jess’ district is on the left.

Christmas Day

My host family here spends Christmas mourning the death of a son they lost several years ago by spending the day in bed and not doing much. Being in a somewhat delicate emotional state, I couldn’t spend my Christmas that way so I headed to Lima for the night. A good friend of mine from Chicago, Chris Albu, gave me a sweet gift – a free night at a nice hotel. I spent the day hanging with a friend, sleeping in a comfortable bed, taking multiple hot showers, and watching the occasional paraglider slip pass my window that overlooked the Pacific Ocean.

Although I wasn’t in Texas enjoying a white Christmas (the first since the 1920’s) with my family, it will certainly be one of my more memorable Christmases, albeit not very Peace Corps.
Thanks Chris – you’re the best!