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Meeting and Eating

November 25, 2008

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The Gringo – a sausage also known more formally as salchicha  – is thusly named for his pink, round self. Laura, the socia who introduced me to the fat lil guy, serves him to her customers on picnic tables outside her front door. The Pucallpa people love to dine al fresco and many of the socias I interview earn their livings selling food to their neighbors and passersby at small tables they set outside their homes. They cook el gringo on grills along with anticuchos (beef heart skewers) and chicken fillets. They also serve juanes – or delicious mixtures of rice, chicken, eggs and olives wrapped in bihaul leaves and steamed in their own juices and spices. A touch of aji de cocona, or spicy fruit chili mayonnaise, and you have yourself an amazing meal.

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I also like the yuca con paiche – mashed yucca with bits of river fish again wrapped in the bihaul leaf. It’s the size and shape of a tamale but it was has the texture of the humitas that I tried up in the sierras. It’s savory and excellent and the whole experience is made even better when you’re outside sitting at a picnic table with other passersby who’ve stopped for dinner.

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It was a night like this when I stopped by Asuncion Rengife Rios’ table to have some yuca con paiche when I met her neighbor and her grandson. We chatted for a while and shared our backgrounds – I’ve noticed that people are extremely friendly and open here – much more so than in Trujillo. Andres, my dinner companion this evening, is my newest acquaintance. He tells me he’s come around tonight because no one is at home and he likes having company. I found him – he’s no more than 18 years old – sitting and chatting with Asuncion, a woman fifty years his senior, as though they were the best of friends. They’ve been neighbors all his life and Asuncion tells me the baby he’s bouncing on his hip is his sister’s child.

Andres leans over his plate and begins to tell me his sister died of cancer two months ago; the illness came suddenly and took them all by surprise. One day she was fine and the next she had emerged from the bathroom with a nosebleed and, then all of a sudden, an earbleed too. The doctors had told them her cancer was advanced and that she would not live. Within weeks she had died and left behind months old Alexandra. Andres tells me he is this baby girl’s madre-padre (mother and father): he feeds her, clothes her, washes her, looks after her every day. All this he does while studying and working too. I watch him feeding her a little of his meal and it’s true! He looks like a natural mother: chatting away with me while calmly ignoring her gurgling and cooing as she squirms in his arms.

I also met Asuncion’s grandson who shows me a picture of his grandfather, an ex-Nazi soldier who fled to Peru in the closing days of the war. He says his abuelo barely escaped “the enemy” (US soldiers? Russian? British? Allies, to be sure!). Here he found safe haven and settled down with a Peruvian woman and had his family. I wonder if he’s talking about Asuncion’s husband or his paternal grandmother’s husband. I’d known before that a lot of Germans fled their crumbling empire for Argentina or Brazil but it’s the first I heard, or considered, them coming to Peru. Strangely enough, I met a young man named Hitler last week. I had asked him to repeat his name a couple of times because I found it so unexpected though he didn’t think it was remarkable at all.

I’m through with my yuca con paiche by now and Asuncion has loaded up my plate with juanes.  *siiiigh* I’m noticing that I’m getting fattened up by all the socias’ friendliness and generosity.  When I go on home visits I’m not permitted to leave the house without eating the jello, drinking the soda or having the meal that the family has offered me.  I’m loving the conversations we have although my own story is boring me to the teeth having heard it from my own mouth at least a hundred times already.  So two days ago, still full to the gills with food and drink from the day before, I joined Erika’s Spa – a gym a few blocks from my hotel.

Today I tried out a step class – or tried to try a step class.  The stereo wasn’t working and we showed up at 6:30 am for naught.  But instead of trudging to the elipticals everyone stayed around in the exercise room and gossiped and chatted.  I met a nurse and a (what a coincidence!) a woman who used to work for Manuela Ramos.  The instructor practiced her English on me and I suggested a little intercambio.  The regulars make me promise to return next week to try out the class and in return they promise to help me with the routines which they say are quite advanced.  Oh man what am I getting into?… Hopefully a cute bathing suit at the nearby Yarinacocha Lake next weekend, I guess.  Anyway, at the end of the half hour when I broke away to run off last night’s cheesecake on the eliptical machine I had an invitation to a Christmas party and two new friends.  What fun, no?

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Yesterday, I met this adorable monkey in a restaurant where I was having lunch.  His name is Lolo and you can’t tell from these pictures but his diaper has a hole cut out of the back for his little tail!  He coos to me and I love him.  The waiter – or rather, son of the restaurant’s owner – and I get to talking  and the monkey all the while is playing jungle gym in his dreadlocks.  He wants me to come to the bar tonight to meet his friends and tell me about his upcoming trip to Bolivia but I say no.  The last three nights I’ve been out and about drinking and socializing with the uber-friendly, ultra-social Pucallpans.  I need a night to curl up with my book for goodness sakes!

But when I get home there’s a immediately a ring on my telephone.  It’s the hotel advising me that my friend gringo friend Erik is downstairs waiting to pay me a visit.  Yesterday, he dropped by with Caricia, Winston’s daughter and we spent the evening drinking beers outside Caricia’s friend’s bodega down the road.  Tonight it’s just him and we go to the hamburger place to grab some dinner.  We’re mulling over his lovelife: he has a new girlfriend (of two weeks!) that he’s considering marrying and taking to Canada with him.  Afterwards we pass by the tiny amusement park on the Plaza de las Armas and decide to go in for a game of foosball.  We ended up shooting some BBs at a photocopy of a Bullseye taped to a wall for $0.75 per round.  When all our BBs are out we get to keep the paper perforated with holes.  I love that at the top of the photocopy are the capital letters “…BULL…”.  I think I’ll keep it forever, but I end up throwing it away almost immediately.  It became my makeshift napkin when Erik and I got threw up on when we wandered under the ferris wheel.  Can you believe it?!  Vomitosis!  Erik got it worse than me, which was only just dribbles and droplets anyway, but we’re thinking maybe it’s time to call it a night and hit the showers.  But first a trip to the Ces Si Bon coffee shop bathroom to sponge off and while we’re here why not a cup of coffee?

Today I’m ready for my long-awaited meet and greet with Paul!  He arrives tonight and I’ll be there in the airport fresh off the plan from Pucallpa and waiting for him!  We plan to head down south to some national parks and cities.  We’ll also be fulfilling Paul’s longtime dream of seeing the Nazca lines.  I probably will be posting sporadically if at all till next week when I return.  So till then….

XOXOXOXOXO

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