Making pavlova for Peruvians

Last Christmas I was in the Cordillera Blanca, sitting alone in a travel hostel. I was chewing coca leaves and wearing a beanie that said ‘Huaraz’ on it, while having a group chat to my family over Skype.

I did get a present, a Dragon Ball Z T-shirt from my secret Santa, but that came two weeks later when I returned to my housemates on the coast. I realised that day that it was important to be with people for Christmas, and if I continued to push them away, for no matter the reason, I would be in the same position I was in another thirty years, with a hermit beard and drunk on whisky, yelling at the TV.

IMG_20181224_212628_875.jpg
Ho Ho Ho. My brother and I playing with the filters while talking to each other. It’s Christmas morning for him.

For two months, or maybe more, my girlfriend Tiffany’s mum has been preparing Christmas, and checking to see if I will be attending. We did have Christmas at her grandparents and the thing I really noticed this year is the true celebrations, the true moment, happens on Christmas Eve.

We stayed up until midnight eating, and then as all the fireworks crackled and boomed across the city, we had a toast, took turns kissing a baby Jesus, and then opened the presents. This year I did okay! I was given four t-shirts, a coffee mug, a box of Cadbury chocolates, a love letter, and an empty notebook with David Tennant’s Doctor silhouetted on the cover. Most of these gifts came from Tiffany. She also self-published two copies of my novel manuscript and it looks terrific.

IMG-20181226-WA0001.jpg

The decorations and the ceremony of gift giving was exactly the same as at home, but the food was subtly different. At home we always pull crackers and then put on the cheesy paper party hats, and laugh at Grandma’s pink one. We read the lamest jokes that are in the crackers, like, “what do you get when you pour hot water in a rabbit hole?”

“A hot cross bunny!”

We will groan and then eat.

 

This isn’t home, but Peru, and I am grateful for being part of a community again. The food is similar, but with more emphasis on turkey than on a glazed ham. There was a rice dish with bacon bits (this is Peru. You can’t set a table without rice), and salads. There was a potato dish I enjoyed which had potato, (Peruvian) corn, and pineapple. There were bread rolls and apple sauce, and wine and beer, and champagne.

20181224_222138.jpg

Tiffany and I had baked a Pavlova. We told everyone that it was an Australian cake, to peak their interest, but New Zealanders may object to the ownership. I was worried about how it turned out, given it’s the first one I prepared. It was bloody great but the base may have been a little too thick in comparison to the centre.

Most of the Peruvians were a little apprehensive to try it, preferring to leave more room for their ‘Panatone’, a sort of fruit cake that they are obsessed with.

I would have loved some brandy flavoured custard, but I mentioned it to my work colleagues a few days before, and they asked “what’s custard?”

Oh boy, I thought. But realised I had no idea on how to explain what custard is.

12 hours later, after sleeping on a full stomach of turkey, we returned for leftovers. I had given a hamper (that work gave me) of Peruvian goodies, and all the family decided to raffle off the items into numbers. It was sheer madness. Everyone was so excited. Tiffany’s mum insisted on keeping the container. It would not be part of the raffle. An uncle received a box of oats. I drew a packet of lentils. A 13-year-old girl won a bottle of champagne. She cheered along with her branch of the family.

Pavlova’s Reviews

My Girlfriend’s Mum: The pavlova was really good…slightly burned but I would eat it again. I wouldn’t put bananas in it though…the strawberries were good, the kiwi too but i didn’t like the banana on it. Maybe some other fruit.”

Girlfriend’s Sister: The base tastes like coffee. I don’t like the bananas.

My Girlfriend’s opinion: I really loved it. It wasn’t as sweet as i thought it was gonna be, which is good because it made me want to eat more.
I was surprised it came out that good actually…because, usually, on my first tries, things don’t come out that good 😅
I wanna try making it again…maybe with a thermometer so we know the actual temperature and it comes out even better…and I think the same about the bananas. I think it goes better with a bit more sour fruits. It’s a good combo of sweet and fresh.

Un momento, dos momento

 

DSC_3990.JPG
Some great moments don’t need to be mentioned. The photos speak for themselves. 

It’s a sudden awakening. There are howls and whistles and screams and cracks and yelps from fireworks. My bunk mate Andy below me shouts and we get out and rush to the third-floor balcony to check what is going on.

In the day I would look out from the bottom of a valley – seeing buildings and streets clinging to the steep hills overlooking us. At 12.01 Christmas morning a roar of fireworks are being lit from these streets up into the night, all layered together with cracks of greens and reds and blues. Each street of Peruvians seem to compete against each other for the main attention.

It is the most glorious thing I have seen. I am frightened but laughing and reaching for my phone to Facebook Live this moment. Our street is included as a cluster of neighbours light up their rockets which pass above our faces. Andy and I roar expletives and between the ‘holy fuck’s and ‘Feliz Navidad’s I am laughing, and laughing, and laughing, and it is a moment, by this hill in the night, bright and explosive and loud, I will not forget. Within eight minutes I had the best Christmas of my life – and there was nobody but strangers to witness it with.

DSC_3972.JPG
The view from the balcony during the day. 

The show is slowing down 10 minutes later and Andy and I rush to see if the plaza on the other side of the building might have better fireworks. We run out the front door. The group of neighbours see us as they are lighting fireworks. They shout something with the word ‘gringo’ in it and a rocket hits alarmingly close to me. It’s most likely ‘get the gringos!’ and Andy and I keep jogging up the street.

Earlier that day in the plaza I watched an incredible dance. A brass band walks up the closed street guarded by frustrated police officers holding batons and riot shields. These police officers have been watching the Christmas Eve shoppers all day and I swear by the end a few of them want to take a swing at someone, just to have some fun, just to vent their frustrations at the rudeness.

The dancers take their graceful steps. Most of the dancers look like the ‘Big Bad Banksia Men’, but in the likely event you don’t know Australian fairy tales, I must avoid metaphor and describe them properly.

DSC_3980.JPG
The plaza. 

There’s 20 dancers in black masks which have red lips and grotesque blue eyes. One of them has an unlit cigarette in his mouth. They wear wide brown sombreros and heavy boots, and they clutch folded whips. There are two dressed in clown masks and they hold some boom-shaka-lakas (okay, I’m making up a word but it’s appropriate) which make grinding noises as they wave them around to scare away the pressing crowds who want the closest angle to take videos and photographs with their cameras. Some of the mothers are even using their children as cute hostages to get in closer. That doesn’t stop the threatening clowns from holding back the circle. The clowns have no mercy. You know why? Because they are clowns.

Arm in arm with the biggest and ugliest mask is a beautiful woman with icy eyes and a rosy smirk (who can resist such a woman?). And they proudly lead the dance with casual struts. A boy who can’t be more than seven-years-old is dressed completely in a white cow costume and he dances too, and closes in on the main couple. They are a cute family there, in that main street, in front of the plaza and the fountain and the glorious church.

And as they dance to the trumpets the sun shines on a spot on one of the mountains tipped with snow high beyond us. And this moment also is glorious.

Nobody can possibly be so lucky to have two amazing moments in the day.

I am.

Some of us seem to think sex or even alcohol is the answer to replace hurt or unwanted memories. Maybe so. I happen to love both, and tried both, but they tend to be an expression of my mood. They don’t exactly create happiness if I don’t already have it.

The trick is to find another way, and maybe at long last I’ve figured it out. The trick with coming to Peru or overcoming pain in life might not have anything to do with finding yourself as it is to be more of yourself.

I’m not talking about being ‘more’; ‘more healthy’, ‘more athletic’, ‘more sexy’, ‘more wealthy’, ‘more knowledgeable’, ‘more desirable’, (more superficial). I know, I know, this is all a familiar tangent of the self-righteous, and I’m sorry about that.

But what I’m talking about is having more moments like the fireworks in Huaraz on Christmas morning. The majestic moments that burn in your brain you can’t ever forget, so that they become you. Those moments where you remember laughing, the ones which weaken everything else that came before it.

 

Feliz Navidad from a stranger

DSC_4018

At 5000 metres above sea level yesterday I stood by an icy lake – on the side of Pastoruri. Thunder rolled above me and snow pelted down. It stung my nose, it covered my jumper, and it froze my fingers when I took my gloves off to make a snowman.

My first snowman. It was lame and small and not what I imagined it to look like. But I don’t care. Because this is the first time I have ever seen snow.

DSC_4103

It’s such a cool thing to be able to tell you about this on Christmas Eve (or more accurately to many of you across the world it would already be Christmas). Feliz Navidad! I hope you’re having a wonderful day.

The bus took two hours along a dirt road to get to the base from where we walked. By then I was sick and struggling, but all the coca leaves I could suck on were keeping the headaches away, only just. I slowly puffed my way the last 90 minutes along the path to the icy lake and at some point the snow pelted down. I hated the snow; I loved the snow. DSC_4098At some point at the top I watched one of the guys on the tour take his shirt off and pose for the camera. And that was it. I had to join in too!

DSC_4146And before you know it, we were mates!

At the end of the tour when we made it to the bottom and were at a restaurant, and I was feeling really sick, the guys joined me for a conversation in limited English/Spanish. They wanted me to come out late that night to party, and I thought about it, but I undoubtedly had some altitude sickness, and I was hungry, and tired, and lonely, and these are terrible combinations when you’re in a foreign city.

I went back to the hostel, and I know this is sort of a depressing tangent to take when I saw friggin snow for the first time, but I wondered how much better it would have been to be with people I knew. It occurred to me then, once I saw snow, that I was going to be alone for Christmas, in a hostel and undoubtedly on this computer. It’s not that nobody cared about me, it’s not that I didn’t want to be around anybody, and I am happy I am doing what I’m doing. It’s just that at Christmas and the New Year we can look back at the year that was, and what currently is, and decide if this is what we want for ourselves.

DSC_4034

Is this what I want for myself?

Yes.

And no. What’s the point of having all these cool stories you did by yourself when you aren’t physically around anybody you relate to.

This sounds like I’m really feeling sorry for myself. I know, I know, but actually, while I’m being sentimental this is more enjoyable than last Christmas (in which I wasn’t doing what I wanted) or the Christmas before (in a motel room on my own). I’m actually a really lucky guy. I have so much going for me and my flaw is to overthink it all. I’m reflecting because I’m sensing a pattern with my Christmases, and know I could do so much better.

As I was eating pizza and drinking beer by myself the other night, I saw three other tables that had people sitting there. There was a family including a man who was smiling, and two women, and a little girl. And sitting alone at three different tables were three men, about the same age, listening to music and on their phone. I was thinking ‘what the hell is wrong with us? Why aren’t we like that man at the other table?’ and I wanted to go up to one of the guys to talk to, but he had his headphones in. And that stopped me.

Today as I walked through the main streets searching for a bus ticket to get back to my friends in time for Christmas (which I couldn’t quite manage), and passing increasingly irritated police holding riot shields and standing in the middle of impatient shoppers, I found myself in a restaurant. And it was there I ordered the best hot chocolate I ever tasted. I do not say this lightly and my compliment must have pleased the waiter so much, that he brought me out a piece of cake that I’ve seen sold everywhere. It was delicious and his kindness made me happy.

I continued to enter bus stations (do you have a ticket to Trujillo? Christmas 10pm? No, that’s okay) and had just given up when a man on the street who heard my last request directed me to one last station. I thought maybe I was getting my Christmas miracle (Trujillo! Tonight? Seeing my friends on Christmas morning? Yes!) and while I didn’t, it was the thoughtfulness of a man talking to a foreigner who didn’t know his own language that made a difference. It made me begin to see the kindness in the people around me, and knowing that I could find these special moments in anyone and anywhere. That’s what I needed, and it was here all along.

Holy shit I got deep didn’t I? 

While we look over this year that was, and we celebrate Christmas, and we smile at our own adventures, maybe we (or just me) could reflect on those times in which we unknowingly put up a wall and kept away our friends and family from sharing the special times with us. But maybe, too, we should know that the special times shared with the strangers still have meaning too. We are not as alone as we might think. There could be a person at the next table wanting to talk to you, if only you could see it.

Merry Christmas amigos.