On the New Years Eve of 2017, I tasted Cuy while in the mountains near Huaraz. The next day I was purging my body. It wasn’t a pleasant experience.
But I’ve had time to think about it and I realise I can’t let one bad experience at the beginning of my trip dictate what I will and won’t do. It might have been altitude sickness, or travel anxiety, or the potatoes. I had to try again. This time my girlfriend’s mum recommended the restaurant.
The cuy was served in parts but you can have it whole with the offal still in it, although not at this restaurant. Mine was fried with garlic. It had the tiny ribs and little paws.
I’ve lived in Peru for 17 months and in that time I haven’t exactly been brave when it comes to new food.
I’m not adventurous anyway, but I suppose I got knocked around with a lot of stomach bugs in the first six months here. I guess I tried avoiding the drama, especially when it came to street food. But I avoided cheap Peruvian meals too under a certain price, especially when slurping chicken soup and seeing the foot in among the meat pieces.
That needs to change! So, I decided to taste anticucho (beef heart), and have given my thoughts on it in front of the phone camera. I hope you like it.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The year started pleasantly enough. I had mild poisoning from eating a quarter of a hamster, which is on my Peruvian bucket list.
That’s appropriate given that at some point today the ‘cuy’ was likely to be the thing on the list going to kill me.
I exaggerate. A lot. But I have been asleep most of the day in my hostel and actually feeling miserable. I’m feeling lonely and isolated that I even wonder about returning home to Australia.
I realise now as I hear fireworks exploding outside in the streets somewhere to my left that this is sickness depression talking. These feelings aren’t real. I hope.
I wonder about eating that cuy. I had felt like a monster when I tried it out. You could see its paw. It tasted okay – its skin was kind of like a leathery crackling but I feel nauseous even thinking of it. See, what I wonder was, ‘was eating the cuy worth it?’ Straight away you would say no given that trying it has caused a lot of pain. But it was an experience, and I certainly have a story to tell.
Last night I was with a friend as we watched the fireworks along the plaza de armes in Huaraz, and in theory this should have been a perfect moment for me. The sickness was starting to set in but I’m not sure it could account for my odd mood as I watched the explosions whistle over the numerous Christmas decorations. But I felt an overbearing loneliness just for a moment, feeling that something was missing, as I summed up the year that had been.
And it hadn’t been pleasant. It began with being burgled as I was asleep, continued with a break-up and carried on into the later months of drifting, insecurity, and the mind games that came with it.
When I decided to come to Peru I figured there was a 50-50 per cent chance I was going to die here. Not by my hand! I mean, there was yellow fever, and muggings, and dangerous animals, and cocaine fields, and even landmines.
But the scary thing is that I didn’t care. Maybe it was the arrogance of a man in his late 20s who hadn’t felt intense physical pain for a while. Or maybe it was because I hadn’t yet understood loneliness. I’d always loved loneliness, but didn’t comprehend yet the idea of being sick without support.
But then something changed in that I stumbled into competing in a modelling competition – and by a bizarre twist I ended up competing in the nationals in Cairns. Don’t get me wrong, my photos aren’t anything to brag about, but after I left feeling like I was in some sort of brotherhood, and after I took on daily gym sessions and ate a diet mainly of bananas, Greek yoghurt, oats and chicken, I felt different about myself. I suddenly cared more about myself and what I was doing, and I had hope and a new direction.
I was scared about going to Peru.
And then I flew there and met a bunch of people and faced new experiences and challenges. I felt the highs and lows and the powerful feelings in between those. I lost a sense of control and even the illusion of confidence I thought I’d had
“Fuck the ghosts of last year!” I told my friend halfway through the fireworks. And I stood there genuinely believing it.
Like many of my friends I ran away to Peru to hide from something. Except that demon took a different form, and so I had to confront it, or run away from it. I’m still confronting that desire to be liked by everyone, and running away from it (“I don’t need anyone but myself!”), and returning, and confronting, and I’ve got to admit it’s all wearing me down. It’s why Australia is starting to seem appealing in my dehydrated phase.
He who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day.
And living actually matters.
My favourite part of New Years is typically writing a bunch of resolutions. Last year I wrote four pages worth. I haven’t written any for this year yet.
As I stood there watching the fireworks banish the ghosts as if it was some traditional Indigenous smoking ceremony I realised that maybe writing resolutions is the wrong thing. Maybe what I had to really do was reflect on the past and decide what I needed to learn on.
Or so I thought.
But then again what good does that reflection even do? It’s sort of useless. So far it’s really only been good for depressing blog posts.
I know I’m in Peru and it’s sort of expected that I have exciting adventures every day. But there reaches a point where you need alone time and a completely uneventful day to just gravitate back to who you are.
We moved into a hostel about two days ago and so yesterday was the first time in almost a week where I had my own space and my own room to relax. I found Cadbury chocolate in a small supermarket (holy crap you have no idea how amazing that is!) and I just locked myself away, listened to music and blogged. And Facebook messaged friends from home, as friends knocked on my door to see if I’m alive and to see if I wanted to go to Trujillo.
It was Ferris Burnzy’s Day Off, and sometimes there’s nothing special and exciting about doing that. Some days you just have to be anti-social and recharge, because the world out there gets a little overwhelming at times. Almost every word is in Spanish, it’s crowded, and doing things with your friends sometimes takes a lot longer than it needs to be. The bill at restaurants gets irritating as you each try to break your 50 or 100 soles note.
You don’t have to seize the day all the time.
Gosh I feel like such a typical introvert, but that’s okay. I’m not afraid of being on my own (with the voices of Tash Sultana, San Cisco and Iron Maiden in my headphones). I just wish I hadn’t cancelled my Netflix.
On another note I’ve been burnzying my way through cash, and I’m lucky that my company unexpectedly paid me the leave they owed me or I would have been screwed. Most of that is because we’ve been planning for our future living arrangements, but it is a humbling reminder that I need to start eating meals at home instead of eating out.
I wanted to go see ruins today but I think maybe it’s a good idea to avoid doing much sightseeing and spending until I start earning an income.
I’m trying to normalise my diet before I start going to the gym, so I’m trying to find oats for porridge. None of the stores here seem to have it. Avocado is easy to track down, and so are bananas, but I can forget about Greek yoghurt. I can’t seem to find honey either.
The food here is good, but my metabolism has suddenly increased, and therefore my energy levels crash rapidly. I have been getting hangry, and quickly. I ate spaghetti last night and then needed to order a Hawaiian hamburger because I was still starving. I’m too old to be having a growth spurt.