Food Vlog: Guinea Pig

 

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.

There’s there little meat under the tough crackling, but it tastes good. Monica, on the right outside of the camera, also had cuy but managed to get a lot more from the bones than I did.

 

There’s a trick and a confidence needed to get the most out of it.

The final weeks of Peru

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Five months ago I had a decision to make. Well, it wasn’t really a decision, but I had to acknowledge that I wasn’t happy with my life here in Peru. Not really.

I left Australia 17 months ago and I wasn’t afraid to do it, for a better life. I couldn’t be afraid for the same reason to change my own life in Peru.

So I was able to leave my job and to travel for a while, scheduling my airfare to return to Australia at the end of March.

There’s less than two weeks until I return to Australia. I’ve done my travelling. I haven’t been able to blog about it all yet. But now I’m in a weird space, my mind turned to returning home.

  1. I spend my time watching Doctor Who and Marvel movies with my girlfriend. We watched Captain Marvel in gold class last week, eating lemon meringue pie and drinking Corona while we did it. At the moment we’re halfway through Season 4 of Doctor Who. I think we’ll finish the David Tennant era in time.
  2. I just bought Crash Bandicoot N.Sanity and we’re progressing through that twisted and fiddly nightmare of a game. I just discovered Fortnite as well.IMG_20190313_225323_131.jpg
  3. I’m trying to eat more different food, and I’ve been vlogging some of my reviews, such as the one about beef heart. I went to eat ceviche in Huanchaco the other day.

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    My former housemates and I call this place ‘Cheap Hostel’ and we’ve had many a beer here.
  4. I’m creating a scrapbook of my time here and that’s progressing slowly.
  5. I look at my filthy room and know I should be getting rid of stuff and packing. I grow concerned that I won’t have enough room to take everything back. And what about gifts?
  6. My girlfriend Tiffany and I sometimes practice speaking Spanish, usually in the taxis and sometimes in front of her mum. We’re mindful of how little time we have left before we go our different way. Being single again…a new identity and being in Australia….the emptiness…the adjustment… makes me nervous.
  7. Tiffany has a new job starting days after I leave. It’s fantastic, although she moves away from her family for the first time. The problem is she can’t see me off at the Lima airport. We’re both sad about it.
  8. I discovered a place that delivers chicken wings and fries!
  9. I’ve just began and finished watching Umbrella Academy. Now I’m watching a documentary called ‘Explained’ and in each episode it uses famous voiceovers to discuss important issues, like the water crisis, the female orgasm, and whether or not we can increase our life expectancy.

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    I went for a walk near the Plaza de Armas today. I was trying to print stuff for scrapbooking.
  10. That’s been my life for two weeks. It will probably be my life for the next two weeks. I feel sad, but I remember this was my choice, and the best option that I had. Sometimes I think I should do more…go do more things, but I already have!
  11. School has just returned. And I find myself talking about my students again, and wondering what they are learning in history, and whether or not they miss me.

Burnzy’s food vlog: Anticucho

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.

 

A jungle guide named ‘Santiago’

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There’s a shack in the jungle, by the river, in the national park of Pacaya-Samiria. I’m there two nights. Other people pass through in that time. Some take tours of three days, or four, or seven. Some can be in the national park for up to a month.

My guide Santiago takes me on a walking tour on the second day for a few hours, while it rains. We see monkeys, and rubber trees, and the sap stretches. He shows fruits, and I taste a little bitter yellow fruit. He cuts through scrub with a machete.

 

He chops pieces of bark for himself from trees which he says can help with vaginal pain, and cancer, and other sicknesses. Everything we truly need seems to be in the jungle.

We collect strange fish, not just piranhas, from nets. He cooks lunch, we rest, and have dinner. He gets exhausted by my need to speak Spanish when we can ask nearby translators for help, and soon he offers me a boat ride in the night to search for alligators.

 

“Oh crap, I’ve offended him,” I think as we searched the creek by torchlight. “What a terrible way to die.”

Eyes shine orange in the night. A branch resting near the canoe shakes, and I jump in fright. He shows me alligators close up but they aren’t anywhere near as big as salt water crocs. I relax.

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Orange eyes in the dark stare, not looking away from their predator. Sometimes they disappear when I shine the light away and back.

Santiago can find frogs in the trees by torchlight, and shows me, and eventually we return to the shack.

The next day he’ll canoe us both upstream to the park’s entrance, barely stopping except for lunch and to signal the river otters. Sometimes he drinks a brew from a water bottle made from ingredients from the jungle, but offers me none.

  • This blog post is part of a collection of journal entries set while I journey alone to the Peruvian jungle. It begins with this post, if you are interested. 

Arriba Hyrule!

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Just before my seven-year-old goddaughter’s birthday, I bought a Nintendo Switch. It’s my second Switch, but my first one is in a box in Australia.

I haven’t played it for 18 months. I haven’t played any video game console since Mario and Rabbids, the night before my flight from Brisbane to Lima, via Auckland and Santiago.

Video games are my hobby, my way to relax and step back from the world. Since living in Peru I’ve never really had my own hobby and I don’t believe Netflix counts. My job was my hobby and I used all my spare time to channel my energy into research. That’s useful until you can’t manage pleasant replies to the people who surround you.

Last year when I was stressed, I played an old game on the internet called Runescape, and it helped for a while, but it wasn’t quite the same because of the limitation on graphics, and because it was the one game.

I’d been toying with buying a Switch for a while but I hadn’t because I’m returning to Australia soon. I have my Switch in Australia. But I’m also in Peru! It felt to me that I shouldn’t need a console while I’m travelling overseas.

Here is the problem. And it’s a mental health problem. For almost 18 months I have lived in a foreign country in a foreign continent, with a foreign language. I have lived. I have worked in a real job. I have immersed myself in it, but I haven’t quite fit into the immersion. Yet in my mentality I still see myself as travelling. I need a safe hobby!

I worried that maybe I would stay in a room playing games, or only remember Peru through playing games, instead of visiting cool places. Yet I’ve seen so much, and in a way, I’m tired. I’ve covered more than 5000 kilometres in the last month, and not by air.

Video consoles are far more expensive here, even taking into account the price exchange. It didn’t seem right to spend so much money on a luxury. I thought that by not buying it, I would show maturity compared to a year ago, when I wasted my first pay check.

Yet I bought the console because for a while I wanted to show it to my girlfriend. I wanted her to see a part of myself. I wanted to share with her my love for Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and I wanted us to do something together that I enjoyed.

I gave in, finally after more than a month of contemplating it. I thought in the taxi while holding the console box that I would feel a surge of buyers remorse. I didn’t. I was excited. I thought then I would feel it when we set it up, turned on the TV, and saw the load screen. I didn’t. In fact, I’ve found that I can upload for free all the games I’ve bought online more than 18 months ago. I have one account, but two Nintendos. I can share my games across, and my expansion packs for Zelda, which I bought but never used because I moved to Peru. That is a pleasant surprise.

My girlfriend hasn’t played video games before, and it has been a joy, but a test of my patience, to watch her learn how to figure out the basic movements of controls. I’ve fought the urge to just take the controller off her when she doesn’t do things as fast as I’d like, and just let go and relaxed. I’ve watched her learn to ride a virtual horse. Just like in real life,they don’t seem to like her.

She used to throw me the controller when the monsters come out to attack her. Then she killed them when I was in the bathroom. Now she kills the monsters on her own. I am proud.

Legend of Zelda is an immersive world, with its own rules and ways to figure out how to interact with the world around you. And she often has ideas that I wouldn’t have figured out on my own. “Could you throw an apple to catch that horse?” she suggested after the first hour in the game, and my first reaction was “that’s dumb” and I realised, ‘wait. Is it?’ We tried it and it didn’t quite work out.

“Could you shoot fire at that honey to scare away the bees?” she suggested, and I thought, ‘hey, let’s give it a go’, but it also burned away the honey. Yesterday she helped me solve a puzzle involving throwing rocks off a bridge, that I never figured out on my own.

I wish I could play the game for the first time again, but with her I guess I am.

We’ve put the Nintendo on Spanish mode. It’s helping me, although she’s doing a lot of translation. New words I’ve acquired include ‘anciano’ (old man), ‘seta’ (mushroom), and ‘espada’ (sword).

Welcome to the Jungle!

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My jungle guide is a Peruvian by the name of Santiago. He wasn’t too impressed with me, but I think he’s incredible.

We take a moto to the national park border, sign in, and pack all we need into a dug-out canoe. Santiago loads it up with rice, eggs, water, tomatoes, and potatoes.

For eight hours he paddles slowly downstream in the creek. The jungle around us is dense, and the mangroves all have spikes the size of nails running along their roots so that if I fell into the water, without a canoe, I would drown or be in agony trying to claw my way out.

The price of life here seems to be pain.

Santiago paddles a few times, stops occasionally, and listens. Then he paddles. Tree branches collapse, and I shift excitedly, but he ignores them. He zones out the unnecessary sounds, but can point out the monkeys, and an Iguana which takes me five minutes to find after he points straight at it.

We see two anacondas that first morning, curled into branches over the creek where the best place to get sun is. After one anaconda sighting he declares that I am lucky to see one on my first day. On the second sighting he is amazed. He shifts the canoe so that I am about a metre away from its coil. It makes me anxious knowing it could choose two ways to travel if it wakes, and one of them is the canoe.

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When river dolphins splash around, he imitates their call. When monkeys pass nearby searching for fruits, he calls to them. It fools the animals sometimes, especially when we sight the otters on our third day. They are really pissed off. They yell at us in otter-speak, the second time that Santiago fools them.

I’m sunburned by the time we reach a clearing with two shacks in the late afternoon. One of the shacks is for us. I rest in a hammock just as the storm hits us. Lightning strikes and I am scared.

But despite this there is peace. There is no reception or internet. As it grows dark someone turns on a motor, which powers the electricity. Santiago prepares dinner.

*This story is part of a series of journal entries travelling into the Loreto Region in January. You can read the first piece of the collection here

My 20 photo collection of ‘real’ Peru

In 18 months I have collected a bunch of photographs across 12 of the 25 regions of Peru.

I have seen snow for the first time, been at 5000 metres above sea level, wandered in the jungle, and used planes, boats, buses, and taxis to get to my destination. I have somehow managed despite a limited amount of Spanish.

The Ministry of Tourism sure would be keen for you to see a certain angle of Peru, but in my time here I’ve learned there are various levels. There are experiences beyond my comfort zone. There is so much more than Machu Picchu, and the fine gastronomy.

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There are people, and slums, and desert, and hardship, and I see so many Peruvians working extremely hard just to have a comfortable lifestyle.

And so I hope these photographs capture some of that. I hope you see what I saw.

Along the Rio Maranon

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People get into the express boat at Yurimaguas at 6am.

There’s much debate as to where the source of the Amazon River is, or even, where it actually becomes the river. But, according to Peru, and to Google Maps, the Amazon River is named once the two tributaries ‘Maranon’ and ‘Ucayali’ join.

The jungle between their joining is the Reserva Nacional Pacaya Samiria, which is Peru’s largest national park.

I want to visit the jungle and I hear the best way to visit it is by taking a boat to the small town of Lagunas, on the west side of the park. Most tourists come from the east, near Iquitos.

 

I travel downriver on an express boat, which leaves the Yurimaguas Port at 6am. It is a canoe shaped raft with a roof, and windows near the water, with a toilet at the back. There is an aisle which fits between three seats. After the passengers take their seat, the crew load up the front of the boat with fresh produce, and items that cannot wait for a slower cargo boat.

We stop at a few small villages along the way, with shacks, and thin horses, and the occasional telecommunications tower, of dug out canoes with tiny engines. It take five hours to reach Lagunas.

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Children and elderly people stand at the port of Lagunas, ready to get onto the boat to sell their wares.

Children and elderly women stand on the bank waiting for us and as soon as we hit land, they pile onto the boat before I escape. There’s too many of them. They sell soft drinks and water, beef hearts and fried egg rings, and strange jungle fruits. More kids get on the boat but find themselves trapped at the back. They cannot leave until the ones at the front do, but those ones are determined to reach more customers.

The captain shouts something, probably to say it is time to go. I try to leave and a kid laughs at my expression, but in a nice way. He sees the humour and the madness of the situation, expressed on the face of an outsider.

 

I’ve been told by the Lonely Planet guidebook and by a man at the Yurimaguas port to seek the president of the ‘Asociacion Huayruro Tours’, Miguel. I am told by the last hostel owner that he will get him to wait at the port for me. A man beckons me to his moto at the Lagunas port, and I assume he is Miguel. He take me to a hostel. I get a room and after a bit realise that there has been confusion.

I visit the association three times that day, but each time I’m told the president will return from the jungle in an hour. The truth is I am anxious.

There is no way to get money in Lagunas. There is no bank, no ATM, no exchanges, nada! I brought all my money, about 700 Soles. I am worried it won’t be enough for three days in the jungle, more than a day in Lagunas, and a boat trip to Iquitos. At the same time, I feel it’s too much money to have with me.

The main street is fine enough, but most houses are made of wood and appear run-down. Every street that branches out from the main one become dirt, and in most cases are overgrown with grass. It’s intimidating, and after three times not hearing from the association I buy my boat ticket out for that night. I’m impatient and not accounting for jungle time and limited reception, but I’m also scared of the jungle and for what I’m going to expect.

But I quickly learn as I walk through town that the people are kind, and the best of Peruvians. They offer advice, aren’t greedy, and are hospitable. I begin to feel safe as Miguel finally contacts me. I agree to take a jungle tour for 500 Soles total which would last three days. I go to the dock and am able to reschedule my ticket.

I’ll leave for the jungle the following morning.

To the edge of Loreto

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Some of the boats at the river port of Yurimaguas. 

Tarapoto was a small city in a cleared valley, nestled in by the mountain jungles. It’s the first place from the coast I really notice the motos. There are thousands of them zooming through the narrow one-way streets.

The hostel was great value and the people were friendly, more-or-less. The tourist police had a big building next to the plaza and although the officer who helped me couldn’t speak English, was patient and considerate. We had a small mix-up when he thought I asked if I could take a photo of him, and he had to say no because he was a police officer.

He suggested a zoo when I asked for places to see, but it was really a rescue centre. I went to visit for animal photos but the pens and fences made it hard to do that. They showed a hidden pen with the most ‘dangerous’ animal, and the visitors were taken in one-by-one to see it. The pen was empty, except for a mirror.

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There are plenty of waterfalls, a lake, and a small town with a colonial castle, but I continued by mini-bus to Yurimaguas. I sat squeezed among locals and realised it might be a rough ride when everyone grabbed a small garbage bag for themselves. One small girl around 10-years or so, needed it a few times even after we made it through the mountainous jungle route. It felt cold there, almost misty, as if numerous waterfalls and springs weren’t too far away.

During the drive we crossed over into the Loreto Region, easily the biggest of all the 25 regions of Peru, and one that includes the upper Amazon and its jungle basin.

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I’m in Yurimaguas. Eventually I will get to Iquitos, but since it’s unaccessible by road, I will have to get there by river.

Yurimaguas felt rougher. A moto driver immediately approached me as I got off the bus, and stopped the moto halfway on the journey just to let me know it was better if I was stocked up at the market first. I went to buy a hammock, and the guy offered to sell it for 36 soles until I walked out. He was offended when he agreed on 30 Soles, and while it was still a high price, it was a good hammock.

It was a dock town, one where money was made by trade and the transport of it, and not by tourism. My hostel was near the plaza right on the bank of the river. I nearly walked away because it was a shack on stilts, but when I was inside I saw the charm. It was run by a Frenchman, and he was friendly enough.

I bought my boat ticket to Lagunas at the dock. It was sold by a woman with the hardest eyes I have seen. They weren’t just cold, or angry. These were intense, as if she would fuck up anyone who fucked with her, and she would do it without feeling bad about it. She would put some thought into it.

I nearly walked away with my ticket, forgetting to pay for it. She wasn’t amused when I apologised.

As night fell, engines revved and smoke clouded the riverbank. At first I thought it was a stupid time to whipper-snipper the grass, but then the haze spread through the markets as I searched for a general store. The haze was a repellent for the mosquitoes, and it worked well. My hostel was open out to the water, a patio that was also the lounge room and dining room, and the rest of the shack but the bedrooms. The mosquitoes barely touched me. We watched the boats pass us on the river.

How to find your way in a new Peruvian city

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Every hostel that I have been to, or most of them anyway, seems to have a token pet. A mascot, if you will. This playful little critter is in a hostel in Yurimaguas.

One of my favourite things to do while travelling on my own is to plunge myself into a new city, preferably one that doesn’t collectively speak my language, and try to figure out what to do.

It’s a puzzle and depending on the circumstances, can be more difficult than at other times.

Am I walking in strange streets during a tropical storm? 

I don’t know where my hostel is. 

I don’t have internet, or my phone is out of battery. 

I don’t have a hostel to go to. 

It’s getting late at night and I’m still figuring it out. 

It’s bloody great. I’ve learned to love the feeling of anxiety, and it really tests me when I think, sometimes, ‘I could be in real trouble here.’

Okay, so the first thing I do is:

1) I take a taxi or a moto to the Plaza De Armas. Everything I could need is there even if it is expensive. There’s always a restaurant, a chemist, a nice photo opportunity, and a place to get coffee and access to Wi Fi.

But just as importantly to do this, is I get a sense of direction and a feel of what the city is like.

2) The next thing I try to do, no matter how hungry I might be, is to find my hostel or hotel and to check-in. I prefer to walk if I can, so that I can get a sense of what a place is like. I’m hyper-alert and sensitive to the looks around me, and these looks from the locals tell me everything I need about the place.

Are people nervous or relaxed? How do they treat their personal belongings? Do they feel safe enough to take out their phones or cameras for photographs? Are the streets clean? Are people content with what they have, or is there a desperation or greed for your money? Do they project a sense that the foreigner owes them something?

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3) I usually have a rough idea of the place before I reach my hostel, but depending on the appearance, can be harder on the place than is fair, at first.

The best way to find a hostel is through the app or website ‘Hostel World’ and it rarely fails me. There is a ranking system for each hostel which gives you an idea of what to expect, which takes into account security, cleanliness, staff friendliness, and the value for money.

As I continued my travels in the Amazon, for the first time ever for me, I stopped getting available hostels on the app. I had to resort to ‘Lonely Planet’s’ guide of Peru. This guide made it harder to gauge a hostel compared to the app, but it certainly was an adventure and gave good representation of what price I could expect to pay.

I found one hostel the guide book offered, down along the mud of a riverbank, and I went there and I stared at the shack on stilts. The book described it as rustic. “Nope, no way,” I thought, but then I realised I had nowhere else to go. And the place was actually better looking on the inside.

4) After checking in I will look for a place to eat, and then check my guidebook for any city landmarks or museums if it’s early enough in the day. I’ll wait until the following day to see the sites further out.

If locations are exhausted I might stock up at the local market, or shop or take photos (usually just on my phone at that stage) or drink a beer or two while using social media, or even take clothes to a laundry if I’m going to be around for two days or more.

5) As soon as I have eaten I will try to plan how I can leave to my next destination. I usually know a few days ahead which direction I’ll probably take. For example, in Tarapoto I know I will want to visit Yurimaguas, the river port into the upper Amazon. How do I get there and when do I leave?