I´ve never been much of a “science person,” preferring instead the worlds of social studies and liberal arts. But I do know some things scientific. I know that matter comes in three forms: solids, liquids and gases. In the last couple days, however, these vital distinctions have been lost on my stomach. Travelers in Mexico call this phenomenon Montezuma´s Revenge. I don´t know who or what is exacting revenge on me here in Peru, but it has been sapping me–well, “draining” would be more accurate–it has been draining me of my energy. Nevertheless, tomorrow I leave the big city and head out for canyon country, a setting not likely to comfortably accommodate a guy with a scientifically confused stomach.
I don´t know what is to blame for my ailment. It could be the tap water, which I don´t drink but do use to brush my teeth. It could be the alpaca kebob I bought from a street vendor with a sidewalk grill. Or it could be the guinea pig I ate. Yes, guinea pig.
Don´t ask me how eating a guinea pig got on my list of things to do, but my thinking was that traveling adventures need to include adventures in dining, guinea pig is considered a delicacy here, blah blah blah. I did eat it at a reputable restaurant. When the waiter served it, he said I must eat all of it. To my ears that sounded like a personal challenge. But there was no mistaking what I was eating. The entire body was intact. It had little ears and little eyes and little teeth. Stretched out over the plate, it looked more like a high school biology project than a meal. As I chewed–and quite a bit of chewing was required–I felt like a contestant on Fear Factor. I worked my way to the head and ate the ears and one of the eyes, but I couldn´t bring myself to consume the teeth. That seemed too close to kissing the thing. When the waiter returned, he asked me what I thought. ¨Interesante,¨I said neutrally, ¨but I don´t think I´d have it again. Then he told me he doesn´t like it at all. Thïs from the guy who said I must eat it all.
Parting shots from Puno:
I left Puno two days ago. I took a bus to Arequipa, Peru´s second largest city and the place from which I now write. For the most part, the journey was beautiful. I watched from my window neverending green farmland and green hills, crude stone walls divvying up the landscape, adobe structures with thatched roofs and with politicians names spraypainted on the sides, farmers hunched over their crop lines, grazing groups of alpacas and llamas and pigs and cows.
We made a bathroom stop at what I guess constituted a roadside diner, but the bathrooms were just three adobe outhouses in a row, none of which had a proper toilet or even a roof. And it was hailing. If you´ve never used a roofless squathole wearing a raincoat, well then, I´m afraid you haven´t really lived.
We passed through villages along the way, some of which seemed to be in abject squalor. One town, Juliaca, was nothing but mud when we drove into Puno from Cuzco, and was now nothing but dirt when we drove through again from Puno to Arequipa. The people seemed happy enough, but I couldn´t help but ask myself rhetorically how people could live like this. (Then again, some might reasonably question how a person could eat a guinea pig.) When our five-hour trip was coming to a close, the outskirts of Arequipa seemed like a nuclear fall-out zone. Buildings were half built and arranged haphazardly and all seemed to be an eyesore. Of course, beautification costs money and that´s one thing a poor country most lacks.
Below: shots of Juliaca.
But the center of Arequipa is beautiful. Like the other Peruvian cities I´ve visited, the center of the city is a plaza and the plaza is named Plaza de Armas. The most prominent building along the Plaza de Armas is La Catedral. El Misti, a volcanic peak, towers in the background.
Below: shots of Arequipa.
Because of my confused gastrointestinal status, my get-up-and-go got up and went, so I´ve managed to see only one sight a day here. Yesterday I visited the Museo Santury where I saw a 500-year-old frozen corpse. The corpse–a little girl´s–was found on one of the nearby freezing mountaintops and recognized to be a human sacrifice offered by the Incans to placate the mountain god. The body was remarkably preserved and, significantly, is not a mummy. Mummies are disemboweled; this little girl was not. Not that that was apparent to me–she was wrapped in a shawl–but that´s what the museum guide said. Her cause of death was not exposure to the elements but a sharp blow to the temple.
Shots of Monasterio de Santa Catalina.
Today´s sight bore no traces of brutality. I visited the Monasterio de Santa Catalina, a nunnery, founded in 1580 but still under construction or reconstruction in the 1900s. It occupies a full city block and is painted in eye-pleasing blues and reds and ash-whites. Apparently, the girls that joined this monastery were privileged and their parents had to pay a substantial dowery to gain their admission. The nuns had servants and musicians and emphasized partying over self-denial. Then in 1871 there was a new Sister in town, and she cleaned up shop. Nuns still inhabit the monastery today, but I didn´t hear any music.
As I mentioned, tomorrow I´ll leave the confines of urban Arequipa and head to the country. Near Arequipa are the deepest canyons in the world, twice as deep as our own Grand Canyon. Not knowing how I´ll fare with my wonky stomach, for the next few days I´ll be the guinea pig.
Tags: Arequipa, Peru, Puno, South America, Travel