Discoteca

We did it. We actually, finally went to one of Cusco’s infamous discotecas. For more than two months this has been a lofty, elusive plan, suggested by both Oscar and Michael (Guido’s son), but like many plans in Peru it never materialized. And, it’s a good thing we went last night because we were starting to become the weird Americans who would rather get in bed at 8:30 and read a little, as opposed to experiencing Peru’s nightlife. But, after working at Michael’s office until way past our 8:30 bedtime, we realized it was in fact Friday night, so why not do as the Peruvians do. That, and Michael’s office is right next-door to a bar that employs a gentleman who will walk over with a tray of hot toddys for a minimal fee.

Around midnight, the four of us –me, Mads, Michael and Michael’s co-worker Cali – all headed down the two blocks to a small cobblestone alley that blared a thumping techno beat from all sides. We slipped into one discoteca and started dancing to the synthesized salsa beat. For the most part Cali, a former salsa instructor, showed us up on moves and lyrics. And, having done very little physical activity in more than two months because of the altitude here, Mads and I were struggling with some chest pain that eventually subsided. But, we didn’t let that stop us. And we were egged on even more when the DJ threw in a few songs that had somewhat recognizable English lyrics. Clearly appreciating that gesture more than the Cusqueñas, Mads and I had no problem belting out some classic Journey tunes.

Lo siento Jesus

Ain’t no party like a Jesus party!

So we partied with Jesus last night. Rather, Jesus – our friend the cheesemonger – stopped by with his two friends and a nylon sack filled with beer. We had made very loose plans earlier in the day, which ended with “If you’re not at our house by 8:30, we’re going to sleep.” Poor Mads got in bed at 7:30 and was just getting comfortable when we heard the obnoxious ring of Almeria’s bell. Jesus said he had forgotten his friend’s birthday, so I suppose as retribution he brought the crew to our place. We are a novelty act, after all.

Waltzing in like he owned the place, Jesus started handing me crap that had recently made its home on our kitchen table, and I hurriedly found places for our English workbooks, Toy Story stickers we use as rewards, empty tea cups, etc. Once we dragged a now very snarky Mads out of bed, we all sat down to play a game of cards. Not really big on playing cards, we decided to teach the boys an easy one – asshole. But, the name presented a bit of a translation problem for us. The two of us know “good” Spanish, “school” Spanish, if you will. Besides the occasional joder bomb from Oscar, I really have no dirty words in my foreign language arsenal. So Mads dug deep and retrieved the one she knew that was probably the most similar to asshole – cabrón. When we announced this translated name to the boys, they just about fell out of their chairs laughing. And the best part of this game called cabrón, is each round there’s a cabrón who usually ends up doing silly tasks and generally making a cabrón of himself.

After about the 10th time Mads and I had doled out this word in a very declarative way, Jesus let us know that in Peru, it was a particularly bad word. And, thanks to Wikipedia, I’ve just realized what our asshole translation actually means. Apparently cabrón literally translates as male goat, and in many Latin American countries it does in fact means asshole. But, in Peru – according to Wikipedia – our lovely card game title is: a reference to a homosexual, hence cabrón is a superlative form (“big faggot”/”flaming faggot”). Yowsers, sorry Jesus et al. Plus, add in the fact that Peru is fairly big on the whole machismo thing, I’m sure these boys got a huge kick out of our little game. Ah, gringuitas. Always good for a laugh.

Junior beekeepers

Teaching beekeepingI like to think I helped create some future beekeepers today. After boiling another sugar-water mix and walking out of the house carrying our masks, gloves and syrup, the same secondary school boys from last week immediately perked up. They actually remembered, and were excited about helping me feed the bees!

But, I only had one mask, so the group of six could only sacrifice one. Luis was the lucky winner, and donned the green beekeeping getup and radioactive gloves to help me open the hives and pour some more sugar syrup on the sheet of plastic that’s laid over the 10 frames in the bottom super. Fortunately the hives are still relatively calm because they were only installed a few weeks ago, so Luis was perfectly comfortable.

Groupies

Running down to our two beehives in between classes to install the last of Jossua’s misshapen frames, I attracted a few curious boys who followed me all the way to our hives before I told them they needed a mask if they wanted to come any closer. At first they were headed for the duck pond, but the sight of my green bee suit drew them away pretty easily. Leave it to the bee suit to finally serve as my introductory opportunity with the secondary kids. Most of them are too cool to approach las gringuitas who usually have tiny children clinging to them. Nevertheless, the mix of sweet temptation and potential danger proved enough to win these boys over. Testing their seventh grade bravado, I asked if they wanted to help me feed the bees next week and I got a few enthusiastic replies.

Marcos

Calling Jossua — our bee guy — absent-minded is overly nice. When he came to do our installations a few weeks ago (after waiting a month for him to show up) he “forgot” 18 frames for our top two supers. Oscar put it pretty aptly: You forget one or two frames. You don’t forget all 18.

(I asked why he uses nine frames per honey super as opposed to the standard 10, and he said you can space them out a bit more so the bees have more room to build out the comb and subsequently fill with more honey. Not sure if this theory will pan out; we’ll have to see.)

Upon noticing his bout of “forgetfulness,” Jossua told us it wasn’t really a problem and that we could grab them from his store on our way back to Cusco after the installations. That sounded like a plan. But when we finally made it back to his tienda, whoops, turns out the frames weren’t ready. He told us — no surprise here — to come back mañana. But, lucky for me, I got the chance to stand Jossua up that time. (Unluckily, it was because I had salmonella for the third time and was livin’ it up in Clinica San Jose.)

On Sunday, however, Mads and I stopped by Jossua’s shop to pick up our missing frames and low and behold they were ready. Sort of. It seemed more like Jossua had totally forgotten about us, and was scrounging around his store, popping open hives and pulling out any frames that were ready with wax. Still, we managed to score all 18.

MarcosPutting them into the hives is another story. Of the 18 frames he gave us, only seven actually fit inside the top supers. The rest were about a quarter of an inch too long. And that’s how I got to test drive some tiny saw called the pitbull. En español se llama caladora con guia laser. Perhaps my Spanish is off — and that’s very likely — but I didn’t notice a laser on this little guy. Either way, I was able to slim down all the extra frames and finally call it a day with our two hives.

Both are thriving, by the way, and las abejitas really seem to be enjoying the early spring dandelions and clovers.

Life sola

Mads is hiking Machu Picchu this week, so I’m manning the house sola for three days. But perhaps a damsel all alone strikes a chivalrous chord with the men here, because between Oscar and Michael (Guido’s son), I really haven’t been alone at all. And, with Oscar taking me to lunch, and Michael taking me dinner I think I might actually start to put on a few kilos. I think I’ve eaten more meat in the past two days than I have during my whole time in Peru. Yesterday was pollo a la brasa, which is a rotisserie chicken with crunchy, peppery skin — definitely a favorite — and today was some kind of pork that’s basted and cooked in the oven, and then for dinner some giant slab of greasy beef.

DSCN1627

El gallino

Of all the animals on our farm, the one that terrifies me the most is just shy of two feet, and I could probably punt him into our neighbor’s plot if I wasn’t paralyzed with fear every time he sauntered by. Our rooster, by far, is our scariest animal for me — and he knows this. I do appreciate the irony that it’s not our Africanized “killer” bees (I think that’s a misnomer anyway…) nor the feisty watchdogs that roam our neighborhood that cause me to run screaming in the other direction, but a fluffy bird that wants nothing more than to live out his days pecking clover.

I really can’t explain my fear either. It’s completely irrational. But whenever I have to pass him by I swear he’s staring me down, waiting for an opportunity to attack. My only mental saving grace is that I know I can out-run him. Although the one time he did, in fact, “attack” I didn’t exactly run away, I folded my arms into my chest and let out a mix of high-pitch screeching and laughter. The 7-year-old girl who lives at Almeria eventually came to my rescue by charging the stupid bird and throwing pebbles in his direction.

And, when I say “attack” it was more like an all-out lunge at my knee-cap, while he beat his wings back-and-forth in attempt to seem scary. It totally worked. Although, when I rushed back into our house to show Mads my battle wounds, there really wasn’t much there. Just some dirt on my pants…and that could have been from our ducklings. Damn rooster. No me gusta el gallino.

Back on the grid

For a few glorious days, Mads and I have the privilege of experiencing Cusco as actual tourists, and first-class ones at that. Mads’ mom Ruth arrived early Monday morning and we immediately checked into the Royal Inka Hotel. I feel like MTV will pop in any minute to shoot Cusco Cribz. Our room is just so lavish compared to our quarto in Almeria and even the hostel we normally stay at near the Plaza de Armas. It has three fluffy beds and a giant window that you can actually pull curtains across. For two months now, Mads and I have been getting up at the actual crack of dawn because that’s when our room floods with light and it’s pretty hard to fall back asleep. Granted we usually fall asleep by 8:30. Sadly I still woke up around 6:30 this morning out of sheer habit.

And with Ruth in town, every meal is first-rate. We’ve already hit up two restaurants that we would normally write-off as out-of-the-question, and made sure the lick the plates clean like we were headed for the electric chair the next day. Ruth gets a kick out of ravenous nature and the Jewish mom in her makes sure we’ve somehow packed in seconds and thirds until we can hardly move. Muchas gracias mamaita.

Las palabras del dia
Mamaita — I basically made this one up. Normally you can “ita” and add it to any word to make the small version. And Ruth is definitely a little mama.

Inter-cambio

Cheese-makersMads and I tried our hand at making cheese today. And, as promised, in return for our free labor, Jesus fed us lunch — a delicious plato tipico that his mom whipped up. Turns out, this week, Jesus was hosting a few Bolivians as part of an inter-cambio to share secrets of the cheese-making process. And, being gringuitas, we were invited along on every one of their events, mostly to add a little novelty to the whole exchange. Sort of a “hey, look at my lady friends; know anyone we can marry them off to?”

Aside from the not-so-subtle attempts at setting us up with Bolivian husbands, the making cheese and yogurt part was pretty cool. Today we only made a small batch — eight rounds of mild Swiss-style cheese with oregano. Mads and I were there for the whole process, from pasteurizing the milk, to adding cultures and salt, to pouring off the water, and finally setting them in their circular molds.

DSCN1555

Mi Peru es hermoso

We made a new friend this week: Jesus the cheesemonger. Actually Oscar introduced us to Jesus last week when we stopped by his cheese shop on our way to Cusco. Jesus, his sister and his mother make phenomenal Swiss-style cheese (a lot creamier than the kind with the holes) and yogurt.

After putting the ducks to bed and finishing up dinner Tuesday night, something very unexpected happened. We had a visitor: Our first visitor. Jesus had stopped by that night to propose his plan to us. He pretty much had us at the word “plan.” Not a whole lot is planned in Peru, so if you can nail one down, it’s a little thrilling. Jesus asked us if we’d like to help his mother sell cheese and yogurt at the mercado in Cusco Saturday mornings, and in return, we could stay at their place Friday nights and eat dinner together. Sold! Food for labor, my kind of deal. And, after gushing over his actually pasteurized dairy products, Jesus offered us the chance to watch and learn the cheese-making process.

With both parties very much satisfied with our new plan, Jesus decided it was time to celebrate with a drink. Walking outside to the gate of Almeria, we were met with Jesus’ van. To call it beat-up would be a painful under-statement. Even aesthetics aside, this van is probably within an inch of its life. In fact, to start it, Jesus has to manually tap two wires together to jump the battery, and it grinds into gear with angry protests. The three of us all sat in the front, with Mads practically on top of the shifter. There seemed to be two or three seats in the back, but beyond that the gutted back-end stared out through a glass-less back windshield. I preferred the front, because I could occasionally see out the greasy window, the only issue was the exhaust system seemed to be inverted and was pouring fumes through the vents.

Jesus' car

Luckily it was a short drive to a tiendia for few celebratory, malted Cusqueños. Unluckily, it was raining and extremely dark out, and the van’s headlights would probably be more useful as bathroom nightlights. Picking up on my nervousness — I was clutching the inside handle by the window, and practically hyperventilated with each passing tractor trailor — Jesus thought he’d lighten the mood with some jokes. Asking if I could see anything out my portion of the windshield, I squinted and tried to make out passing pueblitas and told Jesus, yes, a little. He said good, because he couldn’t see anything. Hilarious.

After we made it to the tienda and all filed back into the front seat, Jesus decided why wait to crack open the beers, let’s drink now! Yes, that’s just what we needed to add to this mix. Fortunately the bottles were not twist-offs and we had to wait out the 10-minute drive in lovely sobriety. Asked whether it was illegal to augment your drive with some alcohol, Jesus said nah, as long as the cops don’t see it, anything is legal. Then he flashed his all-teeth grin and told us he loved Peru.