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.

October 10, 2013