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Sunday, July 1, 2012

Jump jive and wail.

Now I have a confession. A small one: I was pretty proud of the way I'd handled the ant attack. Not, perhaps of the hop-slap-smack-yelp dance I did, but of being sensible, not freaking out.

I'd even said as much to Mike: "Good thing I'm not one of those silly, you know, girly girls who are afraid of bugs, eh? You'd have had a hysterical mess to clean up after all those ants." He gave me my due, and I internally forgave him for laughing at the time.

Besides, I would undoubtedly have laughed too, had the situation been reversed.

Ten minutes later jungle karma got me, in the form of a large, pissed-off cockroach. I'd gone to the bathroom, a very nice little bathroom at that, and when I reached for the cheery yellow towel to dry my hands, it skittered out from beneath the terrrycloth as only cockroaches can.


Startled, (not afraid, NOT afraid, I tell you!) my gah was, thankfully, only audible to the nearby vicnity.

The cockroach, probably a bit put off by the whole thing, ran like hell for a safer spot to nap. Either that or he went back to the ants and reported another score for Team Insect.

Mike got another laugh out of it, and so, despite my chagrin, did I.

So you see, I'm not even half the badass I wish I was.

Yes, I know you're not surprised. But could you at least pretend to be, maybe a little?

Back at the wooden table, Juan and Julia's son got out a book on origami and began to carefully fold a bird. This struck me as fantastic, Japanese papercraft in the Amazon. I watched a bit, then went and ripped a few papers out of my journal, shaped them into squares with careful folding, licking and ripping, then crafted a cootie catcher.

Perhaps you are not familiar with cootie catchers. Also known as paper fortune tellers, these are always a hit with kids. The little boy watched me carefully out of the corner of his eye. Now I needed to decorate the cootie catcher, so that we could play the game.

I tried to remember some Spanish words. Numbers, I can count to four. That was easy.

Colors, um, check. I hoped I could spell them correctly. I knew I would have to say the letters in English, but figured the kids would give me a pass on that one.

Now for the inside. Animals. I had to come up with eight of them. OK, ranita (frog), gato (cat) perro (dog) caballo (horse) pescado (fish) pollo (chicken) vaca (cow).

Phew. That just about exhaused my knowledge base.

Laura had come over, interested, and Mike nudged me; Juan and Julia's daugher, a shy teenager who'd barely managed to even meet our eyes, had stopped her work and sidled closer to see what we were doing. I explained with a flourish how the cootie catcher worked, Laura translating excitedly. "I remember these!" She said, "we had them as children in Germany -we would put funny sayings in them."

She translated to the two kids how the cootie catcher worked and we played a game, then I handed over the catchers and was well rewarded with happy eyes and shy gracias.

Dinner that evening, gathered with the family around the heavy table, evening breezes and jungle sounds drifting and mingling with the mouth-watering frangrances of the meal. Julia had  boiled and sliced yellow potatoes to be slathered with a spicy, creamy sauce. Papa a la Huancaína; Huancayo style potatoes. I was so pleased- one of the recipes I'd learned how to make this back in Lima in the cooking class.

The sauce has diverse ingredients  that would do Food Network's Chopped or Iron Chef shows proud: chilis, lime juice, fresh cheese, nuts,  evaporated milk, and crackers.

The potatoes alone, we'd discovered, are so starchy as to be strangely dry, to a North American palate, but are when smothered in the sauce, I could eat them all day if they weren't so filling. The meal continued with everything incredibly fresh, the chicken tender and actually tasting of chicken, the fruits as fresh as you might imagine, having just been picked off trees 20 feet away, each dish so obviously, palatably wholesome and delicious, we were satisfied down to the tips of our toes.

What is amazing to me is that Julia, with the help of her daughter, prepared all these foods on this sooty, wood-fueled stone stove:

A microwave would have been positively alien in this kitchen. No thermometers, no timers, no antimicrobial soaps or icemakers. Nada. There was a big table for chopping, a sink for washing, vegetables in baskets, loaves of breads on shelves, carefully draped with cloths; everything carefully in its place. It...resonated with some deep part of myself that will never get a chance to connect with that sort of true, elemental cooking. Providing real, honest food.

Am I saying I would trade in my grocery stores and deep freezer? No, not at all. Merely that it was...refreshing...to see that my way wasn't the only way. She allowed me to pitch in a bit, peel some vegetables the next day, but I would have had to have lived there a month to really learn anything.

If only. But life isn't like that, so we spent our good energies relaxing and having another cup of that beautiful after dinner coffee. Laura had bought beers for everyone at the local store, so we leaned back and drank those too. Juan seemed particularly pleased with that.

Despite the late night coffees we slept like the dead. Or would have, what with all the travel and the wonderful fresh air, but for one factor: the farm rooster. It, like all of its kind, had no bloody idea that it was only supposed to crow when the sun came up. I think that only happens in storybooks. It was easy to get used to the constant jungle sounds of the Amazon, the bugs and the rustles and the peeps and chirps of nighttime creatures, but that darned rooster waited for everyone to drift off to sleep and then would let fly with his piercing cock-a-doodle-doo. Then he would chuckle to himself and wait 20 minutes, then do it again.

In the morning, Juan asked, in Spanish and pantomime, if we'd slept well. I pointed to the rooster, grimaced, made cock-a-doodle-doo sounds and the universal "wring his neck" hand gestures.

Juan laughed himself sick and offered us coffee.

(completely innocent curly-feathered hen.)


  1. Love these first-hand accounts of your adventures along the way! Great idea about the "cootie catcher" (never heard it called that before; perhaps it was a regional name?) :)

    1. Wikipedia (from whom I borrowed the "how-to" photo,) says they are best known as fortune tellers, but also as "cootie catcher" "chatterbox" "salt cellar" or "whirlybird". I never heard the last three! It gets better. through Google I found: "In Germany the figure is called Nasenkneifer (nose pincher), Pfeffer und Salz (pepper and salt)or Salznäpfchen (salt pot)." and "In Norway these are simply called a "Spå", which is the Norwegian
      word for telling fortunes." and also that it can be called a "snapdragon", a "flipper", a "flexigon" or a "scruntchie".
      On PBSkids.org, which is national for the entire USA, they have an entire section for children as to how to make what they also call cootie catchers. Now I wonder...what will the children in Peru call it? :)

  2. I had cootie catchers in Ireland growing up but we didn't call them that. I forget what they were called, I think fortune tellers maybe but I'm not certain.

    Aren't you lucky to experience such different worlds? Thank you for sharing them Natalie. It's a joy to read your blog :)

  3. If you were as badass as mom you would have said "GAH" and then squashed the bugger ;)

    1. Would have made a really sickening mess, I tell you. Better to let him skitter. Live and let live.