Happy St. Paddy’s Day – Better Late Than Never!

Yesterday I was in Lima obtaining my Peruvian residency card. It was a typical bureaucratic experience with two items of note: the Peruvians determined that I am a green-eyed blond (and here I thought I was a brown-eyed brunette for the past 45 years) and my residency stamp is on the visa page with a JFK quote, which seemed fitting for St. Patrick’s Day. I did not have the luck o’ the Irish when our plane from Lima arrived over Cajamarca, circled a few times, and then flew back to Lima as the pilot determined the weather didn’t permit him to land. Or maybe not landing was the lucky part! In any event, for that reason this post is a day late.

Although the month of Carnival festivities had worn us out, we decided to throw a St. Patrick’s Day party last Saturday for our expat and Peruvian friends. The Peruvians were quite interested to know what a St. Paddy’s Day party entailed, and we were at a bit of a loss – uh, drinking and wearing green? But we stepped it up and made corned beef (from scratch, no handy pre-brined meat here), potato salad (okay, not entirely Irish, but the potatoes count), oatmeal cookies,  and Irish cream brownies (courtesy of our friend Sarah), greeted everyone at the door with a shot of Baileys or Jameson and had the Irish tunes playing. Matt boss, Peter, contributed some Pogues and other contemporary Celtic tunes that complemented our Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem collection quite nicely.

It was pretty cool to have 5 countries represented : USA, Canada, Peru, Colombia and Mexico and everyone enjoying a typical American St. Patrick’s Day party. But the Peruvians like to sing and dance.  While I was tempted to teach them all Weela, Wallia, I was concerned that this group of educators might not see the justice in the song but instead wonder why I was singing a song about killing a baby. (My kindergarden teacher wondered the same thing and called my parents for an explanation.  True story.) We put on some YouTube videos teaching Irish dance, but as all I know about Irish dance is that you have to keep your arms down and shoulders straight, that was short lived.  We gave the Electric Slide and Boot Scootin’ Boogie a shot (thank you, Mistina and Sarah), but in the end, Latin music prevailed. One of the teachers noted, “you Americans dance with your legs, not your hips” and I think she understood why learning to salsa is not natural for us! The party went until the wee hours and a good time was had by all.

Clean Up

Clean Up

Goodbye to Carnival – The Davy College Unsha

The last party of Carnival is the Unsha, where a tree is cut down, moved somewhere else and “planted” in the ground, street, wherever, and then decorated with presents, danced around and chopped down at which time there is a mad dash for the presents. We asked several Peruvians the origin or symbolism of Unsha and were told it was just a Cajamarca Carnival tradition. So whatever the initial meaning was, it is apparently lost! Different neighborhoods, or barrios, have their Unsha celebrations, as did Matt’s school. The Davy Unsha operates as both the traditional Carnival celebration as well as a staff party and newbie hazing. We were warned, so we knew to have an extra change of clothes although I managed to decline the hazing ceremony, so avoided the eggs on my head and was just sprayed with water and dusted with baby powder.

Matt did a fantastic job with the pictures and a video on his blog, so I am now going to cheat and direct you there. http://mattgeiger.blogspot.com/

Be sure to watch the (short) video – it is well worth it and you get to see eggs cracked on Matt’s head!   http://mattgeiger.blogspot.com/2014/03/unsha-2014-video.html

One Parade Too Many – Cajamarca Carnival Part 2

I hate parades. I like the crowds, merriment and people watching before the parade, but I get bored silly sitting on the sidelines and watching endless streams of paraders. Until attending Markesan’s June Dairy Days parade became a cottage tradition that I was shamed into by my young niece and nephew, I had managed to avoid parades for a good decade. Then we moved to Cajamarca. There are parades for Saints, Patria (Independence), Carnival and endless other reasons, or so it seems. Because we want to participate in cultural events, we have gone to most of them. For Carnival alone we attended 3 parades, the paint parade and two “normal” parades.  We were under the impression that Sunday and Monday’s parades were distinct, but with the exception of some floats, generally carrying the barrio (neighborhood) queens and princesses, Monday’s parade wasn’t much different than Sunday’s parade. On Sunday, Matt, Mistina and I went to the parade early and managed to get a good standing spot near the beginning of the route. The vendors were hawking everything from food, toys, super soakers and plastic, hats and umbrellas to protect from the super soakers, balloons and pails of water that are customary at all of the Carnival events (including the burial of the Ño Carnivalón!).

After waiting about 1 1/2  hours, the parade began and even I was impressed.  The costumes were fantastic and so different from what we have in the US (or at least at June Dairy Days).  The only major irritation was that despite staking our spot for 2 hours, we were battered by people shoving past us. We lasted at the parade for about 1 1/2 hours before I got bored.

We then went to two teachers’ house for additional festivities that included throwing water balloons off the balcony at departing parade attendees. Note: there was major retaliation when a guy threw a bucket of water at us and then a flatbed truck spotted us and drove down our street to douse us with water. We also had the special treat of a homemade Cajamarquino meal: Chupe verde (my favorite herb soup with potatoes, egg and fresh cheese), chicharrones (fried pork), sweet potatoes, yuca, corn and delicious Peruvian condiments.  Dessert was fresh cheese with honey.  Delicious!  As if the food wasn’t amazing enough, we also had very pure cañazo, 14 year old beer and chicha de mani (a peanut based liquor) that had a smell reminiscent of Chinese food and an interesting smoky flavor. After eating, the karaoke machine was set up and we listened to our friends sing Peruvian songs. Then the dancing began and we got some salsa lessons. Honestly, I think Latin Americans are born knowing how to salsa; I clearly was not as I am usually thrusting the wrong hip!

On Monday we were off to another parade, but this time we were prepared.

Prepared to Play Carnival

Prepared to Play Carnival

Mistina, Sarah, her 2 1/2 year old twins (Emma and Beau), Matt and I went to the parade route and after a block of scoping out the crowds decided that paying 20 soles each ($7.20) for front row seats was worth it!  Later we realized that a front row seat with a plastic roof might have been a better idea.  We were generally exempt from intentional water attacks due to Emma and Beau so we didn’t get to use our balloons as that would have prompted an attack that would have certainly involved the kids.

And then the parade began and apart from the floats and the fact that some of the marchers looked like they had been drinking all night (and probably were), it was just like the parade the day before!  We lasted about 2 hours (after waiting 2 hours) and then decided to leave.  Little did we know that leaving was not easy as access to the route is blocked off by viewing stands, makeshift structures, trucks and the like.  We walked several blocks before there was a small opening that we were able to climb through, with the help of many kind strangers, to get out. The parade lasted several more hours, so we were all happy we left when we did. Next year, two parades will definitely be my maximum and one might even suffice.

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Today we have another Carnival Celebration: the Davy College Unsha.  A tree is erected and then you have a party to chop it down!  Last night we watched a tree get dragged down our street and then a few hours later Mistina and I walked down the block to see what the commotion was.  With the world’s dullest ax they were cutting branches off the bottom so that the tree would fit it into the hole in the middle of the street.  I was not convinced the power lines were safe so we left as they erected it.  Apparently these trees are “planted” in the streets all over the city!

Ding, Dong the Ño is Dead – Cajamarca Carnival Part 1

Cajamarquinos know how to party! Cajamarca is the Carnival Capital of Peru and the official Cajamarca “Programa Carnaval” has events beginning on January 23 and ending on March 9. To the uninitiated (us) it was a little hard to figure out what is Carnival related and why, but here are the main events that we experienced.

Water, Water everywhere.  This phenomenon actually began before January 23 when my friend Mistina and I were on a walk and got sprayed with water from a passing vehicle.  She bore the brunt of the attack and looked at her soggy clothes with a shocked expression . “What was that?  Is this water?” We decided to assume the best, that it was water, but were confused by the experience. We had never encountered any anti-American animus but wondered whether something had happened while we were on Christmas break that would lead to random, anonymous aggression. A couple days later I was walking my usual bike path route when WHOOSH!  A bucket of water was thrown at me. Thankfully, the aim was off so I was merely splashed with the aftereffects. I turned and yelled at the passing vehicle (maybe even made a nasty gesture, it was instinct, I swear) and the guys in the truck bed were busting a gut. Matt did some investigation at work and learned that water antics are a part of Carnival and start sometime in January. So attacks with water balloons, super soakers, buckets and hoses are all in good fun, condoned and to be expected. Despite this, we didn’t have too many other experiences with random acts of water until the parades this past weekend. Matt inadvertently stumbled into a water fight in our neighborhood last week, but as some of the participants were his students they respectfully gave him a pass. The same thing happened this weekend as we were walking from one of the parades.

Ño Carnavalón.  This guy shows up everywhere and can best be described as the Life of the Party (or, in this case, Carnival). For awhile I understood him to be a demon but I am not sure that is the case although he was dressed like a devil when he got married to the Doña Carnavalón in Baños a couple of weekends ago and he generally looks pretty scary. Saturday’s parade was the Ingreso de Ño Carnavalón (Arrival of the Carnival Ño), the event that really gets the party started. Sunday and Monday’s parades featured the Ño (or various versions of him), last night was his wake (yep, he died. Probably from too much partying) and today was his cremation in Baños. RIP until next year Ño Carnivalón, and maybe we can finally get a full night’s sleep! Last night the music started in Baños at 11:30 pm and this morning on Matt’s 5:30 am walk to work he passed three guys, one holding up his friend, who was holding a beer, and the third playing a snare drum. The party never stops!

The Ño and Doña Arrive

The Ño and Doña Arrive

Ño and Doña

Doña and Ño

Ño cremation

Ño cremation

The Paint Parade.  “Stay home,” we were warned, “It’s dirty. People are out of control.” Saturday’s parade, while technically called the Ingreso de Ño Carnavalón, is locally known as the paint parade. Apart from the truck carrying Ño and Doña, the rest of the parade is comprised of gangs of people, who sing, dance, drink and throw paint at everyone and everything. People, cars, houses, the police – nothing is sacred. We were invited to our friend Maribel’s house, which is conveniently located on the parade route, for breakfast and to enjoy the parade.  And by “enjoy” I mean lob water balloons and, when those ran out, buckets of water at the parade participants from the roof of her building!

Not that we were safe. First, I will never engage in bomb making as I managed to soak myself (and Matt) by overfilling balloons. Kiera, Maribel’s niece, was worse and changed her clothes 2 times before we even began (of course, she is only 8). Then the neighbors decided to wage water war on us (and they were slightly higher up and had better throwing arms) and finally, this truck was in the parade to retaliate against roof watchers like us.

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After the parade passed we had a nice, traditional lunch of fried trout, corn and rice and then decided to join the fray. I was a little nervous given all the warnings, but wasn’t going to be the party pooper. So 8 of us packed into a sedan cab (9 counting the driver) and buzzed off to the fun.  And was it fun!  Being conspicuously paint free, we were quickly accosted and painted. People literally surrounded us and slapped, threw, dabbed or dumped paint on us. And then they offered us shots! We were invited to tag along with one group and at every turn they would herd us along with them. It was hilarious – singing (the same endless tune with different verses, which Matt and I faked knowing as people urged us to sing), dancing, drinking (okay, I declined the shots for the most part as I think the bottles had as much paint as alcohol in them). Eventually we ran into some friends of Maribel’s and we ditched our first gang and joined our second one. We ended up in front of someone’s house and the carousing continued, including the homeowners bringing out chicha de jora, a traditional corn beer, cañazo, distilled sugar cane, and a pan of rice and sausage. Apparently these street parties are common as we saw many of them.  Of course, now that we were part of the parade, we were doused with water, which was karmic payback, no doubt!  After a couple of hours, the crowd was getting drunk, it started raining and we decided to call it a day on a high note. The paint parade got two thumbs up from Matt and me and was our favorite parade of Carnival.  To get a complete feel for the event, check out Matt’s blog where he posted videos of the day. http://mattgeiger.blogspot.com/2014/03/carnivales-2014-day-one-videos.html

Clean Up

Clean Up

Happy Thanksgiving

Tom Turkey

I love Thanksgiving.  It falls around my birthday so the 4-day weekend always feels like a special birthday present.  I come from a family of great cooks and the Thanksgiving menu has evolved over the years to include the traditional favorites along with an awesome pumpkin curry soup (thank you, Nikki) and my grandma’s antipasto (because we cannot have a family meal without an Italian dish).   For the past decade, Matt and I escaped to our cottage the Friday after Thanksgiving to relax before the rush of the Christmas season.  We would pull out the sofa bed and watch movies, eat turkey leftovers and not have any company. A real treat!  This year is obviously different.  Matt is working on Thursday as Thanksgiving is not a holiday in Peru (although I noticed that the stores do have “Black Friday” sales).  So I am feeling a little bereft about missing Thanksgiving, while at the same time recognizing that my life is one long weekend and we have a lot to be thankful for.

Because I am not the only expat to feel this way, the American and Canadian expats held a Thanksgiving dinner on Sunday night.  My friend Sarah, the school librarian, and I went to pick up the turkeys on Sunday morning.  We took them to the host’s house to clean them and get them in the oven.  While Sarah and I were each cleaning out the inside of a turkey (no tidy giblet bag here!) and plucking stray feathers, I realized my turkey still had its head!  Thank goodness Sarah is from Alaska and no stranger to cleaning animals, so she gamely lopped off the heads of both turkeys.  Interestingly, the feet were already off but included in the bag.

The feast was really nice; everyone chipped in with a dish or two and we  had a traditional meal.  A few Peruvians were invited as well as a peace corp volunteer, Michelle, who Sarah met at the grocery store.  (When you hear someone speaking English around here, you tend to strike up a conversation.)  My favorite non-traditional part of the meal was a pineapple salsa that Michelle’s Peruvian host mom made for her to bring to the event.  Delicious and perfect with turkey.  If I am ever home for Thanksgiving, I might just have to make this dish a new staple on the family menu.

My favorite part!

My favorite part!

So those of you at home, enjoy it all: the Macy’s parade, football, friends, family and food!  Happy Thanksgiving!

1st Communion, Peruvian Style

“We’re going to the first communion this weekend,” Matt said when he came home from school one night.

“Okay, whose first communion?” I asked.  Having been to plenty of first communions in the States, including my own, I was interested to see one in Peru.

“I don’t know.  The fourth graders, I guess,” he replied.  “I have an invitation somewhere.”

“All of them?”  I was confused.  Davy is not a Catholic school and while I know Peru is 85-90% Catholic, I didn’t understand why first communion would be associated with the school as opposed to a parish.

“I don’t know, but I’m the principal so we need to go.”

Fair enough.  So last Saturday Matt and I put on church attire and headed to Iglesia Belén (Church of the Nativity) in the center of Cajamarca.  (Once at church I discovered that if I owned a micro mini skirt and stiletto heels those would have been equally appropriate attire for a first communion although I am not sure how I would have sat down…)  We arrived and knew we were in the right place by the host of little angels all around us.

Matt was in hot demand for photos.  Mainly with the girls – like in most countries, the boys stay farther away from the principal.  But Miss Mistina, a fourth grade teacher, was sought after for photos with boys and girls and, in one case, the family scurried down the street after mass to catch her.  We chatted with some parents who spoke excellent English and the mom explained that the children usually make their first communion with their school.  She added that 48 children were participating today and that 1 other student already made her first communion in Lima and the remaining 3 fourth graders “were not participating.”  It was clear she did not approve of the three non-participants. She also explained that the children dress alike to avoid the “miniature bride” factor and competition.  That seems like a great idea and probably an easier sell in a country where uniforms are the norm.

The same mom kindly led us into church and to our assigned seats – places of honor on the side, right up front by the children.  Not my usual back-of-church choice, but we were not alone as the teachers were similarly honored.  The priest even came down to greet all of us before mass, and I almost had a giggle fit when the priest said “Que Tal” to me, which is an informal “How’s it going” greeting.  I managed to stutter back “Buenos Dias” as he continued down the line of teachers.  Then I looked up at the dome and had to stifle my giggles again as the cherubs holding up the dome look like they are making “Nanny-Nanny-Boo-Boo”  faces.  Look and tell me if I am wrong:

Nanny-Nanny-Boo-Boo

Nanny-Nanny-Boo-Boo

While the service lasted two hours, it was very pleasant.  Our years of Catholic education certainly helped as Matt and I generally knew what was going on.  There was also a handy written program, so I could even say the responses (the shorter ones or I got lost) and sing in Spanish.  The Our Father, which should have been easy, was confusing, so I am not exactly sure what was going on for that.  All 48 children participated in some fashion by reading petitions, bringing up the gifts etc., which was nice.  I had considerable anxiety during communion when everyone was taking the wafer directly in the mouth, a practice long discontinued in the US.  So I intently watched the line and was relieved when I saw one woman extend her hands.  Then I saw she was noticeably pregnant.  Was there some special pregnancy rule? By the time we were headed up to the altar, I had seen two other women, neither who appeared to be pregnant, do the same, so I held out my hands and was awarded my host (and not whacked with a ruler by the nun dispensing communion).  Whew.  Poor Mistina, who is not Catholic, was being urged by the children to take communion.  She explained that she was not Catholic and received stunned, uncomprehending looks.  So on Monday she had to explain where her Christian beliefs and their Catholic beliefs intersect and diverge.  She said the kids are still a little shocked that she isn’t Catholic.

After church we wandered to the Belén museum and ended our outing with a baby mummy and a skeleton.  All in all, a lovely day!

Off to the Fongal

Cajamarca is the dairy region of Peru, so we Wisconsinites feel right at home.  There are a lot of cheese shops although  to our amusement the large grocery store also sells Crystal Farms cheeses (not Wisconsin’s finest, unfortunately).  No novices to state and county fairs, we were excited to experience the Cajamarca Fongal, or state fair, in late July.  Cruz had cautioned us that the Fongal had diminished over the past few years and that people got really drunk, but as that didn’t sound much different than Milwaukee’s Summer Fest or the Wisconsin State Fair, we weren’t dissuaded.

On Thursday we arrived around 5:30 and it appeared that the Fongal was not yet in full swing.  We watched some sheep and alpaca get unloaded, visited the few food and craft booths that were open and generally tried to avoid the cow and other animal pies in the field.

There were two types of food booths: the ones that sold packaged products and the ones that sold various hot foods.  The Fongal was not as clean as the Mixtura and this adventure was shortly after we arrived in Cajamarca, so I wasn’t keen on eating any of the hot foods.  We did get tastes of various products and bought the soy puffs, some fresh cheese with herbs and chocolate.  As usual, the vendors were really nice to us and patiently explained their products.  It gets totally dark by 6:30 (every day, that’s life near the equator) and there wasn’t much happening, so we left about that time.

Fongal Treats

On Saturday we again walked over to the Fongal around 5-ish, thinking we would check out the scene while it was still light and return later for the Kurt Cobain concert.  Yep, Kurt Cobain “Peru” was playing.  We were cracking up over that and Matt even said to the ticket seller “Kurt Cobain is dead,” which earned him a laugh.  While the fair was busier than on Thursday and more booths had opened, we unfortunately arrived just as some traditional dancing and cow showing (not related) ended and then the events were over apart from the concert.  My sweet tooth overcame hygiene and we indulged in piccarones, fried sweet potato/squash doughnuts topped with sugar cane syrup, that are quite similar to my Auntie Rose’s famous St. Joseph’s Day tucinelle.  We caught a few songs of an opener band and then headed home with the intention of returning later for Kurt Cobain.

Instead we ended up in Cajamarca for drinks with Cruz and the new American teachers.  We went to a place called Full Skee (which we understood to basically mean “you are full of sh*t”) where they had a huge drink menu, including many American favorites.   I had a very tasty American cosmopolitan before switching over to a Peruvian pisco sour.  The place had excellent drinks, a good vibe and nice music but was oddly well lit.  No beer goggles in Peru, apparently.  We got home around 1:15 and while Kurt Cobain was still in full swing, Matt and I did not stop in at the Fongal.  Expecting a Nirvana cover band, I was surprised the band was rocking “Sweet Child of Mine” and “I Love Rock and Roll” instead.  I suspect poor Kurt was rolling in his grave.

Packers Party in Peru

What a weekend: Torch Festival, More Baños Bash, House Party, School APAFA (PTO) Fundraiser and Packers Party!  Good thing I am leaving for the States today for the wedding of our dear friends, Angela and Craig, so I can relax.  Those of you who know me know how likely that is. :-)

Matt already blogged on the first half of our weekend, so if you haven’t read it yet, check out his post and pictures here: http://mattgeiger.blogspot.com/2013/09/torch-parade-18th-anniversary-green-bay.html

It is true what they say about Latin time.  Saturday night we went to a birthday party at a teacher’s house, which was a lot of fun, but we needed to leave to go to the school fundraiser.  The party started at 8:00 and we knew we would be the first ones there when we arrived at 8:40.  But I also knew the American hostess is always ready early so we would be welcome.  We left the birthday party at 11:15 pm, shortly after many guests had just arrived.  In the States, Matt would usually be asleep by 11:15 even if we were at a party, so the fact that we got to another one after that time was pretty impressive for us.

TicketWe didn’t know what to expect from the fundraiser and it was unlike any in the States.  It was held in a large pavillion and as we walked up to the gate, the security from Matt’s school greeted us and allowed us into the courtyard.   (There is a lot of private security in Peru.  Many businesses and even private homes have security guards.  People do not leave their homes unattended; Olga stays at our house if we are out of town.) In the courtyard there was a small food stand where anticuchos (skewed beef hearts, which are a typical street food) were cooking over a fire. ¨That’s odd,” I remarked, “who is eating out here?  The staff?”  We entered the chilly pavilion where the band was in full swing and the dance floor was rocking (or salsa-ing).  We stopped at the bar and discovered that our options were beer, soda or bottles of booze.  We each had a beer and settled in at a table with Matt’s boss and his wife to check out the scene.  It was very nice, but noticeably different.  First, people dance here.  Even the men.  While there are still groups of women dancing, I have never seen so many men dance and people dance like they know what they are doing.  Also, Peruvians like to party: last year the party lasted until 4:00 am and the organizers were shooting for 6:00 am this year.  And all these people have kids! Then, there is the Loca Hora, where they hand out balloons, masks and noisemakers and people go crazy.  Apparently that happens around 2:00 am, but we left before then.  Finally, we found out the anticuchos in the courtyard were the available food, and you went outside to buy them.  Earlier in the evening they also had papas rellenas, but those were gone by the time we arrived. So while there was food, drink and music, like in the States, everything was just a hair different that made it distinctly a Peruvian Party.

Baños has been utter chaos this week with the festival.  It is as though we live in West Allis during the Wisconsin State Fair but can’t make any money parking cars on our lawn.  Bands, fireworks, parades and crowds last into the wee hours.  On Saturday we arrived home just in time to watch the 12:45 a.m. firework display from the corner of our house.

On Sunday, in preparation for the Packers Party,  I had my first high altitude baking disasters.  Yes, plural.  For my first attempt, I made high altitude adjustments and the orange loaf cake was tasty, but flat.  It puffed up on the sides and then collapsed.  So for the second cake, I skipped the high altitude adjustments and had a cake explosion. I managed to salvage the cake, but post-explosion it became a very flat, chocolate bundt cake and some super flat brownies.  So my research continues into baking at 8700 feet!

As we were finishing up our final preparations for the Peruvian Packers Party, a crowd began to gather in front of our house.  Suspecting that the locals were not trying to horn in on American football, we headed to our balcony and discovered a procession in honor of Saint Mary of the Nativity.  The procession was confusing.  First, there were Atahualpa and his crew.  Given that Pisarro, with the blessing from the Pope, wiped out the Incan empire by first slaughtering Atahualpa after double crossing him when the Incans paid his agreed upon ransom of silver and gold, we weren’t sure why he would be hanging around in a Catholic procession.

Then there were these guys, whose significance remains a mystery.  Even more mysterious is why they began to build the worst human pyramid ever.

Finally there was the mini me of Santa Maria before the real deal.  All very confusing to us, but we had a great view and enjoyed the action.

Santa Maria close up

Santa Maria close up

The Packer Party was a great success, despite the final score.  Matt explained the rules to our Peruvian guests while I explained what chili and cheddar cheese and beer dip were.  The food was well received, but we are not sure whether we converted any soccer fans to football!

The Baños festival wound down last night at 3:30 am!  No fireworks, but the band played on.  Many vendors remain in the square but life seems to be reverting to normal.

Back to the Baños Bash

The party has continued all week here in Baños, and every day we are surprised by the latest happenings.  More vendors arrive daily although the newcomers have brought cheap clothes, jewelry,  kitchenware, shoes, hardware etc. as opposed to the nice craft goods the initial vendors have.  The town has been unbelievably crowded and tonight some of the main streets are closed.  The party is currently rocking, and the music will likely last until at least 2:00 am.  We went for about an hour earlier tonight after a function at Matt’s school, and the band was a lot of fun.  The crowd is drunk – very similar to a Wisconsin church festival – and several people offered us beers as we are a novelty.  This guy also was trying to get Matt to trade hats (he didn’t) while his drunk friend insisted on dancing with me.  They drove 6 hours for the festival.  I didn’t ask, but I suspect they will be sleeping in the square tonight.

photo (2)Matt and his new friend.  And hat.

At some point this weekend there will be fireworks, which are launched from these rickety structures.  Actually, many of them aren’t launched, rather they will wildly spin on the structure.  It is really cool to see although a bit mind boggling to have fireworks set off in the middle of town.  The first time we saw one of these structures, we thought a float was being built.   It is unclear when the fireworks are, but I am sure we will hear them. :-)

 Earlier in the week, I came upon a scene that appeared to be a product expo of some kind.  New tents suddenly appeared on the perimeter of the square and contained booths with what appeared to be regional products, including cuy, flowers, corn, potatoes, beans, textiles, and honey.  There were crowds of people taking photos and some booths were giving out literature (not to me as I clearly wasn’t the target audience).  Nothing was being sold at that time although later that evening I saw one or two of the textile booths selling their wares.  I couldn’t stay long as I had to get to my volunteer gig, so I didn’t exactly figure out what was going on.  Most impressive were the different varieties of potatoes and corn.

It is very difficult to find good pots here as they are either small or flimsy, so I went native with this one from the fair.  For $16 the price can’t be beat so I didn’t even have the heart to barter.  I made chili in it today for the Green Bay Packers party we are throwing on Sunday – tasty!

Traditional pot

Traditional pot

I finally had my churros.  A few nights ago, Renzo’s Pizza, one of the vanishing restaurants that Matt has wanted to try, was open for the first time since we moved here, so we went there for dinner.  It was horrible – the crust was okay and toppings were fine, but the sauce was some awful brown sauce.  We couldn’t identify the taste, but it was bad.  I really miss Lalli’s Pizza in Wauwatosa!  So as a consolation we stopped at the fair for churros.  They were delicious.

The fair lasts through Sunday, so I am sure we will check it out again this weekend.  Who knows what we will find!

Throwing Culinary Caution to the Wind

Sunday afternoon Matt and I returned to Baños after spending the afternoon in Cajamarca and discovered a festival in our town square.  We checked it out and deduced that it had something to do with sugarcane.

Like most things here, it was unclear whether the festival was winding down or starting up: some shops were closing while others were being built out of pails of cement, wood poles and tarps.  Today we learned that the festival had just begun and will last all week.  Apparently it draws the farm folks and is looked down upon as a lowbrow event, but we thought it was a hoot.

Our Wisconsin roots run deep and as soon as we saw all the fried fair foods, we decided to heck with intestinal distress, let’s eat!  Our first selection was a fried elephant ear type item with some sugarcane syrup (when asked if I wanted it sweet I answered with a big yes – I was going all in).  Matt then decided to have some sugarcane juice.  Well, I saw how those glasses were being cleaned and decided I was not partaking of that treat!

Instead I bought a package of cut sugarcane, which you chew to and then spit out the stalk.  Delicious, if not very ladylike!  We passed on buying the huge stalks of sugarcane as we do not own a machete.  We also passed on the sugarcane syrup.  While it was very tasty on our elephant ear, we now realize why the farm ladies root through our garbage for our plastic bottles.  Perhaps we can bring our own bottle to be filled…

Sugarcane Syrup

These ladies were very friendly and I bought my cut sugarcane from them.

Back to the fried yumminess.  Matt ordered a papa rellena but wisely passed on the salad that accompanied it.  I had one bite and had to order

Papa Rellena

Papa Rellena

my own and even asked for the ají sauce to go with it.  I am becoming quite a fan of the pepper sauce.  A papa rellena is mashed potatoes that are filled with savory items (in this instance chicken, peas, corn and egg), seasoned with cumin and other spices, shaped into an oblong and fried.

We then bought some bread and cookies from this woman.

Baked Goodies

Baked Goodies

We ended it all with another package of cookies.  Those weren’t very good so we threw them out.  We came home about 7:00 but the fair lasted until at least 2:00 am, or at least that is the last time I woke up from the music.  Neither of us suffered ill effects from our unhygienic gluttony and we didn’t get around to having the cotton candy Matt wanted or the churros I wanted, so we may just have to tempt fate and go back to the fair this week.

Tasty Treats

Tasty Treats