Home Is … Where?

I returned to Peru on Monday after a two week visit to the States.  The trip was exhausting, but great.  I attended my friends’ wedding in the North Woods, crammed in dates with as many family and friends as possible, ate and drank at many of my favorite Milwaukee establishments (Distil,  Lalli’s Pizza, Kopps, Harbor House, to name a few) and shopped for my list of random items.  My first morning home I spent an hour in Walgreens and was giddy from all the choices I could make when buying sundries. Thank goodness my retail excitement had waned by the time I hit Target later in the trip or who knows how many hours (or dollars) I would have wasted there.

But as I suspected would occur when I set off, I returned to Peru feeling adrift.  Not unhappy, just disoriented.  In Milwaukee, I was in my comfort zone – I was surrounded by people who know me well, had my car, knew where I was going, spoke the language, understood the customs and enjoyed all the comforts of the U.S.  But I don’t have a home there.  In fact, over the course of 12 nights I stayed in 5 different places.  I was a visitor, which felt odd given that I was in the city of my birth and my hometown for most of my life.  Toward the end of the trip, I was looking forward to being “home” in Peru, with my routine, house, bed and, of course, Matt.

But back in Peru, I remained unsettled.  I had to readjust to the dust and litter, the crumbling sidewalks, the stares on the street and the language barrier.  But there was also the familiar: Matt, our house, the mountains, the route from the airport, the egg vendor who asked where I had been.  We don’t plan to live in Peru forever, but we also don’t anticipate returning to the U.S. after we leave Peru.  I have one foot in each place, without being committed to either.  I have asked other expats where they feel their homes are or when they felt the U.S. was no longer home, and the responses varied.  Some feel the U.S. is always home, others say after a few years or a few moves they felt that each new place was home.

In order to combat this discombobulated feeling, I decided to make Peru more homey, even if our time here is limited to a few years.   To that end I have been on a shopping spree to finish outfitting our house with some of the miscellaneous items that we hadn’t bothered to get around to buying, such as a second guest bed (we are open for visitors!), a lamp, couch pillows and a coat tree.  There are a few more items on the list but I am not going to delay due to the uncertainty as to how long Peru will be our home.

Bottom line: my heart will always be in Wisconsin, even if my home is elsewhere.

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