Thursday, October 15, 2009

First Time

Pichincha in Gray

There were several firsts today. Instead of having a cooking class this week, a small group of interested students from Spanish school took a bus across the city and out to Sangolqui, a town east of Quito, to eat 'cuy' or guinea pig, a specialty throughout the Andes. The small pueblo of 'Selva Alegre' has several well known restaurants which offer 'cuy'. I have avoided eating 'cuy' for years, preferring to look and wonder, but I have also been curious, and the opportunity presented itself today.

Cuy on the Barbecue

I have visited typical indigenous Andean homes with guinea pigs running about. It is difficult to imagine eating one's pets. I was always far more interested in the indigenous beliefs that the guinea pigs can feel the energy of those who enter a room, and will shriek when they enocunter 'bad' energy. Shamans or Yachaks, as they are called in Quichua, use guinea pigs to interpret or cure illnesses, or to find answers to problems. Amparo told me today that when her cousin was ill and had seen two physicians who determined that his kidney was impaired and that he required dialysis, went to see a woman who specialized in interpreting and curing diseases by using guinea pigs. He was skeptical, but went anyway. The first time he visited, the woman held a guinea pig and drew the animal across every surface of the subject's body. The animal died spontaneously during the process and when its insides were examined, it was surprising to see no blood oozing from the body. She determined that the subject's kidney and his throat were affected and that someone wanted this man dead. When he returned for his second visit, a similar process ensued and when the second guinea pig died, it appeared that the subject's kidneys improved so much that he no longer needed dialysis, and he attributed his improvement to the guinea pigs or woman who worked with the guinea pigs. Guinea pigs are known to have special powers.

Our ride to Selva Alegre was wild and bumpy and one student became very ill after a night at Bungalow and free drinks for the ladies. She became ill and could not participate. The rest of us ordered a half or a quarter cuy with potates, lettuce and a salsa made of peanuts called mani. We drnak 'chicha', which is made of sugar cane and yeast and lots of herbs and is not necessarily alcoholic. It is not the same drink of the forest where yucca is used, which the women chew and spit out to cause fermentation, thus yielding a drink with significant alcohol concentration.

Guinea Pigs for Lunch!

We each ordered a half or whole guinea pig, some got the head and enjoyed it. I found myself a little horrified, but ate bits of mine. We were told to use our fingers to eat. The 'cuy' tasted like a mix between duck and pork with crispy skin and lots of fat. The guinea pigs are marinated overnight before they are barbequed.

Half a Guinea Pig

I sat next to a man who devoured every bit of his plate, including the head; evidently he enjoyed it thoroughly. Another young woman nearby, ate with such gusto, I believe she left nothing of her plate. Clearly people enjoy this dish! I am glad I tried the 'cuy', but it is not something I would beg to return to.

Another first for this evening! I hired two young women I had met at Spanish class to babysit Maya. Eric and I were out for the evening listening to wonderful jazz at 'El Pobre Diablo'. The music and the musicians were all very good. The trumpeter came from New York, the saxophonist from Chicago, but the rest (keyboard, drums and base), were all from Ecuador, and they sounded great together. Lovely lovely music. I closed my eyes and felt as if I was in a club in New York or Chicago. Good music for the soul.

Jazz at El Pobre Diablo

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