“For the record, I haven’t been inside a PETCO since” from Dan, Florida

BLOG,Travel September 2, 2011 06:39

topic: TRAVEL medium: TEXT

Hello, PenTalers!  Thanks for joining us here today on Day3 of TRAVEL week!  Just yesterday we asked you for your travel stories of the strange and unexpected variety…and we’re doing the exact same thing today!  Well, kind of.  Actually we’re looking for the strange and unexpected all over again, but of the traditional/ceremonial variety.  In other words, we wanna know what odd and jaw-dropping traditions y’all have come across in your globe-trotting days.

Today’s pick is definitely one of the most strangest traditions I’ve come across in my time (I’m even including books) and (SPOILER ALERT!) it may or may not forever change the way you view pet rodents.  Oh, yeah.  Let it soak in for a second.  Now, get to the good stuff:

Making a motorcycle diary of my own (cliché, I know), I zipped all over Central and South America in the summer of 2010.  The regions don’t tend to get much press here in the states unless it’s drug related, so much of the little idiosyncrasies of the cultures and communities between each country are under appreciated or flat-out unnoticed.  It’s really quite shameful, but such is life I suppose.

At any rate, I crossed the Colombia-Brazil border sometime between late June and early July that summer and from there made my way down into the Inca country of southeastern Peru.  I navigated the tumultuous landscape, catching a few dozen mosquitos to the face and found myself in the ancient city of Cuzco, the former capital of the Incan Empire.  It was an amazing place, words don’t really do it justice.  It was like a strange mix of déjà vu and an epiphany all rolled into one, like a lucid dream that you had before but can’t really explain to yourself or anyone else.

But this is all a bit besides the point.  The point is that my Español was far from fluid (odd choice to motorbike through Central and South America alone, I know) and I ended up having a makeshift conversation with a local family in the marketplace.  Becoming aware of my situation, they invited me into their home to have dinner with them.  Once we arrived at their villa and talked over a few glasses of wine (which apparently improved my Spanish), they served up this weird, gamey tasting meat that looked like a rabbit.  Fair enough.  They called it “cuy” and despite being cooked with parsley, sage rosemary, and thyme, it wasn’t something I was too keen on eating again.  But apparently the dish was a delicacy and I didn’t want to insult my hosts, so I gnawed away at it until it was all gone.  And for the sake of being polite (and quenching my own curiosity), I asked them animal the meat had come from.  The head of the household smiled and (in Spanish) told me that he’d show me the following afternoon if I’d stay the night.  I’ve seen my fair share of Hollywood horror films, so I was hesitant at first; but upon giving it up to more careful consideration (and more glasses of wine) it appeared to be a win-win situation.

The next afternoon, Mr. Pérez (the father) took me and his two sons to a local farm.  I was expecting to see some meaty livestock dangling from iron hooks…or something gnarly and disgusting like that.  But lo and behold, what should we stumble upon but a guinea pig farm.  You read correctly.  Not a pig farm, a guinea pig farm.  And man those suckers were huge!  Absolutely nothing like the pets we have in the states.  Mr. Pérez and the “cuy” farmer had been doing business together for years, so Mr. Pérez got his usual six “cuy” (one for each in the family) and one for free (for the handsome guest, of course).  Now mind you I found these things pretty disgusting before I knew they were pets, so this whole experience didn’t really open me up to wanting to eat these poor things again.  But not so fast!  How were we gonna prepare them?  And this is where things get interesting…

As his tradition calls, Mr. Pérez gathered the whole family together and took us to a local field where we released the guinea pigs, turned our backs on them and paced in the opposite direction for a full minute and a half.  The hunt was on.  From there, each of us was responsible for his own dinner.  Being a guest, Mr. Pérez outfitted me with his spare knife before hand, which I made quick and efficient use of.  For the sake of keeping this PG-13, let’s just say that all of us ate that night and ingested little to no fur.

It is still unclear to me whether this was just a Pérez family tradition passed down from one generation to the next or something larger, but it certainly spiced things up and brought a whole new dimension to the gamey dinner table.  And it worked: you can’t not eat an animal after you hunt it ceremonially, no matter what it tastes like.  I owe that lesson to Mr. Pérez.  But, for the record, I haven’t been inside a PETCO since.

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