15 September 2007


Let me tell you what I had to go through to buy travel packets of Kleenex here. First, I had to get an order slip from the lady behind the counter of the pharmacy. Then, I had to bring the slip to the cashier, who couldn't change a 50 soles note, and pay. Then, I brought the receipt back to the counter, and the lady stamped my receipt and gave me my tissues. Am I back in Japan, or is this the Soviet Union? If it's for security, I don't find it any more reassuring than those signs on the main plaza in Huaraz that say "Please don't molest the tourists."

I finally made it to the Gran Festival Gastronomico today, with American Sarah and Spanish Emma. I tempted fate once more and had some delicious octopus ceviche and an overpriced order of Peruvian-style Japanese sushi. Three tiny pieces for about $3. Then I saw the two words that changed my life: queso helado. That was a double-take and a jaw-drop. And I did eat thereof.

I had a fruit juice at a nice little patio-cafe with a view of the menacing El Misti. I explained my recent adventures in healthcare, with much difficulty, to the old woman who ran it. She told me that the secret cure for altitude sickness is to tie a newspaper around your waist with a rope. I thought that was pretty clever, as far as folk remedies go.

I wandered into the church on the main plaza at the festival, and to my surprise and delight, there was a wedding going on! This has happened before. In Vietnam, I also stumbled into a wedding at a Catholic church deep in the countryside. Catholics are just everywhere! This time, however, I decided not to receive the host.

The highlight of the festival for me (other than the cheese ice cream) was the Tondero de Piura and Marinera style dancing from northern Peru. I've seen lots of traditional dances, and usually it's all men or all women or the men lead the women. In these styles, two partners, a man and a woman, have a kind of conversation through dance and appear to converse as equals. It was sexy but restrained, a highly stylized countryside courtship ritual. They write poetry with their feet. There's a dance festival in a few weeks up in the north, and I am almost tempted to skip Bolivia and go see that and eat more cheese ice cream. Life can't be more perfect.

After I left the festival (a jazz performance was on the agenda, and sorry jazz fans, but I hate it), I visited a museum that has as its centerpiece exhibit a centuries-old mummified girl. To appease the mountain-dwelling gods, the Incas used to raise certain royal children explicitly for sacrifice. They would hike for weeks to the tops of enormous mountains--no mean feat in the 15th century to climb above 6000 meters--and strike the kiddies on the head with a sharp stone and bury them there at the summit. The extreme cold would then freeze and preserve their bodies, much to the delight of later generations of white archaeologists and gaping tourists. Juanita, as this particular mummy is called, is the best mummy I've seen, and I've been to Egypt. I unintentionally (I swear) pulled a con-job when I bought my ticket. Usually the ticket costs about $5 and doesn't include, as the ticket lady explained, the cost of the non-paid, mandatory guide. I asked if there's a student price, and she said no, only a price for children under 18. I jokingly said I was 16 and then started reading the brochure she gave me. She must have read the skepticism in my eyes, because she quickly offered to sell me a student ticket for about $1.50 if I could produce my university ID. Of course, I only have my ISIC card, but she said they don't accept that. I started in surprise, because that would make them pretty unique in the world, so she just agreed that I was 16 and gave me the cheap ticket. I sort of almost felt guilty, but I tipped the guide well, which I expect is all they wanted.

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