Trash, trash, everywhere

South America has a trash problem. Maybe not everywhere (Arequipa had it together), but most places we’ve been have a trash problem. And even more damning than seeing trash on the side of the road, littering beaches, and inside of national parks, is watching south Americans toss wrappers out of bus windows without a second thought. This is truly something that I can’t even imagine doing, but am I just the end product of a successful awareness campaign? As we travel up the Pacific Coast, I’m seeing varying degrees of trash awareness.

Peru seems to be furthest behind, with no public notices advising citizens to deposit trash into bins. I saw a child throw his ice cream wrapper out a bus window. That’s about as low as you get, because it shows that you aren’t even teaching the younger generation responsibility.

Ecuador (the inspiration for this post) is somewhere in the middle. You can definitely see that they are trying. There are signs in every bus urging passengers to deposit unwanted items in the trash can. Many buses even provide plastic bags at each aisle seat for this purpose. On the beaches, ad campaigns convincingly tell the public why they shouldn’t toss their waste on the sand. In spite of all this, we still watched a grown man, a bus company worker no less, throw his entire lunch container out the front door of the bus, item by item.

A plastic straw atop a sand castle – One of these footprints will be washed away by the end of the day, the other will last 1,000 years.

By contrast, in the Pacific Northwest my only connection to littering is seeing “$100 littering fine” and “this highway mile is sponsored by ____” signs along the freeways. But I know this wasn’t always the case, and perhaps we’ve only just come a long ways. Maybe Ecuador is 20 years behind us, and Peru another 20 on top of that. Any opinions? Anyone remember a time when people in the USA thoughtlessly chucked waste out of moving vehicles?

Eating Peru

Now that we’ve made it to Ecuador, I thought I should probably talk about the Peruvian cuisine. For Chile, I researched and made a food glossary. There’s not much incentive for me to do so here since we’ve already exited, but Wikipedia (of course) has a very thorough entry on it. Through the SAE Club, we were able to score some discounted spots on a really delicious gastronomic tour in Cusco. It was run by the restaurant Marcelo Batata, and we, besides eating some yummy stuff, learned some interesting things about Peruvian cuisine.

There are three main, distinct regions in Peru: the Andes, the Coast, and the Jungle. All three have their own climates and crops, which is reflected in their different dishes. Craig and I, not going to the jungle, didn’t really notice a change in the availability and differences in the cuisine wherever we were. After all, you could get ceviche in Cusco (which is in the Andes), and it would be more expensive and perhaps not as fresh as on the coast, but it was still available. And you could also try grilled or fried guinea pig (cuy) anywhere, even though it’s primarily an Andean dish.

“Can you cut this leg of lamb up for us?” we asked the butcher lady in the market. “Sure,” she said, and then pulled out her AXE. When we ate the lamb curry later, we kept spitting out tiny pieces of bone.

If Craig and I were eating out, we would usually try and go for the menu, which is a set menu that we found for as cheap as S./4 ($1.60). Since we didn’t want to chance food poisoning, we would normally go for slightly more expensive, nicer places that had menus for about S./10 ($4). The great thing about the menu, is that it would come with an appetizer, normally soup, the main course, and either tea or soda. A really good deal, all in all, but invariably, the choices for menu were almost always the same: lomo saltado (a beef stir fry), some variation of fried meat + rice, or spaghetti. This became, as you can imagine, somewhat tedious.

An example of a menu, which if I recall correctly, was only S./6. I got ceviche + arroz a la cubana–basically rice with fried plaintains and a fried egg, and Craig got friend wonton wrappers with guacamole + fried chicken breast and lentils.

When I complained to one of my friends back in California about how tired I was of the cuisine, she was shocked and upset. “Anthony Bourdain went to Peru and all of the food he ate looked GREAT!” she exclaimed. But Craig and I, unlike Mr. Bourdain, have much tighter purse strings. If we could, combined, eat for less than $20/day, we were within budget. Therefore, the types of restaurants that Mr. Bourdain could afford, we could not. Marcelo Batata, for instance, had main courses that cost as much as $14… which might sound incredibly cheap to you all back home, but in Peru, this was out of our price range.

And there’s the kicker. When Craig and I are in a cheap country, like Peru, our budget goes WAY down. We can’t think about the costs of meals in the same way as we did back home because if we did, our trip wouldn’t last very long. Thus $14 each for one meal, while totally doable back in Seattle, is way way too much down here. And yes, there is street food, but a lot of it is dicey and not very nutritious.

The downside to having a budget, of course, is the inevitable boredom that happens with the limited things we can cook in hostel kitchens, and the limited choices for cheap eating.

We made gyozas one night, since wonton wrappers are readily available. They turned out pretty well!

The other downside is that nothing tasted the way I thought it would taste. Even ketchup doesn’t taste the same down here. Mayonnaise has a slight lime twist (which I actually enjoy sometimes). If I ordered sopa wonton from a Chifa (Chinese-Peruvian restaurant), the “wontons” weren’t filled with anything… they were just empty wonton wrappers. Spaghetti sauces were always strangely sweet, guacamole strangely sour. There were many instances where I got excited about my order, thinking it would taste the way it tastes in the States, and then be disappointed when it was only a distant cousin of what I thought it would be.

Even junk food was extremely frustrating. I like to consider myself a chip connoisseur… and in the States, you can get pretty much any flavor and variety of fried potato that exists. Down here, the choices are 1) always stale, 2) not very tasty, and 3) not abundant. Even Doritos had a strange taste and texture that was nothing like its North American counterpart. The only thing to do was to buy the imported stuff, which consisted of just… Pringles. Possibly the least exciting chip in the States is what I have to content myself with down here. Sometimes, when I think about Sour Cream ‘n Onion Ruffles or Flaming Hot Cheetos, I cry a little bit inside.

Craig doesn’t care about junk food because he’s a dietary robot who has no cravings. Still, he can enjoy Pringles when I overcome my guilt in buying them (they usually cost anywhere between $2-4).

And so, we just were not able to try every Peruvian dish available, primarily due to budget constraints, and secondarily due to worrying about food poisoning. Luckily, there is ceviche in Ecuador, so hopefully we’ll get to eat a little bit more of that! Otherwise, it’s onto yet another food glossary and trying to get used to the cuisine and the junk food in a new country

warm temperatures, garúa, and the world cup

Huanchaco is a lovely, tranquil little beach town outside of Trujillo, where the last 6 days have flown by.  We were warned off this town for a number of reasons (dangerous, boring, bad beach, etc.), but mostly those have come up short and we found exactly what we were looking for.  Our hostel is super relaxed, the town has every necessity, and the days and nights are a comfortable temperature.  If only our visa wasn’t running out…

Caballitos (little horses) line the beach; these fishing boats were taken out in the early morning and are left to dry for the rest of the day.

The sun doesn’t shine much this time of year due to the Humboldt Current, which keeps the sea temperature cold and creates a cloudy layer (or garúa) most days.  Since the World Cup is on this might not be such a bad thing.  I’ve been indulging my favorite vice, and watching as much fútbol as possible.