Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Meet The Cuevas

Unlike Meet the Parents/Fockers, the sequel of Meet the Cuevas in San Marcos, Cajamarca, Peru was actually better than the first one that was released about a year and a half ago. It was certainly different than the first trip, especially considering the fact that I was picked up by Erika's dad and spent the first night at Erika's aunt's house without her around. And of course, no one speaks English so it was certainly a big challenge for me to communicate. But the challenge was met and I was dominate with my Spanglish, dropping some jokes and getting some laughs out of everyone. It was challenging, but I proved again that when Erika isn't around to translate, I can drop it like it's hot!

Among some new bad words, one thing that I did learn or was reminded of was the fact that Inca Kola, a staple of every meal in Peru, contains caffeine. To demonstrate my reaction to caffeine, on the rare days that I am sleep walking to work and cannot wake up, I put literally 1.45 inches of coffee in a cup and I'm wired for hours. So drinking ample amounts of Inca Kola at about 11:00pm and *not* following it up with equal parts of beer or liquor of some kind (which I was actually hoping for), means only one thing: insomnia. The Inca Kola, plus stressing about waking up late for our 5:00am flight, plus airplanes flying about 50 feet over the house as they come in to land (*much* louder than I remember at our house when the military planes would be pulling into Moffet), plus the usual orchestra of animals at night leads me and a rock-hard, 25" high pillow that was putting my spinal chord at risk of snapping led to zero sleep at night. Zero! That's the way to start a trip after flying all day and having a full half day more of travelling ahead of me!

So, with the trip off to a bad start, I headed to the airport the next morning with Pancrita (her dad's nickname that nobody can explain the meaning of), and had a pretty uneventful flight to Cajamarca. We took the taxi to the bus depot (garage) and were met there by Erika and her Mom, who woke up at 3:00am to take the bus to Cajamarca and meet us. Now that's some dedication! I was a walking zombie however and was just looking forward to getting on the bus and passing out. However, these buses are built for the little Peruvians, not strapping white-folk like me. Thing of those 1980s Toyota minivans (narrow, tall), expand the size by 50%, add about 35 seats, and you've got the Peruvian Combi. The seats are not plus leather, but basically springs covered by vinyl and 10" of leg room. Somehow, the Peruvians are soldiers and have no problem with these things, and in my past life I would relish the authenticity of such means of travel. But, I'm getting old and not having any leg room isn't cool, so I told Erika this is the *last* time I'm taking a Combi on a this two hour road-trip to San Marcos.

Well, once I made it to San Marcos, I was golden, and the few days I spent there were splendid and I was spoiled to life's full-extent. Does Justin want some breakfast? Yes please. Does Justin want some Ecco to drink? Yes please. Does Justin want to drink some beer with the men of the house, sharing a pixie cup? Yes please. Does Justin want some spicy, fried testicles from the sheep that was just butchered out back? Why not. Does Justin want to eat some Cuy (Guinea Pig)? Ummm, okay it's already spread-eagle and beheaded on my plate, so I guess so. Does Justin want some home-brewed 50-proof moonshine that can take paint off walls and that's sold in reused Sprite bottles or some chicha (a warm, frothy, full textured liquor made from fermented corn)? I think I'll stick with the beer and sheep testicles, thanks though!

Being spoiled doesn't come cheap or easy in these parts and life isn't easy, though. These people are hard-working honest folk. I was once asked, "what do they do for a living?", to which I responded, "They just live".      The women spend the day butchering the guinea pigs, free-range hens, or whatever other animal is going to be eaten, they collect peppers that are rampantly growing above the "shower", they collect herbs that are growing in between the "choclo" (Peruvian corn) stalks to spice Caldo Verde (a rich, green soup), etc. They take the animals (goats, pigs, sheeps, etc) out to mow down the brush growing everywhere on the farm. And, I had the wonderful opportunity to do some manual labor of my own along with Erika and her dad by knocking down the ripe "talla" off the tree and collecting the red pea-like-pods off the ground, which is painstaking on the back, knees, etc. The talla is collected and sold to collection agents that use the inside of the pods for making oil and red make-up.

Being Native American, I've long held the belief that I am immune to poison oak (which I have never contracted). But it doesn't start with poison oak; I am also immune to mosquitoes! People are always getting bit by mosquitoes and other small bugs and I never get bit. Despite my insistence on this FACT, Erika said I should put some repellent on because the mosquitoes were ravenous for human blood and I should put some jeans on. But it was way too hot to do manual labor in jeans, and I'm immune, right?

Soooo, it turns out I'm not immune. My upper body wasn't touched (except for some cyst-sized bites on various fingers - how the hell did they bite me without me seeing?). But my legs were dominated by the bastards. I counted 59 bites on my legs alone. Holy Jesus (Hey-Sus). I really don't think they were mosquitoes, cuz I didn't see any even touching me, but the swollen welts and gaping wounds on my legs told a different story. Maybe it was some other exotic bug that my people never built up a resistance to, unlike the Incas (especially since they didn't itch at all). All I know is that I'll be using more caladryl than soap for the next few days!

The main event for the trip was me becoming The Godfather. Our god-child Jimena, who is an adorable seven year-old with beautiful eyes (she'll be stunning some day I think) had her baptism on Saturday morning. Those of you in attendance at my wedding know how my Spanish goes in front of the priest. Well, this was even worse. I was mis-informed on what I was going to be saying to the priest, but likely I didn't have a microphone thrust down my throat, so I just nodded, mumbled, and avoided the glaring eyes of the priest as we went through the quick ceremony. Not my fault! Like I said, I was misinformed by everybody.

Unlike the short ceremony, the part was OFF. THE. HOOK. I lasted a few hours before I passed out in my room, but this party when twelve full hours and there was definitely high amounts of intoxication involved. These guys can certainly DRINK - and DANCE! I got dragged out quite a bit by my "comadre" (Jimena's mom), much to my embarrassment, but I had some fun. The family was trying to put me on a pedastool for travelling so far, but that was definitely uncomfortable and I just wanted to be treated like everyone else. I didn't need a metal fork to eat my sheep testicles. I didn't need a chair to put my plate of butterflied guinea pig on. I just wanted to blend in with everyone else, though physically that was clearly impossible!

At the end of the night, after my little napster, I re-joined the party and before I knew it it was mid-night and that means - Erika's birthday! So the party was definitely not done and in walked three really drunk mariachis - Cajamarca style, wearing the traditional Cajamarca sombreros and bellowing out mariachi songs. It was hilarious because they were so drunk and singing along with each other along with a guitar. They also lit twenty-four massive fireworks (one for each year of Erika's life ;o) that boomed outside, it was great! Everyone likes mariachis, even in Peru!

Despite my ear being attacked by a bastard of a mosquito and getting zero sleep again on the last night (true to tradition), the trip was really a good time. Unlike in Hollywood, the sequel was most definitely better than the prequel!

J. Riley, and the Combi ride on the way back to the airport? We took a taxi this time. The best $25 I spent in my life :o).

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Si Se Puede! Change We Can Believe In!

I'm a changed man. Erika left me on Saturday morning for a multitude of reasons. Most of them are my fault, but one of them is because we are going to be god-parents in a few weeks and I cracked under the pressure, letting her fly down to Peru on her wonderful $200 round-trip ticket and leaving me all by my lonesome. Fear not, however, because I am going to be joining her down there on my $200 round-trip ticket in a week or so. I'm looking forward to the party, the culture, the food, and the vacation! I've got the speech that she wrote in front of me and hopefully I will be able to memorize it before the trip, though I'm sure I'll be reciting it after a few rounds of the shared pixie cup of beer so I have little faith that I'll be able to remember it without my cheat sheet.

But, really, I'm a changed man! I've decided that I need to prioritize some things in my life, including my focus on learning better Spanish. I've started up on my Pimsleur Spanish CDs again - which are amazing, by the way. Sucky commute got you singing the blues? Change the channel and pop these guys in your car's CD player and you'll be golden. I used to listen to one lesson on the way to work and then listen to it again on the way home just to make sure it sinks in. I actually discovered that it's not too difficult to get going with because most of the terms you first learn are pretty well known. OK, enough advertising for CD's that I can provide to anybody free of charge. To take my lessons a step further, I attended a free Spanish Conversation Group down at the NY Public Library last night. I was really nervous, thinking about a giant room full of people, most of whom were probably more or less fluent that just wanted to practice a little. I was surprised to find that there were only about seven people in the group and that I wasn't half bad compared to them. It was a nice confidence booster.

Seriously though, I'm a changed man! I bought some new running shoes recently and after a day of lonesome reflection after dropping Erika off at the airport, I decided that I'm going to train for a triathalon. It's more like a try-athalon, though. And it will be like an eXtreme sports version of it. I've already got the spin classes on my regular schedule and on Sunday I decided to hit the streets with my new shoes and go explore the rustic, polluted, and industrial parts of Astoria along the power plants and the East River with a 3.5K jog. I didn't do too bad, though my legs are killing me to this day and my whole body is sore from my legs all the way up to my head with some screaming neck muscles. I plan on incorporating more jogs into my schedule and have even considered jogging home from work, which would only be about a 30 minute job for me.

I'm most excited about the last exercise that completes my triathalon training. I've been tossing around the idea of getting a bike to ride to work, except that I have no place to put it and arriving at work as a sweaty mess just doesn't fit my image - though I wouldn't be totally out of place among the nerds at work.

But! I have rollerblades at home still! I haven't used these things since I moved from Manhattan, but couldn't just toss them since they are a decent enough pair with newish wheels. I decided that on Monday, I would jam the blades into my backpack and take them to work with me and see if I could find a decent route home with them on.

First of all, have you ever changed at work? I dunno about you, but I have a major complex when it comes to changing at work. Maybe it violates the separation of work and personal life that I strive to maintain on a daily basis. I feel almost naked when I come out of the bathroom with shorts and a t-shirt on. I've got to work on that some more and learn to lift the shoulders up (and suck the belly in :o/) and try to hide the pit stains on my grungy undershirts while I try to make a quick getaway.

In any case, I made it to the street where I mounted my twin pair of horses onto my feet. I realized that I left my insoles at home, which meant that my balance would be all messed up. Or maybe I'm just using that as an excuse for why I was flailing all over the first couple of streets with cars honking behind me. Come on, it's been three years, gimmeabreak. Plus, the only place I used to roll in the city were in Central Park with it's meticulously maintained outer-rim road that provided me with lots of room to fly and launch off jumps.

Well, Queens is no Central Park, that's for sure. True to it's industrial image, the streets are lined with gravel, the decrepit sidewalks are more or less poorly maintained, there are no street sweepers off the major routes, and the roads are lined with chop shops and auto mechanics that love to drip oil all over the place, making me look like a car in that old video game that hits the oil slicks. Plus, the road along the water, with surprisingly clearly marked bike routes, were pitted, uneven, and full of little rocks that tore up my virgin wheels. It was great! This route is clearly going to be challenging to master, but this spring I am going to have a go at it and see if I can manage to survive.

After blading home yesterday, I decided that my suffering legs needed a stretch so I did a little jog around the hood and through the lovely sculpture park, where people like to unleash their dogs and minks. Wait, WTF? Somebody let their mink/weasel thing off the leash and it was just hopping alongside them in the park. That was the weirded thing that I've seen since I saw somebody taking their monkey for a walk in SoHo one time. At least with a pet mink you can skin it and make a nice neck lining for your coat....

Easter was pretty depressing around here, what with Liverpool failing to qualify for next year's Champion's League, Erika having a family reunion and making chicharron with a whole pig at home with people that traveled 16 hours on a Peruvian bus just for lunch, my family having a family reunion in California with various liquor concoctions and Brie undoubtedly getting drunk, and with me reading a book about a girl who's jailed and tortured in Iran as a political prisoner. At least the weather was brilliant! What a happy day :o) !!

J. Riley, remind me to bring my bike helmet back with me from California. I'd rather prevent my head from meeting the gravel on these dangerous commutes home!