“We should not judge people by their peak of excellence; but by the distance they have traveled from the point where they started.” Henry Ward Beecher
“We should not judge people by their peak of excellence; but by the distance they have traveled from the point where they started.” Henry Ward Beecher
I can’t deny – I do like coffee. I could say even more – I feel a deep respect for it. There is almost an intimate bond between me and coffee that binds all mornings into one aromatic, caffeine continuum. I belong to that group of people who usually fall asleep after drinking, instead of being stimulated. So, I do not have to refuse one cup in the late afternoon or even at night. And I drink a lot and I prefer it strong.
I am spending the last days in Colombia – the country which is the third producer in the world when it comes to the amount of coffee produced annually, and it is famous for its excellent quality. There is no doubt whatsoever that Colombian coffee is one of the best in the world. Nevertheless, despite of its good reputation many foreigners who come to Colombia find it strange when they want to buy a good coffee in the street, hotels or even a family home. Majority of Colombians, who are so proud of their product, do not know how to prepare that drink. As Paul Bocuse (a French culinary celebrity) once said that Colombian coffee is like “dirty water”.
Please, do not misunderstand me. The coffee here is good, well, it’s perfect but only if you prepare it yourself. And surely, as long as you succeed in finding it well ground and roasted. Those conditions, in addition to the appropriate mixture of water and coffee, are the key to making a good drink.
Colombians have their own word for “coffee” – they call it “tinto”, which could be loosely translated as “stained or inky water”. Tinto is sold almost everywhere, and you can get it for an equivalent of a few cents from street vendors who carry their thermos-laden, home-made carts and trolleys all over the country. Tinto is usually extremely sweet and diluted. I would say that its taste resembles “something with a taste of coffee”, although it might be better to describe it as “water with a taste of sweet syrup”. It is usually served straight from the thermos, and when it is cold (because the Colombian thermos do not hold the temperature too long), it is reheated.
Surely, there are some people among the readers who do not drink coffee at all. So, I would like to mention that coffee considerably changes its flavor after about thirty minutes of “aging”, whether it fills a cup or a thermo. It is obvious that after some time it finally gets cold, and cold coffee actually changes into “dirty water” – unless we like a frozen one, but that’s another question about which I’m not going to elaborate here, because with ice I drink only whiskey.
So, why do they drink so bad coffee in Colombia? Is it just a question of another taste and Colombians really like what they buy in the streets? Then, in principle, this issue should not be moved at all, because de gustibus non est disputandum, there is no accounting for tastes. But if even locals admit that their tinto has little to do with a well-brewed espresso, then it must be something brewing in that matter.
Let’s look at the statistics on the annual consumption of coffee in the world. In Colombia it is less than two kilos per person, while, for comparison, in Finland, the consumption is twelve kilograms per capita, in Norway ten, and even in the small country as Bosnia and Herzegovina (rather unknown for its liking for coffee) – six kilos per person. And perhaps here, apart from economic factors (because the best coffee is more expensive and for many years Colombia exported its best grain and left the lowest quality for domestic consumption) we should look for a source of disappointment, a kind of feeling which wakes up among foreigners visiting Colombia and expecting euphoric, gustatory elations.
Colombians normally do not drink much coffee and are not accustomed to more elaborate formulas like cappuccino or a latte macchiato. And when they do drink it, they conform to less quality. Many Colombians have breakfast with hot chocolate, juices from a variety of fruits or panela – a drink prepared from a brown, sugary substance. Not so long time ago, tinto was being added to dinner for free, as it is now “agua de panela” (water with lime and panela – sugar obtained almost directly from sugar cane, sold in sugar cubes).
Juan Valdéz (a sort of Colombian Starbucks), finally got the hang of it, but in Juan Valdéz coffee costs ten times as much as tinto and vast majority of Colombians simply can’t afford it, similarly like most Colombians can’t afford to buy a decent coffee maker.
The coffee machines used in Colombia are usually huge. Generally, they are quite good devices from which one could make a great espresso. The problem is that the cloth filters are not replaced very often, which obviously affects the quality of the finished product. Large quantities of coffee are prepared for a day and then, the drink is warmed over and over again, so it not only loses its freshness and original flavour, but actually turns into tarred sediment.
So are there no places in Colombia where you can buy a decent cup of coffee, and there are no people in the country who can properly brew it? Of course, surely they are, but it is difficult to find them. One could say that instead of moaning about the incompatibility of my own and Colombian tastes, I should prepare a cup of coffee myself. As I like it. After all, almost every store offers fantastically burnt and ground coffee, which I can put into the coffee mug to enjoy a unique, slightly acidic coffee aroma.
Yes, I could prepare my own coffee, but believe me, after a few hours of pedalling under the scorching sun, after climbing another heavy uphill, I really would like to find a good place to get a coffee, instead of looking for a shadowy spot to stay, and then pulling up the stove, firing it up, heating, brewing, waiting and so on. And it is a pity that in Colombia I have to prepare coffee myself, but well, as I said earlier, I like it strong, so strong, that accustomed to tinto Colombians probably would not touch at all, because for them it would seem to be just disgusting, smelly tar.
And maybe we come to the heart of the problem (if one could call it “problem” at all). Because, what on earth “brewed well” means? After all, there is no one “proper” way to brew. I like it strong, someone likes it weak. I do not add milk, someone likes ice and so on … In terms of tastes everything is relative. And I am from Poland, so I probably have an innate tendency to complain and to pick holes where they may not be any.
Well, but weak, transparent coffee, warmed up five times, served with three tablespoons of sugar and nearly cold? No, after all, I’ve had enough. I will make an effort and will look for a shadowy spot to perform my loved, caffeinated ritual. And when you come to Colombia hoping for a good espresso, do not forget to bring your stove-top espresso maker, or at least a spare sock. Bon Appétit!
“The only journey is the one within” Rainer Maria Rilke
You can’t escape from meeting people while being on the road. Surely, you may try to avoid any contact with them, but isn’t it one of the most important reasons for which we leave our home anyway? If it hadn’t been for all those encounters with seemingly unknown people (who sometimes are more close to you than your real relatives) what would all those journeys have meant? How many times can you write the same words? How many times can you go back to visit the same places? And why? Just for sheer pleasure? For the sake of experiencing the same things more consciously? To find something which was overlooked, with the hope that not everything went away, and that this time you will be able to focus your attention better, just to see something in its real form?
Sometimes it seems to me that I can’t live in the present and I still have to return somewhere, to elbow my way – not figuratively, but literally, physically. That, in fact, I still live in the past, and all my attention is focused on what had already happened. That I make up and tell the alternative stories which sometimes appear to be more real than those experienced and once told.
Robert Piłat, a Polish professor, elaborating on the subject of people’s cognitive abilities refers to Bergson and tells about instantaneous experiences of meaning – experiences that are either mystical or aesthetic, which allow us “register” reality better. And by asking a rhetorical question where that reality could be found, he refers to Zofia Król, a Polish writer, and quotes a fragment of her book “Powrót do świata”: “There is magic that allows us to reach that reality.”
I wanted to visit the Colombian cats I had sheltered two years earlier in the village called Zarzal, but they somehow disappeared. There was not even one. They hid themselves in the bushes. It is said that one of them became a mother. So be it. A few little creatures run around the house, and run away at the sight of man. Maybe it was their mother who advised them not to come along. Escape from any human attempts to stroke them, or even touch them. Well, maybe the mother was right. Why should they get used to the men? Why should they get used to me? At the end, as always, only sadness would be left. Surely, I could not take any of those feline creatures with me. And yet, supposedly “we always remain in the eyes of Cats.”
I saw three of them. I approached closer, but in an instant they just fled to the garden. The leaves of the trees swirled. I stood and waited. The cats did not come back. A white-black spot moved in the greenish landscape. I did not need any magic to know that it was her. The cat was watching me from the dense, bushy shrubs. I knew that she would not come out, and that the green curtain would not open that time. Neither would the meeting end with even one, the gentlest touch. And that in fact, that meeting did not start at all – although despite of that or maybe thanks to that it will last forever.
And Colombia? Yes, it has started. It has started with lots of meetings and probably it will end with plenty of meetings, too. We go along, being blessed and favoured, invited for conversations, even invited to stay for a couple of days, as it was in the case of Mario and Maricel, whose generosity and great hospitality I was able to experience once again. We were able to take a rest in exceptionally comfortable conditions, which we appreciated very much so, after a very strenuous ten-days section of Quito-Cali. We spent five unforgettable days and, as a farewell, we got a beautiful stovetop espresso maker to stop using socks for brewing exceptionally aromatic, Colombian coffee.
Let’s only hope, I won’t lose that watchfulness. Because we perceive the world in its real form thanks to our attention and concentration, thanks to the proper direction of the mind. In the aforementioned radio programme professor Piłat says that if we experience a moment too intensely, then “we seem to be losing ourselves, as if we melted in that experience. It happens so not because the time passes, but because we leave in that moment the best side of ourselves.” It sounds gloomy, that is true, but even if professor is right – so be it. After all, would it be anything more beautiful than to be able to burn at the end with the bright flame? To burn with the flame after which only pure, white dust would remain? “There must be a meaning in any burning, otherwise the burning ash means nothing.”
“I do not just write, I write what I am. If there is a secret, perhaps that is it.” Jose Saramago
– You’d better go to the police station – said one of the policemen we met. – They will help you. In that area I would not recommend you to stay overnight, unless you are very desperate. You are asking me if it is dangerous over here. No, not really, it’s rather safe, but you never know. Look at the sky – the storm is coming. If you put up your tent here, surely you’ll get flooded at night, and then you will flow straight to the coast, you will pick your bicycles up from the sea. Go to the police station, I know what I’m saying; they will find you a better place to stay.
We came up against those two policemen just as we entered the town. The sun had disappeared over the horizon, which meant that in a few minutes the world, abruptly deprived of its colours, would plunge into the darkness of the coming night. We had to find a place quickly, while still being able to distinguish some shapes or even the outlines of the buildings. If it hadn’t been for those two policemen, we would probably have set up the tent by the road, choosing any piece of land that would give us a makeshift protection against more or less realized night hazards. This time however, perhaps of the fear of the approaching storm, or maybe for some subconscious reasons or intuitive motives (which, by engaging in the network of decision-making processes often save you from oppression) we followed given advice and in a moment we stood in front of the police car park.
Three men saw us and came closer. We started explaining why we were there and what we were looking for, but cops were very far from being sympathizing. In the end we were allowed to stay at the car park, no more than two steps from the sidewalk, just under a furiously lit street lamp. We looked at each other with discontent but anyway, at least the place was safe. We took out some stuff from the panniers, and as we were about to put up our tent, a few people came to us from a nearby restaurant.
– You are not gonna stay here, are you fucking crazy? – said a tipsy-looking lady, whose smile seemed to cover her whole face. – Let’s go to my house, I have an empty apartment. You are not afraid, are you? There is no need to be worry, everybody knows me here. You do know me, don’t you? – she turned to one of the cops standing next to her, who nodded his head. – You see, everybody knows me, including the owner of that restaurant. And if you stay here, you’ll get robbed as soon as you zip your tent. The police won’t help you – they do nothing, they sleep all night long. Come to me, there is enough space for everyone; the house has a roof, a strong, corrugated one. Are you coming? Oh, that’s great, how nice of you. You don’t even know how happy I am. Are you hungry? That restaurant here is very good. But let’s go first to the house. You’ll leave your stuff and come back in a moment.
Having made a spontaneous decision (which, contrary to popular belief, it is not always as easy as it seems to be), we followed the woman. She did not stop talking, asking questions, showing, explaining, and at the same time expanding in her seemingly increasing, friendly smile. Perhaps we even regretted accepting that sudden and unexpected invitation, mainly because of the strenuous and tiring day we had, at the end of which the only thing you dream of is a bit of intimacy and a sort of peaceful retreat. However, the word was said and it would be difficult to withdraw and return. So, we walked through the town in a kind of queer procession, being accompanied by more and more “relatives”, whose shadowy shapes were emerging from the dark alleys.
The house (which was supposed to be empty), was occupied by a man lying in the hammock. In fact, it didn’t really matter, because the man was watching a TV show and he didn’t pay any attention to us whatsoever. We were led to a cosy, warm and, most importantly, a dry room. And when it turned out that we could plug in our electronic appliances and even were allowed to use the stove to brew coffee – we were absolutely delighted and quickly put up our tent.
Half an hour later we were sitting at a restaurant table. Our friendly hostess, (who, on the way home was literally bursting with energy) lay on the bed and fell asleep almost immediately after entering the house.
– Did you really go to that woman? And left all your belongings there? – asked the restaurant owner who had witnessed our conversation before. – She is a very bad person, dangerous, and she is not from here, and you saw that she was a little drunk. Come with me, because the cops want to talk to you.
We were extremely astounded when we walked up to the policemen, and had to endure a long, boring monologue about how insane it was what we did. And that the police would not be held responsible if something happened. And that it would be best for us to return to the police station.
I could not understand at all why all that jaw (if it was really true and there was anything to be afraid of) was not told before, the more that the same policemen saw us with the lady an hour earlier.
– We’ll stay where we are – I said. – And, anyway, the woman had already fallen asleep. – As you wish, but don’t tell us later we did not warn you. – said the cops.
We went back to the table and started eating our broth, rice and chicken – not surprisingly, the only available menu. We were about to leave the restaurant, when our hostess appeared at the door. – I knew I would find you here! – she came in to us and sat at the table. – Can I help myself? – and without waiting for any reply, she dipped her fingers in our dishes.
Outside it started raining. It wasn’t just a drizzle, but a real downpour. – We can’t go back in that shitty weather – said the woman, after virtually having cleaned all the dishes. – Wait a moment – she added and ran out. A few minutes later a police car pulled in. We heard a loud “Come on, come on,” and in a moment, with a flashy, emergency signal, we drove through the rain-covered town to the house.
– What are they here for? – she replied when we asked her how she managed to find that sort of a special lift. – Let them know where you are. If they wish, they may even come in and see for themselves how I live – she added, when the car pulled in near the house. The cops did not seem to be interested in any form of further inquiries, so we left the car, slammed the door and rushed inside the building.
So, it was about to be unsafe, but it turned out to be very pleasant. We slept well, nobody disturbed us. In the morning we got good coffee and warm words for the road. The road, again full of fruit: platano, pitaya (or pitahaya) rambutan, called achotillo, guaba, mango and plenty of bananas, which we often get for free, because people here did not use to selling only one or two, and we don’t want to buy a bucket.
We are getting closer to Colombia, and I can hardly wait to get there. I don’t know why exactly. After all, I’ve been twice in that country, so what more could you expect to see or to experience? Maybe that’s exactly what I’m looking for – to see and to experience exactly the same things that had already occurred. The brain is melting away. We are going to the mountains to get some fresh air.
“I’m obsessed with inventing stories for people I come across. An overwhelming curiosity makes me ask myself what their lives might be like. I want to know what they do, where they’re from, their names, what they’re thinking about at that moment, what they regret, what they hope for, whom they’ve loved, what they dream of…” Flaubert
Finally we got to another country. And suddenly everything seems to look so different. As if somebody waved a magic wand and changed the entire world around us. There are no more those incredibly noisy, rattling auto rickshaws – ubiquitous three-wheel taxis that swarm through the cities being the main workhorse of Peru’s transportation system. There are far less holes in the roads and no more crowing all-day-long cocks. But what pleases us most is the fact that we may finally buy quite well brewed coffee.
“The Indians in the jungle drink that shit, but we prefer beer,” as once said the head of the police station, as we set up a tent near their headquarters. “Well, I do not really know why we do not drink it,” he answered when he heard that we drink coffee more than he drinks water. “Everyone says it’s unhealthy, but I don’t know why – it’s pretty natural. Oh, they’re carrying cocoa,” he added, pointing at a passing truck. “Oh, and there is another one with fruit, look! Bananas, pineapples, mangoes, they are taking them to Europe. It’s funny, because we do not eat fruit too much, either. And actually I do not know why. I think you can’t satisfy hunger just by eating fruit. Can you? Well, it might be truth but if I look at you…Just skin and bones, you don’t have any fat. And tell me, when you cycle, you don’t get tired?
So, we are in Ecuador now. Surprisingly, the repertoire of the asked questions changed dramatically. The people stopped asking if we are tired (the most commonly heard question in Peru is: “No se cansa?” – “Don’t you get tired?”), neither they ask if the sun does not burn us (“No se quema?”). Suddenly they stopped asking why we do not have children yet. Since we are so old, then we should have at least a couple.
The differences in semantic field may also be seen in the responses we get to our questions. So, it turns out that in Spanish you can also build grammatically correct, long sentences and you do not keep the conversation going hearing “eeeeeh” all the time. And if an asked person does not know something, they say they do not know, rather than mislead and explain that we are about one hour drive to the town (when actually we needed at least two days).
Let’s continue that semantic topic and let me write something about next phenomenon; let’s call it a temporal-spatial one. I would like to draw your attention to the daily usage of allegedly simply words such as near, far, right, left, top or bottom. Really, I would have no problem with that, and I wouldn’t care less if for someone “up” means “down” but that semantic indefiniteness is used in practice. Little things while cycling are more frustrating than the road sign saying “downhill”, followed by a steep uphill.
The change also took place at the catering level. We got to know a new fruit called pitahaya (called also ‘dragon fruit’) – delicious, very juicy fruit, resembling granadilla in flavor, but unfortunately, very expensive. Also, pacay-like fruit grew substantially and now is called guaba
The change also took place at the catering level. We got to know a new fruit called pitahaya (called also ‘dragon fruit’) – delicious, very juicy fruit, resembling granadilla in flavor, but unfortunately, very expensive. Also, pacay-like fruit grew substantially and now is called guaba.
My grandmother used to say that fruit is not food and one should eat something more filling in order to satisfy hunger. So, although I like fruit very much, bearing in mind my grandma’s advice, I always try to eat something filling. Anyway, In Peru, with all its unbelievable wealth of natural edible wonders, we still encountered repetitive, very monotonous menus. Perhaps, as one of my friends noted, it is the effect of “shallower” modernization of that country, especially compared to Ecuador, not to mention Chile or Argentina. In a similar tone writes Anna Wieczorkiewicz in her book “Tourist’s appetite”.
“Everyone knew which food was allowed and which was unclean, and they knew that it was not up to them to decide what to eat. There were taboo rules that required certain rituals and determined what could be eaten, how, and by whom. There was not much space for individual culinary tastes. The sense of taste undoubtedly existed, but what was good or bad was decided by the community; community understood as a collective being. De gustibus non est disputandum” – we repeat today after the ancients, believing that the tastes are based on individual, personal experiences and not on what all people share (although after a while we have to admit that our judgment is still culturally conditioned and referring to the system of meanings adopted in our society)”
So perhaps this monotonous menu has little to do with culinary tastes, but it is culturally conditioned. So, Peruvians would be probably equally surprised in Poland having to eat bread with tomato and cucumber on breakfast, as Poles are in Peru having to eat each day thick broth and rice with fried chicken in the morning. All in all, caldo, (broth), commonly called caldito, seems to be a national dish in Peru. At any time of the day, no matter if you order breakfast, lunch or dinner you’ll get caldo full of floating delicious chicken paws, accompanied by overcooked noodles.
Not that we have something against broth. Good chicken soup could be a good and a nutritious meal. Nevertheless, for breakfast, Fidrygałka and I would like to find sometimes something else. A bun, an egg with a slice of bread and an orange would do. In Ecuador we can finally buy much better bread than that in Peru, and it is baked also in the morning, not only late afternoon. The food in stores (and in bazaars!) has printed, visible prices, and in the streets brakes and common sense are used far more often than the hornets. There are less bloodthirsty mosquitoes and flies, and even those which bite us after the sunset and at dawn, do not leave so many itchy red souvenirs.
People don’t put their huge loud speakers in front of the buildings and they do not play music so loud (which seems to have one, repetitive, immensely irritating, trotting-horse rhythm), bookstores appeared in towns and they offer more than albums about pope life and affectionate romance (no, not in one volume), but above all – finally it got cleaner. The Polish guy, about whom I already wrote, who lived for ten years in Peru and still works there as a touring guide, tried to explain to us that not quite developed (among most Peruvians) a sense of aesthetics. Well, he thinks that littering and putting rubbish wherever you want is “closer to their nature and that we should not interfere and explain anything.” Finally, he added that he liked it and if he didn’t he would live in Germany.
Well, I don’t what to elaborate on the topic if life in ditch-like conditions is closer to anyone’s nature – and anyway – I don’t care. Likewise, I do not intend to encourage anyone to change their habits and household preferences. Let everyone live in conditions in which they want. Nevertheless, for me any ditch is just ditch, and even if it does not bother anyone, it simply stinks. And even for that reason, from time to time it’s nice to find places where, apart from the scent of decaying human activity, you may find other, more natural scents, not necessarily those making us to consider what is closer to human nature, and whether aesthetics have anything to do with the accumulated pile of stinking garbage, or it is just a civilizational whim.
Anyway, I let myself get away from that pessimistic tone and will stop tweaking the rusty spiral, because in my (surely) exaggerated, wasteful depiction of Peru, where I often have to plug my nose (and the ears – from the rattling rickshaws) I go faster and faster and I will inevitably fall over very soon. It would be unfair to that beautiful country (which offers an endless variety of attractions), if I did not mention the places where people do use garbage bins and where any waste is sorted and not thrown around. Strangely – and as if contradicting the thesis of the aforementioned Polish guy (who also said that Peruvians litter because they lack education) we found those places in the jungle, in very remote villages, where there were no schools or any other secular or ecclesiastical Institutions, including those who seem to have a monopoly on proclaiming the truth about life and the whole world.
Also distancing myself from generalizations on the catering side, I would like to highlight here (as I have written in previous texts) the unbelievable wealth of local, Peruvian variations of vegetables, fruit and oddly but very tastily prepared food, such as grilled bananas stuffed with cheese and ground nuts. We bought them in Moyobamba and they were a real feast for the palate.
And what about people? Where are they? Those ordinary people you meet for the moment and soon forget? They are, of course, they are. They appear suddenly, as if set by fate and destiny, like puppets marched from the sky, puppets pretending to be humans, and in fact, they are only ghosts that do not let us forget what we are here for and what really matters in life. Warmth, a good word, an exchanged smile, some time spent together…
On the Christmas Eve we got to the border, but decided to cross it next day. We were about to put up our tent virtually in a ditch, when quite unexpectedly a strange woman invited us to her house. I have absolutely no idea how come she came so silently in her rickshaw, because we had not heard any noise before. So, an hour later, we ended up at the table eating chicken broth. And when we started praising Peruvian fruit, a huge watermelon was put on the table.
On the border we ate the last Peruvian meal. The last caldo and rice with chicken. When we were about to leave the restaurant, something touched my calves. A cat. A ginger one, of course. All those cats. They also go with us. They are here all the time. They hide in the panniers, peer from the trees, creep into our imagination, and sometimes they go out, just like people – they suddenly appear, filling the space between what had already passed and what is to begin in the future.
The New Year finally came. I would like to wish you all (those I know and those I have never met but who hide behind the words) the happy New Year – the most beautiful dreams and the most beautiful journeys, the most sincere smiles, and the travels to the places that do not exist. And even if they exist somewhere, then let them be far away to “get to them as late as possible, so to get there – if possible – never.”
“One day the word homeland will disappear – said Galileo hastily – People will look back on us, enclosed in our cramped borders, killing each other for the lines on the map and say how stupid we were.” Mario Vargas Llosa “The War of the End of the World”
Finally we found out why some people used to scream, crying out a phrase which resembles a word “pistachio” and run away from us before we even have time to say anything. And we also understood the meaning of that gesture which looks like cutting off one’s head. Well, Ladies and Gentlemen, Peruvians think we are famous ‘pistacios’, or ‘pistachos’ (also written ‘pishtacos’) – a pair of white, insidious thugs (and at the same time – secret agents cooperating with the government) who come from village to village and kidnap people to decapitate them, and then suck their fat in order to sell it to pharmaceutical and cosmetic corporations.
It should not be surprising that children believe in such a nonsense (when they are rude and misbehave, parents threat them that white ‘pistachos’ come and eat them), but it turns out that adults also believe in the legend of the abduction of the people by gringo-like Andean vampires.
In the Andean tradition ‘pishtaco’ is a mythological figure. The word comes from the Quechua word ‘pishtay’ – which means “behead, cut the throat or cut into slices”. ‘Pishtaco’ appears in pre-Spanish annals, where we can find information about hired killers sent by rival ethnic groups in order to eliminate VIPs or simply decimate the population.
According to Albert Tauro del Pino ‘pishtaco’ is a highwayman – often a white foreigner – whose main occupation is to attack people to suck their fat. That fat is then sold and the meat is eaten in the form of chicharrones (typical dish of Peruvian cuisine). It is also said that ‘pishtacos’ bury their victims to fertilize lands, or put them into the foundations of the buildings.
The legend in its current form spread in the time of the Spanish conquest. Andean Indians feared missionaries and perceived them as ‘pishtacos’ – those creatures who kill people and use their fat to oil church bells to make them especially sonorous.
For many residents of the Andean region excess body fat is still regarded as a manifestation of good health, strength and beauty. Indians for centuries believed that many diseases have their origin in the loss of this tissue; in the Andes, a slim silhouette is far from being any canon of beauty.
However preposterous it all might seem, a few years ago some strange events took place in the Amazonian jungle. In an article from the newspaper ‘El Pais’, dated November 20, 2009, we may read that after several months of investigation, the police took three members of the gang called ‘Los pistachos del Huallaga’. More than sixty people, mostly residents of Huallaga valley were ritually killed. Fat obtained from their body was subsequently sold for fifteen thousand dollars per kilo. The group, which acted as a religious brotherhood, caused panic in the area but because of their alleged co-operation the government residents did not disclose any disappearances, fearing about their own lives.
That area was until recently the area of activity of the Shining Path guerrillas and ordinary smugglers. Disappearances in the Hualla valley were on the agenda, which may explain why so many disappearances remain unknown. And it is very difficult to determine how many murders were committed by the members of that religious brotherhood.
Polish ‘pistachos’ move slowly to Ecuador. Santa Claus is coming to town. Colorful, illuminated sleighs with too loud music and advertising gibberish move around the cities. We leave the noise and get outside the buildings. But even there you can still here lots of silencer-deprived engines of the tricycle crap. The sun is scorching. We stop pedalling and lie under a mango tree. We eat fruit in the shade and with our sticky fingers shake off the giant ants and beetles. The world around us explodes with its intensity and exuberance. Someone stops nearby and through thickened air cries – Chamba! Suerte! Have a safe journey! And he is actually right. Because what else you could ask for? What more you could expect?
We finish mango and get a move on. A little more, just a little more, to stay with each other, stay with the world. Chamba, suerte.