A Cuenca visitor sizes up an impecunious expat, then chows down on cuy before heading to Peru

Jan 3, 2012 | 0 comments

A dozen coins tumbled away from the shoes of the elderly white-haired man who was standing on a corner in Cuenca, Ecuador.

Cuenca is a beautiful city in the southern part of the country that is now a magnet for expatriates looking for a place to retire outside the United States.

"Let me help you with these," I said.

"Thank you," he replied, with a very thick southern American accent. "I've got holes in my pockets and need to get them fixed."

With a sense of curiosity, I asked, "Where do you come from?"

"I'm from Mississippi, but I'm here now. The U.S. is going to pot, and they are about to shut the doors and not allow anyone to leave."

At this point, I noticed he was missing all of his front teeth.

"Excuse me?"

"Yep, they are about to start martial law in the States. It's a good thing you got out when you did," he said with a big toothless grin and sense of seriousness.

"OK, buddy, good luck with those holes in your pockets," I replied.

"Don't go back. They'll never let you out again," he said as I walked away.

You meet all kinds of people traveling; some add a great deal of color to the journey. On my first journey around the world in 2001, I deliberately made a decision that I would never allow fear to influence the choices of my mind and heart. Thus, I politely and quickly excused myself from this man's business.

We live in a wonderful country that has tremendous potential, and I want to make positive contributions as much as I can. Fear about living is for someone else.

Before leaving Ecuador, I decided to try one of the local delicacies, cuy (pronounced "coo eee"). We know it as guinea pig.

I had to have this experience in a street stall with the locals and not in some fancy restaurant.

"Cuy?" The question came from a woman cooking. She smiled and remembered me from earlier in the day when I had scouted out a place to eat.

"Yes, one please," I replied. She then pointed to a plastic stool underneath the tarp where I would wait to experience this treat.

Cuy has been part of the South American cuisine for a long time. These days, the locals generally reserve the delicacy for important occasions.

For me, heading off to find the source of the Amazon in Peru seemed to be a special enough occasion for such a feast.

It takes three hours to barbeque a cuy properly. Mine wasn't ready to be served yet. The woman continued to turn the impaled rodent on a wooden stick over the hot coals for another 15 minutes. As she turned the cuy, she smiled and would brush the critter with some kind of sauce.

Sitting patiently at my table, I conversed with my neighbors and passed the time by showing them a few photos of Nebraska.

Then came the moment. A young girl walked to my table and presented my dinner. Everyone in the vicinity watched, curious to see how I would react to the delicacy placed before me.

An old man sitting next to me started making gestures with his hands, bringing them to his mouth. It was his way to encourage me to eat.

I took a moment to look over the plate. That probably wasn't the best idea as I spied the buck teeth of my dinner, along with the claws attached to each leg.

"Well," I thought, "sometimes you just have to roll the dice." I dove into my meal.

This brought a round of smiles and a few claps from the surrounding curious crowd.

Or course, it tasted like chicken – a scrawny chicken, though – with a bit of rabbit thrown in. The skin was crunchy like pork rinds.

I doubt this will ever appear on the menu at Baby Huey's BBQ in Fremont, but it provided a few moments to connect with the locals and a special way to celebrate my journey.

All great adventures have benchmark locations, specific points along the way that offer a sense of movement or time. With a full belly of cuy, I was heading for southern Peru to find the source of the Amazon.

Credit: By Dean Jacobs for the Fremont Tribune, http://fremonttribune.com


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