Monday, 3 March 2014

4) Days 5 - 7 Acclimatising

The day after I arrived me and Jamie had a bit more of a wander. There are loads of immaculately kept little plazas all over town, though the buildings aren't going to win any competitions soon, however this is because in the 1970s a rather large earthquake flattened literally every street apart from one so it's forgiveable really. The weather here is very agreeable. It rains without fail once a day, sometimes for hours on end, but mostly in the late evening. The days are typically sunny and warm, hovering around the 20 degrees mark, a damn sight more comfortable than Lima!
We went to a little resturant close to the office for lunch, and the waiter was dumbfounded when we tried to order drinks. It turns out it's because there is a set menu where you choose only the main, and everything else (including drink) is supplied in order. First came the soup, and then I had trout which was a nice surprise. I think the altitude sickness had started to kick in, because even the soup was close to defeating me. Soups here typically consist of rice, some limited vegetables, and one great big lump of tough, ambiguous meat.
Out came our juice, which I think may have been papaya. I ended up offloading most of my food onto Jamie who managed with no trouble at all, but before it was all over out came another tray laden with green jellies in glasses. These were not generic jelly flavour. Oh no, these were "Screaming mint" (at least that should be their name) and were quite a shocker to the tongue. I felt rude not eating all my main so made sure I cleared the glass, and when it came to pay the whole thing cost us 8 Soles each! Thats just over 2 Pounds to you and I, and it was obvious why the place had got so busy whilst we gorged. 

The following days all kind of blur into one. I had to wait a few days before I could go out into the field to properly acclimatise to the altitude here at base. 
Luckily, Jamie had collected literally thousands of seeds from the Puya ramondii plants we are working on beforehand, so we could get on with the arduous process of testing their viability. The structure of the days were mostly: Get up early, test the viability of seeds for 2/3 hours (using the TTC test for you biologists out there) and put another load of seeds in to soak in water for 8 hours. In the mean time we would make tags for out in the field, and just keep ourselves entertained, before soaking in TTC for 10 hours overnight.

On day 6, Oscar burst into the office with the cry "Tonight, we eat meat!". I was half expecting him to drag the carcass of a cow through the door, but what he meant was that his favourite meat eatery had reopened in town. Of we plodded in the drizzle, us three and Yanet (turns out it's a Y) until we got to someone's garden shed, who had one of those half oil drum bbqs going out front. We squeezed in, and Oscar started waving the menu in my face telling me to try combo F or whatever. I agreed, we all ordered, and out came the traditional bottle of Inca Kola (which if I haven't mentioned before, is nuclear green and tastes fantastic) and partially popped corn.
I reluctantly asked Oscar what I had ordered, and he explained. "Anticucho" is basically anything on a skewer and varies across Peru, and mine would be cow  heart, and the other two things were cow intestines and just plain chicken. The dishes arrived and actually looked pretty appetising, and the looks were easily matched in taste! If you ever have spare cow intestines lying around, don't waste them!
That evening, we restarted the process of slicing open each seed (about 4mm in length) and checking for a pink dot (about 1mm), and the electricity went. It's fairly sporadic at times, but after 5 mins it had not come back, so we got the candles out and resumed at a pace even slower than normal.
TTC by candle light...

Day 7 was valentines day, which they also celebrate over here, though we were warned not to get desperate. We all went to lunch at a fish place and before I could protest, Oscar ordered 3 "Ceviche" for me, him and Jamie. "Ceviche" is fish that cooking is too mainstream for. Instead of irradicating bacteria with heat, they dubiously squeeze lemon juice and chili over the fish, so naturally I was sat there awaiting my doom. Whilst we were waiting for it to arrive, the table behind us was frantically being set out by two young Peruvians. They must have had 50 roses between them, which they were scattering about the table, and tying balloons to the chairs. I thought "is this some sort of mass date??" but then my fish arrived (not still flipping) and I lost interest. 
I took the plunge and it was the spiciest thing that has ever crossed my lips. It didn't however taste like stinky fish as I had expected, and through streaming eyes it was actually quite pleasing. Two women arrived and squealed in delight at the tables, and I couldn't help but think we brought the place down a bit; two gringos sat snuffling into our fish about a foot away from the commotion. 
Afterwards, we left Yanet and Oscar and went to Cafe California in town. As the name suggests, the staff were American. Just kidding, it was still a feat to order a beer, though you could tell this was a gathering spot for any travellers in town.
We had planned to go to the field the following day, but Oscar said he would drive us there on the Sunday instead, so we thought we'd treat ourselves to a night on the tiles, it being Friday of course. We spent a solid half hour trying to find a bar recommended on Lonely Planet, before giving up and heading to one called "XPedition". It was a very odd place, with a climbing wall, and LPs of bands all over the ceiling. It was pretty fun, the music was totally ecclectic, at one point changing from some sort of Irish-Peruvian blend to Taylor Swift, to Bob Marley, but unfortunately there were no lonely female gringos for us to woo with our science. We stayed there for longer than we should have, and got rather merry on Cuba and Coca Libres. On the walk back I thought for a moment, that less than a year ago I would never imagined myself getting smashed, staggering back through the streets of a town in the mountains of Peru. It has to be one of those different Friday nights.

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