Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Best of Peru

What's the only way to sum up the past two-and-a-half whirlwind weeks south of the equator? With a "best of" piece, of course.

Best Random American Music Moment:

After walking for three hours across the entire city of Iquitos, eventually winding up at the literal end of the road in the poorest part of any town I have ever been in, I decided to hop on the crosstown bus back to the Plaza de Armas downtown. Of course, I was the only white guy on the bus. In fact, I was probably the only white guy who had ever been on that bus. But that didn't stop the bus driver from cranking the radio full tilt, and as the station played a seemingly endless array of crackling Peruvian Raggaeton classics, suddenly out of nowhere came an opening riff that instantly brought a smile to my face and roped me into singing along, Gringo stereotypes be damned. It was Tom Petty's "Runnin' Down a Dream".

It was a beautiful day. The sun beat down. I had the radio on. I was drivin'...

Best Random American Music Moment, Courtesy of a Peruvian Rock Band:

On my last night in Iquitos, I stumbled into this fantastic little Rock and Roll club called "Tambo". Again, I was the only Gringo in the place. When the soccer-mullet-sporting quintet took a short break to hack darts and slug beers, the lead singer asked me where I was from. When I told him Canada, he gave me a wink. They opened their second set with a note-perfect version of Queen's "Under Pressure", the lead singer giving me a fist pump salute as he kicked into it. I have no idea whether he thought Queen was Canadian, or that my moustache was a tribute to the late, great Freddie Mercury. Whatever the case, the gesture was greatly appreciated.

Best Late Night Snack:

There's a side street in Iquitos called Napo, and late at night, one of the restaurants provides an open air snack stand where they sell something called "French Fry Salad". And yes, it is as good and as healthy as it sounds. A giant mound of french fries, mayonaise, mustard, ketchup, some green sauce that I couldn't name if my life depended on it... Let me tell you: at 1:30 in the morning, it definitely does the trick.

(For the record, this particular late night snack remains a distant second behind the crouton-and-grated-cheese salad that my buddy Flats and I invented one night many moons ago in Bala, ON. Personally, I love the fact that when you're drunk enough, any two items mixed together automaticly result a concoction worthy of the "salad" designation, regardless of the nutritional value of said contents.)

Best "Stump the Shaman" Moment:

When it came to Q&A during my ayahuasca workshop, the questions were, almost without exception, of a profound and highly spiritual nature. Origins of the universe. Higher spiritual self. Battling inner demons... The kinds of things people were looking for answers to when they came to the workshop in the first place.

So I guess it should come as no surprise that I caught everyone more than just a little offguard when, just before the beginning of one of our ceremonies, with everybody huddled together in the dark and trembling at the prospect of what their iminent journey into the spiritual realm of the subconscious might bring, I asked our Shaman: "If you were a wrestler, what would your entrance music into this ayahuasca ceremony be?"

I kid you not when I say that this literally had him stumped for three days. It wasn't until our final ceremony that he was able to unequivocally say that it would definitely be AC/DC's "For Those About to Rock". I was thinking something more along the lines of Guns and Roses "Welcome to the Jungle" (You know where you ARE?... You're in the JUNGLE baby... You gonna DIE!!!!"). Unmistakable opening riff. Timeless classic. And, you know... We were in the jungle... And most of us were convinced we actually were going to die... What could possibly be a better way to cut the tension?

In any event, there isn't any power at the retreat, so no final decision be made yet. But I'm still sticking with the G&R classic for the made-for-TV-movie.

Best Beer in Peru:

Cusquena. I'm telling you, Peruvian hangovers are a thing of the past. Crisp, clean taste. No additives or preservatives. And comes in a handy 640ml bottle. And one of those big bottles generally goes for less than $2.

Best Seinfeld Moment:

Ummm... I can't actually put this one into print. But let's just say that the parallels to "The Contest" were almost overwhelming. Feel free to ask me about this one in person. Preferably over a couple of beverages.

Best Place to Swim:

Along the only road out of Iquitos (it ends about 100 kms up river in a town called Nauta), there is a bridge over the Rio Itaya. Two days earlier, it had rained in a torrential downpour for 12 consecutive hours, and when we went to the local beach, the water line was about 15 feet above where it customarily is. That didn't stop us from jumping into the Pirahna-infested waters and getting a little exercise. Even though the water was that murky milk-chocolate-fondue-brown (a result of the sediment and the way the leaves dye the water, I would later learn), it was by far one of the most refreshing dips I'd ever taken. This is a shot of my boy Spanish Albert, hanging on to a tree in the current.

Best Name for an Acoustic Guitar Duo:

I saw a pair of guitar players at a fantastic little bar in Iquitos (the Cafe-Teatro Amauta). They were playing chilled out Peruvian acoustic hits, interspersed by the occasional American pop hit (my favourite was a cover of REM's "Using My Relations"). In any event, I bought them a large Pilsen, and on one of their breaks they joined me at the bar. In my broken Spanish I told them that they were pretty good, and inquired as to their handle: "Los Dos? We are ANTHRAX!".

Anthrax! For a duo of acoustic ballad singers! Probably the most misleading moniker this side of "Cumquat".

Best Way To Get Black-Out Drunk for $1:

At the same bar (Cafe-Teatro Amauta), they sell a drink called "siete raices" (literally translated as "seven roots"). It is made with aguardiente (Peruvian moonshine) and the bark of 7 different trees. It costs 3 soles ($1 CDN), comes in a four ounce glass, and will basically blind you if consumed in it's entirety. Needless to say, it would have been rude not to order one. I'm pretty sure that glass is still sitting on the bar, three-quarters full.

Best Disregard for the Local Building Code:

They say that a picture says a thousand words.

If that's the case, I'm pretty sure that this one would include some of the following: "What the fuck happened to the wall in my bedroom?"

Best Canadian Reference Point:

While listening to ANTHRAX serenading the bar with a version of Queen's "I Want to Break Free", one of the singers asked me where I was from. When I told him "Canada", he responded with: "Canada? Avril Lavigne, yes?"

Kill me.

Best Homebrew Moment:

After waking up at 7 in the morning on our second day at the ayahuasca workshop, we spent the morning washing the ayahuasca vine (amazingly, the inside of the ayahuasca vine looks identical to the double helix found in the structure of our DNA), pounding it into smaller pieces, washing the rest of the plants and barks that would go into the concoction (there were a total of 17 different barks, vines, and leaves in our ayahuasca), and the putting the contents into giant cauldrons over an open fire in order to reduce them to a concentrated brew.

Later on in the afternoon, I wandered over to the fire to see what was happening, and one of the Shamans asked if I wanted to help him mix the brews. I'm not exactly sure why, but having a hand in creating the most powerful thing I would ever ingest just struck a chord with me. It was hands down one of the highlights of my trip.

Best Place to be a Big Shot:

Barranco. Lima, Peru.

On my last night in town, I decided I was going to play the role of big shot. I had all of these Peruvian Soles that I needed to get rid of, so I decided that the drinks would be on me. A few of the local chicos and chicas decided to take me out to a local bar where I would basically be the only white dude, and where I could completely embarass myself by attempting to salsa dance. I of course made a complete ass of myself, but the Jarras of Cusquena kept coming, so no one was really complaining.

I was completely off my ass, buying drinks for everyone. Beers and shots at the hostel. Pitchers at the bar. Drinks at an after hours place you needed to know a secret knock to get into. Literally, if I had a conversation with you Saturday night, you did not buy a single drink. I felt like Rodney Dangerfield in Back to School. It was probably one of the best nights of my life.

The next morning I woke up with a screaming hangover, took a header off the tile wall in the freezing cold shower, somehow managed to pick up the pieces, and then went through my pockets to assess the damage.

After buying drinks all night, I had spent a total of $60.

And that included my accomodations.

If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times: I fucking love this place.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for condensing it down to a 2 minute read...holy fuck I could spend way too much time on your blog...probably have!
Apparently (that means to the untrained eye) you did not have much of an epiphany in Peru. The later posts don't show it at least...
We're all looking for answers, no?
Jim - Owen Sound

Richie Benaud said...

Very well discussed, enjoyed reading it.

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