Although my sister and I did eat a heck load of beans and rice on our two month journey around South and Central America, it was a culinary journey with a few stand out experiences.
We ate a guinea pig in Peru; two of the little blighters between 15 of us. My sister couldn’t shake the image of her boyfriend’s children’s pet guinea pig, fondly known as chatterbox, as she bit through each mouthful. Her motivation to swallow it down was the fact that farming guinea pigs for food is much more sustainable than cow, sheep or chicken. The blackened heads of these wee animals presented as a garnish on the side of the plate was a small price to pay for the knowledge that the meat we were eating was of sustainable origins!
We stayed in Amazonia and I experienced some of the best food of my life – the fresh tropical fruit, sweet little lady finger bananas, beautiful curries, fresh salads and fish. Our eco lodge had it’s very own “organic pharmacy” consisting of medicinal herbs to cure anything from common ailments to snake or insect bites. It was truely eco, and we were able to explore their eclectic plantation of chillis, cashews, pineapple, turmeric, cotton and so much more…
We were surrounded (sometimes very closely) by sloths, monkeys, macaws and caiman and it was a place I will be eternally grateful to have visited.
We volunteered at Jatun Sacha, a conservation station on San Cristóbal- the easternmost island of the Galapagos. The station really was in the middle of nowhere, with its very own microclimate. We were situated near the largest fresh water lake in the archipelago. The living accommodation was, let’s say, very basic. I don’t want to describe that for the fact that I may sound like I am complaining. The kitchen was also basic, open, with an outdoor coal oven. We only had power for only a few hours a day. The two Galapagoen cooks produced food from this facility, which was more than impressive. There was fresh orange juice with every meal (or on my breakfast shift, orange and lemon blend), for lunch and dinner there was pan-fried fish, fried chicken or beef curry with rice, lentils, fresh tomato and cucumber salad and chilli onions. For breakfast there were pancakes, porridge or granola with fresh tropical fruit and yoghurt. If it wasn’t for the fact that every day we were macheteing noxious blackberry weed (or mora as it was called there), it would have been heaven. We also got to plant natives, cultivate and roast coffee beans and pick produce from their extensive orchard. I didn’t leave with guns of steel but a couple of kilograms heavier and the firm belief that cooking is not about the equipment in your kitchen but your passion for food and access to fresh meat, fruit and vegetables.
I’ve come back with fire in my belly to get back to that side of the world, in particular Chile and Nicaragua, I have more appreciation for the humble banana and for the happy, passionate, patriotic people of the South American Continent.