Tag Archives: Peruvian food


We spent Tilman’s last day at the MLC measuring more trees.  This time, I had to get in on the action since there weren’t any paths to clear, and I reluctantly left my machete by the wayside.  We also had a few trees to plant to replace those that had died because all of the storms, so that slowed us down a little, but not by much.  Spurred on by Hanako’s need for efficiency and the heat, we worked as quickly as humanly possible to get the job done.

Before we knew it, it was time for lunch.  I’m pretty sure we had causa that day which is my favorite Peruvian dish.  It has mashed potatoes on the top and bottom, lime, chili, oil, and onions, with avocado and mayonnaise in the center.  Alcides likes to make it with Pollo Cubano, or Cuban chicken on the side.  Sooo delicious.

Causa and Cuban chicken.

It gets dark in the jungle around 6:00, so we spent the rest of the daylight doing chores and collecting firewood for a fugata, or a bonfire in honor of Tilman before he left for Cusco.  The rest of the girls went off to find fallen branches along the shore of the river, while Lilia called Tito and me to collect old wood from the shed.  We piled it high into the wheelbarrow, and began the arduous task of getting it all down a steep, endless set of muddy stairs.  “Muy bien, Tina.  Muy bien.” Tito would say with every step.  Tito is one of the caretakers of the MLC, and it couldn’t be a more fitting title for him.  All sympathy and kindness, Tito is a natural cheerleader.

The girls had collected enough wood and dropped it off at the bonfire site.  They had something to do up at the MLC, so they left, and Tito and I set up the fire.  I felt a drop of water on my cheek.  “Aaay,” Tito sighed.  He must’ve felt it too.  He tilted his head back and blew at the sky.  “What are you doing?”  I asked him in Spanish.  “It keeps the rain away,” he explained as he continued to pile up wood.  It kept drizzling as we worked, and I was surprised that I still saw fireflies emerging from the trees.  “Fireflies,” I said, pointing at the flying insects.  “Aaaa si.  Luciérnagas.” he replied.  “Luciérnagas,” I repeated, letting the new word roll off my tongue.  “Muy bien, Tina.  Muy bien.”

We had to inch up the stairs in the dark because I had lent my headlamp out.  I’m glad I had an excuse to go slowly because normally that hill knocks the wind out of me.  Back at the MLC, the girls were poking fun at Tilman as per usual- out of love, of course- but with more jokes than usual since Tilman was set to be leaving us.  He took it all in stride; he’d been in a good mood all day since he would soon get to see his wife again whom he hadn’t seen in two months.  Tito and I told the others that the fire was ready, and I crossed my fingers that the soft rain hadn’t extinguished it yet.

The entire staff and all the volunteers paraded back down to the river with food ready to be cooked.  The fire was still burning brightly and we turned over the wet boards to the dry side to sit down.  There was undoubtedly still a divide between volunteers and staff at this point, but it was nice coming together, and we spoke what Spanish we knew.  Alcides cooked the most amazing kabobs and choclo- a type of corn with large kernels- which we devoured within seconds.  The meal was topped off with a delicious dessert that Tomas had made- the lightest lemon pie I’d ever had.

Kabobs, rice, and choclo

Chilling with Erica.

That’s what I’m talking about.

After carousing for a while, we let the fire die out and returned to the MLC.  Back home, we played cards an ungodly amount of times while giddy Tilman filmed the entire thing.  Things were going to be different without him.


¡Día Libre!

After working very little the past two days due to the rain, we had a free day on Sunday.  And guess what?  It didn’t rain.

Still, we spent some time cooking with Alcides and Carla in the kitchen.  We made juanes which are made with steamed corn meal or rice, chicken, and olives wrapped in giant banana leaves.  Lots of steps are involved but the effort is well worth the reward.

Carla and Alcides in the kitchen.
Learning tricks of the trade.
The Manu menu

Our equally yummy lunch.

Then the epic clothes washing by hand began.  I thought I would be missing my washing machine, but it’s strangely satisfying to wash your clothes yourself.  But better keep an eye on those clothes drying on the lines because you never know when those skies will open up!

The place you were most likely to find me: the laundry area.
The best part of doing laundry in the rainforest? The butterflies.

The day was topped off with a soccer game, a swim by the waterfall, and some delicious lemon meringue that Tomás made.  All in a day’s work.  My American side felt guilty for doing relatively nothing while my Greek side was hoping for another día libre very, very soon.



That first night in the rainforest was hot and cacophonous.  I woke up in a sweat, scratching my bites and listening to a family of bats chattering over my head.  Thankfully, I had spent about a quarter of an hour tucking in my mosquito net, so nothing was getting into that safehold.  It’s a good thing too, considering how many cockroaches I saw scatter when I opened the armoire before I hit the sack.  I discovered that one of my earplugs had fallen out, and once I had remedied that problem, I drifted back into an easy sleep that comes with exhaustion.

Before I knew it, it was time to get up.  At breakfast, I had my first of many, many cups of the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had.  An interesting thing about breakfast in Peru is that it’s common to eat a huge meal to begin with in order to sustain you the rest of the day.  We mostly had omelets, fruit, and cereal, but when we visited other places, we generally had things like chicken and rice or spaghetti to start off the day.

After stuffing our faces, we took off for the small mammal traps with Tilman, Juvenal, and Nelson.  Juvenal was the head of the small mammal project and had garnered the nickname “Rambo” because of his tough guy attitude.  Nelson was his sidekick in the project- a gentle soul with a whisper of a voice and the agility of a jungle cat.  Armed with machetes, the men took the lead.

Sarita helping cut down a tree in our way.

Our mission?  To set the traps with peanut butter and tuna so we could catch and study tiny, furry animals.  The annoyance?  My ridiculous asthma that was fighting me every step of the way.  At first I was fine, but Rambo kept going faster and faster, the terrain became more and more rugged, and then finally, we encountered this steep incline lined with roots and rocks.  I don’t know why, but I had never really thought of the rainforest as being mountainous before.  Incorrect.  By the time I got to the top, my vision had started to blur and my head was spinning.  Erica asked me if I was alright and stayed with me while I recuperated.  Anyway, after a couple of incidents like this, I finally learned to use my inhaler before I got started on this whole trekking through the rainforest business.

I ❤ my machete

We finally arrived at the site.  We took out the aromatic tuna and peanut butter, set the traps, and went on our way.  Juvenal and I struck up a conversation about our families, and ever so often he would freeze mid-sentence to point out some creature in the distance.  He’d stare at it with the intensity of a hunter, pretend he was shooting an imaginary gun, and growl “Ese animal es muy rico.  Muuuy rico.”  Translation:  That animal is very delicious.  Veeeery delicious.  Sometimes I question Juvenal’s conservation efforts.  Just a little.

After lunch at the MLC, at the urging of Tilman, we became “one with nature” and went swimming in the river.  A more “kid friendly” kind of river rather than the mother (literally) of all rivers- the Madre de Dios.  It was very nice and uneventful until we were leaving.  It began to pour down torrentially, and we were a long way from home.  The sheer force of the current and the pounding rain combined with the glass-smooth stones made it a challenge just to stay standing.  I can’t tell you the last time I had properly fallen down before going to the Amazon, but within the span of forty-five minutes I had fallen on my butt four or five times.  In the river, in the streams, on the bank, and on the trail.  You name it, I fell there.

The gang by the river.

Hanako with a stick insect Tilman found on the trail.

By the time we got home, the rain had finally abated a little, but it was still too wet to do any work.  Instead, we learned about Manu and how to behave in the forest.  Most important piece of information?  If you come across a jaguar, DO NOT RUN.  They go in attack mode if you do.  You have to make a lot of noise and raise your arms so it appears you are bigger.

By this point, I already felt a burgeoning love for Manu.  Free and wild, dangerous and vibrant, it has more species of wildlife than you can imagine.  It is beautiful, and above all, a glorious challenge of artful simplicity.  By the end of the day, I had a taste of what this trip was going to be all about.  It wasn’t about fixing or finding something.  It was about loving and learning to be alive.