Sunday, July 23, 2006

The bug that was bound to happen

While such fine San Francisco restaurants such as Fresca serve up Peruvian food that is muy authentico and also muy delicioso, I am doing all I can to stay away from Peruvian food here in Peru.

Arriving last week from Lima to Cusco required some acclimatization; for a person who has lived her whole life either at or below sea level, suddenly being at 3300 meters was a shock to the system. I did my best, hiking through Inca ruins and bartering for hairy alpaca jumpers in the marketplace, to play the part of the open-minded tourist.

However, when the tour guide I hired off the street took me to a mud hut in a tiny Quechua village for a really "authentic" Peruvian experience, I should have said no to the food. I tried a bite of ch´uño, which is a freeze-dried Andean potato. To be exact, the little brown potatoes are harvested and left in a cold field to rot. Once they have rotted, they are stomped on by the locals´feet (which are not pretty as nobody wears socks, EVER, no matter how cold it gets in the Andes). After being stomped flat and inside-out by cracked feet, they are left in the field again to freeze. Once "preserved" like this, the potatoes will keep in a mud attic for years. Wonder of wonders.

So I tasted the potato, which hadn´t had anything done to it except for being thrown into a bowl with some white rice. It tasted exactly like you think a rotten potato that has been stomped on by filthy feet and then been left to freeze in a field would taste: completely disgusting. I fed the rest of mine to a dog when no-one was looking, but the two polite bites I tood were enough to give me a raging bacterial infection. I languished for a couple of days with a resting heart rate of 170 and extremely low blood pressure, but when my fever reached 40 degrees (celsius), the kind woman at the hostal called a doctor who came to my bedside and immediately gave me a shot. He prescribed a ton of medication including a course of antibiotics that I´m sure weren´t approved by the FDA but made me completely better right away.

So much better, in fact, that I was able to leave for my 4-day trek to Macchu Pichu the next morning, although when on the second morning we were invited into a Quechua hut to see how people in the Andes have always lived, I politely declined the bit of boiled potato that was offered to me.


Sam said...

oh no!
I hope the rest of the trip goes better than that.
I did a south american cooking course at tante marie in SF and our winderful teacher, Penny, is Peruvian.
She part-owns some restauants in Peru - maybe if you decide to eat something again you could check them out? I know nothing about them, except that penny is great and if she is associated with them, I think there would be hope for them being ok.

Amy Sherman said...

Oh my! Getting that sick on vacation is scary stuff. Do get well soon. My old boss caught something nasty in Peru once too and lost a ton of weight before he got better.

JuanPedro said...

Ella, hi.

great blog, its fun and got a good rythm, i like that, i know that my english its not very good at all.
so you got sick, be carefull, i dont think that would happen to you in Chile, i can offer my services as a guide, but all depends if you'll be in Santiago by weekend, cause i got to work.

Chao y cuidate, see ya pretty soon.

Auntie Em said...

"It tasted exactly like you think a rotten potato that has been stomped on by filthy feet and then been left to freeze in a field would taste: completely disgusting." OK, it was all worth it (to me, anyway) just for this line! You are a great example of being willing to suffer for one's art!