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Latin America Kevin Dispatch

Hungry? How about some Cuy?

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Kevin's hosts - Cesar, Olga, Sonia, and nephew Franco

It was Friday, already my third night in Cajamarca, an Andean town so charming that one's tempted to never leave. I could hardly have felt more comfortable than I did as a guest in the home of Cesar and Olga. Like many others, their home was a simple but cozy adobe house with roof shingles of baked clay. Olga's traditional Cajamarcan cooking: chicken soup, beef with white rice, chicken, and fresh slices of onion, tomatoes and avocado, was enough to lure me back to the house twice a day. Had their daughters Lily and Sonia not insisted that I go out and see the town, I could've easily spent the rainy afternoons eating and learning local recipes in Olga's ever so patient Spanish. Mary, her sister Sara, and all of Lily and Sonia's friends called to invite me for a night on the town. It was as if their friends were now my friends, and I was just another one of the locals. But as dinner approached, I could sense that their acceptance of me was incomplete. It was not enough that I spoke their language, or that I fueled my laughter at their jokes with the same oxygen-deprived air they grew up on. No, there remained one single test that not only Gringos, but also Limenos and Cuzquenos alike, must all pass before truly finding acceptance among the people of Cajamarca. At that moment, with hunger boiling in their eyes, I finally realized that I too would have to face it...and eat it...the CUY!

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Olga hard at work on a Cajamarcan meal

It's not enough that those little guinea pigs provide endless entertainment by running around their cages, peeking their noses out to sniff the fingers of kids who give them cute pet names. In Cajamarca, the guinea pig has but one true name, that of a tasty local dish found especially in this town... the Cuy. Before I had time to offer the slightest resistance, the restaurant of choice was already chosen. It was a noisy, diner-style joint where one could've just as soon expected to order a hamburger or French fries. The smell of grease nearly caused me to swoon, and I wondered if passing out on the spot would somehow get me off the hook. As if on cue, I was immediately served a soft drink, which only slightly calmed my nerves.

I was then handed a menu, but my eyes blurred as I strained to make out an English translation. For me, it merely read, "I, your once faithful pet, do hereby ordain, establish, and declare that my life shall be given so that you, Kevin, can at last feel like a Cajamarqueno," with only a paw print for a signature. My order was placed before I ever entered the restaurant, and it was just as well, since I was suddenly distracted. Either my mind was playing tricks on me or I had taken one too many sips of that disgusting yellow Inca Kola, but I thought I saw another rodent running out of the kitchen, bolting out the front door of the restaurant, and disappearing into the lush foliage of the Plaza de Armas.

The kitchen door then opened again, revealing our snappily dressed waiter holding a small tray. As the tray lowered to the table, I closed my eyes so as not to see any tiny black ones staring back at me, begging for mercy. When I finally saw him, his head was mysteriously absent, he was stretched out, flattened like a road kill frying in the hot sun. Next to him on the plate, I saw a cup of water, a bowl of pet food, and the circular treadmill he used to tirelessly run in. Of course I realized, after putting down my glass of Inca Kola, that it was merely a cup of spicy aji sauce, a salad, and a whirlwind of potatoes in a colorful dressing.

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The Cathedral of San Francisco!
The girls all crossed themselves at the dinner table before beginning to eat, as I had seen them do so often in passing the great San Francisco Cathedral. I could hear the church bells from the plaza clanging in my head, like a countdown to my first bite. A church with the same name as my own city, San Francisco, reminded me that once I dig in, I can never go back to the town where animal activists and vegetarians would forever await me with buck-toothed smiles and outstretched claws.

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Kevin digs into a tasty bit of cuy.
Then, as I looked around at the other plates on the table, I saw something that was both frightening and yet strangely comforting. It was a figure I clearly recognized as if it were a friend from childhood joining me at a Thanksgiving feast. Everyone else at the table had a freshly fried "conejo" on their plate, and they were already digging in ferociously. It was Bugs Bunny, Briar Rabbit, and little Peter Rabbit, none of whom could hear me calling their names as they were sliced up, dipped into a sauce, and consumed by my newer friends. I suddenly realized that the little guinea pig laying lifelessly before me meant nothing to me compared to those poor rabbits. He was just a smaller beast, and a rodent at that. He didn't really even have a name. I never knew him and, therefore, I never gave him a name. And so from that moment on, he ceased to be anything more to me than...CUY!


Monica - Wanted: A Solution to the Puzzle in the Desert
Kavitha - Corruption by Corporate Conquistadors
Shawn - Snake-Cats at the Lanzon de Templo Viaje
Kevin - Hungry? How about some Cuy?
Shawn - Inspiration at High Elevations: Huapi Mountain
Making a Difference - Constant Threat at Big Mountain
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