To Eat or Not to Eat: Guinea Pigs in Peru

April 26, 2011 5 Comments

Every country has something that people will quiz you on in order to judge your experience as a tourist there.  Argentina: “Is the

Watercolor by Kate Rose Johnson

steak really that amazing and did you learn to tango?” Spain: “Did you go to a bullfight?” Brazil: “Did you wear a thong bikini?” Spain again, “Did you go topless on the beach?”  India: “Did you get sick? Is the Taj Mahal really that amazing?” Latvia: “Where is that?”  I knew with Peru the question would be something about hiking and Macchu Picchu following quickly by: “Did you eat a guinea pig?” I both dreaded and relished the opportunity to be in a place where I could eat a guinea pig.  After all, how amazing would it be to see the look on my friend and family’s faces after I’d shrugged my shoulders and nodded with a down-turned mouth, “Sure, yeah, it tasted like chicken”, all the while recording their reaction of incredulous props to my hardcore travel style, or disappointment that they hadn’t been able to stump me.  It was one tiny bite, a small sacrifice for me to make for years of exaggerated stories and bragging rights.

Other than the fact that I scrunch my nose at the thought of consuming rodents, my best friend in second grade had a guinea pig.  Peruvians think that it’s funny that we keep them as pets and I quite agree with them.  I always thought it gross, but Abby loved her little pet.  Then one day after school, it bit another friend who was holding it.  Her involuntary and surprised clench turned my friend into a guinea pig killer.  Any time I think of guinea pigs I see three little girls staring blankly at a dead pet and can’t bring myself to think of eating Gus.   In addition, when Peruvians cook these little beasts they generally splay them out as if they had died cart wheeling, and roast them over a fire.

Have I mentioned that the guinea pigs live in castles here?  In one town I saw a three tiered mud castle built into a corner with little clay tile roofs, balconies and fresh green grass.  They live a regal and healthier life than all of our livestock combined in the U.S.

There I am, every meal is like Russian roulette where I look at the menu to see if I am presented with the opportunity.  Finally, one night, it’s on the menu.  I take a deep breath and order it, thinking of the glory that will await me.  Surprisingly, the waiter persuades me to get the fish.  I should, he says, order the cuy from a local place on Sundays.  He tells me the name and address and I get the fish.  The days fly by and we’re in Machu Picchu one Sunday and deep in the Amazon on the other.  Suddenly it’s my last night in Peru and I haven’t tried the cuy. However, after a harrowing journey into the Amazon, where I ate termites, battled rodents, monkeys and bugs, prayed that the minivan wouldn’t slide off the edge of the canyon and that our guide would find us, lost in the middle of the rainforest, I sink deep into the booth of the restaurant and satisfactorily chomp into a slice of pizza.

Watercolor by Kate Rose Johnson

I won’t cannibalize my royal cousins on this trip nor feel like my travel creds took a hit.  There’s more to Peru than eating a guinea pig.


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5 Comments to “To Eat or Not to Eat: Guinea Pigs in Peru”
  1. Franco says:

    Big smiles!

    Did you know that the cheese on the pizza in Peru is made from guinea pig milk?

    It takes hours.

    Franco

  2. Mary Clare says:

    Some things are best left undone or for other times. I wish I had never eaten scrapple on the eastern shore of Virginia.

    I love the green shoes – paintings capture the essence of your story. Well done!!

  3. Fraidypants Princess says:

    That’s a good reminder that there are still new things to try without travelling far!

  4. Lisa says:

    Lovely thoughtful story. I want to know more about the castles.

  5. Amester says:

    Haha!!!! This is one of my all-time favorites!!!

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