Off to Pallata again today. Pallata is a very rough one hour taxi ride from Ollantaytambo up into the hills. It marks the start of the trail to Pumamarca, one of many great ruins in the area. And half way up to Patacancha, where native Quechua people live and with whom Awamaki (the organization I am volunteering with) works with and buys weaving items from.
I was up in Pallata last week with my host family to meet the grandmother (abuela) that lives there and to take a walk up to the ruins, Pumamarca. Arriving in the beautiful rural area was breathtaking. A fast moving stream running down the hill, surrounded by so much green. The hills dotted with goats, pigs and cows as well as family corn farms (Chakra’s of Choclo).
Then walking into the grandmother’s house was a knock back in time. She was dressed in the typical multi-layered gathered skirts and triple layer of sweaters, topped with a straw hat with a black band. The house was just mud bricks and dirt floor. As I sat down on the wooded bench something scurried across the floor and between my legs. I jumped startled, thinking at first that it was a rat. Then I remembered the national delicacy of guinea pig (cuy). Looking to one corner I saw them all huddled together, expect for a few braves ones that ran out and scoured the floor for food bits, like potatoes peels we all dropped on the floor for them to eat. A huge pot of soup simmered on the mud-based stove on one end.
As Poncho, my host father, and I headed up to Pumarca for a look they ladies started to make lunch for our return. Which was steak, Cecil (the aunt) rubbed spice over the bloody meat and placed in a large, very dirty plastic bucket to marinate until our return.
It was an easy uphill walk, through Chakras and family houses. We greeted by local children on our way up and invited in for rice pudding by great-aunts on our way down. While the rice pudding simmered I offered to held shuck and peel the fava beans. Wow! I need a lot more practice to be fast as they are at that and taking kernels of corn on the cob too.
Seeing as it was such a great first visit we were called back to come again next week, as it was time to kill the pig.
Hence we are here again. I was pretty excited about a pig roast. Being Slovak I have seen my share of pig roast and enjoyed the taste of a well roasted pig. But like the titled indicated this certainly was not your Slovak Pig Roast.
I would have liked to see the whole killing of the pig, but I think the purposefully shuffled me off to the local school with the aunt. Seeing as when we return the there was a pool of blood on the ground the chickens and dogs were sniffing at and Poncho, Balbina (host mother), Honorio (Balbina’s brother) and the grandmother were all scrapping at this pig lying in a dirty wheel barrel with a slit throat. They were trying to kill all the dirt off and pluck all the dark black hairs off.
After completely making a mess in that area of the yard they moved the pig to the well, where they tried to clean it some more and then slit it open. The stench that came out was awful. Really reminded of the line by Han Solo from Empire Strikes Back. “I thought the smelt bad from the outside.” The intestines fell out, along with the stomach and every other internal part. All being placed again into that dirty bucket used for last weeks steak marinating.
Now they moved the pig to a third section of the yard. Hung the pig by the hind legs from some wooden rafters sticking out of the meat house and proceeded to saw the pig in half. I was shocked I thought this was a pig roast. Pig roasts I have seen in Slovakia or at a very Slovak centric cottage area consisted of the whole pig being slow roasted on a flame and coming out tasting great. I was having some doubts in this current process and in the moments to follow these doubts were not going to be lessened.
Now that the big was in two parts they untied it from the rafters placed the pig on a dirty plastic sheet on the ground, replaced the saw on the wood pile and picked up the axe. Poncho began to hack away at the pig in no particular order. This was not a seasoned butcher. Chef Ramsay would die if one of Hell’s Kitchen’s chefs deconstructed a pig in this way. Pieces of pig were flying everywhere. A chunk of fat hung from Poncho’s hair. Finally the hatchet job was complete and the pieces were gathered and thrown in a large pot with some Chicha and salt and on the mud stove. While it cooked we cleaned the chocklo I and the aunt has gathered from the Chakra earlier.
Okay so this was clearly not the pig roast I had expected, but the meat would be cooked and any bacteria I’m sure would be killed, so I was open to eating whatever they dished out. A couple of hours later a plate full of awkwardly shaped pig pieces was handed to me. I picked one up off my plate and went to bit into it, but not before I looked at it. Big mistake! I was all fat, covered in thick sink with long black hair still stuck to it. I guess I could suck on it and use the hair as dental floss? Well I tried but after chewing forever and had to put it down and try another piece. Finally some meat on this one. But absolutely no flavour. I ate what I could off the five pieces they gave me, ate a couple of small potatoes throwing the peels at the cuyies and placed the plate on the table. I’m pretty sure Poncho ate the pieces of my plate that I couldn’t. I felt like a bit of spoiled North American. However, I really did try to eat it, but I just could get through the tough skin and hairy bits.
Washed the tasted down with some moonshine mixed with boiling water and muna (mint) leaves. Then come Chicha.
Soon were back in Ollantaytambo. And I was happy I’d be back to eating rice again. Or so I thought. The next day Poncho proudly served my lunch with the pig form yesterday, he said. Only when I started to eat I soon discovered there was no meat only pig fat pieces. And it wasn’t like crunchy pork rinds it was slimy, pieces of unchewable fat.
I can’t wait for Easter ham and bacon when I get home.