The Astromaid Chronicles

Slow Travel, Creative Living, and Speculation

Category: South America (page 2 of 10)

An Affair in Two Hemispheres: Wedding Woes & Wonders Pt. 1

Q: Where does an astronaut mermaid celebrate her wedding? In the deep azure sea, or in the twinkling reaches of outer space?

A: BOTH!

I’m going to be writing for a while about some of the aspects of the wedding industry, the way they make my gut grumble, and some of the more traditional aspects of our non-traditional approach. Something of a Wedding Series, if you will, but without the majority of the trappings of regular wedding stuff, like, you know…the engagement party, the wedding shower, the wedding party, the registries, the religious ceremony, the ring exchange, or the white wedding dress.

OK, that sounds like the bulk of what constitutes a wedding, but I swear we are actually doing some traditional things. Though, now that I think about it, the only traditional part might just be the marriage itself.

At any rate, I want to share our plan with you. And in a nutshell (or, in my case, a helmet), we’re going to be doing the deed, and doing it DOUBLE!

Both countries, both families, two very distinct and totally awesome celebrations.

Wedding Meme

The unfortunate truth is that our worlds are very far apart. The flight between Miami, FL and Santiago, Chile (a convenient airport to getting to Jorge’s homeland) is 8 hours alone. That’s not counting the additional flights between FL an OH, the layovers, the furtive Cuban empanadas consumed, nor the various ceremonies and magical spells needed to ensure all flights arrive on time.

Furthermore, it’s hard to travel so far. Not everyone is cut out for it. International travel involves a lot of preparation and a lot of MONEY. Most of Jorge’s family hasn’t been on a plane before, and arranging an endeavor of that nature would be extremely stressful. Some of his family members get anxious just thinking about a plane. It wouldn’t be fair to have only one celebration in one country. So we must have two!

But first thing’s first: Jorge and I are going to have a small courthouse ceremony this month to get the show on the road. Then in December, we’re going to throw a big bash in Ohio for all the friends and family that can make it.

In February, Jorge and I will be in Argentina to tie the knot over there the same way we did here, with an intimate civil thing. Days later, we’ll have a big party (in high summer, no less!) with all of his friends and family down there.

We both wish that it were more feasible to bring both sides together for one roaring celebration. Maybe if it were a matter of bus rides instead of plane rides, it could work out. Jorge’s mother so wants to meet my parents, but I’m not sure that will be a possibility. And it breaks my heart that our parents might never meet in their lifetimes.

These are some of the difficulties of finding your love in a different hemisphere. Will our families ever know one another? Can our friends hang out? Will our two communities ever have a chance to meet?

The answer is, unfortunately, probably not. Maybe here and there friends can visit, but on a larger scale, our worlds might remain firmly separated. If the flight prices weren’t exclusionary enough, the fact that all of his Argentinian friends and family would need to apply for a tourist visa makes the endeavor even less likely. If it goes anything like Jorge’s experience, they’ll be rejected, and flush both time and money down the drain via embassy appointments and paying the application fee various times until the approval comes through.

All money aside, it’s much easier for North Americans to visit Argentina than for Argentinians to visit the U.S.A. And that tiny detail packs a huge punch. It might mean that nobody ever comes up here to visit. And I can totally understand why.

These are the realities of an international relationship. When we are one place, we miss the other. When we are with one family, there is another family wishing we were with them. And when we are marrying in the north, there is a marriage waiting for us down south.

Despite the difficulties, we are literally trembling with excitement for all the celebrating that awaits us. There will be nuptials; there will be a reception on Lake Erie; there will be a Pan-American buffet (more details on the Ohio-side planning later); there will be a group trip to Argentina; there will be every manner of gaucho meat options; and there will be two marriage ceremonies in two countries. (I can’t wait to report back about the differences in bureaucracy!)

When we marry, not only will we forge friendship between two nations, our flags will also dreamily melt into one.

When we marry, not only will we forge friendship between two nations, our flags will also dreamily melt into one.

Next time on the Astromaid Wedding Woes & Wonders: The Dress!

That Time I Ate An Armadillo

Jorge’s family is sort of obsessed with quirquincho.

I’d heard this strange word hundreds times throughout my first visit to meet his parents. Quirquincho this and quirchincho that. Per Foreign Language Acquisition Rules, I just politely nodded and ignored asking what the word meant, because I had already pretended to understand too many times and finally asking what it meant would have been embarrassing (ONE MUST PRETEND TO KNOW ALL WORDS AT ALL  TIMES).

It wasn’t until visiting his brother’s house that they pointed to the quirquincho hanging on the wall that I realized OMG they’ve been talking about armadillos the entire time.

As in, hunting them. Eating them. Making stews with them. What a delicacy they are. How much they wish they could have another one. The way the flavors mix with fond childhood memories. And on. And on.

Like I said–a little obsessed with quirquinchos.

On my most recent visit to Candelaria, I got the chance to try quirquincho. It had been freshly hunted off their own farmland in the morning, courtesy of the three dogs that live out there. Seriously, armadillos roam their farmland. Pretty much the entire family looked at me strangely when I said I had only ever seen armadillo in a zoo.

And from my perfunctory knowledge of armadillos, I would never have guessed that it could be hunted. Isn’t it just one giant moving shell? Furthermore, how does one eat a giant shelled animal?

How does anyone even know there’s anything under there worth eating? Can’t we just let it stay out there and do its shelled thing?

These were some of my existential questions prior to the quirquincho.

Jorge's father and the catch of the day: QUIRQUINCHO

Jorge’s father and the catch of the day: QUIRQUINCHO

I’ll be honest, I was pretty hesitant to try quirquincho because, well, there’s no mistaking that IT’S A LITERAL ARMADILLO. Completely intact, just…you know…boiled. *gulp* Okay.

But hey. When you’re the partner of an Argentinian farm boy, you don’t want to offend what could potentially become your in-law family for life. So, you know, you eat the armadillo.

Even if it looks like it will leap up and ATTACK YOU at any moment.

A close-up of dinner.

A close-up of dinner. What are we even supposed to eat? I don’t get it, you guys.

Once we sat down at the table, the shelled carcass had been replaced with cuts of its meat. Could have fooled me that this bad boy would have had any meat under that shell, but hey, what does a suburban girl from Ohio know about eating this stuff? (Hint: nothing.)

The meat was pretty okay. Served cooled, it reminded me of dark turkey leftovers after Thanksgiving. The shock and awe of seeing the creature in a baking dish sort of marred the experience. But, really, every time I go to visit Jorge’s family, I’m pushed up against the glass wall of where meat really comes from. For them, and many others in the world, slaughter and meat preparation is as common place as cooking beans is for me.

But from my sterile North American, non-farm life, seeing these sort of things is still SHOCKING to me. I’ve been acclimating to sights like these since my first trip abroad to Mexico in 2006 — I can still remember the cresting nausea as I walked the central market with my Mexican Mama for the first time, observing with horror and pity the swinging slabs of cow and more.

That doesn’t mean I’ve adapted fully, though. Every once in awhile, a surprise armadillo will get the best of me, leaving me both slack-jawed and horrified as I contemplate putting it in my mouth.

But I respect their lifestyle, and I really admire their connection with the land, the animals they raise, and the purity of their intentions. It’s easy to forget that a large majority of the world still lives so closely with the land — especially in America, where most things are a car ride or a trip to Kroger away.

I’m the first to admit–I wasn’t raised with much contact with rugged nature, or any sense of living from the land. Sure, I played in the woods and climbed trees. But hunting to survive? I don’t know if it’s a luxury or a pity that I’ve been able to live a life without knowing that.

Adventures in Coffee: Argentina Edition

I REALLY LIKE COFFEE. And sometimes this leads to varied (and desperate) adventures with brewing coffee on the road (the true peak being sifting coffee through a pair of leggings). Like clockwork, another strange speed bump cropped up throughout what is an already sort of unusual winding road through Coffee Land.

We started our voyage into the rural midlands of Argentina with a jar of ground coffee. Regular stuff – some Columbian beans I had left over from Cusco. But as all ground things come to an end, before long I was eyeing the bright green packages of whole Peruvian coffee beans with something similar to a caffeine-induced hunger.

Audrey and Chevi bestowed upon us the generous gift of COFFEE before we left. Our bags were so stuffed that I had to cram three of these packs into my purse. Made for an awkward bag-search when we crossed the border, let me tell you (who carries three pounds of whole coffee in their purse?)

Once our ground coffee reserves came to a delicious end, I wondered how we might begin sampling the Peruvian jungle beans. Jorge’s parents live in town these days, but they still have a pretty rustic lifestyle when it comes to household appliances. I knew a proper coffee-grinding appliance was out of the question – I might not be able to locate one of those for 300 miles. But a blender? Those are pretty common place. And they’ll get the job done in times of coffee grinding need, even if it is a bit cringeworthy for certain types of coffee snobs.

But hey – when you’re out here in the farmland, you make do with what you have.

Except *record screech* they don’t have a blender. I was so sure they would, too. Turns out, they had a blender, long ago, but it broke, and was never replaced. (BUT WHAT ABOUT SMOOTHIES?!)

Fine. So let’s turn to our resourceful farmhand whiles. What this house does have is a mortar and pestle. And a pretty bad ass one at that – something of the mortar and pestle of my dreams (though not quite as large as ones I’ve seen in the Incan museums. Nor is it made of stone. Or forged from ancient remembrances.)

I asked myself if I could grind coffee with a mortar and pestle. And then I realized, how silly. You can grind ANYTHING with a mortar and pestle, especially one this size. I could grind my own teeth if I wanted. Even if they weren’t out of my head first.

So we got to work with the experiment. We poured in a small handful at first, to see how it might work. And then, voila – tantalizing aromas, more fragrant than anything I have smelled in my entire life, wafted from the mortar and pestle. The smell was truly sublime.

Grinding coffee with mortar and pestle

Here I am, using an antique mortar and pestle, happy as a coffee-grinding clam.

And though the grounds weren’t exactly even, it got the job done.

The resultant coffee was a DELIGHT.

In my never-ending journeys through unlikely and often-times very hillbilly methods of brewing coffee, I have unwittingly come across something that pushes me into the coffee snob end of the spectrum: GRINDING BEFORE YOU BREW IS OTHERWORDLY.

I’ve heard about this plenty, though mostly in reference to picking on the ubiquitous hipster and all the infuriating cultural quirks therein. (“Sorry, I can’t drink coffee that hasn’t been freshly ground, the taste is just sooooo much different.”) And yeah, maybe I’m afraid the hipster missile will seek me out, even down here in the South American pampas. But you know what? The taste is just sooooooo much different. (Though, all you experienced coffee drinkers knew this already, didn’t you??)

I’m definitely going to grind the rest of the bag like this, most likely in the serene breezes of the mild San Luis fall mornings, listening to the insane bird squawking like a goat in the neighbor’s house, or the roosters who literally crow at all hours of the day, beginning at 4:30AM. I recommend trying this with deeper mortar and pestles. Shallow ones would allow too much room for the coffee beans to jump out and otherwise avoid their untimely, flattened demise.

Not only is it an unexpected meditative time-out, the ‘I-just-ground-this-shit-right-now’ coffee experience is a subtle explosion of joy for the palate. Even if you have to do it with a mortar and pestle.

Now go try it and tell me about it! Seriously, share your results below. Did a coffee bean shoot out and lodge itself in your eyeball? Or were you wooed and seduced by the fragrant aromas wafting from the kitchen? 

A Love Affair with Toro Viejo

Oh, querida Argentina! The land of red wine, the surrogate mother of Malbec!

We’re back in Argentina visiting Jorge’s family for the month. There are a lot of things we look forward to during our yearly pilgrimage to the homeland. Things like: the bread. The meat. The melodic sing-song vos and desis. The relatives, and the chance to get back to rural roots. And perhaps, most of all (sorry parents)? THE RED WINE.

But even though Argentina is known for its delightfully fragrant varietals, not all of Argentina shares the high-browed love of the bodegas. While some Argentinians pass time discussing legginess and obscure fruity undertones, others are content with whatever legally passes as wine.

Red wine in most other places is known by it’s varietal: the merlot grape, the cabernet sauvignons, French Malbec versus Argentinian Malbec. Every bottle gleams with the proud pronunciation of what wine and what year.

But Candelaria is remote, and very rural. And in the biggest grocery store in town, there are only two options for something that isn’t just blanket-statement Red Wine.

So everyone drinks a brand called Toro Viejo down here. Let me be clear: IT IS NOT GOOD WINE. It is boxed red wine dressed up in a glass bottle. It’s passable, at best, but only because I’ve acclimated after several visits now. The first time I came, I was horrified. How could a wine not even make mention of its parent grape? How could it be packaged and sold without making mention of its birth year?

CLASSIC.

CLASSIC.

Well that’s Toro Viejo (translation: Old Bull) for you. 700 ML will run you less than $2.00.Talk about value! The cheapest bottle of wine I ever bought in the States was $5, and so disgusting I threw it away after one sip. (Note to self: Bargan Bin wine shopping is to be avoided!)

But living in wine country means even the refuse is guaranteed to be tolerable. It’s sold in 6 packs, because I guess drinking an entire bottle is equivalent to a Nati Light beer in the USA. About as cheap, at least. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a natural spring gushing Toro Viejo wine instead of water somewhere in the sierras.

But Toro Viejo has its perks.

First of all, it’s ubiquitous. You can find it everywhere, literally everywhere. There will be Toro Viejo wine available for years after the Apocalypse, I can assure you. Jorge’s family are cultural wine drinkers, so the bottle of Toro Viejo is at every meal, no matter what. You will NOT find the Avila family without their tried and trusted Toro Viejo. And it will always, always be chilled. This is a natural fact, a law of the land, as implicit as bathing or wiping your ass.

Secondly, it seems the marketing department for the Old Bull brand had a flash of inspiration, one that very well might rock the whole of Argentina. They started a campaign where on random cork bottles, you could win a chance to win millions of bottles of Toro Viejo. I don’t know if that would be wine heaven or hell – but damned if I’m not scouring each cork for the chance to win.

My relationship with this barely-tolerable red wine has grown from one of side-eyed distrust to that of family members who used to fight a lot but now mostly get along. A week and a half into our stay in Candelaria, I’m salivating for the chance to sniff a robust Malbec…but, I can stand another glass of Toro Viejo, I suppose. And come dinner time, I just might have a couple.

The Last Test of the Gaucho

As I mentioned last week, Jorge and I took a whirlwind trip into the Peruvian jungle to visit the coffee farm of our dear friends Chevi and Audrey.

This place was remote. And by remote, I mean there’s a public transportation option that passes by the front of the property once per day, at 6 AM. And there’s no bathroom. And there’s no shower. And there’s no city water. In fact…one could aruge there’s not really even a city.

We were in the Peruvian jungle, a place where insect repellent was more of an inside joke between us and the insects and less of a viable way to protect your special parts from attack.

But despite the heat, the humidity, the remoteness, and the intermittent electricity…actually, perhaps BECAUSE OF these things…Jorge felt right at home.

For those that are just joining the gaucho saga, my boyfriend is a legitimate Argentinian cowboy. He was raised on a rural farm, riding horses, slaughtering animals by hand, and living entirely off the land. He has skills that I’ve only read about in books. When the Apocalypse comes, he’s going to be my ticket to salvation.

So of course, arriving to this remote Quillabamba locale was, for him, an unexpected return to his roots.

Audrey’s mother, Magda, lives on the coffee farm most of the time. Being mostly a city girl, she had to learn the tricks of the trade to living in the jungle. And she has adapted incredibly well. Her farm is a well-oiled machine, and she maintains not only a coffee farm, but also various fruiting plants, as well as cabbage and sundry other vegetables that sustain the bellies of the family and workers there. Additionally, she takes care of dogs, cats, chicken, and guinea pigs — all of which comprise active members of the family out there.

But for someone like me? Living on a farm like that is an admirable goal, but not something I’ve ever done for any length of time. Certainly not like Audrey’s family or Jorge and his family.

I can rough it for a length of time. I like to walk barefoot and get dirty and grow my own vegetables. But I can’t, for instance, fix anything beyond a pair of leggings. Or make a dinner without the aid of a stove. Or, you now, kill a chicken with my bare hands.

These are all things Jorge did in the span of 48 hours, prompting a series of events I like to call The Gaucho Tests. Throughout our whirlwind trip in the jungle, certain situations arose that required the aid of my special cowboy and his special skills. Let’s look at each one in turn.

TEST #1: MAKE A BANDAID.

This happened before we launched our official trip into the jungle. Prior to heading for Quillabamba, we went to the Sacred Valley for a joint birthday/goodbye cookout with friends. What fun! What deliciousness! What beautiful, sacred sights! Except as I was gutting a bell pepper with a foreign and oversized knife, I sliced my thumb — badly.

Gushing blood, we quickly realized that nobody had band-aids. Jorge came to my rescue, wrapping a folded napkin around the cleaned wound, and then sealing it with aluminum foil. It didn’t look pretty, but it got the job done!

Home made Band-aid, courtesy of the Gaucho.

Home made Band-aid, courtesy of the Gaucho.

TEST #2: KILL A CHICKEN WITH YOUR BARE HANDS.

Once we arrived to the coffee farm, the question remained of what to eat for dinner the first night. The property is quite far from town. Without a car, which Audrey’s mother doesn’t have, getting to town and back would be an all-day, and probably very difficult, affair. Turning to local resources is a necessity.

Jorge offered to make a fresh chicken stew. You know, with one of the hens running around the property. I watched as he and Chevi stalked the hen designated for our dinner. Then Jorge quietly, unceremoniously, did the deed. He didn’t blink an eye, while the rest of us watched gape-mouthed.

I’ve never seen my boyfriend kill an animal with his bare hands. Somehow, after 2 years, I’m just realizing this is a skill he possesses (though I suppose killing chickens isn’t required in places like Cusco or Valparaiso). Life on a remote farm is like that — teaches you survival skills. Within a half hour, the chicken was totally de-feathered (secret: pot of boiling water at the ready) and hanging to dry while we prepared the rest of the meal.

The stew that he went on to create was delicious, by the way. And cooked purely by fireside.

A shot of our impromptu fireside chicken stew.

A shot of our impromptu fireside chicken stew.

TEST #3: OPEN A WINE BOTTLE WITHOUT A WINE OPENER.

This one was partially my fault. We had bought a bottle of wine for the first night’s dinner and to celebrate the birthday of Audrey’s mother. However, the wine screw broke when the cork was halfway out. Luckily, Chevi (the other gaucho!) finished the job for me. But when it came time to open the second bottle of wine, we were out of luck.

I passed the broken corkscrew and the unopened bottle of wine to Jorge. He managed to fix the corkscrew, though it broke again when pressure was applied. From there, he twisted in the wine screw part by itself, and then used the corner of a coffee drying rack as leverage to coax the stubborn cork out of its home. Five minutes later — POP!

TEST #4: SHOW UP AT A RIVER AND HAVE A COOKOUT.

While we’re no strangers to having cookouts literally anywhere, showing up in the jungle and doing it on the side of an unpopulated riverbank was a new one, even by our standards. Luckily, we had purchased the food beforehand. But we had almost nothing in the way of tools, dishware, etc….just a grill, a couple of great friends, and a whole lot of good energy. It came together just fine.

Don't have a way to start a fire? Just yank some chopped wood you found on the side of the street in the next village over.

Don’t have a way to start a fire? Just yank some chopped wood you found on the side of the street in the next village over.

The gaucho swims in the river.

The gaucho swims in the river, after the impromptu jungle riverside asado.

TEST #5: FIX A BROKEN BIRTHDAY CANDLE

On the morning of our second day at the farm, we celebrated Audrey’s mother’s birthday with cake and a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday in both Spanish and English. Audrey and Chevi’s firstborn daughter accidentally broke the birthday candle as she was examining it — oops! — prior to lighting it. Instead of tossing it aside and leaving it for dead, we thought, ‘Maybe Jorge can do something with this’. A few minutes later, the candle was lit in the middle of the cake, though missing a couple centimeters. Not bad, gaucho!

I’m proud of my gaucho for a lot of reasons, as is probably evident. It’s not just a novelty that he is so handy, though sometimes his skills do double as a side show.

It’s important to have a contingency plan for the Apocalypse (or Zombie Apocalypse, or the alien invasion, whatever your preference), am I right? I feel pretty set with this guy. Besides, while he does the hard man labor, I’ll be sieving hoarded coffee grains through old leggings, and making salads in our emergency compound in the jungle. Hey, I bring what I can to the table. 

I hear Jorge can also hunt pumas, and has done so in the past. This skill, however, will be for the next round of gaucho tests…whenever they unexpectedly crop up.

A Journey to Coffeelandia

As Jorge’s and my time winds down here in Cusco, we thought we’d trigger the transition phase between “Mostly-Settled & Living Somewhere Mode” and “Full-Time Backpacking Mode” with a little trip into the Peruvian jungle.

Our friends Chevi and Audrey, a married couple with two beautiful young daughters, own a coffee farm in Quillabamba. Audrey’s mother, Magda, grew up in Peru and bought this property from her sister many years ago. In about 2007, Audrey and her mother came to visit it, after having spent nearly a lifetime in the USA — and they found not only a gorgeous 15-acre plot of heaven in the heart of the jungle, but also a ready-made coffee farm.

With the help of family members and hired workers, they’ve been working to reinvigorate production of coffee beans on the land, as well as bring other sources of income to light: things like selling the fruits that grow plentiful and abundant on the property, such as bananas, oranges, papaya, and more.

When Audrey and Chevi offered to take us on a three-day whirlwind trip into the jungle to see this property, Jorge and I said HELL YES.

So off we went — in a more-than-necessary 4×4 truck. Without it, you’d have no hope of maneuvering the perilous mountain roads, crossing stream beds that look more like white-water rapids, or navigating the often-unpaved paths that still exist in place of city-maintained roads.

Our 4x4, loaded with necessary, survival, jungly things...like a grill and pool floaties

Chevi says hey! Here’s our 4×4, loaded with necessary, survival, jungly things…like a grill and pool floaties

One of our views from the road to Quillabamba

One of our views from the road to Quillabamba

Warning: hair pin curve ahead!

Warning: hair pin curve ahead!

The road to Quillabamba is the same one we took to get to Machu Picchu — the one that crosses so high into the mountains that stopping is a generally bad idea, since altitude sickness sets in swiftly. Jorge and I knew what awaited us, and the road is not easy. 6 hours of curves, constant jostling, and a distinct sensation that you might just fly off the next unexpected twist in the road. Crosses and flower arrangements dot the side of the highway, a testament to the difficulty of this road.

But all journeys come to an end; and despite many stops for nausea and motion sickness, we did in fact make it to Quillabamba. Passengers, grill and pool floaties intact.

Once you cross the mountains, the air changes from dry and cold to hot and humid. Mosquitoes instantly devoured us in Quillabamba. Suddenly, I realized the brightly colored alpaca socks were the worst decision I had made; perhaps in life. It wasn’t until after the upward jungle climb that I could take them off. I hadn’t realized ankles could sweat so much.

Freshly arrived in Quillabamba, severely regretting the alpaca socks decision from earlier that day.

Freshly arrived in Quillabamba, severely regretting the alpaca socks decision from earlier that day. Don’t let the small smirk fool you — it was hot enough that I wanted to melt.

Let me be clear on something: I consume a lot of coffee. You’d think that for consuming so much of the dark nectar that I’d have some inkling of the story behind it. But I had no idea, prior to this trip, where coffee even came from. For being such a slave to the bean, my idea was that it grew on some sort of tree (sort of correct), looking mostly like it did in the form we purchase from places like Starbucks or Krogers (very wrong).

As we began a long, uphill climb from the dirt road to their coffee farm, Audrey began to point out different varieties of coffee plants. And they didn’t look anything like I expected.

100% Arabica coffee beans, grown in Quillabamba, Peru!

100% Arabica coffee beans, grown in Quillabamba, Peru!

Each coffee bean matures at different times, meaning that machine-picking is impossible. You need a human hand to discern which beans are ready, and which ones need to stay on to mature. Once the ripe and ready red beans are picked, the green ones then begin to turn over. Several visits to the same coffee plant are needed throughout the season.

A local worker picks the ready coffee beans.

Local workers pick the ready coffee beans.

But picking the bean doesn’t mean it’s ready to roast. Oh, no, fellow coffee drinker. Hold your frappuchino horses. Once picked, the beans need to dry for up to a week. You’ll know they’re dry, Chevi told me, when you squeeze the bean between your teeth and the inside cracks instantly. Once dry, a sugary shell is formed on the outside, which is then shucked away to reveal the raw (and ready) coffee bean.

From there, the beans are perhaps sold to an interested party, or roasted and then packaged to sell at a storefront, like what Audrey and Chevi do back in Cusco. Their farm in Quillabamba employs various local growers and workers who help with the entire process. This is “direct trade” coffee.

The life of a coffee plant is not eternal, despite what our coffee addiction in the USA might suggest. After about 5 to 7 years, the plants need to be hacked to the roots. However, they regenerate on their own, sprouting (perhaps magically?) new seedlings nearby that will grow into a fully functioning coffee plant. One plant can yield about a kilo of beans in a season. Multiply that by 15 acres? Those are some sexy stats for someone thinking about raising coffee plants in a lush, humid jungle somewhere *cough*.

But the journey from mostly-wild jungle property to a fully functioning farm is a long one. Though their farm was producing coffee long before Audrey and her mother got there, it’s been years of work to get it to where they are today. Even just a few weeks of slacking means the jungle reclaims its land; vigilance and hard work is not only necessary but mandatory. Life on a coffee farm is no small feat, especially way out there in the depths of Quillabamba.

A shot of the path leading to the coffee farm.

A shot of the path leading to the coffee farm…what we might consider “the front walkway” in a suburban neighborhood in the States.

A panorama of the coffee farm -- but only a mere fraction of the 15 acres of land!

A panorama of the coffee farm — but only a mere fraction of the 15 acres of land!

Coffee beans, nearly dried after a week of sitting out.

Coffee beans, nearly dried after a week of sitting out.

The vision that Audrey and her family have for the coffee farm is exciting, admirable, and fascinating. Much work remains to be done, and ideas for improvement and expansion are never-ending. With 15 acres of gorgeous, fertile land, it seems that nearly anything could become a reality.

But more than that, the jungle of Quillabamba left Jorge and I completely enchanted. On our second day back in Cusco, we are already pining for the sweet sting of humidity, the crunch of banana leaves beneath our feet, the pleasant hum of unknown creatures in the distance.

Everything, pretty much, except the 1,472 mosquito bites that serve as the last reminder of our whirlwind trip to the Peruvian jungle.

The Difference A Few Pounds Makes

I’m approaching That Time again: the seasonal shift or moon cycle or Chinese New Year when my partner and I pack up all of our belongings into a couple backpacks and say ADIOS.

Moving out

A shot from our move from Lima to Cusco, November 2014. The third backpack had household goods, like cheap pots and cutting boards, things we had purchased in Lima and carried with us to Cusco — not your typical backpack contents!

We leave Peru on May 1st, where we’ll head to Argentina to spend a month visiting Jorge’s family (the yearly visit where we lounge in the rolling, rural climes and soak in every manner of melodic Argentine Spanish, cookouts, and way better bread options). The first two weeks of June we’ll be in Chile, visiting friends and that house we founded together, yet another very important stop on our Farewell, South America! Tour of 2015. I’ll be working on the road, as always, struggling to fit in my hours and convince my editors/bosses I’m serious about what I’m doing. And then…it’s the USA, baby!

I’ll be honest: there’s a lot of cool things about my lifestyle. As slow travelers, we get to experience new places in a way that isn’t jam-packed with sightseeing, tourist prices, and frenetic bus schedules that would make even the most hardy traveler weep with sorrow and exhaustion.

But for all the cool things, there are some downsides as well.

I’ll save all the downsides for a different post. But one of the most irritating, and tiring, downsides, is that of carrying your life’s possessions on your back. We both have home bases in the sense that we have a childhood home to return to. But other than that? Everything we need, in any moment, in any part of the world, is WITH us.

This reality of slow travel is made harder for me by the fact that A.) I like to travel with a literal library of books (I’M A READER AND WRITER, WHAT) and B.) I am what could be called a struggling minimalist.

Some people might look at Jorge and I and say, “Oh please, I couldn’t fit my possessions into two bags if you paid me in gold doubloons and ancient Incan pottery.”

And yes, true. I’ve been in that boat. While I couldn’t fit all the possessions that remain in Ohio in two backpacks, you COULD pay me in doubloons or pottery to accomplish it.

Prior to moving abroad in 2012, I had a month-long garage sale to shave off unnecessary shit that had been accumulating in a spare room in my childhood home for years, like an unwieldy and completely useless appendage that nobody ever looked at or needed.

What’s worse is that every year when I go home to visit, I spend at least a week paring down those remaining objects MORE.

I have inherited PACKRAT genes, and I am aware of it. That’s what counseling is for, right? Why do we SAVE so much STUFF? (That answer might be for another post, as well!)

At any rate, the packrat effect has subsided in recent history. My travel endeavors are a direct result of my attempts at non-attachment to physical items.

I realized, in my mid-20’s, that I had a lot of REALLY strong emotional attachments to a lot of really PHYSICAL objects. And that these emotional attachments were not something that had sprung up, unbidden, in my adult years, but rather it was a slow simmer of a companion, something that had grown and evolved alongside me since my formative years.

Scraps of paper, gifts, old clothes, you name it. I was afraid of getting rid of these things because I felt that, somehow, in ridding myself of the object that I would rid myself of the memory. Of the pleasant feelings. Of the better times.

That’s completely untrue, I came to find out, once I started a little task called ‘throwing things in the garbage’. Not only did I not lose my memories, or my childhood, or my school years, or any manner of personality aspects, I felt considerably BETTER.

Lighter. Freer. Able to breathe a little easier, in fact. I hadn’t realized the sheer weight of the memories I surrounded myself with, the chokehold these scraps of the past could wield.

Trying to detach and otherwise disassociate from my emotional connection to things doesn’t mean it’s a perfected art or that I’m any sort of guru. But rather, it’s a journey. Attempts, often laden with failures.

But I keep trying.

And I keep losing more and more weight.

(In my backpack, that is. I’m not physically whittling away to nothing, don’t worry.)

Our slow travel lifestyle helps me take stock of my possessions, anywhere from once a year to every couple of months. And though it can be a drag, literally, to divorce myself from my City Of The Moment, to sell off my belongings, to skim the chaff of my worldly possessions…it’s also a helpful, centering practice.

To take a hard look at what I have in my personal space and then, by default, my MENTAL space…that’s pretty important to keeping a clear head and light innards. And by innards, I mean guts and also the heart space.

Things come and go. Cars, furniture, houses, neighborhoods, clothing, books…they’re all neutral objects that can leave our lives as quickly and easily as they appear. Some are necessary, for at least a period of time. And that’s okay. The problem is not in having things, but rather, the sometimes sickly relationship we maintain with them.

The things are not me any more than I am my things. But I spent many years placing a lot of emotional stock in my possessions.

(FULL DISCLOSURE: I’m still a little reluctant for my dad to get rid of the couch in his house, even though he’s been ready for a full five years to haul it to the dump. Why? Because I grew up with that couch, and it’s insanely comfortable, and MEMORIES! But alas, Astromaid…it is just an object.)

So, as we face yet another tide change, another country hop, another cultural shift, I look around my mini-apartment and my backpack and imagine the improbable yet inevitable ways in which these two halves will form a cohesive equation.

It starts with questions.

Do I really need to keep these 5 books I read already but didn’t really like? No. It’s okay to give them away (even though I sort of have a strict “Keep Every Book You Ever Touch” policy….I’M WORKING ON IT).

Do I really need the various Cusco advertisements and street offers that somehow remind me of living here, and I intended to paste into my journal but still haven’t, even though I am surrounded by ample amounts of evidence that I have lived here? NO. Please god, let’s just throw these away right now.

Do I need the clothes I picked up somewhere along the way but am hesitant to get rid of just in case I might need a pair of hot pink shorts? No. Give them away.

Do I really need the six pairs of leggings? …Well…I’ll get back to you on this one.

Some long-term travelers do it way skimpier than I do. And that’s okay. They might be happy with their laptop, a phone charger, two pairs of pants, three pairs of underwear and a water bottle (AND THAT’S IT). While I will forever envy their ultra-tiny backpack and the way they never have to check a bag ever again or trudge 2 miles in the highlands of Bolivia in the freezing cold with a backpack the weight of a dead man…I also know that I am striking the best balance I can.

At the end of the day, I can fit all my things into a backpack, and still have my worldly comforts, like a small library of emerging American fiction writers at my fingertips.

Otherwise it just wouldn’t be my life, no matter where in the world, no matter how many things on my back. The important part is in remembering that I can also survive without whatever is in my backpack.

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