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!
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.
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.
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.