After the border crossing into Peru, we set out on the route to Chachopoyas. We stopped for the night in Jaén, shared our homemade salsa with a couple of waiters at our hotel (I will explain in a minute), and bought our SOAT insurance because travelers with vehicles must have third-party insurance…remember the Colombia ‘incident?’
Back to the salsa…we prefer to sleep in our roof top tent and cook our own food. Why? Well, as I have mentioned before, this is not a luxury vacation. Hotels on our path are very few and far between. In fact, it took some time for me to come to terms with the expectations that I had about hotels. In the US, even our cheaper hotels have a standard upon which I have come to rely…’cleanish’ bathrooms, ‘washed’ sheets and pillow cases, relatively clean floors and surfaces, and oh yes – toilet paper, soap and towels. Where shall I begin with my new-found appreciation for even Motel 6’s?! Often, the hotels (more often called hostels, hospedajes or posadas) lack some of the basic expectations I have, given that I have lived more than half a century in the US.
Remember, I have spent some time in South America before and I had already become accustomed to the fact that many of the sewer systems – whether in large cities or small pueblos, seem not to be able to accommodate toilet paper in the toilet. There are usually no signs to describe this phenomenon. It is simply a fact of life. Whether you are in the stalls in public toilets or the private hotel bathroom, you will find a trash can next to the toilet into which you put your used toilet paper – that is if you have brought toilet paper into the bathroom with you. Most often, there is no toilet paper, no working soap dispenser or soap and certainly no paper towels with which to dry your wet hands. Yes, it may take time to become comfortable with this. I have. And, now I always carry toilet paper in my bag.
If you know me, you know that I have my own demons when it comes to cleanliness – you see, we all have some issue with which we must contend. In my case, it is my compulsive nature and my desire for things to be clean, tidy and organized. (At least I can admit that this is a demon – smells can be the bane of my existence.) For this reason, it is sometimes difficult to stay in the hotels here. It is not that they are filthy, simply that they are not cleaned to the standard I usually hold. These are not brand-new buildings, many are older houses that serve many purposes – a place to eat, a place to sleep, a place to sell things, and a home for one or more families. There is one thing I can count on in each place, though – friendly people. The people we meet along the way are absolutely wonderful.
By the way, did you know that there is a big difference between hotels and motels in Colombia, Ecuador and parts of Peru? A hotel is a place where a traveler can spend the night – even if you must put used toilet paper into the trash can. A motel, on the other hand, serves a unique purpose. These can be found on the outskirts of most cities, towns and pueblos. They have inconspicuous entrances that usually obscure the parking areas which consist of single car garages with doors or gates that close upon arrival. Why? Well, everyone needs privacy. In many South American countries, families live together for longer periods of time, typically until one gets married. This often means that many adult members of one family live in close quarters with not much personal space. Jorge explained that these motels were not simply a place to have an affair or meet your lover, although this also occurs on a frequent basis…it can be a place for two people in a committed relationship to share a bit of personal time without the ever-present existence of your younger siblings, grandparents, cousins and/or nieces and nephews. No matter how small the village, you can find said motel. We haven’t spent the night in one of these locations, but I always chuckle when I read about someone else’s adventure in a ‘love motel’ on the iOverlander app.
Okay, now back to the salsa. If you had asked Jorge and I last year about which thing we were most excited, we would have answered food. We both enjoy good food, are willing to try different dishes (within reason – I do draw the line at the undifferentiated insides of animals’ intestinal systems, but I did eat ants), and neither of us have any food allergies or sensitivities. We really love spicy food and brought hot sauces, pepper flakes and chilis with us…just in case. We are very glad that we did, for you see the food in the interior regions of places like Ecuador and Peru are not exactly what we had imagined. For much of the last two months, we have driven high in the Andes where life is more about subsistence. Basic needs far outweigh the ability to spend precious time and resources making a dinner that Michele and Jorge would enjoy. Families in these regions raise a cow, or two to milk, tend loose chicken flocks known as criolla, herd sheep, llamas and alpaca for wool, and if lucky enough to have a good looking bull – walk it from farm to farm spreading its seed to help build more stock. Do not get the wrong idea. It is not as though these families all have big fields in which the cows graze or the sheep forage. Instead, each animal can be found with some type of leash and are usually tied to a rock, a stake in the ground, or outside someone else’s fence. In Colombia, they call this method of leaving your animal in a small stretch of greenish grass along the road ‘potrero largo’ which means the long ‘field’ next to the highway with no fence. Each morning and every afternoon, you will find a multitude of people walking, herding, nudging, or corralling cows, sheep, pigs, burrows, horses, and llamas by a variety of means – some simply walk alongside the animals who are clearly used to this process, others ride bicycles or motorcycles to keep up with the wandering creatures.
Food can be difficult to get in the interiors of these countries. We are not exaggerating the narrowness of the dirt roads that often represent the main access highway to the small villages of the Andes. It continues to surprise us when, driving more than 60 kilometers per hour, a large truck passes us on the narrow section of winding road delivering a wide variety of precious goods to the people who live far away from the hustle and bustle of big cities, but who work endless hours each day just gathering wood for the dinner fire, tending small patches of cultivated land and looking after those roaming animals. The food that is grown is not typically for sale at the small tiendas where we can purchase bottles of water, milk in a box and warm beer. This has meant many days without fresh vegetables and fruits. When we finally came down from the high mountains to the land of 5000 feet, we were in heaven! Peppers, onions, tomatoes, cilantro, limes, mangos, papaya, mandarinos…yummy. We took the time to make homemade salsa and when we had dinner at the hotel in Jaén – remember, this is the story I meant to tell, we couldn’t resist bringing it in with us to give the bland white rice and flattened chicken breast some of the flavor we have been missing for weeks! As good guests, we asked first if it would be okay to bring in our own ‘picante,’ as they call it. Of course, no problema! We explained that we really like spicy food and offered to share some with the waiters and the manager at the hotel. It made us so happy to see these three young men delighting in the deliciousness of our spicy salsa!
I haven’t posted many photos of our truck and our set up…I am posting them here for people to see. This week’s theme – home, sweet home.