The Monk of Mokha by Dave Eggers
Being raised in rural Idaho, my family always had a small menagerie of animals around. At various points in my childhood, our backyard/field was home to chickens (and an evil rooster), a variety of pheasant breeds, rabbits, dogs, cats, cows, and llamas. Yes, llamas. I must have been in upper elementary school when my parents bought the first three and the herd expanded from there. Throughout the years, we took them to nursing homes and schools, walked them in holiday parades, and spent the most time with them as 4-H entrants.
Unfortunately, my prime 4-H llama showing (and judging!) skills don’t hold a lot of weight in Washington D.C.
One would think that with so much llama-time under my belt, seeing a few in Peru would not have been a big deal, and yet, you’d be wrong. As any semi-regular reader of this blog’s travel writing knows, I am a sucker for an animal. I’ll suggest a rather out of the way side trip (as in a plane ride away) to *hold* a koala rather than just pose near one; I’ll put extra efforts into organizing an official consulate trip to the panda reserve to get as close as possible to those dumb, yet adorable, creatures; I’ll risk life and limb to reach out and touch whatever fuzzy critter might be native to my current location. I recently heard a rumor that sloth-sightings are possible at our next post. I now want to put “possibly of sloth encounter” as my number one request on our housing survey. Family negotiations are not complete on this point yet. If it is an option, I’ll do it. (I once tried to bribe our guide in Terengganu, Malaysia to find me a tapir. I was totally willing to pay up too, but unfortunately, there was no tapir to be found that day.)
Anyway, cuddly digression aside, I was thrilled with all the llamas and alpacas in Peru! (This is not the place for lesson in the differences between llamas and alpacas- let alone guanacos and vicunas- but let me just remind you all they are different and pretty easily recognized with a bit of Googling.)
Lima itself, being at sea level and on the coast, didn’t have any llamas, but they did have endless stores of llama-themed items, everything from hats and scarves to pens and dolls. You want something with a llama on it? This is your place!
Cusco- now that is where the animal action is at! As the jumping off city to Machu Picchu, people usually spend a day or two in this fantastic town acclimating to the elevation. (At 11,500 feet above sea level, the altitude is no joke.) Lots of tourists taking it easy means lots of tourist traps, many of these being in the form of older women dressed in traditional clothing with brightly colored pouches slung over their shoulder, each containing an adorable lamb, and trailing behind them was often an alpaca on a lead. For whatever price you deemed appropriate (for me this ended up being all the random change in my pocket at the moment), you can get a photo with this woman and her small petting zoo.
Yes, I know it is a racket.
No, I don’t care.
If you are giving me the chance to snuggle up to a ridiculously fluffy alpaca for a handful of coins, there is no way I am going to walk away.
Which I did not.
I could chalk it up to fuzzy thinking from the altitude, which was a bit of a strange sensation, but most of you would see right through that excuse. Lack of good oxygen was not at the root of my experience. I just never pass up the chance to pet/nuzzle/play with an adorable critter.
In all fairness, I do think I need to make one disclaimer before wrapping up this post about my inability to walk away from this delightful tourist-trap found on every corner of the city. The alpaca-on-a-lead was not my only run in with the species.
I may have had alpaca stroganoff for lunch.
I did it.
I couldn’t not.
I grew up with a field of llamas behind my house and I spent the day petting as many alpacas as I could before my change ran out. Curiosity got the better of me. (For the record, alpaca meat isn’t bad. It was a bit tougher than beef, but in a stroganoff, I’m not sure you’d recognize it as not-beef if you weren’t told otherwise.)
Out of politeness, after my meal of alpaca meat, I did steer away from the street-corner critters for the rest of the evening. I was terrified they’d be able to smell their cousin on my breath!
It felt a bit like coming full circle, after having a field of llamas behind our house growing up to visiting them in their native Andean habitat. They’ve been to my place. I’ve been to their place. We’re just a lovely circle of life now.
Photo credit: Thad Ross
Noodles, stews, pilafs and pizzas, oh my! Jen Lin-Liu’s newest book is not the book for you if you’ve just started a new diet or are hungry in the least- it’s like shopping on an empty stomach. From China to Italy, she covers follows the Silk Road in a quest to find where noodles originated, but along the way also discovers ties that bind women together across geographic boundaries and just how central food is the any given region’s history and culture.
When I first picked up this book, as a non-foodie (I’m about as far from it as one can get, as I would gladly subsist on cold cereal for the rest of my life), I was worried that the focus on meals would not hold my interest for an entire book, but as it turns out, that wasn’t a problem at all! While the food is the core of the book, with each chapter including several well-laid out recipes, the tale weaves a story of travel, a first year of marriage and thoughts about what it means to be a woman in our 21st century world.
I was particularly fascinated with Lin-Liu’s time in Iran, as it is a place we hear so much about in the news, but almost always it is portrayed in a negative light. To hear the stories of women creating lives there and providing for families there was a fascinating look into a world that is normally off-limits to westerners. This same ideas rings true throughout the book, as the author has the opportunity to weave her way into the lives of the women she visits, giving her a much more intimate look at each culture than a traveler would get if they were just passing through the country on a tour or visiting the highlighted sites of the land. I think it is that intimacy of the stories, both her own and that of her subjects that makes this book most appealing.
On Noodle Road is an eclectic mix of travelogue, food writing and memoir, crossing genre-created boundaries in a way that draws in loyal readers from each category. While I am partial to the travel/memoir sections of the story, Jen Lin-Liu bring something to the proverbial table that nearly everyone would enjoy. (Okay, if she brought dumplings to literal table, we might all be even more thrilled.)Because I appreciated the genre-bending nature of the book and really loved traveling the Silk Road with Lin-Liu, On Noodle Road: From Beijing to Rome, with Love and Pasta earns a solid: