Christmas in Tingo Maria: Let´s get Wasted!

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December 25th 2010
Published: January 21st 2011
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(Here are photos! )

Or not, Tingo Maria! That seemed to be the general sentiment in Tingo Maria, which made for an interesting holiday adventure for this non-drinker.

I travelled to Tingo Maria with my host-sister Gina. Her brother Linder had the opportunity to work in construction for friends in Tingo Maria, and he left about a week after I started living with the family. Now that it was the holiday season, and he was off by himself in distant lands, the family nominated a delegation to visit Linder and bring him home. This would be Gina, the 16-year-old, and I.

I had just returned to Yarina from Lima, and the next day Gina and I sought transportation to the ceja (also known as cloud forest, alta-selva, or the beautful margin between jungle and mountain). We ended up taking a collective auto, which is the absolute single time I have ever travelled in Peru in a vehicle with passengers equal to its maximum capacity. We even had wiggle room! Taking a car offered a faster and smoother journey than the bus, which was handy on the exceptionally twisty roads ascending into the mountains.

And what a beautiful journey it was! I was able to savor every dripping plop of the waterfalls, the verdant and steep hills as they jumped up from a deep and rushing river, and the incredible views from the transversing road. Pretty spectacular, really. When I had travelled to Pucallpa for the first time, the night covered all of the scenery in this part. Also, travelling to and from Lima in a big bus offered flirty glimpses of magikal waterfalls falls, but at the time I was concerned with huaycos (landslides), or the bus tipping from its cliff-side road into the river, or armed robberies (a valid concern in this region- our car was stopped by local armed men guarding the highway, and everyone contributed for the favor. But seeing dudes with guns appearing out of the dark signalling us to halt was still slightly startling, even if they were polite and not robbers). But the journey was calm even with all of the concerns and a sleeding driver, if only for the scenery. As someone from a temperate rainforest climate with lots of mountains, it is refreshing to be in a place where plants and contours in the land are not mutually exclusive.

So, after four hours of laughter from getting slammed into one another on the curves, which led to repetitive giggle-attacks and surprisingly did not get old, Gina and I arrived in Tingo Maria. And it seemed pretty much the same as Pucallpa, just smaller, with less trafic, and a different type of humidity. We proceeded into a motocar to the house of Linder´s friends and hosts, outside of the center.

It was lovely to reunite with Linder, who was excited to see us and also to have a break from the get up-work-go to bed routine. I adore Linder because he is nearly always upbeat but never high-strung. In the week that we were living together, he gave me a couple of introductory lessons in Shipibo. I was put out that, when he asked me about it, I didn´t feel like I had learned very much while he had been gone. But more on that in another post.

Our hosts were lovely. Also the smallest peruvian family I have come accross thus far: a mom, dad, a daughter, and a son. Maribel, was 20 and Wilson was 18. Chickens, ducks, and dogs live in the courtyard. Their brick house, with one finished level and plans to build a second, was overlooked by the green, wet slopes of the ceja.

We were there for just two days, Christmas Eve and Christmas day. I would say the highlights of Tingo Maria would be:
• The climate reminded me of the Pacific Northwest. Of course, the temperature remained on the low-end of tropical. It´s the rain. In Pucallpa, clouds are massive giants that dance water across a wide-open sky and go to a whole different level when it´s time to rain. In Pucallpa, although the Ucayali has grown a lot it hasn´t rained everyday, but it´s strong when it does. The clouds in the ceja are more familiar, a comforting grey blanket that positively dumps regularly every morning. It is this constantly replentished water that sinks into the the Amazon river basin and floods streets in my neighborhood, where pekipekis have replaced the motocars beside Yarinacocha.
• A nice, busy market visit with Nasiriya (the mom), Maribel, and Gina. Their market is much more centralized than ours in Pucallpa, as we have six or seven large markets and not just one huge one.
• Making Pachamanca with the neighbors. Rocks are heated in an outdoor fire, and, piping hot, are shovelled into a pit. Banana leaves are laid over this, and then the meat of choice along with veggies like potatoes and green beans. And, of course, as we are in Perú, a thick layer of sauce is applied. Then more leaves are put over the food all snug-like, then some impervious substances, then a pile of dirt. The food is then cooked in this homemade oven. I don´t eat red meat, so I skipped the pork, but the veggies were delicious.
• For Christmas, the custom of this family seems to be: drink beer continuously, watch huaynos music videos full-blast while conversing, go for a walk in the plaza with all types from Tingo doing the same thing, drink more beer, come back home, mas cerveza and huaynos music, and, eventually at midnight a Christmas dinner of turkey, hot chocolate, and paneton. So much meat....too much meat. Paneton is rather vile itself, like mass-manufactured fruitcake that is over-advertised and bought up like a storm here around the Holidays. I know it sounds like I wasn´t into this trip, but really I just didn´t like the abundance of foods and drinks that I typically consume just a little of. Everything else was cool, and the family was very kind to let us into their home.
• Christmas night, everyone stays up late, and I was teased for being sleepy before dinner. They told me that they would draw on the face of the person who fell asleep first, but being accustomed to a regular sleep schedule and having eaten too much turkey could not keep me from passing out. I did not, to my relief, wake up to a painted face.
• Christmas day was awesome! We woke up, there was more loud huaynos music, leftovers, and hot chocolate. Then we made a lovely half-hour trip to outide of Tingo Maria, where a spectacle was to be had. In the plaza of the sweet little town there was a bunch of sierra-type music and dancing! This meant a big infusion of saxophone-heavy bands, and men dancing in ornately gold-embroidered costumes with some intense masks and towering hats. Also some very sexy hand-embroidered, vibrantly floral boots. Bells were rung, there was prancing, all in all this nice fiesta had left me missing Huancayo a little. Of course, this picture was completed by continuous beer-drinking to the point that, when we left in the afternoon, Wilson was pretty much blacked out. That is one of the many reasons I prefer not to indulge and just to taste. It seems so innocent and inconspicuous when we´re passing around a bottle of beer and drinking it by the cup-full, but when it is cases and cases being drunk, it adds up. The thing is, especially here in the selva, sharing a bottle of beer is more than customary, it´s a ritual. Almost all day long, varying demographics of people sit in the shade in a circle and drink together. ¨Por el calor, pues.¨ Someone opens the bottle (always a Peruvian brand), pours themself however much they would like into a small glass, then passes the bottle. The next person then evidently connects to the beer while the first person takes between three seconds and 10 minutes to drink their share, recieves the glass and pours however much they would like, and passes the bottle on. I adore this custom, not only because I can take in the freshness of a refrigerated glass bottle in my hand (or forehead, or neck), but because I can pour splash, or just pass it on. But everyone is sharing. Kids beginning around twelve or thirteen take tastes, and rarely do folk drink in the spirit of getting messed up. Festivals, it seems are an exception to this.
• I was kind of surprised at the lack of other ceremony. For example, there was no church-going in this story, no references in the house to Jesus or other religious stuff. Fine with me, but different than I had considered for such a Christian country. Also, little gift-giving, which is probably more due to ecomonics than preference.

There were some minor explorations of creeks and waterfalls, but sure enough Linder, Gina, and I said goodbye the next morning after a quick couple of days. The trip home in a collective was equally gorgeous, but I was happy to reach Yarina and return to the host family, with stronger bonds with Gina and Linder.


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