Blood, Fur, and Guts: Life in the Peruvian Altiplano

In the remote high plains of the Altiplano, Shirine experiences life in Peru at its rawest

Blood squirts out and onto the squealing guinea pig, who is about to reach the same fate as his brother.

The knife tugs at the skin and fur, eventually severing the neck. Two decapitated guinea pigs staring at me with vacant eyes.

An unknowing sheep that my trekking partner purchased a few days back is about to receive the same treatment. I have definitely never seen my meals so up close and personal before, and I’m not so sure I want to make a habit out of this.

I just finished an amazing ten day trek through the Andes, and somehow I have ended up at the mule owner’s small mud hut in the high altitude Peruvian country side.

My trekking partner and I have set up our tent in their field, and in doing so, we have gained the attention of many curious eyes which have never been laid upon foreigners before.  

The children are more scared than the women, who have gathered around in a circle, but I know eventually they too will approach.

The house itself is amazing, a small mud hut structure with an open fire kitchen inside.

There is a shack beside it full of squealing guinea pigs and squabbling chickens, and then another open air hut which I have lovingly dubbed “the killing room.”

The man we arrived with is now tying up a very stubborn sheep, and with the help of his eldest son, is about to lift the protesting animal to be hung, then killed.

Though it’s gruesome, I have to remind myself that no matter how meat back home is packaged, it too was once a real live animal like this one.

The men chop the meat, hacking away the thick fur coat which will be used for clothing or a blanket later on. The women then take the pieces and wrap them in leaves before burying them underground.

For the past few hours the village has been preparing for this special type of cuisine by gathering the coals from a very hot fire into a pile. The women then place the leaf-cloven meat underground, surrounded by the burning coals, to cook overnight.

Throughout the evening I alternate between playing soccer with a few of the young boys in the village, and trying to speak with some of the women who live at the house.

Though I speak Spanish, this village is so remote that the few inhabitants only speak Quechua. As the sun sets everyone retires for the night, there is no electricity in the area so late nights are fruitless.

I wake at sunrise to the voices and laughter surrounding my tent, and quickly realize that the whole village has been invited to the feast.

The meat, which has been slowly cooking all night, is now in a large basket along with an assortment of different types of potatoes. The basket is passed around and everyone digs in, eagerly eating the meat straight from the leaves. The meat is tender and juicy, and by far the best breakfast I have ever had.

As I look around I realize what a unique situation I have found myself in, a special moment I will remember forever. 

I am surrounded by curious women and hardworking men in the middle of the Andes, in a small village that couldn’t be further removed from the world I come from.

I have been invited to share a feast with them, a feast prepared in a way I have never seen before. But more importantly, I have been invited to take part – if only for a few days – in a way of life completely different from my own. 

Shirine Taylor is a 20-year old girl cycling around the world, and a regular contributor to The Happy Passport. Follow her journey at awanderingphoto.wordpress.com

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8 comments on “Blood, Fur, and Guts: Life in the Peruvian Altiplano

    1. Rebekah Voss Post author

      I agree Bronwyn – looking make I think what we’ll remember about our travels will always be the people we’ve met and the stories we’ve collected along the way.

      Reply
    1. Rebekah Voss Post author

      I agree Matthew – talk about “farm to table”! I’ll thank you on Shirine’s behalf because she’s somewhere in the middle of the wilderness in Georgia (country not state), most likely eating more guinea pigs as we speak.

      Reply
  1. Shirine Taylor

    Totally true! My boyfriend has made me promise that someday when we have kids they will raise and kill their own chickens so they actually understand where it all comes from. We are so disconnected with all of this though packaging and mass production!

    Reply
    1. Rebekah Voss Post author

      Isn’t it amazing? I’ve gone through some strange “meat phases” since I’ve been traveling. Earlier in the year I was eating off the bone for the first time in my life. Now I find myself eating vegetarian more and more. Either way, I totally agree with you that it’s important to know where it comes from, and if you can’t ‘stomach’ it, maybe you shouldn’t be eating it.

      Reply

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