The Guinea Pig Lady

Guinia Pig Currency

Guinea Pig Currency

There are many reasons people travel. If you had asked me 5 years ago why I travel, I would have said to `see` the world. I wanted to snorkel the oceans, hike to scenic vistas and explore caves and canyons.

I am still a newbie traveller, but my travelling purpose is evolving. `The Guinea Pig Lady` is one of the first people who affected my evolution. She showed me that the real treasures of travelling are the people we encounter.

It was a mother-daughter trip to Peru. My daughter had an urge to return to the small impoverished Peruvian town in the Andes, where her school participated in a cultural exchange program. I was willing to trek along to this rural town, a nine-hour bus north of Lima. It was a great arrangement; I would accompany her on the trip up north to reunite with her host family (we would only stay for a few days) and then she would tag along to Machu Picchu and an Eco-lodge in the Amazon jungle. I was so excited, Machu Picchu !!!

That was five years ago and I have great photos and memories of the Amazon and the Inca fortress, but the best memories, the ones that hold a special place in my heart, are the ones from Mato, the tiny town, high in the Andes. More specifically, the people we encountered. One of those special people was the Guinea Pig Lady.

Before I get to her, however, I want to tell you about the village in the Andes. Mato only has a few hundred residents. It has electricity in some, but not all of the houses. Indoor plumbing is also a luxury reserved for the wealthier residents, like the teachers or store owners. The town has an irrigation system, where the water is turned off every evening from 6pm until morning. The bulk of the villagers live off the land. Livestock is paraded out to pasture early in the morning and returned in the evening.

View of the Andes from Mato

View of the Andes from Mato

The family that hosted my daughter the previous year owns a local store and a rooming house. They rent rooms to guests that work in the area, for example Peace Corps workers or medical workers from larger cities coming to help in town for a few days. Although scenic, this is not a town where tourists would go.

We were overwhelmed by the hospitality we received in Mato. We were greeted by everyone. People stopped by at Jose’s house to visit with us. We were invited to the school principal’s house for a Coke. When we visited the preschool, they called a recess time so we could meet and interact with the children. Jose, our host, was generous with his time, food and house. He even asked us to stay longer and arranged for our transportation to the bus station a 25 minute drive away. We were made to feel like it was our home. We helped Susan work at the store, played ball in the streets, and laughed into the night with Jose. It was just such a comfortable feeling. At dinner time, we all pitched in to set the table.

Me welcomed to Matos`s preschool class

Me welcomed to Matos`s preschool class

Jose took us for daily walks to share stories of his community

Jose took us for daily walks to share stories of his community

There was a women in town who always struck up a conversation with us when our paths crossed. Conversation is probably a bit of an overstatement here, since our Spanish is pretty limited and nobody in town speaks English. With Jose, it was not too bad, he spoke slowly and we used a lot of gestures. Language barriers aside, we did manage to gather that this lady was keen on us coming to visit her, in her home. Low and behold, one day, Jose announced that we would be going to her house for lunch. And by “we’ he meant, just my daughter and I. He told us how to find the house and sent us on our way. I am not going to lie, I was a little apprehensive. I was really not sure our Spanish ability could sustain us for an entire meal. I was also nervous about eating in a new home that may serve us water or food that could make our feeble North American digestive systems unhappy. In any case, we were on our way, after all, she had always been super nice when we bumped into her on the road.

We arrived and within minutes the initial nervousness was settled. It was surprising that the Spanish-English issue was not that much of an issue at all. The great thing about my daughter and I is that she was stronger at understanding Spanish and I was stronger at expressing myself. So she listened, translated what I didn’t catch and I answered. Of course, we often had to ask them to repeat things three times in different ways and gestures until we grasped the gist of the story.

And what a story it was. This woman had raised 4 children, if I remember correctly, and had a grand child she was raising too. She had suffered battery most of her married life, until finally, she kicked the bastard out. But that left her to feed and clothe the family by herself. The way that she supports the family by raising guinea pigs. (Hence the title of the post)

Guinea Pig Cages

Guinea Pig Cages

This small batch of guinea pigs is her livelihood. There were not really many there, maybe 50 or 60. They make the cutest little noises. She explained that when she needed anything for the house, flour, sugar or light bulbs, she took guinea pigs to market. In Peru, guinea pigs (or cuy) are a source of food. So she would toss 4 or 5 guinea pigs into an over-sized purse, catch a collectivo (shared taxi) to market day in Caraz and sell or trade the rodents for the supplies she needed.

We sat on her sofa and had a lovely chicken dinner and salad. It was such a foreign world though, I knew that with very little refrigeration in this town, she had killed that chicken just for us. We were honoured and wondered how many guinea pigs she had to trade to get the chicken. When she offered us drinks, she did it just as we would in Canada, “what would you like to drink? Coke, Sprite, water?”, except her daughter had to run to the corner store to buy the beverages we wanted and they didn`t get any for themselves. I was annoyed at myself for not thinking fast enough, or I would have said, that we were fine with nothing to drink.

After dinner she continued to tell us about her kids, one had moved to Lima and her grand-daughter showed us her school work. It was surprisingly advanced for preschool. It seemed like such normal after-dinner conversation.

It was a strange feeling. This lady lived a life we could never really understand, she was a battered wife, who financially barely held it together by bartering guinea pigs. But I didn’t leave her house thinking “poor her”, or “wow, am I ever lucky to be me”. There was no pity, I just thought that I had met a kind, strong, wonderful mother.

It was then that I realized that relationships and people are what make travel special. This vast earth houses many people who are in different situations and there should never be judgments of who is more fortunate or lucky. I am not saying that we shouldn`t help each other, but do it in the same spirit as holding a door open for someone, it is a courtesy issue, not a sympathy issue. In that same vein, when you converse with people of the world, learn about their life, their families, their hopes and dreams.

I am honoured and privileged to have dined with the guinea pig lady. I am grateful that she taught me that travel is about so much more than natural wonders and landmarks.

The guinea pig lady with my daughter, what an honour to be a guest in her home

The guinea pig lady with my daughter, what an honour to be a guest in her home

What about you? Have you ever met someone on your travels who left a lasting impression?


Daily Post: Miss Twiggley’s Tree

Daily Prompt, what was your favorite bedtime story and did it influence who you are today?

I loved the daily prompt today. It reminded me of a book I loved as a child. In fact, it is one of the few books, from my childhood that I still own. Miss Twiggley’s Tree, by Dorothea Warren Fox, copyright 1966

This is a great book with moral messages of tolerance, kindness and prejudice. However, all of those lessons went unnoticed (at least consciously) by me, at the time. I loved this book because Miss Twiggley was the coolest lady ever. I wanted to be Miss Twiggley.

Funny Miss Twiggley
Lived in a tree
With a dog named Puss
and a color TV

She did what she liked
and she liked what she did

Who wouldn’t want to live in a giant tree house, and have bears for friends? She also did not care one iota that the people in town thought she was strange.

It turns out that my favourite bedtime story had an awesome role model, but I didn’t realize it back then. I think it might very well have influenced me to follow my heart when I act (and not to worry about what people think). I hope that Miss Twiggley’s tolerance, forgiveness and kindness have rubbed off on me, in some way or another. I loved (and still love) this book and it makes me smile remembering all the times I read it or it was read to me.

How about you? What was your favourite childhood book.

Daily Post: Planned Whimsical Living

Daily Post: What are you more comfortable with, routine and planning or laissez-faire spontaneity?

Travel, exploration and activity-filled weekends are on my basic necessities list. I am game to try most things at least once (short of jumping out of a plane). So the answer would seem obvious. I think most people who know me (but don’t REALLY know me) would assume I am a carefree, spontaneous woman. And really, I have tried to be, but I just can’t do it. The only way this chick is acting on a whim, is if she has carefully planned it. Planned spontaneity is my life mantra.

I begin every weekend the same way, “what shall we do this weekend? I am up for anything, I just need to know what is going down”.

I begin every day the same way, I spend 3 minutes thinking about the day’s planned events.

I earnestly research my trips. I reserve all my accommodations, have a couple of positively rated restaurants in mind and have sunny and rainy day activities planned. Notes such as, “Wander such and such neighbourhood” and “Take taxi to the hotel” are even scribbled into the itinerary. That said, I’m not a crazy, rigid person, of course, if something interesting pops up, I am flexible.

I admire the people who can be laissez-faire, like my daughter, but I just can’t do it. Planned whimsical living for me!!

Daily Post: Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world…..

Silver Screen: Take a quote from your favorite movie- there is the title of your movie

Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion’s starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don’t see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it’s always there – fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge – they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling you’ll find that love actually is all around.

This is my favorite movie and I could have chosen many quotes from this film. This one, however, is such a true reminder of what is important in life. Relationships trump everything else. Whenever you get down or discouraged, just think about the important people in your life.

It is our annual family Christmas tradition to watch “Love Actually”. At this point, we all recite the lines along with the actors. The quote above is such a beautiful introduction to a funny, touching movie with so many little intertwining stories. Love, love love this movie.

What is your all time favorite movie?

Daily Prompt: Letter to My Future Grandkids

Daily Post: Back to the Future A service has been invented through which you can send messages to people in the future. To whom would you send something, and what would you write?

Dear my grandkids and great grand kids

I am not that old yet, and certainly not that wise, but I do have some tidbits of advice to pass along.

Technology will change; the way things are done, and jobs you hold, but one thing will not change, relationships. Cherish relationships and be good to your friends and family.

Pick a good mate. Pick a partner that you will laugh and have fun with. With any luck you will spend many years with your partner, so be with someone you truly like and, with whom you have common interests.

Be a duck, but not a doormat. Let things roll off your back, but don’t let people walk all over you. It can be tricky to balance, but keep trying.

Go for it! Be brave enough to go for what you want. Obstacles are meant to jump over, not to derail you.

Believe in yourself, you are the driver of your life, you come from good genes (trust me!) and you CAN do it.

The world is a big place. Do yourself a favour and explore the earth and its wonderful people, landscapes and cultures.

Finally, practice altruism. Be kind to people, expecting nothing in return. But in reality you will get so much back, (I am not sure why), it just works that way.

With Lots of Love,
Your Grandma/Great Grandma