06 Jun

Chicha


Joni and Eric

Joni and Eric left Ecuador this morning. They were wonderful guests and great travel companions. Here they are at Machu Picchu. Eric and I wanted to hike up that big hill/mountain you see in the background, but we put it off for day 2. Then, after discovering that what it would cost for us to return on the second day, we skipped it.

Instead, we wandered around the town of Aguas Calientes. Eric wanted to try chicha, the famous alcoholic beverage of the incas. It’s basically fermented corn; the indigenous peoples of the sierra and the jungle make it, I believe. Here’s how: people chew corn and spit it into a big cauldron. They add some other things to it and let it sit for a while. The saliva apparently helps it ferment. All over the place, there are big bamboo poles with red bag (it can be a plastic or a cloth bag) at the end of it. This pole/bag combo is displayed wherever chicha is available. It’s placed like a flag on the front of someone’s house, with the pole usually sticking out at a 45-degree angle.

Anyhow, in Aguas Calientes, there was one place that was displaying the chicha pole. It was in front of a dark doorway, next to a t-shirt shop. I asked the woman at the shop if they had chicha, and she pointed into the depths of the dark hallway to the side of her store and said it was in there. Eric and I walked in hesitantly. At the end of the dark hallway, there was a ramp with some traction boards nailed onto it. We ascended and came into what looked like a really impoverished home. There were three women in the kitchen, which contained a half-tiled tub with a steel water pipe and a very industrial-looking spigot at the end of it, a bunch of metal shelving, a stove, a few stools, a big pile of dirt or powder cement, and a huge steel cauldron. The kitchen overlooked a cinder-block building that was under construction. There was another ramp leading up to another room, if it can be called a room, which housed two tables and some benches. On one of the benches, there were a man and a younger woman sitting.

We asked if they had chicha. One of the women said yes, do you want one or two glasses. I translated for Eric, who suggested we get some to go. I inquired about that possibility, and they said sure and proceeded to rinse a big 2.5 liter bottle. I was carrying a smaller water bottle, which I quickly finished off and offered as an alternative receptacle. They filled it, charged us 1 sol (about 30 cents) and we left.

“Do you think they made that by chewing it and spitting it?” Eric asked.

“Um,” I thought about it. “Yeah. Probably.”

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