Excerpt 5: Would you eat a Guinea Pig?

There’s some extremely satisfying about Teaching English in a Foreign Land being in Amazon Best Seller lists alongside other travel writing books that inspired me to travel and write (especially after getting numerous rejections from publishers and agencies, haha!) Seeing my book in the Kindle Best Seller Travel and Holiday Top 100 Chart (out of 30,000 books) next to travel writers such as Bill Bryson, Michael Palin, Paul and Louis Theroux, and Tim Moore and books that I love such as The Gringo Trail, The Backpacker, and Blood River is remarkable considering I’m just an average guy. Just goes to show that there is a market out there for travel writing books about teaching English around the world.   

Here’s the fifth excerpt. It’s from chapter five just after Christmas Day in Quito, Ecuador, when I decided to take a trip to Baños to sample the local delicacy: cuy– guinea pig. 

Did I try it? Read and find out…
(lovely) Photo by nestorlacle 
There were three things left to do on my list before leaving Quito: sample cuy, Ecuador’s most famous pet food; witness the burning of the President, and go on a trip to the beach with the family.
When I say pet food, I don’t mean food Ecuadorians give their pets, rather pets that Ecuadorians eat. Cuy, or guinea pig, is a delicacy and I promised The Lord and my students that I’d try it before I left. A few adored the special cuisine, while others grimaced at the mention of eating the rat-like animal. I wanted to make up my own mind.
“Go to Baños in the Tungurahua province three hours south, it is best there,’ The Lord said after I met him for a Boxing Day beer.
On the giddy trip through the Andes I tried, but failed thanks to cloud, to spot the huge volcano, which gives name to its province. Tungurahua is an active volcano and if ever erupted, would wipe out Baños at its base.
In October 1999, 25,000 people evacuated the village temporarily thanks to the first eruption of the volcano. Mounds of ash spilled out the top and covered the town killing seven people in the process.
Baños was more colourful and vibrant than Otavalo, and the mountains on either side reminded me of Oaxaca in Mexico. I dumped my stuff in a hostel and wandered round. Compared to Quito, Baños was like a miniature village. The only noise came from a few kids playing in the main plaza and the occasional bird chirping. The calmness and tranquillity was spooky after so long in the capital. I wasn’t complaining though; I felt safe.
After a nose about, I stumbled on a strange stuffed animal museum. I’ve never been a fan of the hunting world, but something dragged me inside. The exhibits began reasonably tame: a couple of exotic birds, harmless snakes, and lazy lizards, all kept in glass cabinets. Then I spotted a poor horse’s head pinned up high on a wall, and then a couple of baby monkeys, who looked electrocuted. I was unimpressed.
In another glass cage, perhaps trying to put me off sampling them later; were two Ecuadorian guinea pigs gawping, as if stuffed alive. How would I eat cuy after that? To top it off there was a deformed baby something (I’m not sure what) floating in a jar of murky green water still attached to its umbilical cord.
After a quick shower and change of clothes, I asked the hostel owner where I could find cuy.
“CUY?” He frowned at me.
“Yeah, cuy, I’ve heard it’s pretty good here.”
“Yes, it is,” he said, staring. “But not many tourists leave here alive after trying it.” I assumed he was joking and wandered off.
I was starving and excited about trying a new dish. Even though I’d had many heated debates with students about eating cuy, and after seeing the poor creatures mortified in the museum, I was adamant on giving it a go. I presumed that the chef would carve and present the delicacy on a plate with some salad and chips.
When I caught a whiff of burning meat from a barbeque, my stomach rumbled. Local people sat on tables outside a restaurant, happily tucking into their meals. A full place is a good place, I thought. Then I spotted the grill.
I moved back in shock. Were they the same guinea pigs from the museum? The crispy cuy were lined up in neat rows burning away on their backs with a kebab stick shoved through. Their little legs and arms reached out and their mouths open as if crying out in pain as the flames wrapped round.
Had these people no shame? In the class debates no one had mentioned you see them whole and could choose the one you wanted. I thought that was only with lobsters. I couldn’t face munching away on the burned domestic animals, and settled for a Chinese round the corner. Who knows, I may have eaten guinea pig anyway.
As if I hadn’t seen enough poorly treated animals, the next day I went to the San Martin Eco Zoo. I got up early and didn’t shower because I wanted to try out the hot springs first, but they were packed full of grubby little kids and teenagers and half naked old people, probably depositing deadly cuy gases.
The people of Baños must have taken a while to build the zoo because it was awkwardly placed on the side of a mountain with a valley stretched below. Inside the zoo were birds, including giant eagles, a few jaguars and tapirs, and some capybaras, which were apparently the biggest rodents in the world. My favourites were the monkeys. Monkeys always make me laugh but these were extra naughty, running about fighting with each other over the food. I imagined their conversation. 
“Hey man, why do they keep giving us this leftover food? What is it today?”
“Tastes like guinea pigs again.”
“What again! When are they going to learn that it’s a domestic animal and we’re supposed to eat nuts and things? Who eats guinea pigs anyway?”
The solitude was getting to me. I could have stayed longer in delightful Baños and done a jungle trek or gone hiking in the mountains, but I wanted to save cash for my adventure in January. It had been a pleasant break and I’d regained some confidence about travelling alone.

Writing a book takes hard work and commitment and can be a lonely job. Luckily I had the support of my wife, family, and mates to keep me going. So thanks a lot to everyone who has bought a copy. For previous excerpts have a look right here.

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