I learned how to bleed a chicken before breakfast on Friday. I was hungry and sleepy when Marco stalked off to the hen-house, his wife Maria shaking her head and smiling, and I quickly slipped my sandals on to follow him when he returned with a half-dead, shaking black chicken. He´d already broken it´s thin, straggly neck, and we knelt behind the bathroom to let out its blood. A quick nick under the beak, hold the spastic body tight under a bag until the spurting stops, shake firmly, and we´re ready for breakfast. No, we didn´t eat the chicken for breakfast. We had bolón instead, a dish that´s fast becoming a staple in my life: boiled and mashed plátano, papa china, or, this morning, green oritos (those deliciously sweet mini bananas), mixed with onion and tomato and topped with cheese or a fried egg. Along with a cup of steamy, panela- (raw sugar) and café- infused milk that a woman drops off every couple days on her way back from her cows, any combination of jungle food gets me going in the morning.
Take this morning. I went for a run as the sun rose over the eastern lowlands, doused myself thoroughly in the chorro (a small stream a few minutes from the house that´s been crafted into a flowing ¨shower¨), and plucked a few tender yuca leaves on my way back from the stream. Since Marco went to town with his wife for groceries, it was the first breakfast I´ve made alone since I arrived, and oh boy was I pleased with myself. Steam-fried papa chinas with a few oritos and onion, topped with yuca leaves and cheese, a fried egg, and a steamy cup of sweet coffee. For lunch I made practically the same, though less gourmet: boiled oritos in their peels (they slip out easily once they´re cooked) with an egg and a healthy dose of ají sauce to spice it up.
If you really are what you eat, I am quickly becoming this finca. Even the selva is making its way into my bones.
On Thursday, we set out with María (Marco´s wife) and a group of gringos staying at a farm near her house to collect more paja (leaves) for the thatch roofs. We had already brought home 6 bundles (negotiated at $3 each since it´s ¨u-pick¨) on Wednesday, each containing over 100 of these giant tojilla leaves, and we only needed two more. While Marco and María chopped the leaves down from their lofty stalks, I and the others took them up and with both hands split each leaf down the middle, sorting the sides and keeping a loose, generous count for the new bundles. It´s fun, sticky work, and I managed to see dozens of new flies, beetles, caterpillars, grasshoppers, and other bichos of dazzling colors and shapes. With 12 hands, we finished quickly, left the bundles on the side of the road, and started walking further adentro the forest.
The rest of the day was a moving feast in the forest, nibbling here and there on various fruits and seeds. María has a plot of land on her sister´s property with plantains and bananas, but when we went to collect them we found that they had all, tragically, been eaten by monkeys and wantas. With empty hands (well, except a couple stalks of sugar cane to gnaw), we moved back to the road, to the strip of land owned by the farm where the other gringos volunteer. The owner had constructed a hut up further into the forest, so we made our way to it, slowly at first gathering guayaba (what we call guava, I think) and delicious guava (a huge green pod dangling from the trees full of fuzzy white fruit), then quickly as a strong rain shower easily soaked us. We waited out the last half of the shower in the hut, but restlessly ventured out again once it abated. Marco wanted to check on the paso trees nearby, which were mostly unripe-- the only ripe one we found has a bright orange inner peel and tasted nutty, slightly sweet. The fog that had rolled in blocked any view we may have found, so we climbed and slipped our way back down toward the road. And suddenly a crazed squawking and flapping caught us for another stop in that brimming jungle: we´d surprised a pava, a type of small, turkey-like bird that roams the treetops and some days acts as a flawless alarm clock, that was chomping on seeds high up in a tree by our path. The seeds, called cundshaya (pronounced cunjaya in my mind), look like dark olives and happen to be a favorite treat for people who know them. Call him fearless or foolhardy, Marco didn´t hesitate to climb the tree trunk (without branches for the first 6 meters) and begin harvesting the seed bunches as María and I scampered about, collecting seeds, fending off angry ants, and dodging the heavy bunches that Marco tossed down. In the end we almost filled his small backpack, and we´ve been snacking on them, after a quick soak in tepid water, ever since. The bitter, dark skins are supposed to heal kidney infections. At the very least, I can tell by their taste and color that they´re full of nutrients and healthful chemicals.
I´m getting hungry with all this talk of comida. It´s a half-hour bus ride back to the farm, so I might buy an ice cream (what a treat here!) or roll to hold me over until I can cook some real hearty jungle food. When I leave in two weeks, I can tell that my tissues will sorely miss their daily dose of Amazonian finca.