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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Day 4: Pisco, Peru


Tuesday, Sept. 16
Pisco, Peru

On the evening of Aug. 15, 2007, an 8.0 earthquake struck the central Peruvian coast, flattening homes, hospitals, hotels, stores and churches. More than 500 people in Pisco and surrounding communities died, and a reported 70 percent of the region's buildings were destroyed.

Now, most of the town is under construction. Some standing structures appear hastily slapped together, with thin wooden walls. People pray in a church made of sugarcane. A local tour guide shows us a picture of the church that stood in its place before the terremoto: a stately 400-year-old landmark with exquisite details.

Natural disasters don't care about a country's GDP. Monterey or Carmel could find itself in the same situation—rebuilding after a devastating quake, doubly hurt by the property damage and the drop in tourist dollars. I think of Big Sur after this summer's fires. More than one businessperson has told us, "Thank you for coming to Pisco. We need visitors to survive."

We've heard warnings about Pisco's crime rate, but the locals we've met seem sweet and helpful. We eat dinner at a little family restaurant, where the TV is on full blast, featuring a ranting man in a suit whose voice is more fevered than a Baptist preacher's. That, the waiter tells us, is Peru's government spokesman. Quite a contrast to our prim Dana Perino.

We get a kick out of the bilingual menu. Bistek, beef, is translated to "beetsteak." Mate de coca, South American cocoa tea, is "killed of coca." Filete a lo macho—fish fillet cooked with parmesan and lime—is "filled to the male thing." Of course we order a few Pisco sours, the drink that made this town famous. The waiter tells us his brother makes the Pisco from uvas claras, green grapes grown in the hills to the east.

It's 10pm, but the sounds of traffic, radios, human and canine voices tell us Pisco is wide awake. "It kind of sounds like Burning Man," Robin says. In fact, the folks here are grateful to our fur-clad desert pilgrims: Burners without Borders, a volunteer group of roving ravers, is assisting the reconstruction.

-Kera Abraham, photo by Robin Parrott

3 comments:

ray said...

Well I'm guessing sugarcane churches do a lot less damage in the event of an 8.0 earthquake. I'd take that over the stately landmark any day.

I'm wondering who is working those sugarcane fields and what is the pay? Or do the locals go harvest it themselves? Does sugarcane grow in Peru?

Jack said...

"filled to the male thing"? that doesn't sound tasty at all.

Kera said...

Addendum: tried fish "a lo macho" today and the fillet wasn't cooked with parmesan and lime, but rather in a salty brown sauce topped with a random assortment of finely-chopped sea animal parts. Luckily I didn't see any obvious male things.