Yes it’s true, Nellu has been talking about chicha since we were still in New York. I think he was first introduced to it while watching one of the adventure eating/drinking shows and thought, “Wow, that’s weird. I definitely want to try that.” He will try anything at least once – the weirder the better. I think Santiago sticks in my mind as the place where chicha’s role in our daily conversation hit a new high because we were staying with two lovely American women who had recently traveled through Peru and Nellu wondered if they had in fact tried it.
What Nellu leaves out of his story is the fact that when – as he put it “a miracle happened” and our bus returning home from the Inca Trail passed right by the chicharia (or place that makes chicha) – I was dying in the back of the bus. As fate would have it, I got sick on the last day of our hike to Machu Picchu. I won’t go into detail but it was the type of brutal sick that travelers often get when exposed to foreign elements in their food and water. So after getting up before 3am in the morning, hiking 6km to Machu Picchu, trying to eek out every last bit of spirit I had to actually enjoy and see the ruins, then taking a bus to a train to a bus without consuming anything more than two Gatorades and a few crackers, I was happy to be on the way back to our hotel.
Nellu had been an absolutely trooper the whole day, staying by my side to help me with the hike, running to get me water or Gatorade or anything I needed. From time to time he would give me that look that he sometimes gives me when I am sick, he can’t help, and he secretly fears that I may die. It’s that look of sheer despondency that you usually see in movies when someone is in fact dying…from the plague. He gave me the look a lot that day.
So you can imagine my surprise when, as the sun was setting and I was curled up in the fetal position on the back of the bus, I hear, “Hey! Is there any chance we can stop at Mercedes’ chicharia !?!” coming from my worried husband’s mouth.
Part of me wanted to shout back, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” But I didn’t. I knew how much Nellu wanted to try it. And he had come so close so many times. The first night we arrived in Cusco before embarking on the Incan Trail, we even ate at a place called Chicha. But alas, they did not serve the drink. And all through out the hike, there were chicharias on the way where the porters would stop to refresh. It was almost like the chicha was teasing Nellu throughout the whole trip. So being the good wife I am, I said nothing and the bus stopped.
About 5 minutes later, some of our other trail mates returned to the bus after sampling their first taste of chicha and gave a very definitive review, “It was the most disgusting thing I’ve ever tasted.”
Usually, I would have been right there with Nellu trying the chicha. I definitely wouldn’t have had a whole glass like he did (he wants me to make sure you know that it was a monster mug and not a small taste like some others had) but I would have tried it. I may not be so adventurous when it comes to food but usually with drinks, I’ll take at least a sip.
And besides, I would have gotten the opportunity to improve my skills at the drinking game “el sapo.” This is essentially the Andes version of Beruit where instead of tossing ping-pong balls into keg cups, you hurl metal coins at a table aiming for the mouth of a small metal frog and rack of points based on your accuracy. The loser buys the next round of chicha.
Here’s a little video of us trying our hand at “el sapo” during our first visit to Mercedes’ chicharia: