Earlier this year I discovered the writing of George Mahood when I came across Not Tonight, Josephine: A Road Trip Through Small-Town America. You can read my thoughts about that book in my post - Road Trip Food + Jake's Scrambled Eggs. In any case, that cemented my admiration of Mahood's writing.
Then, earlier this month, I read Free Country: A Penniless Adventure the Length of Britain by George Mahood and made a California Chip Butty. So, when Travels with Rachel: In Search of South America by George Mahood* popped up in my Kindle suggestions, I ordered it immediately.
On the Page
As usual Mahood seamlessly fuses the informative and the hilarious when he recounts his and Rachel's belated honeymoon through South America. In typical Mahood-fashion, much of the hilarity ensues through the couple being frugal in their spending. One example was then they wanted to save three dollars on a tour which had them hunting for anacondas wearing flip flops and shoddy sneakers instead of waterproof boots. And, on their anniversary, they decided to splurge from their usual hostel accommodations and discovered that their two single beds were located in a room with a flimsy curtain that looked directly into the dining room of the hotel.
Through their adventures and misadventures, Mahood describes their time in Bolivia, Peru, Chile, and more. In his usual self-deprecating manner he both acknowledges and respects the cultural differences between the South Americans and the tourists. If you like travelogues and love a good laugh, any of Mahood's books will do the trick. This one had the added humor of including miscommunications and clashes that can only occur between spouses! Though I will say Rachel seems remarkably chill through everything.
Just a few passages I really enjoyed that clearly illustrate Mahood's writing style and travel mindset...
"As we sat chatting with full stomachs, we felt acutely aware of the strange and slightly uncomfortable dichotomy of being first world travellers in a less developed country. In the morning, we had been helping locals swap chickens for milk from the back of a rusty pickup truck, in the evening we were sipping mojitos on a roof terrace" (pg. 41)
"Before coming to South America, many people had suggested that we shouldn’t eat street food because of the risk to our delicate Western stomachs. Rachel had been more cautious than me. I had ignored this advice and only showed restraint when offered hallucinogenic cactus juice with life–altering side–effects. I don’t think you can fully embrace a country unless you eat its street food" (pg. 66).
"I stumbled upon the notorious Mercado de las Brujas – Witches’ Market – where the definition of weird purchases is rewritten. Here you can buy an array of bizarre things, such as potions, voodoo dolls, statues, dried frogs, herbal ‘stimulants’ and dried llama foetuses. The llama foetuses are said to ward off evil spirits, and are often built into the foundations of new houses in Bolivia to ensure a happy household" (pg. 113).
In the Glass
More food from vendors..."We had a three hour wait in Sigchos for our connecting bus, so we had a look around the town – it didn’t take very long – and then sat in the main square and ate a bowl of fried potatoes and onions bought from a street vendor" (pg. 39).
Some language challenges..."My poor Spanish was evident when I ordered us each a toasted ham and cheese sandwich at a neighbouring cafe by pointing to the pictures of the toasted ham and cheese sandwiches on the wall, and asking for, in Spanish, what I thought was two toasted ham and cheese sandwiches. What arrived were two normal ham and cheese sandwiches, which were perfectly decent but not toasted" (pg. 120).
Then, more about the local fare..."Huanchaco is credited as being where the Peruvian dish ceviche originated. Ceviche is a dish consisting of raw fish with lemon juice and often chili" (pg. 71).
And something slightly illicit..."Juan Pablo made us all a cup of mate de coca – a tea made from coca leaves and sweetened with shit-loads of sugar. Locals use coca tea to help cope with altitude sickness, although no scientific studies have ever proved its effectiveness. It is more likely that it acts as a stimulant because of its mind–altering qualities. The leaves of the coca plant are the base ingredient for cocaine, and although considered mild in its dosage, one cup of mate de coca is enough to test positive for a cocaine drug test" (pg. 87)
- 6 to 8 cups water
- 1/2 cup purple corn powder*
- one organic pineapple
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 1 Tablespoon whole cloves
- 2 whole star anise
- 1 organic lime, juiced
- 1/3 cup maple syrup