peru

15 Best Articles of 2017

Our top blog posts cover the Paris Catacombs, India’s transsexual hijras, jinns, vintage Halloween, Fès hammans and more.

 

Duke and I tend to be drawn to the bizarre. We’re fans of the strange (chambers lined with skulls and bones, creepy vintage Halloween postcards and photos). We like to meet those who are societal outsiders (like India’s legal third sex, the hijra). We’re obsessed with the supernatural (jinns, gypsy love spells). But we also appreciate a good pampering (at a Fès hamman, say) and architectural beauties (such as the Milan Duomo).

Seems like you do, too. Here are the top 15 blog posts from last year. What was your favorite? –Wally

 

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1. GRUESOME FACTS (AND HELPFUL TIPS) ABOUT THE PARIS CATACOMBS

No bones about it: If you think piles of skulls and hallways formed of bones are pretty effin’ cool (like us), then the Catacombs of Paris are for you.

 

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2. SECRETS OF THE HIJRA: INDIA’S LITTLE-KNOWN TRANSSEXUALS

Prostitution, curses and dangerous sex change operations are a way of life for this marginalized community.

 

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3. HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF FROM JINNS AND BLACK MAGIC

Black magic in Islam is a serious concern — and the holy writings offer numerous ways to negate magic jinn.

 

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4. THE BEST PLACE TO MAKE OUT IN PUBLIC IN DELHI

Not a typical tourist stop, the Garden of Five Senses is a whimsical sculpture park worth visiting. It’s also popular with local couples escaping societal judgment against PDA.

 

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5. 24 VINTAGE HALLOWEEN CARDS THAT ARE NOSTALGIC — BUT A BIT CREEPY, TOO

Halloween greetings from the past featured common Halloween symbols: the witch, black cat, jack-o’-lantern, ghost, devil — and one that has been forgotten.

 

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6. 21 VINTAGE HALLOWEEN PHOTOS THAT ARE SO CREEPY THEY'LL GIVE YOU NIGHTMARES

Halloween costumes of the past were scary as hell.

 

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7. WHAT’S THE BEST HAMMAM SPA EXPERIENCE IN FES, MOROCCO?

Reinvigorate yourself at the luxury hammam Les Bains Amani.

 

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8. 7 FUN FACTS ABOUT THE MILAN CATHEDRAL

What to do in Milan, Italy? Visit the gorgeous Duomo di Milano, covered with statues of saints and gargoyles — and don’t miss the amazing view from the rooftop.

 

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9. LOVE SPELLS FROM THE GYPSIES

How to cast a love spell to make someone fall in love with you — or fall out of love with you. Plus, secrets from the Roma that will reveal your future spouse!

 

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10. THE PISHTACO OF PERU

Why one of the world’s creepiest vampire legends lingers to this day.

 

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11. WAT RONG SUEA TEN, THE BLUE TEMPLE

No day trip to Chiang Rai is complete without a visit to this breathtaking wat, between the White Temple and Black Museum.

 

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12. THE BEST AND WORST PARTS OF LIVING IN QATAR

What’s it like living in a Muslim country that fasts for an entire month and limits the sale of booze? What do Qataris think of Americans? And how the heck do you pronounce Qatar?

 

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13. THE INDIAN CASTE SYSTEM EXPLAINED

Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya, Shudra, untouchable: How did the caste system get started, what is the difference between castes — and how does this shameful practice persist to this day?

 

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14. HOW ST. NICHOLAS BECAME SANTA CLAUS

The surprising origins of jolly old St. Nick include a tie to prostitution, kids chopped into pieces, a devil named Krampus and a racist tradition around his helper Zwarte Pieter, or Black Peter.

 

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15. THE BEST SHOP FOR BLUE POTTERY IN THE ENTIRE FEZ MEDINA

If you’re shopping in Fès, just off of Place Seffarine is a small shop with a friendly owner and great deals.

Bizarre Foods Around the World

Weird food: Would you try crickets, scorpions, guinea pig…or dog?

 

I think of myself as adventurous when it comes to food. I’ll eat pretty much anything.

But when you start getting into Bizarre Foods With Andrew Zimmern territory, my stomach starts churning.

I think we all just ate dog.

I’ve gobbled down the delicious fattiness of pig cheeks, for instance. And when you really think about it, shrimp could be considered the insects of the sea.

Here are some of the foods I encountered on my travels — some of which I braved and others I chickened out on actually trying.

 

Guinea pig, or cuy, comes flayed open like something scraped off the road — you know, so you can sure you're not eating a cat

Guinea pig, or cuy, comes flayed open like something scraped off the road — you know, so you can sure you're not eating a cat

Guinea pigs

Known as cuy in Peru, these are a delicacy in the Andes. We visited villages where locals had tiny pens to keep in a few guinea pigs, awaiting a special occasion. 

I figured I had to try cuy at least once. It was on the menu at a restaurant in Puno, a town on the shore of Lake Titicaca (go ahead and giggle). 

When Cameron, one of my fellow travelers, ordered it, I sighed in relief. 

“I’ll just try a bite of yours,” I said, and ordered the alapaca medallions for myself.

We were all horrified when the cuy came out. It sat upon its plate, flayed open, ribs visible, head still on, teeth bared, looking more like roadkill than dinner.

Once Cameron had dug in, I reached across the table and grabbed some with my fork. It stretched like a rubber band before it broke off with a snap. And a rubber band was exactly how it tasted. 

“Why do they serve cuy like that?” I asked the waiter.

“That is how it is served everywhere,” he informed us. “The head is on to show that you are not eating cat. A lot of restaurants try to serve you cat, but not us.”

“That’s good,” I said, happy to return to my alpaca. Which was delicious, by the way.

 

Crickets are popular snacks all over Thailand

Crickets are popular snacks all over Thailand

Crickets and scorpions

I stayed with friends in Bangkok, Thailand, and at the end of their street was a small cart that sold crickets as well as pitch-black scorpions.

I was glad to see that the stingers had been removed from the scorpions. But as someone who has an irrational phobia of these creatures (all that power to kill in one small, creepy crawly package just gives me the shivers), you couldn’t even get me to consider trying one. 

Every time we passed by, I said I’d try a cricket, though. And every time I wimped out. I just couldn’t see the appeal of noshing on a dried insect, and the inevitable crunch just wigged me out. Part of the fact was that my stomach was still adjusting to the intensely spicy Thai food, and I was afraid that forcing a cricket down wouldn’t help matters.

That being said, there were carts all over the country, and they were always busy. Hordes of passersby would buy a bag full of crickets or a skewer and would gobble them down like popcorn.

 

The Perfume Pagoda in northern Vietnam is a region known for a dish called thit cho, which consists of dog

The Perfume Pagoda in northern Vietnam is a region known for a dish called thit cho, which consists of dog

Dog

Before we traveled to Vietnam, I had read in the guidebooks that there’s a region up north that specializes in thit cho, or dog. Duke and I learned the phrase and made sure to avoid it.

We stayed in Hanoi and took a day trip to the Perfume Pagoda. On the way there, I had noticed a lot of the restaurants had signs out front proudly touting the specialty of the house: thit cho.

On the return trip, we stopped for dinner. They sat us in a room to the side of the restaurant, and served us family style, passing around big platters of entrées and sides. One of the dishes was indiscernible — the meat was like gamey, gristly beef.

“OK,” I announced to the table. “Here’s a dish of mystery meat. Everyone try it.”

It made the rounds, and after everyone had taken a bite or two, I dropped the bomb.

“This region specializes in serving dog. Did anyone else notice the two statues of German shepherds on the way in? I think we all just ate dog.”

Almost everyone grimaced, or protested the possibility, or mumbled a curse in my direction.

But the girl from Sweden piped up with, “That was good! Can you pass it back this way?”

As we left the restaurant, I asked our tour guide if we had eaten dog.

“No, no,” he said. “Pig.”

Well, I can assure you that was certainly not pork.

So we’re not certain we’ve eaten dog — we just have the sneaking suspicion we did.

 

What's the weirdest food you've seen on your travels? And did you try it? –Wally

The Pishtaco of Peru

A publication on the Peruvian monster, the pishtaco

A publication on the Peruvian monster, the pishtaco

Why one of the world’s creepiest vampire legends lingers to this day.

 

While hiking the Inca Trail in Peru, we heard stories about the monster that haunts the Andes: the pishtaco.

Despite its goofy moniker, there’s nothing funny about this vampiric creature. Its name comes from the local Quechua word pishtay, which means to behead, slit the throat or cut into slices.

Pishtacos lure their victims into the depths of the jungle, where they…wait for it…suck out and feast upon their body fat.

That should give you an idea what this monster does to its victims. But that’s not all.

It’s described as looking suspiciously like a white man who’s sometimes seen wearing a broad-rimmed hat.

Our guides would tell us to be wary and not to follow any strangers down a mountain path at night, for pishtacos lure their victims into the depths of the jungle, where they…wait for it…suck out and feast upon their body fat.

Apparently the Andean people have been obsessed with fat for centuries. They even had a deity, Viracoha, literally the Sea of Fat. Llama and alpaca fat was used as a sacred offering to the gods.

The legend probably derives from the arrival of the conquistadors — lighter-skinned invaders rumored to kill locals for their prized body fat.

“The first written account of pishtacos — or at least of a belief in pishtaco-like behavior — comes from the 16th century,” Daniel Engber writes on Slate. “The priest Cristóbal de Molina, a scholar of native languages and Incan culture, described a certain squeamishness among the natives living around Cuzco. They wouldn’t even deliver firewood to a Spanish home, he wrote in 1571, for fear of being killed and having their fat used as a remedy for some foreign disease.”

 

A retablo depicting the horrific work of the pishtaco

A retablo depicting the horrific work of the pishtaco

Modern-Day Pishtacos

Belief in the pishtaco lingers to this day. In fact, it’s been reported that the Andean people have rejected food aid, thinking it’s a ruse to plump them up to steal their fat. Honestly, from what I saw of them, their diet, which mainly consists of various varieties of potatoes, is doing a fine job of that all by itself.

A good deal of the blame lies with a gang of villains caught in 2009. The tale that arose was later considered a hoax or governmental cover-up — but it sure makes for a good ghost story.

The gang members hunted in the jungles of Huánuco, luring or kidnapping up to 60 victims, who were bludgeoned and beheaded.

Then came the grisly part: They’d hang the corpses upside-down and use candles below to melt off the bodies’ fat, which was collected in empty Inca Kola bottles. The human fat they collected was supposedly sold to supply the European beauty market.

Gathered around a campfire along the Inca Trail, far from civilization, it was easy to imagine figures lurking at the edges of the trees. We didn’t even consider investigating. –Wally

5 Strange World Traditions

A temple in Ubud on Bali — just don't go in if you're on your period!

A temple in Ubud on Bali — just don't go in if you're on your period!

The more you travel, the more weird traditions you’ll encounter — and that’s some kind of wonderful.

 

Part of the wonderment of travel is experiencing cultures that are vastly different from your own. It expands your mind; it helps you understand how we’re indelibly shaped by our environments.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of feeling superior, that places that don’t follow our conventions are somehow more barbaric.

“I didn’t fly halfway around the world to not go into any temples just because it’s that time of the month,” she exclaimed.

But that’s what makes world travel so fun. Get out of your comfort zone. See things from another point of view. Travel truly changes you.
Here’s a sampling of some of the strangest customs I’ve experienced on my travels.

 

On Bali, menstruating women cannot enter Hindu temples.

The idea is that women on their periods are somehow “unclean.” But my friend Christina was having none of it.

“I didn’t fly halfway around the world to not go into any temples just because it's that time of the month,” she exclaimed.

“Hey,” I responded, “I won’t tell if you don’t.”

 

In Thailand, there’s no concept of the closet for gays.

As hard as this is to believe, this is what I was told by my friend Deb, who was living in Bangkok at the time.

Apparently being gay isn’t something you have to hide in Thailand. Which I suppose means there’s no repression, and you just tell everyone around you when you first realize you have feelings for the same sex.

Honestly, this one still astounds me, and I’m not sure I fully believe it. I feel like it would make Thailand the only country on Earth where it was totally OK to be gay.

 

In Morocco, men hold hands and kiss hello.

There’s nothing gay about it. But Muslim men are quite physical with each other. It’s not unusual to see two grown men walking arm in arm down the street or even holding hands.

And when they greet each other, they kiss on the cheek. The man who drove us to the Sahara used me to demonstrate the traditional greeting. He kissed me once. Twice. Thrice. Four times! It seemed a bit excessive. I mean, who’s got time for that?

 

In Sevilla, Spain, you toss your napkins right on the floor.

You stop at a tapas bar for some delicious nibblies, and when you’re done, you nonchalantly throw your soiled napkin onto the ground.

“It took me a while to get used to this,” my friend Jo said. “But honestly — they’d rather you do that than leave them on the bar.”

 

In Peru, you pour out booze as an offering to Mother Earth.

The Andean people worship the Earth as Pachamama, and whenever they have an alcoholic drink, they pour a bit out to honor her.

“What about if you’re in someone’s home?” I asked my guide one evening at our campsite on the Inca Trail.

“Yes,” he told me.

“What about if you’re at a restaurant?” I asked.

He nodded again. “Yes.”

“It’s kind of like pouring one for your homies,” I said. But he didn’t understand. –Wally

Chancay Burial Dolls

These Chancay burial dolls from Cusco, Peru, which Wally named Claudia and Lucha, have dollies of their own

These Chancay burial dolls from Cusco, Peru, which Wally named Claudia and Lucha, have dollies of their own

A pre-Incan people had these dolls to accompany them to the afterlife.

Wally purchased these folk art Chancay burial dolls in 2006 on a trip to Cusco, Peru. The dolls are modern-day reproductions modeled after ancient cloth figures found in the graves of elite Chancay people, whose culture flourished in the arid coastal valley of Peru during 1000-1460 CE. The Chancay culture is believed to have been conquered and incorporated into the Inca Empire in the mid to late 13th century. 

Their exact purpose has been a subject of debate, but I'd like to believe that these were similar to the figurines placed in ancient Egyptian tombs with the intent to follow their loved ones into the next life. 

I’d like to believe that these were similar to the figurines placed in ancient Egyptian tombs with the intent to follow their loved ones into the next life.

Indigenous Peruvian artisans recreate these dolls in a traditional style, incorporating remnants of ancient textile fragments recovered from pre-Colombian burial sites. –Duke