One of my absolute favorite days in Puerto Maldonado (PTO) was the day of Shirly’s 30th birthday celebration. We woke up early and had our typical breakfast of empanada, yucca ball, and juice plus coffee for me. After breakfast, we set out to purchase some Brazilian beef tenderloin from one of Shirley’s friends who had an inside connection for Brazillian beef. In PTO you must get beef early in the morning, or it is picked over. The beef was exquisite and inexpensive compared to prices in the US. If I remember correctly, it was $20 for both loins (see picture). We then went to the market to buy all of the ingredients we needed, including Brazilian sausage, chicken, yucca, ingredients for white tomato sauce, Brazilian nut sauce, and chimichurri. The PTO markets are a bustling center of activity with a vast assortment of fresh herbs, fruits, vegetables, fish, and meat, most sold to the people who grew or raised it or were not far removed. In PTO you don’t have any commercial chain restaurants or stores, which is one of the things I love most. It has not been bought out by corporate America YET. The closest thing you will find to a chain restaurant is Hornitos, which has 3 locations and some very delicious pizza and lemonade.
After dropping everything off at Beto’s house, we returned to Shirley’s house to pick star fruit to make juice and returned to our apartment to get cleaned up before returning to Beto’s house. Once we got to Beto’s we ran to get Cerveza and coal for the grill. We spent the remainder of the day preparing food and drinking in celebration of Shirley’s birthday. We made a simple rub for the loins and let them sit until it was time to grill. Beto and I were in charge of the grill and made a great team, although he likes his beef well done, and I like mine medium. It is not common in Peru for people to eat there beef rare or medium, probably because of the heat and not as much refrigeration. As we began to grill, people started showing up, including Shirley’s friends and family, with food, gifts, and drinks. We all sat in a circle and passed a bottle of beer and a cup for everyone to share, which is a tradition in Peru.
It is amazing the sense of community still very alive in Peru. Peruvians look for every reason to celebrate and get together with a genuine happiness and hospitality attitude. The food in Peru is some of the best I’ve ever had, with a fantastic variety of food from Ceviche to Lomo Saltada, both I highly recommend (Stay Tuned for future foodie Blog).
As the night progressed, we listened to music, told stories, and ate lots of food. Luckily for me, there were two Amazon Guides who are friends of Shirley’s that spoke pretty good English because my Spanish is pretty basic. After we finished eating Kassandra (Shirley’s sister) brought out the birthday cake, and we all sang happy birthday before I pushed the cake in Shirley’s face, another Peruvian tradition. She had surprised me with this tradition the year before when we visited Oracos for my birthday and ended up with cake in my face and Guinea Pig for dinner.
As the night progressed, things got more lively as we listened to music and continued to eat and drink until our bellies were full and our spirits lifted. I am so thankful for getting to celebrate Shirly’s 30th birthday together in PTO and only pray soon we will spend all our birthdays together.