Goat´s blood, horses and piñones – an interesting celebration for my one year anniversary in South America

I marked my one year anniversary in South America in a landscape that to me has been a highlight of my travels so far…the magnificent mountains and volcanoes in the south of Chile! And as seems to be the norm in my travels, things were fairly unconventional… starting with fresh goat´s blood sprinkled with cilantro and lemon juice at 9:30am, followed by a stubborn horse that refused to move anywhere and a twisted knee that now has me stuck in bed!

But let me start at the beginning…

On Thursday last week I headed 9 hours south to Curacautin in the heart of the Araucaria Region where my friend Patricia lives and from there we headed into the mountains to the Mapuche community of Cruzaco. We had visited the same family back in December and the reason for visiting again now is that it is piñone season…

Piñones are the fruit of the Araucaria tree which grow in quite large balls consisting of many many smaller seeds. Just like the bark and branches of the tree, the balls of seeds are incredibly geometric and the seeds fit together like a puzzle. Piñones have been part of the way of life for the Pehuenche people (Mapuche people living in the Andes) for hundreds of years and at many times these seeds have formed their staple diet. Once you have peeled off the hard outer layer of a seed you can eat the white part inside and it has a rather mixed taste – kind of nutty and orangy at the same time. The seeds can also be roasted (and then they taste a bit like potatoes if you ask me) or ground into flour and used in all sorts of local dishes.

A half broken ball of piñones still attached to an Araucaria

So having heard about these piñones when I was in Cruzaco in December, I decided to come back in March to be part of this ancient tradition of collecting them in the forest. Now, naively I thought this would basically consist of walking through the forest and picking up the individual seeds that have fallen from the trees. Little did I know you actually need to be a bit of cowboy to collect piñones and have to be rather adept at using a lassoo. Problem number one is that my aim really sucks and number two the balls of piñones are usually more than 15 or 20m high in the trees. Before Don Juan (the grandfather we stayed with for the weekend) showed us how it should be done, we tried our luck alone by throwing sticks at the piñones. Once or twice I managed to hit the ball of seeds, but never with enough force to break them open. However, we did find a low

My version of collecting piñones - using a long stick to whack a ball hanging lower than usual in an Araucaria

hanging ball which I was able to break open with a long stick. Kind of cheating, but oh well. Alfonso did manage to wack a couple of balls with the stick and so we proudly returned to the farm with probably about 1kg of piñones. Our collection was examined with amusement by the family since they usually collect up to 50kg in one day…but for beginners I don´t think we did too badly… The next day Don Juan showed us how it should be done with the lassoo which consists of a heavy weight on one end which you throw into the branches and try and hook around the ball of seeds. Then by manipulating the rope you can either break off the whole ball as one or it breaks open in the tree and you collect the individual piñones that fall. Don Juan made it look so easy, but he has been doing this every year since he was about 8 years old, so I think he has the knack for it by now. But thanks to his help we were able to collect an acceptable amount of piñones for the 30 minutes or so we were trying. Just enough to bring back to Curacautin and Santiago – now I just need to figure out how I can use them in food or else I will be eating raw piñones for a few months…

Don Juan using the lassoo to collect piñones

Other than picking piñones, the weekend was spent playing with Hector´s three sons, exploring the river with them, watching a friend of Patricia´s carve a chair using a chainsaw (Sergio is a well known Chilean sculptor from Puerto Montt) and oh, yes…drinking Ñachi…

José, Alvaro y Marco

On Sunday I celebrated one year in South America and I couldn´t have been in a more different place to Buenos Aires where I started my adventure 365 days before. We were not sure what the plan was for the morning since it changed every few minutes and I had given up trying to follow conversations between the whole family in español, so I usually waited for Patricia to tell me what we were going to do. But whilst I was sitting outside the house enjoying the sun starting to warm everything up and watching the assortment of dogs, pigs, chickens and turkeys going about their business, Don Juan and his son arrived dragging a bleating goat behind them and before I knew it they were whipping out a knife and getting ready to slaughter this thing beside me. Whilst I have no problem with animals being killed, I did not particulary want to see this so early in the morning and so I beat a hasty retreat inside to find Patricia.

Patricia and Alfonso contemplating the goat´s blood

The next part of this adventure was going into the kitchen to find a bowl of the goat´s blood sitting on the table with the grandmother sprinkling cilantro and lemon juice on it and cutting it into small pieces since blood congeals into jelly when it comes in contact with air. Now, I pride myself on being open minded and adventurous enough to try most things once, but again since it was only 9am I was not sure whether my stomach could handle fresh goat´s blood and I felt rather nauseous just looking at this bright red bowl infront of me. The family assured us it tasted really good and was extremely healthy for you with lots of vitamins etc, but I was not really convinced. Patricia tried some first and after she said it basically had no taste besides the cilantro and lemon juice, I took the small piece offered to me by Don Juan and dutifully swallowed it. More for psychological reasons then bad taste I rapidly followed this with a large sip of red wine which Alfonso gave me…but come to think of it I have no idea why you drink red wine along with the blood! I wiill have to ask next time. The blood had no taste really, but the jelly like texture did not help the nausea and so I was happy to leave the rest of the Ñachi to the family which consider it a bit of a delicacy.

After watching Don Juan skin and gut the goat and I kind of helped in a way by sprinkling

Skinning the goat

salt on the meat, we were suddenly presented with their horses all ready to head into the mountains to collect more piñones and for Alfonso to collect picoyo (petrified Araucaria wood which he uses for his artesania). Now as some of you know, I have had one or two rather unpleasant experiences with horses before and am not a very keen rider thanks to these. But despite my protests (in spanish) that I was happy to walk and that other people could use the horses, before I knew it Don Juan was helping me onto one of the horses. Patricia was also not that keen a horse rider and so it was going to be rather an interesting morning…little did I know how interesting…

We hadn´t even left the house yet before the drama started with Patricia´s horse bolting and galloping off with her and poor Alvaro hanging on for dear life. Whilst I was obviously concerned for my friend, all I could think about was “please don´t let my horse decide to follow…” I needn´t have worried since my horse had the exact opposite problem and didn´t want to move at all. After Patricia´s horse had been stopped and Hector convinced Patricia to continue saying that he would lead her horse, we started towards the mountains. I rapidly fell behind since my horse was extremely slow and no matter how much I kicked or said “vamos”, it hardly moved at all. I could have walked faster then we were moving and before long the others had turned the corner and were out of sight. This meant that my horse had absolutely no motivation left to move since I think the only thing that had kept him going was seeing the other horses. So he stopped in the middle of the path and totally refused to take another step… Since no one seemed to be coming back to check on me I decided to get off the horse and walk with him to try and catch up with the others. Then Hector came back and asked me what was happening and insisted that I get back on the horse and he would help me get him moving. But that is when disaster struck and as I tried to get on the horse I obviously moved in the wrong way and twisted something in my knee and had this shooting pain in my leg. I quickly took my left foot out of the stirrup and hobbled to the side of the path to sit and take the weight off my leg. Hector kept asking me if I was OK, but the pain had taken all the spanish from my head and all I could say was “mucho dolor” (alot of pain). He had no clue what to do with me and so went galloping off to fetch Patricia and Alfonso back and I was left clutching my knee in agony and holding the reigns of my horse which just kept staring at me. At one point the horse let out this long sigh (probably of boredom) and I found myself saying to him that he shouldn´t be complaining since he hadn´t wanted to move anyway, so now he should just stand there and shut up. Nothing like having a conversation with a horse whilst sitting on the side of a mountain unable to move and wondering if I had broken my knee or something…

Patricia and Alfonso came back and we decided that we had had enough of horses for the day and were going to head back to the farm. Hector said I should use Patricia´s horse (the one that had galloped off with her earlier) since I couldn´t walk, but I had no idea how I was going to get back on the horse in this state and I decided I would rather rely on myself with no risk of any more drama. So Patricia walked with me and we hobbled the 500m or so back to the house. Thankfully we hadn´t got very far up the mountain or it would have been a different story. Back at the house the family thought we were crazy and they have probably never had two people so totally inept at riding before. But in fairness we had told them beforehand that we were useless with horses.

That was definitely the end of any adventures for the weekend and we spent the rest of the day until our bus came relaxing with me putting ice on my knee. We did have a very yummy lunch of casuela, a kind of soup with potatoes, veges and meat,  in this case fresh meat from the slaughtered goat. Then it was time to say goodbye and head back to Curacautin and onto Santiago for me. But as I was trying to get onto the bus something gave way in my knee again and I nearly collapsed on the stair in agony. The driver of the bus just looked at me whilst I stood there trying not to scream and made no effort to try and help me or anything…Any way, long story short, after three hours on a packed bus back to Curacautin I then had 9 hours on another bus to Santiago and by the time I arrived in the capital on Monday morning my knee had totally siezed up and I couldn´t move it or put even the slightest weight on it. Rodrigo was a total angel and fetched me from the terminal at 6am and carried my backpack to the taxi etc and without him I am not sure how I would have got home.

Since then I have been pretty much bedridden, just trying to rest the knee and it is starting to feel a little better, with more movement, but I can not walk on it without using a stick as the slightest pressure makes it give way again and I have no desire to feel that pain if I don´t have to. I did manage to get to one english class yesterday but this involved quite a bit of walking and using the Metro so last night it was rather sore again. I am now on a mission to find a pair of crutches as Rodrigo and I are going to the U2 concert on Friday and we have standing tickets. Come hell or high water I am not missing this concert so I will just have to rest it as much as possible before then…

Bit despite my run in with a horse, which I have to say is the final nail in the coffin for me ever trying to do anything with horses again, the weekend was an amazing way to mark my one year anniversary on this great continent. Having forfeited my return ticket home and not having enough money at the moment to buy a new ticket, it seems like I am going to be here for a while longer…and you know what…despite the fact that I miss my family and friends, I am quite happy to call this home for some time to come…

Majestic Araucaria at sunset

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One Response to Goat´s blood, horses and piñones – an interesting celebration for my one year anniversary in South America

  1. Helen Duigan says:

    The best start to a Monday morning – still laughing! Watch that poor knee!

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