Saturday, September 21, 2013

La Casona De La Abuelita

Question - where in Chiclayo can you get a generous slice of delicious German chocolate cake and a mug (yes, I said a mug) of good strong coffee with free refills for 3 soles ($1.08) and at the same time help to teach a trade to kids and keep them off the streets? The answer is La Casona De La Abuelita…a recently opened restaurant located in the Boulevard shopping mall patio.

Bill Lipman and his wife Beatrice (not in the photo) are the driving forces behind the restaurant and a bakery located in Pimentel that produces the restaurant’s products. We’ve known them for several years and though we’ve not visited their bakery (the ovens fire up at 5:00am…I don’t do 5:00am) we know that Bill has been unwavering in his mission to help the poor by teaching a trade. And not only a trade, but by working at the bakery the kids also learn about business and responsibility. Bill doesn’t do free handouts. I suspect he is a kind but stern taskmaster and these kids work for anything they get.

Proceeds from restaurant sales are used to support the bakery operation. There is a lot more information available on Face book.

Here’s a suggestion…if you plan on eating at one of the restaurants in the Real Plaza mall; KFC, Pardos, Rustica, Pizza Hut, McDonalds or the recently opened Chili’s, save some room for coffee and dessert. Starbucks is close to these restaurants. Don’t go there. La Casona De La Abuelita is just two blocks away and the pastry and coffee are ten…no, make that twenty times better than Starbucks. We guarantee you’ll enjoy it, and you’ll be doing some kids, your taste buds and wallet a favor. Bon Appètit!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Visiting Cuculi

Cuculi is a village of 2000 people that straddles the highway about 15 miles west of Chongoyape. There is nothing visible about it from the highway that would cause you to want to stop and check it out, unless like us just never having been there before is reason enough to investigate.

This house sits by itself at the end of the main entrance road to the town. There is nothing grand or elaborate about it; not like the colonial haciendas of old, but there is a certain majesty about it that suggests a central role in days gone by, and sure enough we learned later that the home was the original home of the original resident in Cuculi.

Señor Meneses is the owner and occupant of the house now, and it was he who spent nearly an hour telling us of the house and town’s history. As I’ve written in many other posts, one of my favorite experiences in these small villages is to watch the people transition from shyly peeking out of their house windows trying to figure out who we are and why we’re there, to tentatively stepping outdoors, and finally to greeting us warmly like old friends after the first smile and “good afternoon” from us.

Senor Meneses told us that besides being proud of their heritage the town has two visible sources of pride. One is this ancient tractor that sits alongside the highway in the town park. We’ve seen quite a few of these relics in agricultural towns throughout the Lambayeque Region. A reader has informed us that they are Fowler Ploughing engines. We did a little checking and found that these engines were made in England during the late 1800s through the early 1900s, and many were sent to countries throughout the world including nearly all of South America. The engine in Cuculi was one of a pair that last plowed a field in 1942. When asked if the village would consider selling the tractor Señor Meneses replied, “that would be like selling our history and dishonoring our ancestors…no, we would not sell that tractor.” We received nearly that identical answer when we asked the same question in Tablazos several months ago. We asked the question theorizing that the proceeds from the sale of a tractor could possibly be used for the betterment of the community.

The other source of pride is the town bell located in front of the village hall. Neither Señor Meneses nor anyone else could give us a detailed history of the bell, other than to say that it is very old, and that it is said to be made partially of gold. There are letters near the top of the bell but we couldn’t read anything other than ‘1717’. Is it possible this bell is nearly 300 years old? The town folks think it is. They say the bell in the past was used to announce community meetings, but now its rung daily only at 5:00am just to “sort of get the folks up and moving about.”

Cuculi has a church, a couple of schools, and a community building for the use of retired people, though it’s locked and appears not to have been used in some time. School was in session and we tried to walk past as invisibly as possible, but as usual we were noticed, and as usual pandemonium erupted. I’m sure we’ve caused headaches for more than one teacher during our village excursions.

Cuculi is a peaceful, friendly community. Walking the quiet dirt streets; stopping every few minutes to chat with the inhabitants and enjoying the clean air induces a feeling of tranquility. Even the pre-school kids will stop their play to say hello…especially if they see that you have a camera.