Thursday was the day the Phowa meditation retreat started. I had breakfast very early in the morning before leaving the house: quinoa with a splash of milk, almonds, a banana de seda* and a granadilla**. Then I went to the Buddhist centre, where we met to catch the buses that drove us to a beach club in San Bartolo, a beach less than one hour to the South of Lima.
Food during the retreat was included in the price we paid. The three main meals were prepared by the club’s caterers. In short, food sucked. Portions were small, bad tasting and loaded with starches. Refreshments were super watery, as if they tried to fill 260 glasses with 10 liters of thinned out juice. When foreigners complained about not having fruits or vegetables they started selling salads for 4 soles. Luckily for everybody, we had the centre’s cafeteria offering beverages and snacks.
As per agreement with the centre, hot beverages were not sold in the dining room by the caterers. Instead, we sold coffee, tea and herbal teas in the cafeteria. I worked some shifts there, so I can say that it was a pretty good business strategy.
After arriving and registering, we had some time to get our stuff into the rooms we had been assigned and chill out until lunchtime. I went for a walk and then bought a bag of Morochas (sweet biscuits with chocolate coating on one side) and a mate de coca (a Peruvian herbal tea made with coca leafs). Just to make things clear, biscuit bags in Peru are much smaller than in Australia, they usually contain four to eight biscuits depending on the size of them and if they’re sandwiched or not. Morochas are thin biscuits and the package contains eight of them.
Lunch was lomo saltado*** and passion fruit juice. The lomo saltado was so-so and the portion was not big enough. I had a mixture of tough and not-so-tough pieces of meat on my plate. The juice was watery. The vegetarian version was the same dish but with soy “meat”, the same happened with all other meals (talk about lack of creativity).
After lunch and before the first session of the retreat I had a green tea in the cafeteria. After the session we had dinner: asado** with mashed potatoes and white rice, and passion fruit juice. Once again, so-so taste and small portions. After dinner I had a mate de coca and a coffee with a splash of milk. Then there was another session and we went to bed.
Breakfasts were basically the same everyday: two bread rolls, a slice of cheese, a slice of ham, a bit of butter, a bit of strawberry jam and a diluted fruit juice. Yummy (not!). On Wednesday we had a wholemeal roll and a pan de yema**** and melon juice. It wasn’t enough for me so I bought a bag of dried fruit (apple, mango, banana, strawberry) and a green tea. If anyone’s interested, the brand of the dried fruit is Del Brujo and belongs to Brujas de Cachiche restaurant.
After the first session we had lunch: ají de gallina* and a thick transparent liquid that someone identified as pineapple drink (water boiled with pineapple skin). I had a coffee with a splash of milk in cafeteria and went to help Valerie in the dharma shop (where the centre sells books, CDs, t-shirts and all sorts of Buddhist paraphernalia). She invited me a banana manzano*.
After the second session we had dinner: pastel de acelga (silverbeet spinach pie) with a small lettuce, brown onion, tomato and cucumber salad. The pie was too salty, too small and, well, just awful. Once again I went to cafeteria to mitigate my hunger with a bag of Club Social (salty biscuits), a bag of Pícaras (sweet biscuits 75% coated in chocolate) and a coffee with a splash of milk.
At night, after the third session, some friends and I had beers, Tor-Tees (a Peruvian brand of nachos) and a bit of arroz chaufa****. Then Alfonso invited me a couple of shots of a Czech liquor.
Breakfast on Saturday was similar as the day before, with pan francés**** instead of pan de yema and pineapple juice instead of melon juice. I ate fast and went to help in cafeteria. While working I had a coffee, a green tea, a bottled light tea and a banana (the cafeteria stocked fresh fruit to sell as per people’s suggestions).
Lunch was seco de pollo with beans and rice, and chicha morada*****. Seco is a stew (usually made with lamb or beef, this one had chicken) with onion, garlic, chili, coriander, malt beer and chicha de jora (an alcoholic fermented drink made from a type of corn used for cooking and drinking), but I doubt they used all the ingredients this time because the sauce lacked of flavour. Fortunately I got thigh instead of leg (I prefer breast over thigh, thigh over wing and wing over leg). The chicha morada was watery (no wonder) and tasted fermented. I had a coffee in cafeteria and a ciruela criolla (creole plum).
That day the organising team decided to treat people with bottled water at lunch to make up for the hideous drinks and half of a tamal criollo per person at dinner. It was a good decision because dinner was again small and not too good (meat pie, but not the Aussie/British kind and sweet potato purée). Plus watery chicha morada, of course.
On Sunday before breakfast I ate a granadilla and an apple that I had bought the previous day at the cafeteria. Breakfast was similar, with pan serrano (bread from the highlands), pan francés and mixed fruit juice.
For lunch we had one of the dishes I like the least: estofado de pollo (chicken stew with carrots, peas, etc) served with boiled yellow potato and white rice. To make things worse, the chicken part I got was leg. There was a vegetarian foreign girl at the table that spent all the retreat eating just potatoes and rice with no sauce. That’s how yummy were vegetarian dishes (not!). The drink that afternoon was emoliente, an infusion made with barley, some native herbs, linseed, sugar and lime juice. It was alright.
Then the retreat ended and we returned to the Buddhist centre were five couples were married by the lama. This kind of marriage doesn’t have legal value in our country but it’s a good thing to do if you and your partner want a faster development as Buddhists. Alfonso had hired people from Huaringas bar to cater for the event. There were skewers with grapes, mango, papaya and watermelon, grapes and cheese in toothpicks, celery and carrot sticks with huancaína sauce, celery and carrot sticks with avocado and mayo dip, spinach and cream cheese mini sandwichs, cream cheese, tomato and ham mini roulades, fried chicken sticks with teriyaki sauce, fried chicken legs with lime sauce, tequeños (wonton rolls filled with cheese and fried) with guacamole, tequeños with huancaína sauce, fried yuca pieces with yellow chili sauce, and ají de gallina in mini tart pastries. To drink I had beer and a maracuyá sour (similar to a pisco sour but with passion fruit instead of lime juice). Everything was absolutely delicious.
* The explanation about the types of bananas and ají de gallina can be found here.
** The explanation about granadilla and asado can be found here.
*** The explanation about lomo saltado can be found here.
**** The explanation about pan de yema, arroz chaufa and pan francés can be found here.
***** The explanation about chicha morada can be found here.