Mural 28 in Tamboccacha, Peru

I'm the kind of traveler who thinks, "Well, I'm in Vietnam and I have a little time on my hands.  I might as well go to Cambodia for the weekend."  I really have done that.  So, when I decided to go to Ecuador for my murals in Cuenca, I thought, "Since I'm in the neighborhood, I might as well go to Peru."

Peru was one of my first big travel adventures, so very long ago.  Previous to Peru, I only traveled where I had friends.  And, that was just fine.  But, when I went to Peru for the first time, I studied in advance, wore out my "Lonely Planet" travel guide, and explored on my own.  It really didn't matter if terrorists bombed a tourist train to Machu Picchu the week before I went.  There would be extra security and I would be safe.  At least, that was my reasoning.  So, I headed to Peru to see the "Lost City of the Incas" in Machu Picchu as well as the floating islands of the Uros Indians at Lake Titicaca.

The second trip to Peru wasn't all about Machu Picchu and Lake Titicaca, although I did see them again.  One of my friends, Rick, contacted me to tell me that his daughter was doing volunteer work in Peru for a year.  Perhaps a mural might be a good project? Well, I always think a mural is a good project.  And, Helena was once one of my art students, although I hadn't seen her since she was in seventh grade.  Now, she was all grown up and I thought it was time to grab my brushes and head to Peru.

Before my second visit, I wondered, "Why would anyone live in Urubamba when you could live in Cusco?"  The Inca capital was a charming little town with so much appeal! I liked it so much that I even named my cat Cusco.  Well, that was then (on my first visit).  This is now (on my second visit) and Cusco's population swelled to an estimated 600,000.  I would never name my cat Cusco now.

But, the ride to Urubamba was simply breathtaking.  The mass of population was left behind and replaced by majestic, snow-covered mountains.  For whatever reason, my taxi took a detour off the main road.  I was just simply delighted about that.  Other people in the taxi slept.  I couldn't shut my eyes with such a spectacular view.

Urubamba was a sleepy little town, just like I remembered Cusco.  It was the home base for Pro Peru, an organization that worked with community development in rural Peru.  And, the Pro Peru people thought a mural was a great way to launch their next project in Tamboccacha.

Tamboccacha was a tiny little village back in the mountains that I passed through on my way to Urubamba.  I've painted murals all over the world.  Never before, and I think never again, will I ever paint in such a magnificent location.  Snow covered mountains and rolling farmland were the background for my mural to welcome people to the pre-school at Tamboccacha.

The people of the community requested four things on their mural. 1) A child with a computer. 2) a child studying. 3) a child playing football . . . er, soccer and 4) the founding father of the community, a charming man named Marcelino.  He's the one telling stories to the children gathered around him.  One of the best photos in the Photos section is the one where he paints himself on the mural.

If you are ever lucky enough to go to Tamvoccacha, hopefully, you will be welcomed into someone's home and served potatoes.  Peru has thousands of different kinds of potatoes.  Who knew?  I don't know what kind I was served.  They were boiled red potatoes as far as I was concerned.  However, what made them unique was the firey salsa, ocopa, that was spooned on top of each bite.

from Elanna, my translator, in Tamboccocha, Peru

Some of the Peruvian Potatoes

4 or 5 red hot peppers
.1 large onion  
2 cloves of garlic
1 stick of huacatay
3 vanilla cookies
3 tsps of toasted peanuts 
1 sprig of cilantro
3/4 cup evaporated milk
200 g queso fresco, diced Oil (add as necessary)

Ready for fire in your mouth?  Remove seeds and white veins from the red peppers and then dice those little fire breathers.  Peel and dice the onion and garlic as well.  Fry the peppers, onions, and garlic with huacatay until browned.  Don't know what hucacatay is?  Well, you don't live in Peru then.  It's an herb that grows in the Andes.  It's sometimes called "black mint" and is related to the marigold.  Now you know what it is.  But, if you can't buy it on a trip to Peru, you might just skip that ingredient.

After cooking those ingredients, toss them in a food processor with the cookies, peanuts, cilantro, milk, salt and pepper to taste, and queso fresco.  Never heard of queso fresco?  It's a kind of cheese, but you can substitute it with feta or ricotta.

Let the mixture rest to thicken and add oil as needed. It serves six to eight, but that all depends on how many potatoes you eat and how much ocopa you put on each bite.