(Atsuko in Lower El Chaco Canyon)
Atsuko from Japan helped us get our season started last week. This was Atsuko’s 4th visit to Ecuador with SWA! Atsuko is somewhat of a food connoisseur and enjoys exploring different traditional foods in the places she travels. So, this go around, she decided to dive in and sample one of Ecuador’s most famous (or notorious) foods—the Cuy (known to us gringos as Guinea pig). Now, now, before you get all “oohh, gross, they eat Guinea Pig!” just stop and think for a moment that raising guinea pigs for food is no different than raising chickens, pigs, fish and all the other animals that we like to eat. The guinea pigs feed on grass and leftover household food—no antibiotics and all the other crap that we pump into our food animals in North America. So, eat a guinea pig, it’s good for your health!
(Larry and Atsuko below “Pleasure or Pain” on the Rio Quijos)
So, we’ll have a little history of the Guinea Pig here.
It all started long, long ago around 5,000 BC when archeologists believe Guinea Pigs were first domesticated in S. America (they’ve found evidence of guinea pig keeping in present-day Colombia, Bolivia and Ecuador but many scholars believe the first domestication happened in the Ecuadorian Andes). They were domesticated from the wild Cavy, and were transformed into the animal we know today.
Even today Guinea pigs play an important role in South America. Besides being a source of food (and somewhat of a delicacy at that—a plate of guinea pig ain’t cheap), guinea pigs have a long historical significance in the Andes. The Incas used them in religious ceremonies, and to diagnose illnesses. They did this by rubbing the Guinea pig over the affected person and “reading” the results. This technique is still practiced in some parts of South America. Guinea pigs are also traded as prestigious gifts.
South America helped put Guinea pigs on the map as coveted pets in Europe and North America. Spanish, Dutch, and English travelers who reached S. America brought the animals home with them were they were prized “exotic pets.” The first European writings about Guinea pigs happened in the mid 1500’s. 500 years later, us North Americans still love to have Fluffy, Puffy, and Spotty running around in our houses as cute little pets.