On the way to the headwaters of the Bio-Bio River in Chile, where we hoped to make the first descent, we stopped at a Mapuche Indian farm house and asked if we might camp in an untilled field. Yes, Yaco, the owner, replied, but only if we joined for dinner. Of course! We would be delighted. As we sat at a long wooden table, Yaco served up Mudai, maize chicha, made by cooking ground corn in water, adding masticated maize meal, and allowing the mixture to ferment.  It was a refreshing, milky and slightly sour drink, not at all unpleasant. But after a few glasses, Yaco asked that I follow him outside, to a small pen out back. “You are an honored guest. You will have Ñachi.”

Photo: Rebecca Siegel

There he grabbed a tethered goat, and cutting the line, circled the rope tight around the animals’ back legs, and with another rope, hung the goat by its hindquarters from an Araucanía tree branch. Then, he grabbed a large wooden bowl, one of several on a low table, with one hand, and a machete in the other, and in a flash he slit the throat of the hanging goat. As the hot blood poured out he captured it in the bowl, and then another bowl, and another, until we had enough for the place settings. We carried them inside, and there he added coriander and salt, and squeezed lemon juice into the steaming broth, which made the blood coagulate, turning it into a hot pudding. Then, the bowls were placed in front of the guests. “Salud,” I said feebly, and lifted the heavy bowl to my mouth.

The smell niffed my nose as the bowl reached my lips. I closed my eyes; I held my breath. I took a sip. Before I could register my mouth was full, cheeks bulging with body-heat gore the texture of custard, silky and vital and forcing open my constricted throat. I swallowed. Great visceral chugs. It poured, velvety and unctuous, down my gullet, and I kept envisioning the goat, bleating in its last moments. Then my throat seized, and the blood began to move backwards, upwards. I quickly excused myself, and ran out the backdoor, and there expelled all traces of the poor goat. Despite attempts to assuage the host with niceties, it was the worst meal in the world.