My boyfriend and I found ourselves in La Paz for Semana Santa, the holiest week of the year for Catholics, as it precedes Easter. I couldn’t wait to show my Jewish boyfriend the pomp and circumstance of my faith in a country where 76% identify as Catholic. I had been excitedly looking forward to Semana Santa traditions since the beginning of our travels; something that I had never planned was the possibility of having to share my holiest week with that of my partner.
Unlike Christmas, the Jewish holiday of Passover never tries to claim that it is the most wonderful time of the year. Cutting out most grains from your diet might be fine for the gluten intolerant but can be excruciating for the carb dependent vegetarian traveling through South America. Despite being the goy in the relationship, I follow dietary restrictions over Passover. I like to think it shows respect to my partner, his faith and family. All great reasons unless you’re standing in the middle of the square in front of the Basilica of San Francisco, in the middle of Easter week surrounded by tents and tents full of sweet baked treats. The city of La Paz smells of cookies, sweet breads and a sickly sweet purple corn drink called api. Large crowds of people dressed in white clutch pastries in excitement for the messiahs resurrection at sunset. I want to be joyful, but all I can think of is my ravenous belly. I could have a traditional breakfast of chicken and potato soup but the idea of another potato doesn’t do justice to this most jubilant of holidays. We look around the square feeling even more out of place than normal; all we need is a moment to rest and eat before joining the celebration with open arms and a full stomach.
Then we saw her. A very large woman with a sunhat made from starched white lace. She was sitting in the corner of the square with a small cooler and an eight by ten piece of paper simply labeled “Humitas”. Humitas are a South American dish similar to a Mexican tamale. They are made from corn meal steamed in a corn husk. The woman was blasé as she described her wares to us, surrounded by children marching by in bright multicolored outfits. We could chose from the two types of humitas, savory or sweet, that she had for sale. We of course chose both. The savory one tasted like dense cornbread whose texture would shame the cornbread I left behind in Georgia. The sweet humita knocked me over with its mochi-like consistency studded with raisins, cinnamon and honey. We both had one of each, creating a pleasant belly ache that lasted for the rest of the day.
A quick search could have told us that humitas use pork lard as a binding agent, a food product neither of us should be eating. In traveling and relationships alike a little compromise is needed to discover what you might be missing.