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Episode 14: Piji y yo

By Duolingo on Wed 01 Aug 2018

In Perú, writer Marco Avilés and his dog Piji were inseparable. But when Marco decided they should pursue better lives in the United States, and Marco found himself working for a top chef, their bond and sense of adventure would be tested in ways he had never imagined.

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Martina: In Peru there’s a breed of dog that is very famous… so famous that it’s considered part of the country’s cultural patrimony. It’s called the Inca Orchid, or informally known as the hairless Peruvian dog.

Marco: Y en el Perú, uno de esos perros es muy famoso, como una celebridad. Es mi mejor amigo y se llama Piji.

Martina: That’s journalist and writer Marco Avilés. He loves Piji so much that he started documenting his companion’s adventures for a big Peruvian newspaper. The articles were a hit. Piji gained an online following and Marco got an idea that would take them both on their biggest adventure yet: they would immigrate to the United States.

Marco: Quería escribir libros en el bosque, vivir con mi novia y mi mejor amigo junto a mí. Pero todo fue muy diferente.

Martina: Welcome to the Duolingo Spanish Podcast — I’m your host Martina Castro. Each episode we bring you fascinating first-person stories from Spanish speakers across the world. The storytellers will be using intermediate Spanish and I will be chiming in for context, in English. But these are not language lessons, they're real life lessons through language.

Martina: The Peruvian hairless dog is an ancient breed that has been in the country for thousands of years. They almost went extinct a few decades ago, but a campaign by a local breeder made them famous again.

Marco: Piji es delgado, atractivo y atlético. En la calle, la gente admiraba a Piji y los niños preguntaban si podían tocarlo. Pero para Piji, no era fácil encontrar una novia como él. Yo decidí ayudarlo a encontrar amor.

Martina: One day, Marco decided to use his journalistic skills to help Piji find a mate. He started writing a column about Piji’s romantic life.

Marco: El primer artículo se llamó “Busco novia para mi perro”.

Martina: It was published in La República, one of Perú’s biggest newspapers, and the response was immediate. Readers started sending in pictures of their female dogs. They wanted to meet Piji and have “babies” with him.

Marco: Un día, me contactaron amigos de una perrita que se llamaba Uma. Uma tenía un año y era delgada e hiperactiva como Piji. Planeamos una cita romántica para ellos: una tarde de verano en la playa. Pero Uma no estaba interesada en mi mejor amigo. Ese día, intentó atacar a Piji dos veces y él se fue corriendo con miedo.

Martina: As Piji struggled to find love, Marco struggled to love his life in Lima. He wasn’t happy with his job as director of his publishing house. Writing about Piji had awakened in him a dream of writing full-time. To top it off, his American girlfriend, Annie, was ready to return to the United States after living for more than a decade in South America.

Marco: Annie tenía una casa hermosa en el bosque en el estado de Maine, donde también vive el famoso autor Stephen King. Era el destino perfecto para el cambio de vida que quería.

Martina: And it was perfect for Piji, too.

Marco: Lima es una ciudad con pocos parques o espacios verdes. A Piji no le gustaba vivir todo el tiempo adentro en nuestra casa, pero en Maine Piji podía correr en el bosque.

Martina: So in July of 2014, Marco decided to quit his job and pursue a dream of a better life for him and Piji in the United States. They arrived in Maine in the dead of summer. Piji ran freely in the forest all day, happily chasing squirrels, while Marco started to organize his routine as a writer.

Marco: ¡Nuestra vida era perfecta! Piji y yo éramos dos inmigrantes felices. Jugábamos en el bosque o íbamos a tomar sol en la playa. Los amigos y la familia de Annie eran muy buenos con nosotros.

Martina: But the summer was brief and Maine became less social as the winter approached. People were focused on preparing their houses for the snow.

Marco: Cuando la gente veía a Piji, preguntaban: “¿Cómo va a sobrevivir el invierno?”.

Martina: When Marco met Piji, it was love at first sight.

Marco: La primera vez que vi a Piji, él y sus seis hermanos estaban jugando, distraídos. Piji fue el único que me miró y caminó hacia mí con curiosidad. Sus ojos eran pequeños como uvas. Su piel era como la de un elefante.

Martina: Piji’s ears were huge, like wings of a bat. In fact, they inspired his name. “Piji” is short for “píjiri”, which means “bat” in Machiguenga, a language from the Amazonia.

Marco: Desde ese día, Piji y yo siempre estuvimos juntos.

Martina: Ever since Marco adopted Piji, they’ve traveled all around Peru, spent their days together in Marco’s office and even traveled to meet Annie’s family in Maine. Piji was crucial to that trip -- he was the first to win over Annie’s parents.

Marco: Piji fue mi primer perro desde que yo era niño. Yo me preguntaba: “¿Cómo pude vivir tanto tiempo sin él?”.

Martina: But if Piji was unique in Perú, imagine him in snow-covered Maine. The most typical dog you see there is the Labrador Retriever, a large hunting dog covered in thick fur. Piji, on the other hand, was built for the Peruvian desert.

Marco: Piji ama correr bajo el sol y dormir en la playa. Además, es hiperactivo: siempre está bailando y saltando.

Martina: Friends and family in the States didn’t know what to make of Piji.

Marco: Algunos niños creían que yo le cortaba el pelo a Piji o que era un familiar de Dobby, el elfo de Harry Potter.

Martina: Maine’s population is predominantly white. So, in many ways, Marco felt like he stuck out there, as much as Piji.

Marco: No tengo barba, mi piel es marrón y mi cabello es negro. En el Perú hay muchos hombres como yo. Pero, en Maine, la gente me mira en la calle y me pregunta: “¿De dónde eres?".

Martina: Marco spent his first month in Maine consulting remotely for customers back in Peru. He also kept writing his weekly column about Piji, to keep his followers informed about his life in their new country. One of those last autumn nights, Marco and Annie made an outdoor fire to enjoy the full moon.

Marco: Piji salió con nosotros e inmediatamente corrió hacia el bosque. Fuimos a buscarlo.

Martina: They started looking for Piji, worried that something bad might have happened to him.

Marco: Habíamos escuchado que a veces los coyotes atacan a perros. “¡Piji!”—gritábamos—”¡Piji!”

Martina: Eventually they found him walking slowly towards them, his head covered in quills as thick as nails. A porcupine had attacked him. Marco’s brother-in-law took the quills out one by one with pliers.

Marco: Cuando llegó el invierno estábamos más tranquilos afuera porque los animales peligrosos para Piji no salen en el invierno.

Martina: But with the cold came different dangers for Piji. His lack of hair made going outside for simple activities, like peeing, a complete torture.

Marco: La primera vez que nevó, Piji solo pudo caminar en la nieve por cinco minutos. Después se paró confundido y comenzó a llorar. Yo lo llevé de regreso a casa. Ese día compré sus primeras botas de nieve.

Martina: But there was something wrong with the boots. Piji seemed to hate them. One day, Marco took the boots off and noticed Piji’s feet were bleeding. The boots had been squeezing his nails so tight that they were piercing his own feet. Piji’s ears didn’t fare well in the cold either. The skin started to crack and fall off.

Marco: La mamá de Annie lo ayudó mucho: compró calcetines para Piji como protección para sus pies dentro de las botas. Jane también usó muchas cremas hasta encontrar una que ayudó a sus orejas.

Martina: While Annie and Marco worked on helping Piji get used to the cold, they got some bad news from Peru. Marco’s newspaper editor told him he couldn’t secure any more funding to cover his salary and let him go.

Marco: Fue un momento difícil. Tenía poco trabajo como consultor. Mis clientes preferían trabajar con alguien en persona, no en Internet. Después de un año en Maine, tuve que hacer lo que todos los inmigrantes deben hacer cuando llegan a un nuevo país: buscar un trabajo de verdad.

Martina: Maine is a rural state and has one of the most senior populations in the U.S. Carpenters and lumberjacks are some of the most popular jobs. But Marco had little experience in manual labor. So, what could a Peruvian journalist do in a place like Maine?

Marco: Durante días busqué trabajos en Internet. Piji me acompañaba desde su cama. Él también estaba triste porque ya no íbamos mucho al bosque.

Martina: Marco made a list of the jobs he could possibly take on: operator of demolition equipment, factory worker at a brewery, supermarket clerk... and cook.

Marco: Finalmente, elegí trabajar como cocinero porque me gusta cocinar.

Martina: Piji went with Marco to hand out his resume in dozens of restaurants. Marco recalls waiting anxiously for an answer as if he had applied to some kind of literary prize. His mind was full of questions and doubts.

Marco: Tenía muchas preguntas. ¿Fue un error venir a Maine? ¿Cuál era mi futuro? ¿Qué iba a decirles a mis amigos en el Perú? La única respuesta que recibí fue de un restaurante chino.

Martina: That Chinese restaurant was one of the best restaurants in Maine. The chef, Cara Stadler, is a culinary celebrity. Marco was baffled when he got the job and remembers wondering what the chef saw in him.

Marco: Soy un cocinero de casa: escucho música y bebo cerveza mientras cocino. Pero iba a aprender que la cocina profesional no es para divertirse. Para sobrevivir, necesitas disciplina militar. Cuando empecé, me dieron las tareas más básicas.

Martina: Marco was assigned to the salad area. His boss was Kyle — a strong man about 10 years younger than him. Kyle was incredibly fast and precise with a knife. Marco, on the other hand, was not. That first day, it took him 20 minutes to cut up a handful of cilantro.

Marco: Kyle me miraba impaciente. Tomó mi cuchillo y cortó el cilantro en treinta segundos. “Aprende”—me ordenó, como a un niño.

Martina: During the dinner hour, the kitchen workers took to their tasks with the synchronized rhythm of a well-trained orchestra.

Marco: Cara Stadler era como la directora de esta orquesta. Gritaba órdenes a todos desde su estación. Los cocineros seguían todas sus instrucciones.

Martina: But to Marco it was all chaos. At some point, Kyle pulled him aside and yelled, “What are you staring at?! Go bring me more shiso!”

Marco: ¿Shiso? No sabía qué era eso. El refrigerador era muy grande y estaba lleno de cajas y estantes con productos exóticos. No sabía qué hacer ni por dónde empezar a buscar.

Martina: Marco was paralyzed with fear. All he could do was repeat, “Please, please… All I want to do is survive this day!”

Marco: En ese momento, Kyle me encontró. Tomó unas hojas verdes y violetas y me dijo: “Esto es shiso. ¡No lo olvides!”.

Martina: Marco’s work at the restaurant forced him to leave Piji with Annie’s parents. That night, when Piji greeted Marco with his usual enthusiasm and jumps in the air, Marco was too exhausted to play.

Marco: No me gustaba cómo me gritaban todo el día. Annie me escuchaba hablar sobre cómo detestaba mi trabajo y me consolaba. Esta escena se repitió durante semanas. A veces, cuando Annie estaba dormida, yo lloraba.

Martina: While Marco worked at the restaurant feeling like he was stuck in a tragic soap opera, Piji was having quite a good time with Annie’s parents.

Marco: Piji parecía estar más feliz que yo Ellos le daban muy buena comida y Piji estaba fuerte como un atleta. ¡Parecía el rey del bosque! A veces, yo lo visitaba muy temprano en las mañanas, pero verlo solo unos minutos era peor que no verlo. A veces me preguntaba: “¿Y si Piji comienza a querer a los padres de Annie más que a mí?”.

Martina: One afternoon Marco picked up Piji at Annie’s parents’ house and decided to take him on a walk before heading back home. Even though this was new territory for Piji, Marco decided to walk him off-leash so he could run around a bit.

Marco: El sol estaba bajando cuando vimos pasar a un venado.

Martina: Un venado is a deer.

Marco: Inmediatamente, Piji corrió atrás de él.

Martina: Piji’s barking echoed as he ran deep into these woods that were unfamiliar to him.

Marco: Sentí pánico. El cielo estaba casi oscuro y tenía miedo de perder a Piji para siempre. Caminé por todos lados y grité su nombre hasta perder la voz. “¡Piji! ¡Piji!”. Pero no lo encontraba.

Martina: Marco decided to go ask for help before it got too dark. As he walked back to Annie’s parents house, he couldn’t help but be overwhelmed with shame and anguish as he imagined telling everybody that he had just lost his best friend.

Marco: Casi empecé a llorar cuando vi a Piji. Él estaba muy cansado y tenía sangre en sus patas, pero estaba vivo y feliz de verme. Quizá yo era el perdido...

Martina: Over the following months, Marco slowly accepted that in his new job — and in many ways, in his new life — he had to start from scratch.

Marco: Empecé a observar con más atención cómo mis compañeros trabajaban en la cocina, y escuchaba con cuidado las instrucciones del chef. Traté de ignorar los gritos.

Martina: Eventually, he got faster with the knife and wasn’t cutting his fingers any more.

Marco: La chef me dijo que mi trabajo era muy bueno. Seis meses después de empezar, me convertí en el asistente de una de las cocineras principales. Iba a ser responsable de la estación de carnes. ¡Finalmente formaba parte de la orquesta!

Martina: For all of Marco’s success at his new job, each night he still came home exhausted from the intensity of the kitchen. It also pained him to be far from Piji and to put aside his writing. “If I’m going to work this hard,” he thought to himself, “wouldn’t it be better to work on something of my own?”

Marco: Un día la jefa de cocina me dijo: “Debes de escribir un libro sobre tu experiencia en el restaurante”. Yo creía que era una buena idea. No pude dormir esa noche y pensé en mi vida en Maine. Si mi vida era como una novela, quizás era tiempo de pasar a una nueva página.

Martina: The next morning, Marco went to pick up Piji at Annie’s parents’ house.

Marco: Yo estaba nervioso. ¿Y si Piji no me recordaba? Pero no fue así: saltó sobre mí, invitándome a correr con él. Piji estaba feliz de estar junto a mí.

Martina: Marco assured him that their adventures weren’t over just yet.

Marco: Lo miré a la cara y le dije que íbamos a estar juntos de nuevo. Esa tarde hablé con la chef y dejé mi trabajo en la cocina.

Martina: Marco turned his attention again to his dream of writing, but now with more determination than ever.

Marco: Decidí escribir un libro sobre la experiencia de ser inmigrante en Estados Unidos.

Martina: And the hero of the book?

Marco: Piji, un héroe de cuatro patas.

Martina: Marco Avilés is a journalist and is back to writing every day — he, Piji and Annie are still living in their cabin in Maine. If you liked this story, we’d love it if you shared it with your friends who are also learning Spanish. Send them a link to There, you can find a transcript of this story and other episodes. To get the episodes sent to you, subscribe at Apple podcasts or your favorite listening app.

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I'm Martina Castro, gracias por escuchar.


This episode includes recordings from Bone666138, Ayamahambho, Craftport and Sabotovat under the CC Attribution License from, and was produced by Adonde Media.

Author: Marco Avilés
Script Editor: Teresa Bouza, Martina Castro
Sound Designer: Isabel Vázquez
Mixing & Mastering Engineer: Martín Cruz Farga
Executive Producer/Editor: Martina Castro