Spending one month in the Peruvian Amazon is definitely not enough to know this incredible environment, but still I feel like I learned a lot. This is especially thanks to the local people I met.
They love so much the place where they live that they call it “Nuestra Amazonia”, “our Amazon.” Thanks to my hosts in Lima I got in contact with a wonderful couple living in Iquitos: Elias and Lita. They are agronomists and they know so much about tropical fruit plants and how to cultivate them in these peculiar conditions. The areas available for cropping are limited, relegated solely to the river borders and on river islands that surface during the dry season. When the rainy season comes, everything is flooded and people eat just rice, plantain and fish- almost everyday. I thought I was going to find a huge variety of fresh food here, but even at the market fruit and vegetables were not abundant at all.
Many fruits, like mangoes, don’t grow in this environment and thus are imported by airplane from the coast. When I went to visit the Allpahuayo Mishana National Reserve (RNAM – 23 km south from Iquitos), they explained to me that plantations of tropical fruits and other fresh products still need to be developed in the area. This is because there is no real agricultural policy for the Peruvian Amazon and public officials have no specific knowledge that can help to improve the situation. Elias and Lita showed me the fruit collection of the RNAM and I tasted many: camu camu, copoazu, aguaje, pijuayo and the well known cocoa (the fruit, not the chocolate thing).
One of the things that surprised me most in the Amazon is the fact that, although I knew Spanish, every other word there was invariably something that I did not understand at all. This is due to two reasons: because people often use names from local languages, and because there aro so many things that you can find only here. If you don’t have the opportunity to visit the Peruvian Amazon and you’re curious to discover its typical dishes and products, I would suggest you pay a visit to the restaurant El Bijao in the district of Lince (Av. Ignacio Merino, 2051).
Juane (Photo courtesy of author)
My Peruvian host took me there for lunch and I tried all the seven different fruit juices they have: camu camu, caimito, sapote, cocona, aguaje, aguaimanto and masato! This last one is a white fermented drink that can be made with starchy products, like yuca or the pijuayo, a palm fruit that you can eat only after boiling it for a long time (and still doesn’t taste great).
In Nauta I tried the masato made of pijuayo and after other experiences I can say that I don’t like this kind of fermented drink. Apart from the taste, I suffered from very bad adverse effects in the hours that followed, varying from diarrhea to vomit, maybe due to the unboiled water they added to the drink. The main health problems I had during the trip were caused by water, while street food quality has always been very good.
Your taste buds are in for a trip when you visit Peru’s Amazon, as this traveler experiences. Masato, anyone?