Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Iquitos-Entryway to the Amazon River Basin

Two days after arriving in Lima, I flew out to Iquitos, located in the middle of the Amazon River Basin.  There are only two ways to arrive in Iquitos, by air or by boat via the Amazon River.
The small three wheel vehicles are the norm in Iquitos.  Only the very rich can afford to have a vehicle brought in.  Iquitos is the primary town in the basin and has a population of 500,000.  There are now two universities, the public university and a private university.  Public education is free up to the age of 15, although most people who can afford it send their kids to private schools for a better education.  Public universities cost about $200 year, versus the private universities cost $3000 a year.  Even though that sounds very inexpensive to an American, compare the average teacher makes only $200 a month.  

The main town square.  There was a religious festival going on so there were lots of people and activities.

Our group walked past the main square on to another park where we had dinner at the El Mason Restaurant.  Traditional peruvian dishes were served.  I had grilled fish, potatoes and yucca.  
Did you know Peru claims to be the first country to cultivate potatoes?  They also claim to have over 3000 different varieties.  They serve potatoes with everything.  They also serve yucca and cassava as regular side dishes as well.  Corn is also a regular staple at most meals.  Their corn is more of a field variety and they don't serve it with butter, just a small piece of corn on the cob which you eat without any seasoning at all.

The park outside the restaurant. I really liked the fountain.

Casinos are very popular in Peru, even here in the Amazon.

The center courtyard of our hotel in Iquitos.  It was open to the sky, so when it rained, everything below got wet.  At the bottom was a pool, but unfortunately I didn't have time to make use of it.

Early the next morning, some of us accompanied our trip leader to the local open air market.  It was a full square block of almost anything you could want.  Those things which look sort of like Brazil nuts are actually bread fruit.  We ate them after they had been boiled and they reminded me of boiled peanuts.  They were good.  I tried star fruit, camu camu, dragon fruit, sweet pepino, custard apple, the amazon tomato, sapote, ice cream bean, and shimbillo.

They grow many spices which are also available at the market.

Bijao leaves.  Used to wrap and cook/steam foods (their tamales).

Here are some tamales wrapped in the bijao leaves.  They are purchased and eaten similar to our fast foods.  Inside may be a mixture of rice, meats, vegetables, potatoes, yucca and seasonings.

He was exceptionally proud to show off this pigs head.  We are so finicky about keeping everything refrigerated all the time, but the meats were left out in the open all day.  When the market closes anything left over is taken back to a freezer unit to be brought back out the next day.  I ate lots of food from these markets while I was there and never did get ill.  I just didn't drink the water or even brush my teeth except with bottled water.

Along the Amazon River Basin the main protein is fish.

Caimans are also a regular in their diet.  I had eaten alligator many times before, so eating caiman wasn't a big deal.  And no, it doesn't taste like chicken.

These are suri palm grubs and yes you eat them.  But not raw (at least not me).

They can be grilled or fried.  I tried them and actually liked them.

Some type of rodent was also for sale in the market.  And no, I didn't try this type of rodent.

These are all medicines made from various plants and trees, insects and animals which live in the Amazon.  Notice the one bottle which says Boa.   I was told most of these medicines are various types of viagra.  I guess even in Peru......

Instead of just chopping up their heart of palm, they shred it.  I think I prefer it shredded.  It is served on most salads.

And of course there were the chickens.  For those people that are squeamish eaters, don't come to Peru.  

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