The Yawn Factor

2013.Jul.19 Friday · 3 comments

in Food & Recipes, Life, Restaurants

Into every tour must come a cloud or two, in addition to all the bright sunshine, and in Iquitos, with the regular rains, they do come. So one of the things we’d specified in arranging the tour was that if we were going to visit one of the indigenous villages, we weren’t interested in a typical tourist experience where they put on a little show and then sell overpriced souvenirs. A bit of back and forth and nothing was written in stone, but we headed out under the impression that we were going to have a day in the village with the opportunity to talk with villagers about traditional dance (for Henry) and food (for me).

Bora village visit

First off, we found ourselves with four other folk along, who spoke a mix of English, German and Spanish. Second off, we found out that we weren’t headed to the Bora village at all, but a tourist center they’ve setup for visitors. Trepidation sets in. And justified, we arrived at the welcome center, were treated to a couple of minute welcome speech by the woman in charge…

Bora village visit

…and then the few women sitting around got up, did a little line dance into which they pulled all of us, shuffling back and forth, clearly bored out of their minds – I mean, they do the same routine a dozen or more times a day as tourist boats pop in. And then they started trying to sell souvenirs at 4-5 times the price for the same things back in town. Henry and I were able to pull the woman in charge aside and have a little conversation about dances and food, and it turned out that they’d have been happy to do something more in line with what we wanted – but at their village, some 5km away, and with at least a few days advance notice. Passed that info back to the tour operator for future folk who visit, but unfortunately, our loss, and as Henry put it, pretty denigrating for the indigenous folk, the whole scene.

Paiche farm - piranhas

Next up, a visit to the paiche farm – you remember the paiche, the giant freshwater fish I mentioned, but first, we fed the piranhas.

Paiche farm - caymans

And then the caymans.

Paiche farm - paiche
Paiche farm - paiche
Paiche farm - paiche

And then we got to see the paiche. Now, these are “small” ones, only being somewhere between a meter and a meter and a half long and around 100kg. Full grown ones we were assured, can reach two and half meters in length and hit around 200kg. They’re definitely hungry, and they eat by basically inhaling anything in their path like a vacuum cleaner. An interesting visit, and the highlight of the day.

Caimito
Caimito

This is a caimito, a fruit that the inside is kind of like a slightly tangy vanilla pudding. Delicious!

Amazon mirador
Amazon mirador

From there to a nearby village on a hill where we could look out over the Amazon from a tower they’ve built (and charge for you to climb the stairs). An interesting view – the island in the first photo is used as farmland by the local villagers during part of the year, during the high water season it’s completely underwater.

Cashew

We came across a cashew tree with one remaining cashew fruit on it. If you ever wondered why cashews are so expensive, this is why – the fruit is the size of a small pear, and it has one nut sticking out of the end. And that nut is encased in this sort of black shell, which when you open it is filled with an acid that will actually burn your skin. The nut itself is floating inside the acid. You can kind of do the logistics and figure out what it takes to get a single cashew prepared for eating. The fruit itself is a very juicy, slightly custard and apple flavored pulp that’s quite good.

Our plans had included a visit to a sugarcane distillery, but unfortunately that was nixed by the other four tourists accompanying, who had asked for a couple of hours of dolphin searching – something we’d already done – but sat through again – finding only one or two dolphins today. Then the boat’s motor broke down and we had to sit around and wait for another boat to come get us and tow us back – and, of course, it poured rain again. So, a disappointing day overall.

La Gran Maloca - ceviche

But, we finished off the day later with what was easily the best meal we had – at La Gran Maloca. A grand, old style, white tablecloth sort of place that looks like it ought to be expensive but wasn’t. We were the only ones there the whole evening, which left the kitchen and floor staff in the bar most of the time watching a soccer match. Still, they paid enough attention to us to keep us happy. Henry ordered a ceviche of river fish – delicious and huge. Despite being listed as an appetizer it was easily a main course – that platter is probably 14″ long, or more.

La Gran Maloca - brochette

Likewise my appetizer, two full brochettes of local venison and cayman meat, glazed in a slightly salty, slightly spicy sauce. But, well over half a pound of meat there – not that that stopped me.

La Gran Maloca - spaghetti

Henry wanted pasta and ordered the spaghetti with cecina (cured marinated pork) and chicken, which turned out to be a slightly Chinese style stir-fry of the meats and vegetables tossed with properly cooked pasta – an easy full standard package of spaghetti, i.e., a pound of it. He barely made a dent in it.

La Gran Maloca - patarashka

And I gave another try at patarashka, this version so much better than the one we’d had a couple of nights before they may as well have been different dishes entirely. A beautiful fillet of fish topped with chopped red onions, garlic, tomato and spices, wrapped in the bijao leaf and grilled rather than steamed. Served with fried yuca, plantains, and a mound of heart of palm. I, too, made a mere dent. We had them package both remaining dishes up and we gave them away to some teens on the street who were clearly ravenous, as four of them finished off both plates before we’d gotten twenty feet away.

Easily our best meal in Iquitos and highly recommended. Just, I’d order one appetizer and one main course for two people and only order more if you’re still hungry.

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