A to Z in Pucallpa

After a wonderful weeklong visit with my MIL in town and family gatherings galore, she has returned to the jungle. This collection of information about Pucallpa was from the first visit I made to her home several years ago.

Pucallpa Home
The name of the eastern city which sits on the banks of the Ucayali River, Pucallpa, comes from the Quechuan words Puka (red) Hallpa (earth). The city was founded in the 1840s by Franciscan missionaries who settled Shipibo-Conibo families. It was first connected with the rest of the country by train until a highway was built in 1945 from Lima to Tingo Maria, half of the route to Pucallpa. In the last couple of years, the highway has been completed all the way to Pucallpa but with such a low quality that it deteriorates with the rains and floods. There are a number of lumber companies located in Pucallpa as well as a small petroleum refinery to compliment the many jobs created by the rivers themselves.

A is for Aguajina
Agujina is a refreshing drink which is sold on just about every corner in the jungle when the aguaje fruit is in season. The aguaje comes from the Moriche Palm tree, a palm which can grow to be 35 meters high. The leaves form a crown like shape at the top and the fruit weighs down lower branches, forming a skirt around the tree. The fruit is covered with purplish brown scales covering a yellow-orange pulp which protects the inner seed. The pulp is combined with water and sweetened with sugar to be served up to thirsty passer-bys.





B is for Breadfruit Tree
Although I had made the boiled breadfruit seeds with you before, I had not seen the leaves of the immense breadfruit trees. The seeds are gathered from ripened pods which have typically fallen to the ground. These tall trees were seen all over the place, but I found very few fallen pods.


Chilcano de Carachama
C is for Chilcano de Carachama
Several mornings, I was served soup for breakfast. If you know me, you may know that there are a few things I have difficulty swallowing at daybreak. Soup is one and fish is another. But, the man who had borrowed the boat wanted to repay his kindness by bringing by some of the fish he caught. He dropped off less than a dozen carachama, an armored catfish. These were boiled to make a broth based soup, Chilcano. For breakfast. Oh, and the best part was that one of my fish still had the egg sack inside. And yes, I did try the cooked eggs, but I did not enjoy the taste nor the texture.


D is for Dragonfly
It seemed that the animals could be seen much closer up in the jungle. The hummingbird came in for a night of rest, attracted by the light inside of the house. Then a dragonfly landed on a clothesline and once again, I found myself with an up close view of an insect I usually always saw from afar. Dragonflies are characterized by multi-faceted eyes, 2 pairs of wings, and an elongated body. They are considered predators since they feed on mosquitoes and other small insects.


Pucallpa Eggs
E is for Eggs
In Pucallpa, there is no main supermarket where you can go and buy everything you need. Instead there are stands which sells their individual items to customers needing specific things. One of the funniest stand to me does not have fruit nor vegetables piled on top, but instead simply sells chickens and eggs. I wondered if they have solved the problem of which comes first?



Fish Stand
F is for Fish
A variety of fish is one of the main sources of protein for people in the jungle. Without a way to refrigerate or freeze the catch, they often choose to salt the fish in order to conserve it. As we drove through a small market, the stand that caught my eye was one on a corner displaying quite a variety of dried salted fish. In order to prepare this for a meal, it is best to soak it, changing the water several times in order to remove some of the salt.


Ground Cherry
G is for Ground Cherry
There was a comical moment when a small group of us all offered different names for the very same fruit. I had seen it in stores and had eaten it in jam, but had never seen the plant. I was thrilled when someone pointed it out on our walk. “Aguaymanto,” I exclaimed! “Muyaka” said another. “Capuli” said someone else. Depending on where you are from, you will know this pod-covered marble-sized yellow-berry by a variety of names. The Physalis peruviana is indigenous to South America, although was cultivated in South Africa giving reason to another of it’s names: Cape Gooseberry.



H is for Humita
Street corners are where food is sold. On this sunny afternoon, one couple was enjoying humitas, a fresh corn tamale. The kernels of choclo are ground into a paste and depending on the type of humita, fresh cheese and salt or raisins, cinnamon and sugar are added. This paste is securely wrapped in the husks of the choclo and boiled. They were sold for a low price and are the perfect answer to an afternoon snack!



Ice Cream
I is for Ice Cream
His name was never mentioned since everyone knew him only as “Rico-Rico.” His job consisted of going to the city to make and bring back (one hour by taxi or 2 hours by boat) fruit popsicles to sell in the city along the river. No one in Nuevo Pariz has a refrigerator, let alone a freezer, so Rico Rico has quite a corner on the market. He sold 2 popsicles for 15 cents in strawberry, coconut or aguaje flavors. If you had a craving for a ice cream, all you had to do was call out your window, “Rico-Rico, Venga!”


Pucallpa Juanes
J is for Juane
It is not really a secret that my favorite food in Peru is the Juane (FA-nay). I have attended festivals where everyone in town makes and eats them on the river. I have helped make them, impressing some of the Peruvians. I was suprised though, to learn about some of the regional differences of the preparation. In Ucayali, it is customary to use bay leaves as the seasoning instead of sachaculantro and to add nutmeg to the preparation. Juanes were sold on most city street corners as the sky began to darken for a reasonable price, between 30 and 60 cents, which included boiled yuca and hot sauce.


Pucallpa Kids
K is for Kids!
The children. Ohhhh, the children. One morning I found two little boys playing with the tricycle cart so I made my way around to take pictures. One by one, more came up and I said hello and continued taking pictures. Later that afternoon when we took a tour around town, we had quite a group following us. The next day, they began to arrive early in the morning and stayed until late at night. They enjoyed getting their pictures taken, being chased and tickled and just being with us.



L is for Lizard
There were little lizards which climbed up the walls and large lizards which hid in the garden. Some lizards were almost transparent while others seemed to blend in with their environment. I wasn’t frightened by either the large or small versions but instead thought they were kind of cute. Truthfully, I am uncertain if this one can be identified as a certain version as I am uncertain in my reptile classifications.



Peke Peke
M is for Motor Peke Peke
A true Peque Peque is a motorized canoe while the covered larger motorized boats are actually called Pecamari. The name comes from the sound pekepekepekepeke of the motor as it glides by. They can typically carry up to 30 passengers and goods up to 300 kilograms. The larger motorboats are often called Johnsons, I imagine for the brand name of the motor they use. Even larger motorized boats which can carry hundreds of people are referred to as lanchas. I was able to ride in both a true peke peke as well as a pecamari while I was in the jungle.


N is for Noni
It is always interesting to me to see fruits and vegetables and other products which are commonly used for remedies and nutrients become suddenly popular in other areas of the world. Several years ago, I remember seeing the Noni fruit pop up in different places. While walking around both the city and by the river, there were noni plants all around. They hold a high value for nutrients but a very low value for the Peruvian Jungle farmer. Selling 2.2 pounds of the noni fruit will yield about 30 cents. Most people have the plants for their personal use only.


MIL Cooking
O is for Olinda
We were attended to by a lovely lady {edited to add: this is now my MIL} during much of our time there. She woke early to accomplish many things including caring for her home and small store. She has endured difficult things in her life and continues to pull herself ahead. Olinda was always concerned that I had enough insect repellent and even woke in the night to give me menthol to rub onto the bites that were bothering me. What fun to get to know her more!


Pequin Pepper

P is for Pinchito de Mono
Pinchito de Mono peppers are grown in the jungle area of Peru and ripen in about 90 days, turning from green to bright red. They are known scientifically as Capsicum baccatum L. cv. ‘Mono’ and commonly uner the names of Monkey Pepper and Aji Exploding Fire Hot Peppers. Their heat is considered medium as they measure between 70,000 and 80,000 on the Scoville scale.



Quinoa Drink
Q is for Quinoa Breakfast
While mornings in by the river included soup, soup and more soup for breakfast, mornings in the city consisted of bread and other “porridges.” One morning, I woke to find a pot of thick, clear porridge and quickly asked what we would be enjoying for breakfast. Lucy proudly explained how she boiled together about 150 grams of quinoa, a finely diced apple, a cinnamon stick, whole cloves with about 2 liters of water. Once everything was cooked, she thickened the mixture with chuño flour.



R is for Rooster
Being outside of the city, to me, means seeing the stars and being wakened by the sound of the rooster crowing. Luckily, bedtime was soon after the sun went down since there was a short span of time we had electricity that had been stored up based on the amount of sunlight during the day. I have to admit, I really enjoyed the early bedtime and it made the morning rooster crowing much easier to handle.



S is for Snake
Hours after I had arrived, a young man walked up with a snake wrapped around his hand and arm. He often does this I am told. It is not poisonous he informs me as he begins to release the snake to the ground within just a meter of my feet. The snake slithered and moved around a bit but seemed rather calm. To pick the snake up again, he had to put pressure on his head until he had control over the body and could then gather the head in such a way that the snake would not bite him. But again, not poisonous.


Pucallpa Transportation
T is for Transportation
Getting to and around Pucallpa was such an adventure! I was thankful for the discounted plan tickets which allowed us to take a 45 minute flight instead of the typical 20 hour bus ride. We typically used mototaxis to get around the city for a fee of about 50 cents. To get to the house by the river, we could either take the 45 minute collectivo (a car which fills with six passengers going in the same direction) or the 2 hour peke peke (small covered motorboat) ride. If only there would have been a train…


Ucayali River
U is for Ucayali River
The Ucayali River, along with 4 others is considered the main headwater for the Amazon River. Its length reaches almost 1200 miles. We had traveled down a river from Yarinacocha to Nuevo Pariz and all the while I believed it was the Ucayali River. However, on my last day, I was taken out in a small wooden boat with a small motor to see the Ucayacli. Although the river should have been much higher and much wider at this time, I was impressed by its massive size and frightened by the fact that I was in a small rowboat.


Butterfly Visitor
V is for Visitor
Butterflies had visited a few days before we arrived. She said she knew someone was coming because when the butterflies come to the house it means someone will be coming to visit. One evening while I was there, another butterfly flew up, landed on the porch and then fluttered over to someones back. Instead of staying still for the picture, he turned to catch the butterfly and managed to get it to open up just in time for the photo. That must mean someone else is on their way to visit!


Pucallpa Worker Ants
W is for Worker Ant
I was amazed to see the ants carrying pieces of leaves many, many times larger than their bodies. Immediately I was impressed with their ability to work together and accomplish their task. The funny thing is that when I gen to look up information on my leaf carrying ants, I learned they are not just called “worker” ants but in fact are Leafcutter ants (oops, this should have been under L!). While we assumed that the leaf pieces were to build their home underground in time for the rainy season, I think it actually has more to do with the type of fungus on which the feed – one that only grows in the underground chambers of their nest.


X is for eXtra Plantains
The plantains of Peru are plentiful, but no where else like in the jungle. We had boiled plantains, fried plantains, sweet plantains and starchy plantains. We even drank plantains! It seems that the climate by the river is most favorable to a variety some refer to as Filipino and some as Campeon. It is short and stubby. Another successful variety is the one pictured here, Sapucho. The plantain often replaces all starches, such as rice or potatoes, for a meal and can be eaten morning, noon and night.


Yarina Cocha
Y is for Yarinacocha
Yarinacocha is the name of one of the seven districts of the Coronel Portillo Province located in Ucayali Region in Pucallpa Peru. In 2005, Yarinacocha boasted of just less than 70,000 residents. The name Yarinacocha comes from Yarina which is the name of the once abundant Ivory Nut Palm tree in the area and Cocha, the Quechuan word for lake. The name also refers to the port in which traveling as well as tourist boats dock in order to pick up passengers. Every time I walked down there, the sky was painted a different color and there was always bustling activity.


Pucallpa Tiger

Z is for the Zoo!
One of my favorite days included a “short trip” to the zoo, which turned into a there-till-it-closed kind of day. The Parque Natural de Pucallpa is home to about 400 animals including mammals, reptiles and birds. The park resides on almost 70 acres which hosts the zoo, botanical gardens, museum, and a children’s play area. The one dollar entrance fee is worth every penny!



Originally posted on Canela & Comino on Dec 15, 2008.

Gretchen Noelle

My love of food was cultivated early on by my family but has come alive while living in Peru. During the 12 years of living in Lima, Peru, I have also enjoyed numerous trips to other areas of the country. Here on Provecho Peru you will find Peruvian recipes in English, American favorites prepared overseas, news about Peruvian Cuisine and interesting tidbits about life in Peru.

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12 Responses

  1. Baking Soda says:

    Gretchen this is the most amazing alfabet! Tidbits of knowledge leaving me to know more! Thanks for sharing

  2. Hannah says:

    Wow, this is fascinating! I feel like I’ve learned a lot from this post. 🙂

  3. Darius T. Williams says:

    Wow – i’ve just learned soooo much!

  4. Yaelian says:

    This was so interesting to read.I wish I could visit Peru again, loved it during my 2 visits.

  5. Snooky doodle says:

    this is really nice and interesting 🙂

  6. Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) says:

    Another amazing A to Z post! What a wonderful way to get to know a place.

  7. Susan from Food Blogga says:

    What a creative way to highlight Pucallpa. I’ll have to remember this when I want to write about a special place. 🙂 The breadfruits are so cool. They look similar to a lychee but in green.

  8. TeaLady says:

    Fantastic post. I learned a lot.

  9. MyKitchenInHalfCups says:

    I am in awe Gretchen.Every letter made me think “This is my favorite”. Really an excellent way to travel write.You’ve made me long for a trip to Peru!

  10. Gretchen Noelle says:

    Baking Soda – Thanks! It was fun to make!
    Hannah – Thank you…me too!
    DTW – Great!
    Yaelian – I love Peru, glad you have been able to visit!
    Snooky Doodle – Thanks!
    Lydia – Thanks! I like forcing myself to think like this.
    Susan – Thank you, it is a good way to force yourself to see all the possibilities. I think breadfruit winds up much larger than lychee. But then I am not sure I’ve eaten lychee.
    TeaLady – Thanks!
    Tanna – Thanks! I think it gives a nice overview of a place.

  11. Mrs. L says:

    What an incredible way to talk about your trip. I learned so much and it was such a fun read.Not sure I could deal with fish soup for breakfast either 🙂

  1. March 31, 2013

    […] smells they have never experienced before. Just a few days ago, I was working with a small team in Pucallpa – the jungle of Peru. Meal after meal, we spent a considerable amount of time deciding on […]

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