Manuel by his chacra (small-holding) and the swimming pool at Hotel Urqu, Jaén, Peru. © J. Ashley Nixon
Working pool and produce
Manuel has at least two jobs to keep things going for his family in Jaén, in the Cajamarca region of Peru. In the mornings, he is up bright and early checking and cleaning the swimming pool at the base of the new, elegantly designed Hotel Urqu. Later on, he tends his chacra, or small holding, immediately below the pool. He grows a range of produce there on the steep slope that goes down to the rice fields in the valley of the River Amojú, a tributary to the River Marañon, the main source of the Amazon River.
Yuca and camote, grown and served
As the morning sun was rising, Manuel explained to me the difference between yuca (cassava) and camote (sweet potato, yam or batata) since both root vegetables closely resemble one another in the field. Yuca (not the same as the yucca shrub with its sword-like leaves) is the third most important source of carbohydrate in the tropics after rice and maize. While the yuca plants hug the soil, the camote, a distant relative of the potato, grows up taller. Both were growing well on these dry, south facing slope soils, in the lower hills of the Andes (altitude: 729m).
On your plate, these two, widely-used vegetables are, of course, easily distinguished. The yuca tuber is peeled, then boiled and served as an accompaniment (with rice) in dishes such as estofado de pollo or estofado de gallina (chicken or hen stew), pescado a la plancha (grilled fish) and lomo saltado (thinly sliced beef with onions and peppers). The orange coloured camote is usually boiled and served in its skin alongside maize (corn or choclo) in one of Peru’s best known and delicious dishes, ceviche, or lemon-marinaded fish and seafood. Both the yuca and camote can be fried and create a great starter dish such as yuca con ajo picante (sticks of fried yuca served with a hot pepper dip) and croquettes de yuca con queso (balls of mashed yuca with cheese).
Rice and other produce in the Amojú Valley
At one end of the pool, sandia, a large melon, was growing up in the lawn grass besides the sprinklers. Banana, squash, maize and the bright, sweet tasting maracujá (passion fruit) were also there just beyond the shade of some overlooking mango trees.
As I wandered through Manuel’s chacra below Hotel Urqu and looked across the rice fields in the Amojú Valley, I felt both energized and relaxed. Ready to pick up my journey again back across the Andes to Chiclayo on the Pacific coast.
For other photos from Peru and the food, energy, water nexus, please visit: