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Fruit of the Amazon

I just flew in to Lima yesterday from Iquitos, outpost of the Amazon, largest remote city in the world (meaning, inaccessible by car). It is also, as a city, a seething pustule of sleaze, Sodom and Gomorrah cut into lines of coke and shoved up the nostril of Babylon. It’s the kind of place where you can find a prostitute of any age, where cocaine is cheaper than beer, where a simple trip to the local produce market can be fraught with danger (local police insisted on giving me a constant escort through the market, one officer in front, one in back).

All of those problems come from Iquitos’ location on the great rivers, less than 80 miles from the confluence of Ucayali and Marañón, where they join to form the Amazon headwaters. All sorts of dark magic and black marketeering comes down those rivers (not to mention the bad juju of the booming oil industry), and mixes with the general desperation of the impoverished selva, or Peruvian Amazon.

And yet, the selva is salvation. If you can buy a child or a jaguar’s tooth or any quantity of endangered turtle meat at the Belen market, you can also buy an astonishing array of fruit that you have never seen before, each more bold and exquisite than the last. So, as a little prayer for the soul of Iquitos, here’s a gallery of native fruit, only a few of which you can even find in other parts of Peru. Finds like aguaje, huito, tumbo and copoazú, or shimbillo, the ice cream of the jungle. It was not a high-tech fruit-studio I set up in an Iquitos apartment—just my camera, a table, and a few pieces of printer paper, but the fruit know how to express themselves.

Nathan Thornburgh
Nathan Thornburgh is the co-founder of Roads & Kingdoms and is a former editor and foreign correspondent at TIME Magazine.

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