Iquitos, City of Motocars

First impressions, and subsequent city journeys

Day 1

          Flew New Orleans to Miami, Miami to Lima, and Lima to Iquitos. My longest flight, Miami to Lima was about 6 hours, and was a pretty peaceful adventure. The whole trip, given connection times, was roughly 24 hours. Iquitos is a smaller city in the north east which can only be accessed by boat or plane. Before you get any grand ideas about hiking tall mountains, or riding llamas, or enjoying the Peruvian delicacy of guinea pig, let me stop you to say there is none of that is this flat port city, but it has its own elegant charms. When my plane landed at the airport it really seemed that we just happened upon a landing strip in the jungle. The runway was bare save for an old rusted plane in the adjacent field, and the one small building, which seemed to hold simply a luggage drop and an exit. Outside, as to be expected, I was surrounded by drivers haggling for the opportunity to deliver one exhausted jungle shocked gringo to her subsequent gringo lodge. Thankfully Campbell and Luke, my only American companions on this journey, were there to easy my nervousness. What I did not expect was that cars are not the main mode of transportation here.  Hence the city of motocars. A motocar is a motorcycle with a covered bench hanging off it´s rear, supported by three wheels. Much to my surprise my large hiking backpack, and the three of us were loaded onto this contraption and we sped off with ease. There are very few cars here, as they have to be imported so are quite a luxury.

          So this city is much different from those in the states. Iquitos is still a developing city, there are many open air markets, and no chain stores. It´s bright and colorful, and noisy, and full of new smells. We arrived after a 20 minute journey to the hotel la Pascana, which seems to host mainly gringos who are more intellectual than they are fashionable. Many foreign researchers, and scientists. A few who have come to participate in the vision inducing ceremony of the Ayauasca plant, which is supposed to cleanse you. In actuality it does in that it cause everything to exit your system quite quickly. La Pascana is beautiful in its simplicity, there´s about 20 rooms surrounding a garden of fruits, palms, and birds of paradise. It has a lobby where you can use internet till 10pm. The rooms have 2 beds, a bathroom where there´s a shower head right next to the toilet, and one of the walls is just screen with shutters, which let in breeze at night. Campbell Luke and I made a quick turn around to check out the zoo. The zoo was a bit of a heartbreaking experience after growing up with the luxury of American zoos. It was filled with stray dogs, children selling candy to get a little money, and hot underfed animals in small cages that didn´t keep people away. An older man draped an anaconda around Luke and I´s neck for the charge of 3 soles. (It´s about 2.75 soles o the dollar.) We saw many jungle cats, monkeys, and fish. All the animals were native to Peru. We enjoyed a UFO popsicle. (Un-Identified Fruit Object, later learned it was Aguaje.) We then wondered out of the zoo for some street food, which consisted of grilled fish, large undulating worms, plantains, and juanes; a chicken and ice ball wrapped in a leaf. I went for grilled plantain, and picked the chicken chunk out of my rice ball. Quite grateful I brought so many Luna and Cliff bars on this We braved a crowded wooden bus for the ride home, the logic of this vehicle being that in the forest there is plenty of wood to replace any parts. Thankfully for dinner we headed to a touristy restaurant and I filled myself with hummus and carrot juice, and we played cards and spoke to the French owner. I certainly miss speaking French daily, and Spanish has been a peculiar adventure.

Day 2

         I must confess that many of my city adventures center around eating. That said I enjoyed la Pascana´s American breakfast, anise tea, fresh papaya banana orange juice, scrambled eggs, and 3 pieces of bread with butter and jelly. For lunch we found a local place with Campbell´s friend Anhill, where you get an entree, 2 sides, and fresh juice for 12 soles. My mixed salad was a peculiar pile of veggies which reminded me of many middle eastern salads. It was subsequently followed by deep fried cauliflower, lentils, and an orangish pitcher of another UFO. There are so many fruits here that we do not have back home, Aguaje, cocona, camu camu, chicha moarado,guava, passion fruit, guyaba  and so on. As determined as I feel to try them Campbell seems as determined to get me to try them all, it´s a wonderful symbiosis.

          We then met with a representative from the Field Museum who is working with so of the same native villages and groups of Chambira artists that we are. They are trying to encourage the villagers to pool money together to invest in family resources, instead of having them continue to invest any small wealth they gain back into their families. It´s a very every man for himself ideal, which is understandable given the infrequency of financial gain, and the trying lives they lead, but more on that later. It seemed like a truly wonderful idea to get groups of people in the villages, such as artisans, to pool funds together, and elect an official to come to concensus with other elected officials on the use of the community funds. But in theory and in practice can be very different experiences, as we all well know. At the least we are going to share resources and swap info within our organizations, which could include the drawings I do of the Chambira dye plants!

          The highlight of dinner was a large cup of starfruit juice! What a luxury! in the morning we leave for nearly 3 weeks which will be spent in native villages along various Amazon rivers.

 Return to Iquitos, the second of four journeys

         Obviously my time in the jungle and villages is the highlight of this journey, but this post is about my city adventures. So jump ahead three weeks, I promise to post about the jungle soon! Everything about city life seems like a huge luxury, and I am overwhelmed to  consider the life of privilege I will eventually return home to. Luke being the only other first time American jungle explorer on my journey, we became fast friends surviving new extreme experiences, and spent the past three weeks day dreaming about our favorite luxuries. The tops of our lists included fresh fruit juices, vegetables,privacy,beds, electricity for more than 3 hours a day, contact with home and running water.  Things often taken for granted back h0me. In my spare time I got quite wrapped up in a Thousand Splendid Sun´s, what an incredible book! Campbell Luke and I went shopping, had no luck finding a dress that had any modesty to survive our much much anticipated clubbing adventure, but many tshirts and shorts were found. I gorged myself on 2 to 4 fresh fruit juices a day, including Acai, which is amazing! We dared to eat the luxurious caramel covered cakes, and lemon meringue pie. One day Luke and I wondered up the boulevard that looks over the Amazon river, all the way till it ended, then wondered the street markets where we were the lone gringos. We´ve found joy in exploring the beautiful churches we´ve come across. The next evening, per Campbell´s recommendation, we set out to go clubbing. It was odd to put on make up, wear my hair down, and dress in something other than a t-shirt and ripstop nylon pants, after three weeks of doing so. It´s really nice to come out of my fashionable comfort zone. The first club we had to take a motocar to. It was a large brightly lit place, where the bouncers were a bit overly enthusiastic to seat us vying for a tip. Much to our disappointment we found that most of the music was Cumbria, and the guests either intimately grinded or lightly bobbed back and forth. When we made our entrance onto the dance floor, our American dance moves were certainly the spectacle of the crowd surrounding us. We decided to journey on to another club, in hopes we´d find more techno or hip hop. We settled at club Noa,  a place a friend we made on the boat recommended. While we had to be the dance floor catalyst, and were still quite a spectacle, daring to dance with more gusto than the simple restrained salsa basic, it was a much more enjoyable experience. The three of us, three generation of Quakers, enjoyed bouncing about, pumping our fists in the air, and shouting out the lyrics of our favorite American pop songs. The following day was a day of recovery. We went to the spa to get massages, and haircuts. A luxury I´ve never even taken advantage of back home. In the morning we set out for Chino.

The Third Big City Adventure

           We spent only three days in the beautiful city of Chino, working with women who make incredible Chambira baskets. Heading home we were 7 people, 1 large catfish, and a duck in a 3 bench seat small metal boat, gear and all. This sounds like he beginning of a bad joke I know. We stopped twice, once to sit and eat two popsicles, and the second time to tell the police in the village of Buena Vista we were leaving. En route we saw wild monkeys in the trees! Again a joyous return to juice juice and more juice! Also laundry, much over do. We learned that people protesting the government  have shut down all of Iquitos for the three days we were gone. Beating motocar drivers that ventured out as well as shop or restaurant owners than dared open, and heaping trash in the streets. I´m grateful it had subsided by the time we returned. On the eve of our returned we dared to try Peruvian karaoke…a grave mistake. Staying seated you as a table take turns singing two songs when your turn comes up in the cue. The challenge being that every Peruvian seemed to want to sing one of maybe 7 sappy love songs quite off key, with the enjoyable visuals of very low budget unrelated music videos. We´ve chosen to not do such a thing again.

     In the morning we explored the artisans row, picked up laundry, snacked, and headed for the spa again This time I got my hair cut and colored, an exciting metamorphosis at the hands of a man with gorgeous fake lashes and purple finger nails, clearly not a Then at the invitation of Anhill we braved Cumbria music. Words may fail to describe this experience, I suggest youtubing Brazilian music videos. In a large stadium, with a thatched palm frond roof, were maybe 100-200 people, and a band of 15 people, 5 of whom were singers. The lighting was spectacular, but the main attraction was the “guitar shaped” scantily clad women who trusted and flipped their hair about to the oddly calm Latin beat. Again the experience of Peruvian dancing, either in couple, or simply lightly bobbing about. Luke and I pushed on that we return to NOA, where we again enjoyed our American pop songs, interluded with the same Cumbia beats we had hear earlier in the night. Only this time NOA raised the admission price, for us to witness the spectacle of more “guitar shaped women” and a drag queen. This morning, Sunday, we set out to see the butterfly farm. A motorcar, and short chartered boat ride away we were at a place where a eastern European woman was raising a myriad of  rescued jungle animals, whom people, often tourists, had taken in as neglected pets, not understanding their needs. Monkeys roamed free climbing all over this barefoot woman. Kuwaitis jumped into her arms, and sloths crawled over to see her. There were macaws,parrots, ocelots, a jaguar, toucan, and of course butterflies. I learned that caterpillars do not in fact simply grow wings, but that in chrysalis their bodies break down to only cells and from those cells an entirely new creature is formed! How incredible! Also what lies our first grade teachers fed us. lol. Tomorrow we head out for a town I cannot begin to spell, which is known for it´s water buffalo cheese. We will be out in the field studying dye plants and Chambira, and working with more artisans for 5 days. I will then return to the city for one last adventure before heading home, a reality which seems like a strange distant memory now.

I apologize that this is my first blog entry, I only have internet when in the cities. There will be many more entries to follow about the field, and villages, and such. Many will be posted when I get home. The internet connection here is not strong enough to host posting pictures, so you will have to wait for such luxury just a little longer. Thank you all for your support, and I can´t wait to share more of this adventure with you.