Sunday, August 26, 2012

Iquitos, Peru: Belen Market (Part 1 of 4)

To read the rest of this story, please turn to the following link;

Iquitos, Peru is a city of about a half million people, though it seems small to me as I walk the main streets of the place, seeing the same people daily, some of whom I have now an acquaintanceship that allows me to stop and chat a bit. I know some people slightly, and thus the city seems small enough to be sort of like a familiar place, if not exactly home. I live in Iquitos as much as I live anywhere, meaning I am here, happy enough, and don't mind if I stay longer. I feel that way about a number of places I've been in Peru and Bolivia, though some places are really those I could be happy to return to for the duration should such ever be possible for my wandering nature. Here in Iquitos I find myself as much at home as I can think possible for now, and one place within the place is really what draws me and keeps me, which is the Belen Market area. Belen, Spanish for Bethlehem.

Belen Market

It is there that I found a pair of cayman skin boots in a back alley where a hugely obese man sat on a plain wooden stool shirtless in the heat and worked by hand to repair worn out shoes. He has no shop, just his regular place on the ground where his shoes are spread all around him and his tools and threads are close at hand, as is the ubiquitous garbage and buzzards sorting through it all. He sat and stitched and gabbed with his mates as they too worked on shoes. They all sweated, their teeshirts rolled up their bellies to their armpits, men in shorts and plastic flip-flops mechanically stitching old shoes day after day for the duration of their lives. It's a social life. It has it's charm, I think, like being in school forever without the harassment of lessons and teachers, just a group of boys hanging out for the day.At the Belen Market the closer one is to the river the lower on is on the socio-economic ladder, I think. The poverty is clearer, the garbage thicker, the stench a lot stronger. It is there I found the cobblers and saw a pair of boots so ugly I thought I might be ill from the sight. Alligator skin boots, not at all the works of art I didn't buy in Trinidad, Bolivia when I had a chance. I saw a pair of boots that were homemade rather than hand made. The skin was filthy and greyish and stiff. The heels were flat and too long to work as catches for ones stirrups, and they were just poorly put together overall, the soles nailed on over top of other soles falling apart. And the cobbler, when I asked, said he wanted 30 soles for them, or $12.00 U.S. give or take. I feigned outrage and offered him ten soles, about $4.00, to take them away. We settled on 18 soles. I even got a bad to haul them out of the depths of the market. I was unhappy that the alligator skin boots I wanted so badly were actually such poor things as my new boots. But life is often compromise. I had a project to work on to give my days some focus. I walked through the market and made my way home to make these boots as good as I could.

alligator skin boots from Belen Market

I had a pair of nice cowboy boots from Bolivia but I fear I have done permanent damage to my feet by walking in them for so long. The boots, very nicely made and good looking, were the largest size I could find in Bolivia, and they were at least a size too small for me.I needed the boots I bought, sort of, to replace the ones crippling me. But the new boots were so ugly I couldn't bring myself to wear them in public. I thus went in search of a shoe repair shop, which I found later close to the market, and there I met a girl, 30 something, whom I have been seeing infrequently since. But I got nowhere with the boots' repair. They were in such bad shape the cobbler at the shop gave up entirely. The boots had been painted black, latex paint gobbed all over, and the cobbler didn't want to deal with it. The soles need replacing, and he claimed not to have the size or anything close. So I got the girl but didn't fix the boots. Such is metaphorically at least the nature  of my time at the Belen Market.
View of the Amazon River from Belen Market

I went in search of paint remover over the next few days when it became clear to me that though I could pick off the paint with my hunting knife I could never do a good job of it. I went to shoe repair shops and finally I though of a paint store to find paint remover. I got a small bottle of it and took it home to fix up my boots right. I've used paint remover often over the years in restoring furniture, and when I applied the stuff to my boots I didn't get the right effect at all. I found that the shop had sold me, not paint remover but lacquer. I had to then remove that to get back to the horror of my boots in their primary condition. After a tantrum at the paint store I went back home and pondered my state. Belen Market had boots unavailable most places, and thus it could be possible there would be other things for me I couldn't expect to find elsewhere, something to fit my skins. Little did I realise how right that would be, if not a perfect fit for my boots.

The Sky, as rulers of the market survey their domain.

Everything dies, and it's at such an accelerated pace at the market and especially in the jungle that one comes to breathe easier for it, death being so close all the time that ones fears become faint, the end so close it becomes part of life at last. Everything dies, and much of it ends up at the market to be consumed in some way, often enough as mere garbage flowing slowly toward the river through the layers of oozing mud on the walkways, sometimes more productively as food, clothing, medicine. Sometimes death produces what might be food and medicine for the mind, perhaps for the soul.

Shop at witches' alley, the Street of the Exotic, formally Pasaje Paquito, Belen Market

Everything in the Amazon, and elsewhere of course, is slowly-- sometimes rapidly-- made into smaller. Death is everywhere and death means that what was its size in life becomes parts and bits and particles. It could be a pornographic display of private life on public display. Or it could be life itself as is.

Belen Medical Market

Oten things are a harm to us, and part of my medical treatment for things that ail me is a walk through the market to look at how life is lived in a zone beyond my usual experience.But no. I mean that I like the weird and hate the boring. I like looking at strange and exotic stuff and behaviour even if it sometimes sickens me and sometimes outrages me. I have no idea what I see most times, but I have a reaction, based on my life to date. And then I ask and think and wonder and come away a stranger more than strange. I know less and less the more I live and learn. And I know less because of trips daily through the market place of death and rampant life that is Belen Market.

Herbal remedies, jaguar skins, and illegal drugs for sale.
Peruvians are a happy lot, it seems to me. I have a full account in my notebooks detailing what I know or think I know and what I have at least written about as if I know. I love Peruvians generally in the same way I hate Muslims generally. But not all Muslims are always primitive animal people deserving of extermination, and not all Peruvians are the people I love being among. Peruvians are so often killers that I wonder how they can be otherwise so decent and lovable and kind. They kill just about everything that they see. Much of the killing is gratuitous. Great people. But they kill a lot.

Anaconda skin for sale with drugs and skulls, Belen Market.
Even when I write that I much like a person I am reluctant to put a picture on the Internet. I might like the person, but that person might suffer from being associated with me. I'm not always the kind of man one would brag about knowing. So, the Dutch girl who came with me one day to the market is not shown here. She was less than sensitive about taking pictures of people, and I suggested that to ease whatever nervousness people might have about her taking photos of them that she show them what the photo looks like. She took a picture of the lady below, and as luck would have it, as the lady timidly reached to take the camera she had an attack of shyness and didn't actually take the camera at all. We see here the end of her fishing the Dutch girl's camera out of a vat of hot sauce. The Dutch girl said her camera smelled great all day. It also dried out and worked just fine.

She dropped a camera in the hot sauce

Much of Peruvian life would be not only frowned upon by the usual social engineering crowd and much would even be illegal in the Modern world, five people on a motorcycle, none with helmets, no seat belts, no stopping at the intersection for red lights, no much of nothing that we take as part of normal life in the police states of Modernity. And what could be more offensive to the social engineer that making money by making cigarettes for the poor? At the market there are dozens of tables at which sit men and women and children rolling tobacco into cigarettes. There is no tax. There is no control. For the fascism of Modernity this alone must be as horrible a sight as any one would find in Peru.

Tobacco sellers making handmade cigarettes, Belen Maket

The cigarette makers move faster than my camera's shutter speed as they grab a bit of tobacco and a piece of molding paper and press it with a stick to insert a chunky-looking piece of paper into the mix to make a cigarette from tobacco that must blacken the lungs immediately.


Smoking is some kind of leisure activity for the poor. The tobacco is "organic" here. It might approach healthiness in such case. If not healthy, it at least produces some nice local art. Snake at at the bottom of the tree is probably a moral statement!

Health is what this particular street in the market is all about. Every day I am greeted by smiling people who are keen to sell me things to make my eyesight better. Everything else in that section of the market is illegal in the Modern world. But for those who need a stuffed anaconda, the market is the ticket.

One of the vendors I chat with daily at Belen Market. 

One can pick up things for fun, like piranha head key chains. 

 Or one can get plants for whatever medicinal purpose they might have. I got three of them for no reason I can think of. But the uses for yucca are endless, especially good in making bread.

I am a lover of Modernity, but I hate fascism.I see fascism (the real thing about which I have written a full length and well researched book full of quotations and footnotes and such academic bullshit to shore up my proven thesis) and I see it to the point I hated living in Canada so much that I would have preferred living in a Muslim hell-hole to living with the Freak Show police of Modernity as it is so often today. I hate Canada with such passion that I could almost celebrate if it were to slip into the ocean like Atlantis, never to be seen again. Canada is a police state. Ask yourself when you last had chicken for dinner. What did it look like when you bought it. Or in this case, goose, I think.

Goose guts for dinner

I don't hate the police, and I'm not a violent lunatic anarchist who wants to smash everything. In fact, some of the few people I can say have been about as close to friends as I have had in Peru and Paraguay and Bolivia are police. Police and fascists have, mostly, little in common. The police state has little in common with a state filled with police. The police act within the law to maintain the legal order. They like rules at a personal level, and as much as that they like the group life of police. That's what I like about the police I've met. The police state Canada, to use a place I have had recent familiarity with and loathe so passionately that I cannot write about it further or I would end up deleting hours of hard-done typing, is so psychotic that it is unbearable to me any longer, and yet the Latin American authoritarian states I have visited for this past year are freedom itself in comparison. How can this be?

I was walking home one evening when a staggering drunk passed my by, and he, being a nasty drunk, decided he was going to take out his anger on a parked motorbike. Without exaggeration I will write that there could be as many as a quarter million motorbikes in Iquitos. The drunk tried to kick on the the two hundred of so lining the street he was on, and as he went to kick, he lost his balance and fell over. Not my problem. I didn't kick him, either. I just looked as I got out my camera for a snap shot. But this is Peru, and this is not the police state of a typical Modernist nation. This is something different, and that difference has changed my mind about life as we know it. Along with my indifference to slaughtering animals in the jungle, I am coming to see clearly the benefits of the ethnic nation. Yes, idiots often refer to me as a racist, and I know what racism is, again having written a whole book on the subject, as per above. But I see ethnicity now as something valuable and right in the world, much of my current vision of this right coming directly from the Belen Market. So, there on the street was the bleeding drunk.

If I had been alone in the dark with this arsehole I probably would have taken the opportunity to piss on him. I might have kicked him in the balls as well. In the Modern world such as he are the worst of parasites, calling down the full force of social engineering to save him from himself so he can continue being a piece of shit at the public's expence, i.e. costing not only tax dollars to fund the police state of social workers and other fascist minders but also infuriating the public with his shit behaviour while being lauded as a victim of normalcy. If I could get away with it I might even have killed this guy. That's how disgusted and off the chart angry I am with the Freak Show of post-Modernity. But this is Peru, so I just took a picture and watched as a crowd of people came to see the fellow lying on the street bleeding. This is Peru, and the fellow on the street is Peruvian, just like nearly everyone else around him. To me he's a piece of shit.

Drunk missed the bike he was trying to kick.

A lady knelt down beside this arsehole and stroked his hair and asked him if he was OK. A couple of men called the police on cell phones, and a man knelt down and felt the drunks chest to ensure he was still breathing. Everyone in the area came by to tend to this creep. Not me, of course. I waited for the police. I wanted to see the Death Squads at work here. I haven't seen anything remotely violent so far, and this seemed like a good chance to find the Latin American Banana Republic at its most stereotypically evil. I can like that in some of my moods.

At least five minutes into this minidrama a couple of traffic police came by and called in the drunk and asked for instructions. Then they hauled the drunk up and got him more or less on his feet, though they had to hold him up. They held his wrists as he tried to punch. One officer held the drunk like a child because the other officer had to bend down and straighten the drunk's leg. The cops chatted with the guy, coaxed him to settle down, and one cop stroked the drunk's face. The police didn't shoot this puke. He's Peruvian. He's one of theirs. He's family in some sense that makes sense to them. They didn't smash him. They didn't shoot him. They didn't disappear him. It was clear they were seriously concerned about him and wanted to help him get home to safety. Everyone here knows first hand how seriously dangerous this life is. This is not a sanitized bubble as is Modernity generally. Here life is on the line every minute of ones life. Everything dies. Everything is eaten.

Turtle soup in the works

I love the Mercado Belen because it is a death house of epic scale. But that's only one half of the market. The other half will have to wait till I return, assuming so.

Closing time at Belen Market

Till next time, enjoy this life while it lasts. I'll be out for a walk around. I want to think about how to present the next half of my time at the market. It shocks me. I hope to get it right when I try to put it to words here.

A gentle reminder that my book, An Occasional Walker, is available at the link here:
And here are some reviews and comments on said book:

No comments: