Saturday, August 25, 2012

Iquitos background

Iquitos, circa 1910.
Iquitos, Peru is filled with tourists most days, and many of them of two types: there are those who fly in from Lima or Cuzco, as a rule, and who sit in large groups at the local American owned outdoor cafe. Many of these tourists come as an organised group and stay together as they move from one place and "experience" to another. One such group I met consisted of people in their 30s and 40s who hailed from Chicago, Washington, D.C., and California. When I mentioned to one such group sitting out that I am from the north west and that all points beyond North Dakota are, to me, east, I was immediately raged at by an intense and angry woman who demanded to know what I meant exactly by saying "Everything beyond North Dakota is white." I'm still puzzled by the fascist Left's reach to find "racism" at every turn. The woman was obviously wealthy and socially successful and probably has a stunningly important job in government. I, on the other hand, am more like the second group of tourist/traveler in Iquitos.

I am one of those who comes by boat. The boat I came to Iquitos on is not significantly different in look from the larger one above. Little, in fact, has changed in the past 100 years of travel to this remotish place in the Amazon. Today boats bring different faces and different cargo, but life on the Amazon River carries on much as always.

 People walk the Malecon and meet and greet and dine outdoors and enjoy life. Work carries on apace. People here have children. Life is quite and relatively good.

Some come to Iquitos as tourists; others come to work in the oil and mineral industries. I am a tourist, all things said and done.

The second kind of tourist in Iquitos arrives by boat rather than charter plane and in an organised group. Many if not most of the boat people come with backpacks, stay a few days, perhaps go on a jungle safari of sorts and fly back to the city. Some, and they are substantial in number, come to Iquitos to take hallucinogenic jungle drugs, primarily ayahuasca with DMT.

Others, and they seem to be few in number, are serious scholars at universities studying plants, animals, and sometimes local history. But most non-locals are souvenir hunters, including Peruvians themselves.

The locals live in this city of half a million by doing ordinary jobs suited to the location and local opportunities, which is to say that though there is great opportunity to be involved in cocaine business I haven't seen any of it and doubt that many here bother with it, preferring to live normal and longer lives, if somewhat poorer in terms of money. It's a busy city, and it needs food constantly to survive, which is the major scene I encounter all day, the buying and selling of food, much of it fish from the local rivers. Cocaine is for the distant. Fish is everywhere. Here are some local details.
Iquitos is the largest city in the Peruvian rainforest. Located in northeast Peru, on the left bank of the largest river in South America, the Amazon....

European-Peruvians established Iquitos as a Jesuit mission to the indigenous peoples in the 1750s. In 1864 it started to grow when the settlers created the Loreto Region and made Iquitos its capital. It is the seat of a Roman Catholic Apostolic Vicariate.

Among the unique communities formed by the 19th-century rubber boom immigration was one of Sephardic Jews from Morocco. Many of the men married Peruvian women and made families in Iquitos. They established a synagogue and the Jewish Cemetery. By the end of the 20th century, four or five generations later, most descendants were no longer practicing Jews. In the 1990s, a descendant of a Jewish settler undertook serious study of the religion and began to revive Judaism among his family, friends, and other Sephardim descendants. After years of study, with the help of a sympathetic Conservative rabbi in Lima and another from Brooklyn, New York, eventually a few hundred people learned and practiced and converted. (Conversion was necessary as their mothers were not Jewish.) Many of the converts emigrated to Israel under its "right of return" policy. 



Iquitos, Iquitos: Central Plaza [Credit: Walter Aguiar/EB Inc.] Amazon River port, northeastern Peru. It is located about 2,300 miles (3,700 km) upstream from the Atlantic Ocean and 640 miles (1,030 km) north-northeast of Lima. It was founded in 1864 at the site of an Indian village and became the chief shipping port for the region during the rubber boom of the late 19th century. After 1912, when production dropped drastically, the city’s population declined.
Iquitos remained stagnant until the 1950s, when interest in the economic development of eastern Peru was renewed.

I've met tourists in packaged groups, hippie drug takers, wandering college kids, and scholars here in Iquitos. To my surprise I met an orthodox Jew who zips around the town on a motorcycle, one of the few people in the town who wears a helmet, which alone caught my eye, and a blue helmet with a huge Star of David on it.

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

A gentle reminder that my book, An Occasional Walker, is available at the link below.

And here are some reviews and comments on said book:

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