Saturday, August 25, 2012

Iquitos Facts and Fictions

[I'm experiencing some technical difficulties. Will complete this post as I am able.]

For me, the Amazon doesn't become more interesting as I go farther into it; it becomes less interesting because it becomes huge and generic. Iquitos allows for the specific as it were if one is determined to dig a bit into the muck of jungle that surrounds the local life of eating and normal living. One is often faced with "jungle guides" hoping to take out tourists to see wildlife and so on, but I find the most exotic animal to be something one need not look far to find. This is, for me, a life-changing journey that explodes most of my assumptions about life and its meaning to date. Such will be the main focus of the rest of this installment of my travel notes about Iquitos, the strangest animals on the planet. Allow me to digress, of course.

I left Pucallpa for Iquitos to travel for six or so nights by cargo boat, in this case a leap into luxury compared to a similar trip by boat in Bolivia. This trip was also boring because of my extreme adventures previously, though it was far from the comfort most people expect, I would think, given the ubiquity of Norwegian floatels in the Caribbean.

But the chef was nice. Very nice. Very homosexual.

I made sure to wink at him and smile before dinner.

Often we would stop along the Ucayali river to unload and to find the boat visited by locals selling things.

Those living the local life live it as if there is no other, and they are as happy as one can hope for. Perhaps one travels to see what normal can be.

[add photo]

Normal has its differences from place to place.

Having arrived in Iquitos I took a taxi into town.

This is my return to Iquitos after a miserable time at Leticia, Columbia up river from Iquitos, four days or so by boat, a trip I took in a state of high expectation of beauty and adventure, not much of which happened for me. Thus, I returned to Iquitos, and here I am at a second or even third or, as I think it through, a fourth hostel here. I am staying at La Casa del Frances just off the main square.

More about that to come.

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

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:

Friday, August 24, 2012

Iquitos, Peru

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

I first arrived in Iquitos for a few days of sightseeing in July 2012, my intention being to catch a cargo boat upriver for seven or eight days to the frontier with Ecuador, my destination when I first arrived in Peru in Sept. 2011. I travel slowly. But I didn't expect to travel this slowly. It's now Dec. 2012 and I'm not going anywhere voluntarily for some time yet. This is Iquitos, and I like it. I like it so much that I have now enough copy to publish a whole book about how I like it. But there's the details, you see, that make the liking more than just a matter of an easy place to hang out. Her name is.... Well, that can wait. I have a lot of reasons for being here and for staying. Over the course of these months I've written much about the city and its history, and here I want to add a bit from a fellow who was here about 100 years ago, a man I wish I had met, a man whose spirit continues in others I do meet.

The course of my writing has changed radically since I began this session on Iquitos. Everything has changed, and much promises to change still. In a way, it's a boom time. this is how it was then. Following this, for many posts and hundreds of pages, is how I see it today, as that evolved and evolves now. Here's a guy then:
IQUITOS sprang from the necessity for a receiving and distributing centre for rubber and merchandise respectively for the Upper Amazon system, corresponding to Manaos and Pará for the Lower. It was composed for all practical purposes, like so many riverside towns, of one long street with its one-and occasional two-story adobe (mud) houses with corrugated iron roofs (how unromantic) in which were to be found the offices and warehouses of the local branches of American and European houses, and for the rest, a number of lazy and careless side-streets where lived the native population of cholas and Indians (canoemen and rubber-workers) and Peruvian caucheros.

The houses in these back-streets were built of laced bamboo with thatched roofs; the walls were transparent in places, their only virtues being their coolness, cleanliness and cheapness. Telegraphs, telephones, sewers, electric light, ice-plants and pavements were refinements of civilization which had not yet penetrated into this community. Water was carried from springs along the river-front in earthernware jars by the native servants. The town sprang up like a "boom town" in the West, doomed to exist only as long as the commercial possibilities of which it was born should last. When I was there the population must have numbered about three thousand; later it grew to be a town of 20,000 inhabitants.
Today Iquitos is a boom town of closer to quarter of a million people, as many as 1,000 American per week flying in, others from around the world at least as many. It can still be a wild and open city. Often, though, it's a great place to spend a few days taking in the sights of the Amazon, walking around, just being, and using credit cards rather than wheelbarrows full of silver dollars.

The town is fifteen days in a twin-screw steamer from Pará, some 2,500 miles. It is situated near the junction of several big tributary rivers, by which the rubber used to be brought down to the main stream from the camps, its site marking the limit of practical navigation for ocean-going steamers all the year round. In the year 1900 Captain Todd of the gunboat Wilmington, U.S.N., stated in his official report of his cruise up the Amazon that the average depth in the rainy season from Iquitos to the sea is 120 feet.
Most people fly in and fly out. A hundred years ago, and for some today, the going was by boat, and somewhat harder. 
[W]e were not ashamed to call on the first rubber-merchants we found, Messrs. Marius and Levy, and dispose of our cargo. Having frustrated these gentlemen's attempts to "short-weight" us, we brought a cart round to carry our money away. It weighed 120 lbs. There was no paper money in Iquitos. Silver was the only circulating medium. It was the custom to go shopping with a wheel-barrow.
The civil system is easier to cope with as well, no armed insurrections against the local boss needed to save ones skin from a skinning at the duty office.
And so it happened that the Governorship of the province of Iquitos was not only a post of great personal responsibility, but also a very lucrative one.

In the absence of a civil police force, the town was under a kind of martial law controlled by the military, with the Governor at their head. Bribery and corruption were rife, and each successive Governor strove to make his fortune more quickly than his predecessors. Catch-as-catch-can was the order of the day. With the inexhaustible supply of rubber on the one hand, and the undying demand for it by the civilized world on the other, every ambitious free lance had his eye on the Governorship.
I'm liking it here after all these months, and if someone likes me too, then perhaps I might stay ever longer still. Or, like the narrator above, I might sometime write my own version of this below: 
The first, somewhat laconic, entry in my journal records our departure under the date of Friday, June 13th, 1899...

"Finally left Iquitos to-day after nearly two months of `mañana.' "

    And so we could say "good-bye" at last:

    "Chug puncha cama, Iguitos!"

Fritz W. Up de Graff, Head Hunters of the Amazon: Seven Years of
Exploration and Adventure
. (Garden City, New York: Garden City
Publishing Co.) 1923; pp. 125-144

But I haven't gone yet.

Dag Walker
Iquitos, Peru
Dec. 2012

I've been traveling in south America for close to one year, and I am close to exhaustion when it comes to writing about it all. I write 2-2,500 words per day every day, and though I haven't been posting much of this, I have it on paper, adding ever more weight to my pack as I stuff yet another full notebook into the crawl space that I was sure last time couldn't hold anything else at all. Lots of writing. But I get tired, even if it's interesting work, and here I find I am almost out of energy to write about a town in the Amazon that I like enough to have returned to and will be staying at again for a fairly long time, I hope so I can regain some energy for the next year or so of travel and writing about it. Here in Iquitos, Peru I took some time over the past few days to sit out and drink coffee and read a bit. I blew through The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, Stieg Larson's last installment of a book about a young woman with Asperger's syndrome, as I read it. I found the books to be worthless, the last nothing much more than a trite rework of any conspiracy at the top of the secret service agencies, best done in the movies, for example, Three Days of the Condor, and many others. But it's light reading, even if at heart it's a sly propaganda effort to justify the Communist Party and to bash anti-Communism. Ironically, this series of books will leave the Swedish Communist Party filthy rich, Larson having left the royalties to them rather than his wife. I needed a break, and I break by reading novels. I read a women's romance novel about Israel, Bodie Thoene, Return to Zion, and a sequel, A Light in Zion. In the Amazon, even in a heavily touristed town like Iquitos, a good selection of English language books is hard to come by. I did read Oedipus Rex in Spanish. But more to the point here is that I read a book I'd heard of but new nothing of, James Redfield, The Celestine Prophecy. It's bad. I read it because I'd read everything else I could find and that was all that was left for now. I read it too because it's set in an imaginary Peru and an even more imaginary town of Iquitos, the very place I sat as I read it. My best guess it that author might have set down in this town once on a tour with other coastal American yuppies, that he might have spent some time looking around the craft stalls down the street from me where he would have bought a wad of fabric bracelets to give to friends back home to show he is thoughtful. But he doesn't display any familiarity with Iquitos itself. The book is cringingly bad, both shallow to the nth degree as philosophy, even for "New Age" drivel, but worse, it's so badly written I nearly gagged as I sped through it. Still, Redfield is hugely popular, and I certainly am not. He's sold millions of copies of his book. I haven't sold even one million copies of mine. [Here's your chance to help that score.] REdfield is very popular, and I am very not popular, to put it mildly. But I am in a position to write, in spite of my exhaustion and reluctance to write much at all at this time, some clearer and more honest and informed account of Iquitos, Peru. It's an interesting place worthy of attention, particularly because it is a much visited and semi-well-known place in Peru. Some of what's to come will repel many readers. Such is life. An honest account is far better than that of a middle aged man who sits in California dreaming about what Iquitos is like.

Ad for shipping to Iauitos

I'm in Iquitos, Peru for the second time, having returned rercently from Leticia, Colombia, a place I found unattractive in the highest. I'd gone by canoe from the Peruvian border town of Santa Rosa in the middle of the Amazon River to the border town of Leticia, Colombia. I arrived at Leticia via a sewage filled backwater. I stayed as long as I could bear and now I am pleased to be back in this jungle city on the Amazon where I feel more comfortable, where I am not faced with Colombia's round-the-clock discos blaring competing accordion music and recorded karaoke singers wailing about their heart conditions: "My heart is broken, aching, melting, stinking, empty, and otherwise in need of an operation." Back in Iquitos, thank the gods.
Downtown Iquitos
Colombia, after so many had praised it so highly, was Hell for this weary traveler, and returning to Iquitos is as close to paradise as one can hope for, even if the stark contrast makes it so much easier to like Iquitos, a town some will be familiar with as the setting of much of the so-called novel The Celestine Prophecy, not a novel at all but a poorly conceived and poorly written essay on one man's utopian day dream about the future of all Californian yuppies. I'm in Iquitos. I must wonder if the writer of The Celestine Prophecy has been here himself, though he sets most of his book in Peru and much of that in Iquitos itself.

My Iquitos' church as opposed to the fictional church of Redfield's book is a block or two from the town centre, a not particularly interesting building at the corner of the Plaza de Armas downtown. Iquitos is a small town and thus has nothing much of interest in architectural charms outside some imported tile covering generic 19th century warehouses. It would be a mistake to come here expecting to see an interesting city.

One flies in or takes a boat.
Redfield, the author of the Celestine Prophecy, sets his characters in conflict with an imaginary classically reactionary cardinal, as if a place Iquitos would have a bishop at all, let alone one who has created a palatial monstrosity of indoctrination and political intrigue from which he plots to keep the world from knowledge of an Aramaic language text of 7th century California-style hippiedom recently discovered in-- Peru! (If you haven't read the book, believe me, I did not make that up.) The church in town is run by an old guy who didn't get far in the hierarchy of the Catholic organisation. He's not at all sinister. He's a priest. He's an old guy. Don't expect much from a visit to the church in town. If you haven't read the Celestine Prophecy but were considering it, try instead the less dreadful but equally inept "science" version of utopia by B.F. Skinner, Walden II. It's slightly more interesting and far more plausible. It truly sucks, but not as badly as The Celestine Prophecy.

Boats coming to Iquitos have changed very little since 1900 or so.
I'll write more about Iquitos as it really is, though it's not going to make everyone excited about this city in the Amazon jungle. Some will be outraged. I like it here. More to come. 

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: