So now that a few weeks have passed since I left Iquitos, it’s time to look back. Iquitos is a wonderfully weird town, and hard to describe as it’s filled with such contrasts that it’s hard to either pin it down to positive or negative or just plain crazy, which probably sums it up best, crazy indeed!
It’s a place where you can easily lose yourself, and judging by the number of lost Ayahuasca souls I’ve seen there, quite a few people do get lost in search of something that Ayahuasca probably was never meant to deliver. Traditionally speaking or at least so I have gathered Ayahuasca is more of a cleansing than anything else, and as far as I found out, the tourist brews as I like to call them do not deliver much of that either… Naturally it depends on what you are looking for to begin with. Although I was very open to the idea of drinking Ayahuasca, I did end up not drinking any, as I did not find a local traditional Shaman. So this report will stay focused a bit more on Iquitos itself.
Katoo the owner of the Green Track Hostel and Tapiche Jungle Reserve (a review of which can be found here) put it quite well I think: “Iquitos is like a river turn”. And with that he meant that everything that flows on or in the river gets stuck in the turn, at least for a while, and that sums up Iquitos quite well. In the first few days all I wanted to do was get out again, and as more time passed, the more comfortable and at home I felt there. Another guy, Tim from Australia, put it this way: “When I got here I felt very uncomfortable, but after some time, if nothing else, my comfort zone has been expanded. And that’s always a good thing.”
So Iquitos is one of the poorest towns around, and it shows at every corner, on the other hand, you can still see that back in the rubber days, Iquitos was one of the richest places around, proof of which lies in some of the amazing buildings that have lost little of their charm even though they have been converted to new purposes, such as the once upon a time best hotel in all of Peru, which is now some kind of military installation. The general population is relatively poor, and yet there are a ton of Jewellery stores, shops for the newest cell phones, and gambling joints. The streets are filled with roaming vendors, beggars, dealers, and kids trying to sell candy for a Soles or two. And then there is the very special kind who’ll provide whatever you are looking for. You won’t be able to go far without being hassled in some way shape or form, so if you have a hard time to say no in your life, this is the place where you’ll learn it quickly, or otherwise you’ll spend your entire budget within a few days.
Nonetheless the town at least to me seemed like a relatively safe place, and besides an Ayahuasca tourist group being relieved of all their possession by pirates while on the boat to their camp, I did not hear of much crime. Of course there is the Belen market, where you can find just about anything from Fruits to Animal parts in glass jars, which is a bit of a different story, this is not the place where you want to take out your camera for a few shots even though some people do, there is a certain amount of danger in the air. As long as you stay on the top part of the market it’s relatively safe, but down by the river it’s a different story, as there, a body can quickly vanish in the dark waters of the river. If you want to go there, do so on a dry day or wear rubber boots to make it through the gooey substance that once was earth, but nowadays is a mix of god knows what, from trash to fish and animal entrails, it probably holds everything. The contrast here is the promenade by the river which is actually one straight shot into Belen, but is the complete opposite, concrete floors, and tourist restaurants and a fountain, around which loads of people gather pretty much every evening to hang out and enjoy the slightly cooler nights. If you go there be sure to stop by the Dawn of the Amazon for their “peanut butter conspiracy” one hell of a tasty smoothie. In general if you like fresh fruit, Iquitos is a good place to be in as they have loads of it, and loads of fruits you cannot even get in Europe. Then there is Green Go a sort of pharmacy where you can all kinds of strange powders and super foods, from Una de Gato down to Sangre de Grado or Mapacho Tobacco, all of which you can also find at Belen market for a cheaper price, but where it’s less easy to make sure you are actually buying what you were looking for, especially if you are not yet familiar with the substances!
Of course as most town it’s the people that make it what it is at the end of the days, and besides the hagglers, in Iquitos you can meet all sorts of freaks of nature, from the complete madmen down to people with amazing stories. One of which was a guy named Rob Dowling, the founder of http://amazonchildren.com whose website I urge you to visit! I won’t go into too much detail here, but he is a guy who’s set himself to conquer 4 very peculiar challenges in order to raise awareness for his website with the goal of building a medical centre on the river bank for amazon children that often are in dire need of medical attention.
Another interesting person I met was called Allen, who does work as a healer and has been travelling for the past 8 years. I had one relatively long talk with him, and he did help me quite a lot in dealing with a few personal issues I have been carrying for quite a while, with a few tips and tricks for my meditations.
Not to forget all the rest of the people I sat down with and had more or less fascinating talks just about everything from drugs to nature and life in general. Some who thought they were wiser than they in fact are, and some so humble and knowledgeable they could come straight out of an Indian Ashram.
Iquitos also is a prime hub for excursions into the Jungle, a lot of which are to be avoided if you ask me, as they try to lure you in with the promise of holding animals to get your picture taken, so mostly young animals whose mothers have been killed in order to make some money, but there is for example the Tapiche Reserve, which is well worth a visit! The problem here is that the region is so poor, and there are few to no regulations from the government as to what is ok and what is not, here there is still a lot of work ahead for the people and the government, as currently the government encourages people to live off and support their life off the jungle in any way they can, which most of the time is anything but sustainable. So nothing for the long run, I hope that more and more tourist that go there will avoid the places that abuse nature, in order to play their part in changing things for the better so that the locals can actually keep on living off and with nature for a long time! But as long as there is demand for things like animal trinkets and pictures with animals, it’s normal that the locals will provide just that in order to make a living! Demand and supply, as usual strongly linked.
Overall Iquitos is well worth a visit, but not necessarily for the faint of heart. I for one had a great time there, and met some amazing people, but you’ll have to be able to say no, or learn it quickly, and not let yourself get carried away in some of the quick sensations and temptations that are offered.