An early morning walk into the market of Iquitos (known to Peruvians as the City of Love), the entrance to the Amazon Jungle; the market area is known in tourist guide books as the’slums’ of Belen but I prefer to think ofthis charming districtas the magical ‘floating city’ of Belen….the community is buzzing with life, morning chatter, live animals and fresh produce of all sorts and colours.
There are 2 seasons in Iquitos, the wet season, or more accurately named, the high water season and the dry season or low water season. Depending largely on the snow melting and the amount of rainfall in the Andean mountains.
In Belen, single room homes with palm tree roofs are built on either basala logs, which float as the water rises, or homes built on stilts to prevent flooding during the rainy or “wet” season; there is no running water or electricity in Belen….
I learn that in the high water season, as the water floods the muddy river banks, Belen is transformed to a floating city; families here typically have 2 canoes which they use to travel from their stilt homes…1 canoe for the parents and the other canoe for the small children, to boat to school.
Wandering into the marketplace, definitely the heart of the city, bustling with life at 6:30 am…WOW….papayas, pineapple, fried plantains, huge avocados and yams the size of an adult thigh, enormous soup pots simmering on open fires, live catfish (cara chama) in wicker baskets and a little old lady singing while twisting the necks of the fish…freshly pressed juices, condiments and powdered herbs stored in plastic bags…
I find the people in the market to be warm, friendly, happy spirits who, of course, are very curious. I doubt that many had ever seen a camera before, let alone seen their picture on a digital camera. After asking permission to take photos, I show them their pictures captured on camera; the results were warm smiles, laughter, looks of surprise and glee. Many women gestured to have pictures taken of their friends and one stall merchant demanded the camera be brought over his way, insisting that his picture be taken also.
Then I find my dream… I turn a corner into a narrow side streetÃ‚Â and discover the herb market district! Pasaje Paquito. Herbal Medicine of all forms, cats claw, ginger, cinnamon, cactus bulk herbs, tonics, bottles, potions… dried powders and various jungle medicines….
I befriend an herb merchant and his son. He invites me into his small outdoor stall and shows me myrrh gum, paulo santo (a fragrant resinous wood which is burned as incense), potions and amulettes de amore * love potions…
I show the herb merchant my insect bites, memories of some foreign insect attack; the bites still very swollen and red on my leg… he rushes off to find an herbal ointment which he smears on my calf… instantly I feel relief and purchase his ointment…a great interaction / my leg has not felt this good in 4 days!
I later discover that families who live in the Amazon jungle or who fish in the Amazon river can travel up to 1 week in tiny wooden boats (sometimes with 4-5 children on the small boat), camping on the banks of the Amazon river at night -the destination is the large market in Iquitos where theysell their wares, often crates of live fish, bananas, heart of palm or yams.