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Pilgrimage through Iquitos, in the Peruvian Amazon

October 6, 2019

He had studied for many years the peculiarities of the Amazonian culture and the elements that characterize it.

For example, its gastronomy , the food products and condiments that it uses, the techniques that are used and the ways of their eating regimens, as well as the symbology that contains the consumption of their products and their indigenous rituals of initiation and passage.

I had been interested in its cosmogony, which is the way in which the members of the native Amazonian indigenous communities conceive their interrelationships with nature and their insertion in the world, developing a cultural identity, that glue that allows them to unite as an ethnic group and differentiate themselves from the others, as well as to keep distance from urban dwellers or settlers.

Index

From the books to the real life of the Amazon.

Yes. I had done all of this for several years, but from the silent reading rooms of libraries, peering out from the pages of a book as if it were a window onto the world. But it had never occurred to me to visit a large Amazonian city, far away, almost inaccessible.

One day in mid-2015 I decided to travel to Iquitos to live there for at least a month.

She wanted to have that experience, and she had been putting it off.

It was not an easy decision.

The purpose of the trip had to be well defined and financing secured.

The miracle of Saint Martin.

In the end, everything was resolved satisfactorily: he would live in Iquitos for six months, to write a book about the kitchen of the Peruvian Amazon with the economic sponsorship of the San Martín de Porres University, a private university based in Lima, which had achieved, with its publishing house, the largest number of titles, prizes and world recognitions in gastronomy that a Latin American university had achieved in the whole his story.

Preparations for my trip to the jungle.

Before traveling to Iquitos, I spent six months researching the Amazon, almost obsessively, in many public and private libraries specialized in the subject, located in Lima.

Already at the airport, before boarding the plane for Iquitos, which is only accessible by air or by river, I realized that I knew nothing about Iquitos, that I had no idea what a large Amazonian city was like.

“It will surely be like any other” I thought to reassure myself.

Until I found Iquitos.

Remains of rubber exploitation in the Peruvian Amazon

Iquitos is the capital of the Loreto region, the largest Amazonian city in Peru, which was the regional seat of the famous rubber barons and the merciless exploitation of indigenous groups .

When one walks through the streets of the city, especially those close to the Plaza de Armas, towards the Tarapacá boardwalk, on the banks of the Itaya River, one feels the presence of the rubber merchants, who sent their product to the international market, especially to London, where they had business offices and their family generally resided.

Architectural features of another time.

Their residences in Iquitos were beautiful mansions, with balconies and wrought-iron railings from Hamburg, Carrara marble, and tiles brought from Seville or Portugal.

The Casa Morey or the old Hotel Palace are magnificent works of architecture from the beginning of the 20th century, which one never tires of admiring for their beauty and because they seem unreal in the midst of so much citizen poverty.

A rusty Eiffel Tower in the Peruvian Amazon.

Everyone speaks, however, of a Casa de Fierro, a structure of iron sheets raised in front of the Plaza de Armas, in the Jirón Próspero, which they say was designed by Gustavo Eifell and that a rubber baron acquired in 1889 to satisfy a personal whim. , bringing it from France, and now it is a building that is simply there, cornered by a nostalgia that rusts it.

The island city of the Amazon.

One feels part of the amazing landscape of a city submerged in the thunderous traffic of thousands of motorcycles; motorcycles conditioned to carry passengers, which suddenly appear in the streets as if they were giant insects that threaten to devour you.

Or one walks its lonely streets, in the hours close to noon, under suffocating heat, wondering “what the hell is one doing here?”, in the midst of so much loneliness and in a heavy atmosphere that invites you to quickly return to the hotel to continue surviving.

Iquitos is a city surrounded by water on all sides, and although one hardly believes it, it is an urban island confined between two rivers, the Nanay and the Itaya.

In the distance, the majestic Amazon River, endless from one bank to the other, to whose serene contemplation one becomes addicted the day after arriving in the city.

A river so large and mighty that it threatens to swallow Iquitos in times of flood, when the Amazonian world seems to turn everything into water.

CETA: Amazon Library.

One feels transported to the time of the 18th century Jesuits who catechized the indigenous communities, immersed in a solitary and quiet room of the beautiful Amazon Library, of CETA, next to the Tarapacá boardwalk. A deep and mystical silence reigns there, in which one feels even the noise of the pages of the book that one leafs through.

Magic and fantasy in the Mercado de Belén.

Going to the Bethlehem Market is something else. An unforgettable and invigorating experience, in which one feels stuck in a narrow, noisy and dangerous labyrinth where people are crowded selling contraband clothes, ointments of anaconda , jars of lizard fat, coca tobaccos, beverages made from vegetable products and animals that, macerated in liquor, offer themselves as powerful and infallible aphrodisiacs , steaming soups, amulets to overcome bad luck or to seduce impossible women , roasted bananas, meat from wild animals, hot peppers, fresh and smoked fish, yucca of all sizes, drupes of palm trees , juices fruits that you have never seen, tiny turtle eggs, handicrafts, Chinese trinkets, arrows and blowpipes, furtive glances and intemperate laughter.

If you asked me about what the atmosphere of Iquitos is really like, the air you breathe wherever you go, what you feel when you visit it, I would answer, without any hesitation, that it is an air of sensuality that overwhelms us. as if it were a perfume upsetting everything.

If you don’t believe me, and think I’m exaggerating, visit Iquitos on Saint John’s day, which is the patron saint of the Amazon, and participate in the collective bathing in the river on the night of June 23 to purify the body and get infected with joy the spirit.


This post is also available in: Español (Spanish)

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