Iquitos, a city in the Northern part of the Peruvian Amazon, was my final destination in Peru after having entered the country three weeks earlier from the south. Being in and around this city was as if I had gone to another country (another world!) where life was hot, humid and exotic. Upon arrival it soon became clear that the streets are ruled by moto-taxi’s which, with their horns, have developed a language of their own. They honk at each other in shrill tones “get out of my way”, “don’t push me off the road, jerk!”. The drivers seem but mere boys on a carousel ride gone wild.
In Iquitos, life lives on the streets and it’s a joy simply to walk through it. So that’s mostly how I spent my time there. Making my way down to the plaza I nearly stepped on a kitten lying in the middle of the sidewalk. Unlike the cockroaches that scurry off as my feet touch the ground, this little thing does not stir when my feet land just inches from her body. She seems to me to be as well adapted to jungle life as her human counterparts.
On the plaza small children in bright coloured clothes chase soap bubbles floating through the air. At night, this scene repeats itself on the bank of the river against the picture-perfect backdrop of a round moon shining brightly onto the water. Street performers fight for a crowd: the group doing capoeira fly through the air as if they themselves are the soap bubbles. They do not manage to attract an audience like the two men a few meters onwards do, a thick wall off people obscure them from my view, but I hear their speech and the bouts of laughter it elicits in their audience. My Spanish is not good enough to join in the fun so I walk on to the man yanking a little boy’s arm into unnatural positions. This seems to be the point of it, judging by the applause he receives for each scary-looking twisting of the boy. Who smiles all the while to demonstrate it does not hurt. He failes, however, to pacify his mother who looks on with an increasingly dark look until, finally, she shakes her head and pulls her son out of the center of attentention: show’s over.
I say life lives on the street in Iquitos, but this may paint an incomplete picture. It is a city in the Amazon that can only be reached by air or water, naturally life is led on the water. Aside from the asfalt on which moto-taxi’s reign, there’s the city on water where boats are king. Houses rise out of the water on wooden poles, sometimes connected by walkways (if you’re lucky) or some planks. A carpet of trash hides the water underneath. Tiny kids run barefoot on any structure that will keep them above water and I wonder if they can swim. It’s not long before I find out that they can’t.
I’m sitting on a boat docked to a wooden structure where our boat’s motor is being fixed, the workman’s two sons of about three and five years old clamber on and off the canoes floating around me. It worries me slightly: they are so small and there’s so much water. Of course, they do this every day and I’m just an overly worried girl from the over-protective West. The youngest of the two climbs aboard my boat to offer me one of his two cookies, wearing a bright red t-shirt and a huge smile. He’s adorable.
Once I’ve accepted his offer he’s off again, back to the boat where his brother is playing. And then I hear a loud splash: the red t-shirt and its wearer have disappeared under water. Where first there were two boys, now there is one. The bigger brother gropes around in the water with his little boys’ arms, seconds (that surely are ferociously ticking away) seem to be dragged through glue as I watch this kid searching for his brother to no avail. Time abruptly kicks back into speed with another splash: his father has jumped in, with arms longer and stronger, and it is only a few seconds more until he pulls his son to the surface.
The little boy’s black eyes look dazed as his father puts him back upon the wooden structure where his mother scolds him and pulls off his wet red t-shirt and pants. This brings him back to life: the big smile reappears on his face as he realises he can now run around naked! Only a few minutes passed since the first splash and everyone is back to normal. Just another day in the Amazon.