May 15th, 2011


Thoughts on Iquitos.

Iquitos is in many ways like an island. Accessible only by boat and plane, most people born there will never be able to leave.

The easiest and cheapest way to import goods to Iquitos is to truck them three days to a town farther up the Amazon and put them on a barge for another two days down river.

The city has a strange Asian flavor, because of all the motorcycles, scooters, and moto-taxis, but beyond that, it is nothing at all like my experience of Asia.

Almost all of the tourists who visit the "selva" from Iquitos have a canned experience in jungles no more than 20 or 30 years old. All the old growth anywhere near Iquitos has been cut down. I didn't see a single tree with a trunk bigger than 1 1/2 feet in diameter. According to one person I talked to, old growth trees are routinely stolen from the preserves as well. You can, however, still get into somewhat pristine jungle if you are willing to spend $600 for a four day trip 200Km from Iquitos.

The legendary pink dolphins do exist. I saw them, and swam near them. I also "saw" a manatee. There are homegrown efforts to preserve and protect what remains of the endangered forest and wildlife, but I fear they will be steamrolled.

I saw a very small portion of Iquitos, the old center, the tourist port, and the streets in between. Most of the people in these places live off of the tourist trade. I have no idea how the rest of the half million live.

There are a couple of universities and several military installations in the city. Many of the old, beautifully tiled buildings from the days of the rubber boom are occupied by the military and the police. In one way, I am glad because they appear to be preserved, but it is a shame because nobody can visit them.

We were there just before the start of the official tourist season, so there were relatively few tourists and a lot of touts. I can only imagine what it will be like in a month or so. The entire waterfront looks as if it underwent a makeover several years ago, only to be neglected since. I wish I could have seen it with the fountains running, the paint fresh, and the lights all working.