The Beauty of Iquitos and The Northern Selva
I recently had one of the most amazing trips of my life when I travelled to Iquitos and stayed at a lodge in the Northern Peruvian Rainforest, or selva. I had been to the Amazon rainforest before with my family, but this experience was completely different, and one I will never forget.
I arrived in Iquitos on Tuesday afternoon, and hopped aboard a mototaxi outside the airport to get to the Plaza de Armas. One of the first things you notice about Iquitos is there are almost no cars: all transportation is on a motorcycle or motokar, which is essentialy a motorcycle with the buggy part of a horse and buggy superimposed on the back. This is most likely because Iquitos is the largest city in the world that cannot be reached by road; to get there one must take a plane or approximately ten day long boat ride.
The driver was kind enough to drop me off right at the door of a hotel he recommended a block or so away from both the Plaza de Armas and the Malecón (the boulevard along the river). I checked it out, and stayed there for the next two nights: it was clean, cheap, I had my own bathroom and the decor and vibe was excellent.
After checking into my room, I went out to explore. The Plaza de Armas is quite different in appearance than those in the majority of towns and cities in Perú: instead of having an old colonial style cathedral left over from the days of the Spanish invasion it has a more modern, yet no less impressive cathedral built in the neo-gothic style; as well as other interesting looking buildings such as the Casa de Fierro (iron house) rumoured to have been designed by Gustave Eiffel. From there I walked a block or so over to the Malecón, starving and looking for a bite to eat.
The first restaurant I saw was called the Yellow Rose of Texas, and though I usually try and find authentic dining experiences when travelling the menu seemed to have a good mix of Amazonian cuisine and typical bar food and I was famished. I walked up the stairs and ordered some yucca fritters and an alligator (lagarto) sandwich, which were both excellent. I later met the owner, who I later learned was the “controversial and Texan former head of the local tourism office.”
I walked along Malecón for a little more before heading to a spot to try some of the famed aphrodisiac drinks of the Peruvian Amazon. They were quite interesting tasting, and are also rumoured to have a host of other health benefits, but I can’t speak for these supposed erotic properties.
The next day, when asking for directions to the bank, I met a resident of Belén, one the locales of Iquitos, that offered to show me around his neighbourhood, often called “The Venice of the Amazon.”
Belén gets its name because during the rainy season its streets flood with river water and the area becomes a network of canals. But this is where similarities with the famed city of Italy end, for though charming in completely different ways Belén has none of the regal splendour and doge’s palaces of its European counterpart. This area is incredibly poor, but is still magical: the people are incredibly friendly and the market is one of the best and most intriguing in all of Latin America. Walking through the market, I tried all sorts of incredible things: barbecued suri (delicious juicy jungle grubs), hardboiled turtle eggs, more crazy aphrodisiac concoctions, camu camu (a remarkably interesting tasting jungle fruit), and a host of others. I also took a canoe ride along the river and passed floating discotecas, floating grifos (gas stations), and unfortunately, huge mountains of trash. Iquitos and the district of Belén in particular has quite a problem with littering, and many people throw trash on the ground with impunity.
After my adventure in Belén, I returned to my hotel, I had sweat through my shirt and needed to change, as well as take a break from the beating sun. That’s another thing I forgot to mention about Iquitos: I have never sweat so much in my life, I constantly felt as if I had taken a bath fully clothed. Afterwards I went out and ate a juane (a sort of bijao leaf tamale) before exploring a bit and calling it a night, I was too sweaty to carry on.
The next morning I had a little time before I had to meet my friends at the airport to journey into the Amazon, so I went to the Museum of Indigenous Culture, which was one of the most fascinating and informative museums I have ever visited. There were in depth presentations on a variety of Amazonian tribes with highly detailed explanations, as well as specific examples of the diverse quantity of hunting instruments and weapons of war.
After meeting my friends at the airport, we headed two hours of so down the river with our incredible guide Michael before arriving at the Ayahuasca Amazon Adventure Lodge. The owner of the lodge, Luis, also was one of our guides during the week and was one of the most friendly, intelligent, and incredible people I have ever met. The food at the lodge was superb, Amazonian cuisine is one of the best kinds of food I have ever tasted and Luis’ wife Maria was a superb cook.
There was no electricity at the lodge, but I thoroughly enjoyed the break from technology and especially the chaos of Lima. We spent our days trekking through the jungle, swimming with river dolphins, fishing for piranhas, and playing with monkeys and our nights swinging in hammocks and listening to the heavenly music of the jungle: the birds singing, frogs ribbeting, insects chirping. It was so incredibly peaceful and relaxing I almost couldn’t leave.
I can’t wait to return to the selva, use termites as insect repellent, see all my wonderful friends, and eat more worms.