We stepped off the plane in Iquitos onto the tarmac and were hit with a wonderful blast of thick, tropical air as well as the first drops of a fantastic downpour, complete with lightning. Thankfully, shortly after checking in to our hotel the rain had stopped.
We stayed in Iquitos at the Casa Morey. It is a historic building, built originally as a mansion residence for a rubber baron at the turn of the 20th century. Iquitos was founded in the 1500s as a Jesuit missionary, but in the mid 1800s it was transformed by the rubber boom and consequently the city is filled with faded and crumbly buildings which once were splendid but now are only dim reminders of a time long past. Casa Morey has however been lovingly restored. It is covered with beautiful ajuelos and the common areas are filled with period furniture, including the lobby, breakfast room and library. The rooms by the pool are a bit more simple in decor but they are massive. Our room, which opens onto the courtyard pool, is gigantic and has 20 foot ceilings.
After checking into the hotel, we walked - in the dark - along the streets, which seem quite dangerous. Iquitos is the largest city in the world not accessible by road, so there are very few cars, but the streets are electric with tuk tuks (called mototaxis here) and motorcycles, none of which stop for pedestrians. In this and other respects it feels more like a South East Asian city than a South American one. The streets, like the buildings, are in poor repair, so we stepped carefully.
There is a marvellous boardwalk along the Amazon however. It is wide and pedestrian and lined with a mix of restaurants and civic buildings. At night the side along the river was black. We could see nothing but an inky black void. By day however the river side was revealed as the vedant, river landscape that it is.
That first night we had dinner in the oppressive humidity along the river on the patio of a restaurant and went to bed, tired after our long day of travel.
The next day before breakfast i went for an early morning walk. I crossed a wooden pedestrian bridge high above the river below. On the river was a cluster of very poor looking floating houses of wood and corregated metal. At this time of the day many children climbed the steep stairs out if the village and up to the bridge in their school uniforms, which were impossibly clean, considering the state of the houses that produced them.
I walked along a busy street to where i saw cluster of tuk tuks and people and found that a market of sorts had emerged. People cooking and selling food for breakfast (rice, fish, chicken and eggs for the most part). People unloading fish and chickens and thousands of bananas, still connected to the tree limbs for pickup or sale. Women sitting on street selling chilis, potatos and other vegetables. It was busy and delightful. I strolled along for a while, politely declining the numerous taxi offers and headed back for breakfast at the hotel. I didn't take many photos, because i felt so conspicuous, but i took a few when someone gave me an ok.
We spent the day in Iquitos walking and looking at the buildings and streets. There really aren't any sites per se, aside from one building designed by Gustav Eiffel and shipped over in pieces from Europe (a building which is, in all honesty, not particularly attractive). So we just walked past shops amd squares, and along the riverfront. We went to the Mercado Central and to several huts selling handicrafts and souveniers. And we stopped a lot of fresh juices, to help with the heat and humidity. Our hotel had AC but few other places seemed to. The city is definitely run down, but it is interesting and there are reminders of its glory days past
We enjoyed the wonderfully colorful graffiti down by the boardwalk.
In the evening over dinner at Dawn on the Amazon, a popular restaurant on the boardwalk, we eaves dropped on various convesations, most of which had to do with ayahuasca ceremonies. A lot of travelers come to Iquitos to partake in ayahuasca ceremonies overseen by shamans and they are keen to discuss their experiences and how it has opened their minds. (Just take any 1967 era conversation about LSD and substitute ayahuasca for LSD and you'll get the idea.) A number of westerners seem to have given up their lives back home to move here and follow this way of life. Ayahuasca is such a big thing here that many restaurants have special menus to cater to people on the drug/following the lifestyle. Probably needless to say, we did not partake, but we enjoyed listening in.
Our first whole day in Iquitos really allowed us to see everything, but we still had a half day more before going to the jungle lodge. I'll save it for a new post.