Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Belen Market, Iquitos

I never do this, but i am writing this post from Vancouver.  I wrote my last post on the Peru trip in Peru the day before we went into the internet-free Amazon and then i was so sick the one day we had back in civilization before heading back that i didn't feel like writing anything.  So as i write this i am am nestled in a leather chair, with a cigar, back in Vancouver.  But for now...back to Peru...

The morning before we went from Iquitos back into the jungle i went to the Belen market. I had tried to go the previous day but by the time i got there it was packing up.  The next morning however i had no such problems. Belen is an area in Iquitos, partly made up of a floating village and partly made up of the sprawling market. It is unquestionably a poor neighbourhood and much of what i had read about the market before leaving for Peru was that it was too dangerous to visit alone.  Of course i have heard that before and i know enough not to listen to such advice (which is usually just borne out of irrational fears and racism).

The market (a short walk from the main part of the river boardwalk) was intimidating on first arrival, only because the entrance is thresholded by a large pile of garbage and ankle deep mud. Oh well, i wasn't clean anyway. Once inside, the market is a sensory experience, with all of the sights, smells and sounds of a jungle market (including raw meat and fish sitting for hours in the hot sun).  Sure, there are the usual fruits and vegetables, plus those of the tropical variety. Then there are sacks of peppers, spices, grains, and flours. Women sit at booths and on the drier parts of the ground, selling their wares while wrangling their children.

Then there were fish - so many varieties and many so large, fresh from the amazon - being sold raw and being grilled over barrels for eating.

There were tables of outdoor, makeshift eateries, mostly with rice, fish, chicken and eggs. Then there was the butchery section, where the ground was slippery with blood and water and i was almost hit in the head with a half a dead hog being carried down a narrow aisle. I wanted to and did take pictures, but so as to not appear like a judgmental douchebag, i smiled at all of the women and tried out my spanish on them, identifying various body parts and smiling with approval before snapping pictures.  I did see some large alligators getting butchered, but didn't feel right taking a picture.

Then there were the aisles selling Amazonian medical remedies for everything from diabetes to impotence, depression to cancer.  The remedies themselves consisted of brown powders to incense to bottles of amber liquid filled with vegetable and animal parts.  There were also skulls and bones and feathers for sale and various parts of endangered creatures. Fancy a jaguar pelt? You could buy one for $40. I didn't buy anything like that, but i did pick up some small cigars, which were allegedly rolled of locally grown tobacco.

I could have wandered around there all day, but  i had to be back at the hotel to get picked up to go into the jungle, so i slowly found my way out of the merchant maze and walked back down the boardwalk to the hotel. If i had more time i would have taken a canoe tour through the floating village, but the schedule did not allow it and the jungle awaited.

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