Getting ready to try local fast food, roasted grubs on a stick (left). Squirrel monkey (middle). One of my favorite things to do when traveling is finding a barber who will shave you with a single blade (top right). The rainy season is under way in the Amazon rain basin of Peru (bottom right).
Jacobs Tries Some of the Local Fare as He Explores Iquitos, Peru
As we entered the port area of Iquitos, Peru, in the early morning light, two gray dolphins jumped parallel directly in front of our ship.
I took this as a good sign that my time in Iquitos was going to be positive.
Iquitos is a special place. A half million people are surrounded by a thick dense rain forest, connected to the outside world only by air and river. It is the world’s largest city that cannot be reached by road, only miles and miles of rivers.
Stepping off the ship, I got a sense that this is a unique place. There is a feeling of activity in the air.
The streets of Iquitos are like a kiddy carnival ride gone wild. Most of the people in the city move around in three-wheel motorized tricycles. The drivers madly dash around each other as they make their way across town.
Cars and trucks are expensive to ship, so most people own small motorcycles.
As my tricycle taxi driver maneuvered down the street, I looked through the window of a fire station. All of the trucks looked like they were from the 1960s. If it weren’t obvious that this was actually a fire station, I would have guessed it was a museum.
Iquitos is deep in the forest of the Amazon rain basin. It feels like being on the frontier, and here in the middle of the Amazon rain forest of South America it is.
My taxi driver said, “Welcome to Iquitos. Where are you from?”
“I’m from the United States,” I replied. I learned a long time ago not to say America. South Americans take offense to that because North America is not the only America in the world.
“Americano, welcome! Iquitos is a special place. We have many beautiful women here,” my taxi driver responded.
I had read that the ratio here of women to men is seven to one. Apparently, many young women in the region leave their villages and come to the city looking for work or a husband.
I checked into my hostel, had my first shower in four days and took a long deserved nap.
Because Iquitos is so deep into the rain forest, it is a great place for exploring the Amazon jungle.
The Amazon isn’t like a national park where people on their own can go camping. It’s a place where I will want someone with me who knows what is going on, knows what to look for and knows what to be aware of. It’s a place where stories are heard about hikers going off on their own and then found dead a few days later.
“Hey amigo, do you need a jungle guide? I give you good price.” This was a frequent offer as I walked around town.
The streets in Iquitos were filled with self-proclaiming jungle guides. The best guides don’t need to work the streets because they work for a lodge. My decision to explore the jungle was through an organized lodge.
Before heading into the jungle, I took a stroll through the local market where it seemed everything imaginable could be bought. Filling the air were aromas of dried fish and exotic spices made from dried herbs.
I walked by a butcher who had a large crocodile tail sitting on her table, ready to be chopped up and sold in pieces.
Next, I saw a blue plastic tub filled with white grubs. They were about the size of my thumb and squirming around in some kind of brown liquid. A young woman would pull the grubs out of the tub and put several on a stick. She then grilled them over a pile of red-hot charcoal. I purchased a stick fresh off the grill. I pulled a grub off the end of the stick and munched away. The black head crunched between my teeth. I just kept chewing the white body, trying not to think about what I was eating. It didn’t taste like anything I’ve ever eaten.
One was enough.
Another butcher smiled and asked, “Where are you from?”