Bustling Iquitos and Belen

Iquitos is the largest town in Peru that is not accessible by road – only boat and plane – so we flew in from Lima for a few days there around a trip up the Amazon.

Getting there showed us a little something of how big the rain forest is as we flew over jungle for about an hour on our way to Iquitos.

Iquitos is a bustling city, filled with (allegedly) half a million people – all of whom seem to spend their lives either catching motor taxis to drive them from one place to another or driving said motor taxis. The streets heaved with them. I guess they are regulated as they had painted numbers on them, but their driving is certainly NOT subject to either scrutiny or discipline. The Lonely Planet guide advises keeping your hands inside at all times – and for very good reason! However, they are cheap to use and we never saw a serious accident whilst we were there – just some very near misses!

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One of the most fascinating places in Iquitos though has to be Belen and the floating market. Well, to my disappointment it wasn’t actually floating as the river was too low at this time of year. However we walked round, fascinated by what we saw. You can buy ANYTHING at Belen – though we were warned not to copy the locals by eating there. Apparently the locals can stomach many things that the tourists cannot…

Belen market, Iquitos

Belen Market, Iquitos

And to be fair… Even the uncooked food left us less than inspired and our money safe in our pockets… How do the people not die of Salmonella or something much worse?

Would you buy?

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Being near the river, the quantity and variety of fish available however was tempting. They all looked so fresh and so good to eat that it was only the fact that we had no way of cooking them, given that we were staying in a hotel not a hostel, that stopped us from buying them. But hey – given what we later learned – phew! What an escape!

Belen market fish

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Of course there are the things that made us heave too… turtle..

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We headed down towards the river and booked an hours tour around what was still “floating” in the low level water. Wow, what an eye opener! At first it was interesting to see houses on rafts rather than on foundations so they rose and fell with the water level, other houses on stilts that didn’t move but hoped that the water level did not rise higher than the stilts, and the houses that seemed to get swamped regularly judging by the water line almost at the roof where the inhabitants had to squeeze into the loft to live and sleep.

Floating house Belen

High water, Belen

All amenities were there, bars, clubs, hospital, churches – some floating, some on stilts …

Floating bar

Belen church

But I think that really brought reality to us was the sanitary facilities… floating sheds with a hole in the bottom that discharged unprocessed straight into the river whilst just beside people were washing their clothes or washing themselves or, scarily, preparing food.

Floating toilets

Washing

So, remember those beautiful fresh caught river fish? What an escape eh?

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