I stepped off the plane from Lima and into a wall of heat and humidity; my boss immediately tugged at his shirt collar and I simply thought that at least it wasn’t as overwhelming as Samoa. The taxi drivers are insistent, crowding into personal space and trying very hard to sell us a ride into the city. Cars here are rare; yesterday I stood on a street corner and stared in awe as a Hummer drove past. He must have hired an entire cargo boat to float that thing up the Amazon. On the way from the airport, we passed a permanent carnival, its neon lights and electronic rides flashing against the heavy darkness. There’s an 80s rock cover band playing in the Plaza de Armas and somehow the whole scene has a cotton candy glow to it. I ask our lab worker why the band is playing. ‘Is it a holiday?’ ‘No,’ she says, ‘It’s Iquitos.’
One night, we go to dinner at the Yellow Rose of Texas, of the NYT article fame. It’s a bizarre place, with Halloween masks under the counter, country flags (including Mississippi and Texas) adorning the ceiling, and ice skates and boomerangs on the wall. The owner gives off a slightly creepy, very friendly, and definitely into-football vibe, and the menu offers chicken and dumpings – the food of poor people of the southern US. It’s passable.
During the day, we take moto-taxis around the city, dodging traffic and buzzing from lab to lab, grateful for the breeze afforded by riding in a moto in the muggy, near hundred degree heat. Surprisingly, I see very few hand fans here. Perhaps I can get a corner on that market?
I have fried rice for breakfast, lizard for lunch, complete with egg salad as a dipping sauce, and palm fronds as dinner’s salad. Later, as I’m sitting in Karma Kafe, which promises to serve organic and GMO-free food, I watch a few Peruvians in traditional dress proselytize a gringo on a Mac, and two left-over hippies and their son or boy-toy discuss the relative merits of ayahauscu and peyote. The consensus is that peyote is better. Good to know. I am trying neither on this trip. There are beanbags here as seats, in proper jungle colors, although they look like something you could pick up at Ikea. A local in those striped pants you only see on female backpackers in the Ukraine is wearing Vibram’s five fingers and has a flask in his pocket. A discussion has started among two ex-pats about their experiences at Sasquatch, in Washington State.
My co-worker and I make a side trip to the market, which is resolutely bustling, and then we meet up for lunch at a menu, Huasai. We have to wait for a table, which is always a good sign, and fotbol is playing on the telly. Lunch at a menu is similar all across the country, although here the salad is palm, and lizard is on the menu. There is a flyer, in English, advertising laundry services. The Spanish translation is almost identical. “We use a non-toxic detergent which was first discovered as a natural deposit, a mineral salt, in Tibet 1000 years ago. It was first traded along The Silk Route. It has anti-fungal/mould and anti-insect properties and it provides an anti-radioactive ‘neutron-capture shield!’” My co-worker comments “Iquitos is weird.”