The market here shows why you would never starve in the Amazon. Fruits and vegetables, fish, spices, pineapples the shape of footballs, live ducklings and piles of chicken trimmings (soup, I guess?) are hawked religiously. You can buy hearts of palm, a quick lunch, poorly labeled, and likely counterfeit pharmaceuticals, or, y’know, cause you might need it, an entire pig’s head.
Let me correct some misconceptions about Iquitos. This is a city of 300,000 people, with air conditioning in our flat (we can turn it on after 7pm, per our dueña), hot water in the shower that doesn’t even electrocute the bather, internet most of the time, beer and Coca Cola, and designer bikinis from Columbia. There are no US based chains, but there’s a diner, Ari’s, that would do rocking business in New York, and the Karma Kafe, which would give any San Fran coffee shop a run for its money. Chocolate is near impossible to find because it all melts, but el supermercado has Crest Whitestrips. There don’t seem to be stringent standards of modesty, with tube tops and miniskirts as common as jeans and gumboots. One day, we have lunch at our project coordinator’s tia’s restaurant, where we eat whole, baked fish, and then go see the tapir after lunch. I ask why they have a tapir on their paiche farm. (Paiche is the world’s largest freshwater fish. Google it and have nightmares.)
Por que hay un tapir aqui? Why is there a tapir here?
Por que no? Why not?
Well, that answers that.
Iquitos has its own Eiffel tower. Not a joke. Well, sort of a joke. The steel house was designed and built by Eiffel, destined for Bolivia, but the ship captain got tired of hauling it up the Amazon and abandoned it in Iquitos. It now holds a pharmacy and souvenir shop. The Plaza de Armas across the street comes alive at night. There are full size carousel horses for photos, popcorn and churros for snacking, psychedelic lighting for the church steeple, and two years olds running through the square at midnight. A co-worker says, “I feel like I’m trapped in Disneyland.”
Don’t think its all fun and games here, though. Several days in a row, I’m up til midnight, sitting in a growing pool of my own sweat, writing up a protocol for a new research project. I spend a lot of time going to meetings that don’t end up happening and trying to find internet to Skype into conference calls. We discuss and refine ideas, tossing out jokes that somehow turn into grants that actually need to be written (don’t start any joke with, ‘Hey Dr. G, what about X?’ He will decide X is a great idea and you’ll have saddled yourself with more work.) This week, I’ve had multiple nightmares about research plans.