A New Day, Iquitos the city of misfits and the disillusioned

There is a guy here who writes a blog about Iquitos. I haven’t met him yet but I’m sure I will. He writes beautifully, here is a snippit from a recent post where he captured the circus that I get to watch every night from my balcony theater of the sublime.

From Caleb – (you can read the rest of his post at http://calebwhitaker.com/)

Not too much to report on this rainy Saturday. Drove downtown in the rain to try to catch the Duke basketball game, but that was a big fail. I have still yet to see a Duke game in Iquitos. So sitting here at the local café, watching a mentally impaired man pace back and forth, clutching his pants up with one hand while he uses the other to make his central points to the universe. He only has one flip flop. It is starting to rain again. He can’t sit still—he sits on the curb, nods to himself, stands again. He paces in the rain. He whispers into the void. He’s like an animal, caged for so long that he behaves as though still contained within it, even though he is free, or at least he appears to be.

And while I muse on freedom and madness and watch the clouds roll by, I’m also on guard for the snatch and grab thieves who pass in plain sight, ruthless pickpocket piranhas they are, always alert to the parade of eccentrics, hookers and seekers, healers, tokers and dealers. The dirty laundry list of transients, hippies, jewelry hawkers, pasta heads and bread bakers, butterflies and rain makers, and all the pobrecitos, holy fools and heretics that make up this crazy quilt down on the Malecon.

I love this place, I feel like a Martian who has landed on a new planet, a foreign language a foreign culture.

My morning started with another wonderful breakfast from the Dawn on the Amazon restaurant. It was time to start setting up house, time to nest. Paul and I headed out on the motorcycle, Paul kidded saying we probably looked like the new gay couple in town. Lou would love to hear that.

The Belen market is like a swarm of bees gathering pollen and now back at the hive. I’ts also a place to hold onto everything but your underwear, because the grab and snatch is in full force here, so is everything from gator heads to worms.  It is like no other market in the world. I picked up a hammock for my balcony, a fan and some cleaning supplies. Now for the real challenge, getting my phone hooked up, time for an interested cultural lesson.

The cell phone store was packed and of course when two Gringos walk in it’s like EF Huttton  has spoken, everything gets quiet and heads turn.  You take a number and sit down in the cheap plastic orange chairs. Of course they can’t just give you a number, each number  is prefaced with some letters, at this point I’m not quite sure why? Thirty minutes pass and our code gets called.

After examining my two phones the chicita informs us none of them will work on the Peruvian system. Time to buy a new phone, this will be the forth phone in my possession, a Droid, a SIM card phone a GSM phone and now a Peruvian SM phone. I feel like I could start my own cell phone company. I’m not sure if I’m getting the straight story but I need a phone and disagreeing is going to cause a major delay so I agreed to speed up the process. I figured she would hand over a new phone, I would pay for it and off we would go. Noooo.

It was time to go back to the end of the line get another number and wait turn again. Now I am getting the picture of what the code is for, it represents the phase of the phone process you are currently in, kind of like the phases of the moon and it takes about the same amount of time.

Round two takes another 40 minutes until we are called up again. Time to get a new phone? Nooo, it’s time to pay for the SIM card then it’s off to a new window to pick the SIM card up, then back to get another number and the end of the line again.

After another thirty minutes we are up to bat again, it’s back to the same window to pay for the phone then back to the same pickup window to get the phone. Two hours later and a full lunar cycle and I had my new phone.

Paul told me that he has realized if he accomplishes two significant tasks in a day then he feels like it was a successful day. It is very much like Africa, a system is rife with corruption and graft. Anyone from above who tries to clean it up is thrown out because everybody downstream is profiting and they certainly aren’t going to allow anyone to kill the goose who laid the golden egg. The losers are the people at the bottom of the chain.

What an interesting culture. Paul told me last night that when he first came to Iquitos his neighbors caught someone stealing something from his office. The people started exacting some vigilante justice on the thief and started beating him up, each taking their turn to beat the pinata.

Paul started to step in and stop the beating when a bystander stopped him. He was summarily informed that if he stopped the beating he would become part of the problem. The community would look at him as a criminal sympathizer. Nobody would lift a hand to help him in the future and he could expect to be a target for all the criminals in the neighborhood.

Restraining himself as the man took his licks was totally against Paul’s nature. It took all the self restraint he could muster to stand back and watch the beating. Finally they told the criminal to get up and run. Like a frightened hare he took off with the neighborhood in chase, each time the caught him he got a few more whacks and released the quarry again. Eventually the hunters got tired and the hunted escaped never to be seen again. Hey maybe this is the way to reduce crime and prison crowding.

Paul told me that the beating was all to his body and in Peruvian culture you never hit someone in the face, a punch to the face is totally taboo. No matter what the offense if you get into a fight and hit someone in the face, you are considered in the wrong. I guess they want to keep their criminals looking nice. Wow, I have a lot to learn.