I am writing you from Iquitos, Peru, a muddy, rough and tumble town deep in the Amazon. I’m looking out at the river as I write this actually. It’s the closest I’ve ever felt to the end of the world… there is no road through the rainforest to this city… the only access is by river or by air, and it feels just slightly off. Like everyone is on their own. Everything is crumbling in the oppressive heat and humidity, and while it feels like anything could happen, it probably won’t, because, you know, the resigned shrug of an insignificant frontier town.
Today started in frigid Cusco, parting ways with my wife and travel buddy Jasmine, and it ends deep in the heart of the Amazon rainforest, on the banks of the same river, in sweaty Iquitos, the largest city in the world that cannot be reached by road.
When I left Lima for Cusco, I could hardly believe I was in the same country. Well, that goes double for this crazy place, a humid mess of mototaxis and cycles. The girls wear less, and the guys are much more open about selling you drugs… or the girls.
Iquitos is a city of 400,000 people linked tenuously to the outside world by river or by air, and surrounded on all sides by the deep Amazon rainforest. It is a rough and tumble place. It was never under Inca control, and it barely feels under Peru’s.
I spent the better part of the day travelling, waiting in Lima’s airport for a connecting flight on Star Peru, which is the Peruvian equivalent of Southwest, if Southwest didn’t ever make public announcements about flight delays, served Inka Cola and slices of bread as snacks, and used an ink pen to check in its passengers as its service representative walked around the airport asking each person individually if they were passengers on the upcoming flight. It’s charming, in a way, but their flights also seem to take off… whenever.
So long day, that I won’t go any further into, except to say that I’m here. After a thrilling, wild ride in the back of a mototaxi from the airport to my hostel overlooking the Amazon River, I took a short walk around town.
It was dark already, but I did manage to find my way into the Museum of Indigenous Peoples, which highlights dozens of cultures from across the Amazon basin. It was a well put together effort, done on a shoestring budget, but with precision and passion. There were too many artifacts to even go into here, but some of my favorite included a three meter long blowgun used for hunting. The display was clear to mention that it was only three meters long, and that other tribes prefer the accuracy afforded by the four meter model.
Also fascinating were the details of coming of age ceremonies across different cultures, from the tribe that covers their young men in fire ants to the one that pulls every hair from the heads of their young ladies. These feats demonstrate arrival into manhood and the preparedness for the pain of childbirth, respectively, and are only successfully accomplished – if the young person doesn’t scream or feint or otherwise shame themselves in the process.
And my students whine about a couple of pages of reading for class tomorrow…
Tomorrow I descend the Amazon and will be out of touch for three or four days – no wifi, because there’s no electricity where I’m going.
I’d like to take a moment now to thank everyone who is following my adventure. I usually write about them, but this is the first time I’ve ever posted it “live” and I’m really enjoying all of your feedback! So, thanks!
And finally, once again, thank you to Fund for Teachers, for so graciously making this entire adventure possible with their generous financial support. This is truly a dream come true, and it i already unfolding into ideas for lessons and projects that I could never have dreamed of while sitting at home and plotting the whole thing.
See you all in a few days with a rundown of my adventure up the Amazon River!