I am officially in love with the SELVA!!! The greenness and animals and rivers and people and every single little aspect about it! Yep, even the heat and humidity and bugs added to the charm. My host mom and I spent 10 days in Iquitos living the jungle life together. Talk about paradise! It's funny because at first living in Peru was complete isolation but now I have so many friends and activities that it's starting to feel like a busy senior year all over again. Yikes! It was fabulous to disconnect for a week and just relax. Observing and thinking and living in the moment. For more than a week my life was all about getting to know the SELVA! Anyway, we stayed with my cousin and spent our time exploring the city and the surrounding rainforest. I enjoyed every minute of it... Iquitos is the capital of Loreto (one of the 24 departments of Peru) and the largest city in the Selva. It has around 500,000 people and is bustling 24 hours a day. The two most distinctive aspects of Iquitos are the greeness and the motorcycles. The first does not refer to enviornmentally frinedly stores or recyling but to the literal green tinge. The abundance of trees and flowers and random vines popping up in the yards and streets is incredible! When you drive to the top of a hill and look out over the city its like seeing one of those awesome screensavers. Green green treetops stretch out below as far as the eye can see and are broken only by the shiny tin roofs or leafy malocas. These are a common sight in Iquitos and consist of a roof made of huge leaves supported by wooden poles. They lack walls and are multipurpuse structures... can be used for restaurants, stores, research stations or random sunshades. The second peculularity about Iquitos is the motorcycles. I swear I have NEVER seen so many in my life and certainly not with the diversity of people driving them. From teenage girls in miniskirts and four-inch heels to pregnant moms with three kids clinging on behind to fat old men, there is no discrimination. Everyone and I mean EVERYONE rides them! Motorcycles or threewheeled motortaxis (motocycle with a cart behind it) are the most popular mode of transportation and easily make up 95 % of the traffic in Iquitos. The only time that the streets are not jammed with motorcycles is during a rainstorm . Im not sure exactly how but with the rain starts, all of the cyclists magically disappear from the streets and leave only the motortaxis with their waterproof roofs. And for good reason too, the rains of Iquitos pour down fast and furious. The wind blows... WOOSH... right before the torrent begins and then there is no escape. If you stand for 30 seconds in the middle of a hard rain you might as well have taken a shower. One day the rain caught me during a run about 5 minutes from the house. I felt like one of the hardcore models in the Runners World ads who are drenched and splattered with mud and smiling like a maniac. I don't think I can possibly describe how much fun it is to run in rain like that... its FABULOUS! I couldn't see a thing and I was running up this dirt road which was practically a river. Wahoooooooooooooooooo
Anyway, I'm a big fan of the climate in Iquitos because you get to wear the least number of clothes possible. It's always summertime and even when it rains it's warm. Tanktops, shorts and flipsflops are the norm and nobody questions your right to wear a hat. To prove how warm it is, hot showers don't exist. Even the nicest houses don't have hot water because nobody would EVER want to bathe themselves with anything but cold. The temperature outside vary's between permanant sweating and mildly warm but never drops below the red zone. On cold nights you sleep with sheets but most of the time its much more comfortable without. I am quite proud to say that I managed to protect myself from the sun and was never more than pleasantly pink. I did however spend a good number of days looking like a crazy tourist with my safari hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen perfume. :) Lets see, what else about the city? Due to the heat it has a very relaxed feel and the culture is a whole lot more "go with the flow". All of the neighbors have the habit of sitting in the doorway and spend hours just sitting and trying to stay cool. Muy tranquillo... The people are super friendly and always seem to be smiling too. Maybe its the sun or the delicious food or perhaps the gorgeous people. I don't know how but there is a definitly an uneven proportion of beautiful Peruvians in Iquitos. That coupled with the scanty clothing leads to a whole lots of catcalling and whistles. Honestly though, I felt like I was surrounde!d by models wherever I went... the market, the plaza, even the neighborhood BBQ!
So, I'll describe the house and family I was staying with and then we can get on to some random anecdotes... Like I said, we stayed with my cousin and her husband and their 6 year old son. Rosy and Edwin are both lawyers and moved to Iquitos ten years ago for work. Yeah, thats right, more lawyers! I don't understand exactly what it is about this family and lawyers but there are a ton of them! Between my two sisters, max, and all my cousins I'm pretty sure I have 10+ family members that can bail me out if I get in trouble with the law. haha Anyway, Rosy and Edwin are wonderful people and hosts and made us feel totally at home. Their son Gonzalo had the week off for vacation as well so we got to go on a lot of outings with him. He is a hilarious little kid but rather spoiled too. He loves soda and detests walking and spends lots of time throwing water on himself to cool off. All habits to stay cool in a hot climate like Iquitos. He's picked up this singsong form of speaking as well and it was a bit of a challenge for me to understand him. Between Rosy talking super fast and Gonzalo's accent I'm sure my language skills bumbed up a notch during the week! And even harder to understand was the accent of Luz, their employee. She was born in Columbia and has a fascinating life story but that accent takes some serious getting used to! Still, by the end of the week I was able to understand and she taught me all about the typical foods and different aspects of Iquitos. She joined us on outings to the market and a few of the random villages and offered a inside look and totally different perspective to life in Iquitos. So now a little about the house. Like all peruvian houses it has a huge metal door and impenatrable cement walls and from the outside it doesn't look all the nice. Its set on a dirt street and all to the right is just swampy greenness. My cousin and her husband have been living in Iquitos for 10 years but built the house relatively recently. The top floor still lacks some finishing and you can see straight through to the tin roof but the bottom is GORGEOUS! It's painted with greens and orange and all of the pictures were done by my dads sister. She is a fabulous artist and I would love to decorate my house with her work... The house has lots of windows to let in light and air and is always open to the patio in front and back. The open doors let in the much needed breeze to cool off but the downside is that they allow full access to the aunts and flies and whatever random insect cares to enter. The only thing that doesn't get to come inside is Fito, the little white fluffball puppy. He is 6 monthes old and totally LOCO! But, to tell you the truth I would rather let the dog in and keep the cochroaches out...
And now the most important part... the food. Everything was delicious (like always in Peru) and lots of it was fried (also a common theme). The three most typical dishes that I ate were cecina with tacashno, juanes, and pescado a la parrilla. Yummmmmmmmmy! Juanes are my favorite food from the jungle and are basically specially prepared rice with chicken and egg all wrapped in a huge green leaf. The are specific to the fiesta of Saint Juan but you can buy them on almost every corner too. My mouth is watering just thinking about it! Oh, and of course bananas. People in the Selva eat bananas with EVERYTHING! It's basically a replacement for potato. Fried banana, boiled banana, BBQ'ed banana, mashed banana, and of course fresh banana. It's served for breakfast, lunch and dinner and can go with pretty much anything. Banana with egg? or rice? or chicken? Of COURSE! Its not bad but I'm pretty sure if given the choice I will still choose the potato over banana. I don't know, maybe I need a few more weeks in the jungle before the banana really wins me over. haha
Hmmm, that's all for tonight. I know I'm lacking that actual stories and exciting adventures but I promise I'll get to that in the next post. For now you can just use your imagination. Chauuuuuuuu