Iquitos - Belen Market

Iquitos Travel Blog

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Belen market is a ‘must see’ in Iquitos; when the river is high the market houses float on balsa and sell everything from turtles-heads to live monkeys. The market also has a reputation for being a dangerous slum - it gets worse as the day draws on and I’ve heard that if the police see tourists in there on an afternoon they grab them and escort them out for their own safety.

I decided it would be good to have a local with me in case anything kicked off, but a lot of the people who offer their services (without being asked for them) look a bit like they might be the bandidos themselves.

On the few nights I’d been out drinking, a regular sight among the street vendors was a feckless, camp lad with a cheesy grin who could speak English who wandered up and down with his knackered granny trying to sell jewelry or sweets to tourists.

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He spoke English, didn’t strike me as evil and I felt a bit sorry for him, so I asked if he would be my guide in Belen. He almost wet himself with glee.

I met Rudolph (no shit) that morning along with a girl from the hostel and so our mystery tour began.

As we wandered into the market it became apparent why Rudolph hadn’t already used his bi-lingual skills to become a guide - he was totally pants.

As we wandered past a grill with skewered grubs on it, or a monkeys head, he would bypass these and pick up something mundane like a banana or onion, tell us the Spanish and English names and say ‘..this grows in the jungle. You can use it in the kitchen. It tastes mmm good!’

At a fish store he pointed out a piranha to us. I knew it wasn’t a piranha, the woman who owned the fish stall knew it wasn’t and was getting quite vocal about it, but he carried on nonetheless ‘.

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.mmm good! But in the river.. It can bite your finger.’

The best bit was when Rudolph picked up a bag of rice and explained that in America they love pictures of rice. If we took a photo then back in America we could sell it for twenty dollars, in Rudolph‘s world.

We then wandered down to the boats. I guessed that these would probably be situated in, or at a push right beside, the river. Rudolph had to ask directions.

The boat trip was pleasant enough, although as the river is the lowest it has been for years then there wasn’t much floating going on in the floating market. Rudolph had to ask the boat driver both the Spanish and English name for vultures before saying something obvious about them.

I didn’t manage to get any pictures of the centre of the market, which smells like rotting flesh and is a sea of disturbing people and disturbing goods- purely because I fancied retaining ownership of my camera a bit longer.

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The pictures I have are at the nicer outskirts of the market and don’t truly convey the mess that it descends into further in.

At the end I gave Rudolph 15 soles (four quid), which would take six hours on a building site to earn, so for a two hour mortally crap tour it wasn’t a bad payday.

Overall Iquitos was quite a lonely time, and in the city itself the shouts of ‘Whitey’, ‘Hello my friend’ and constant hassle to buy shit jewelry or jungle tours gets a bit tiring. Plus it’s humid and hot, but in a special kind of way that makes me get moob-sweat rather than armpit sweat. Top drawer.

If you ever come here I would recommend visiting as part of a group and just using Iquitos as a brief base before setting of into the jungle, which is splendido.

Now back to Lima before going somewhere else...

Stigen says:
Sounds like a great guide , I' d better look him up before going there.
Posted on: Aug 03, 2011
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Iquitos
photo by: Ileamel