“This is the real Iquitos,” Marcel shouts back to me above the roar of the motor as our boat beats against the current, navigating through an obstacle course of stilted houses and ramshackle vessels at an alarming speed.
I am in the steamy Bajo area of Iquitos – the largest city of the Peruvian Amazon. Bajo (“below”) is less a district than the name given to the ramshackle buildings strung along the steep, stinking and silty banks of the Río Itaya. At the mercy of river level fluctuations of up to ten meters, water-born disease and currents that have been known to carry away entire communities, the citizens of Bajo live in a state of flux: extremely erratic flux.
But there is no denying that, despite the risks involved, Bajo is the center of everything that matters most here. Iquitos is the largest city in the world not connected by road, so everything that happens happens through the river, and therefore through Bajo. We are headed to one of Peru's biggest and most bizarre markets, Belén, and Marcel wants, as with everything he does, to do it the interesting way.
This is Peru’s muddy and chaotic version of Venice, where the streets are sludge-heavy waterways flanked by wooden huts perched on precarious-looking tree trunks. It is a community built on rickety stilts and, further out, anchored floating platforms where houses, school and church rise and fall at the whim of the river.
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