Thursday, August 30, 2012

Iquitos, Peru: Belen Market, (Part 3 of 4)

To my knowledge, only time eats plastic. I suspect that time will bring about some creature that devours plastic as its main course. For now, plastic stays with us after it's discarded amidst the muck of the lane ways and waterways.

Back entrance to Belen Market

In the otherworldly Romantic view of poverty there is no filth or disease or garbage.

A la Van Gogh, the road to Belen Market by mototaxi

As I prowl the streets and backways of Belen Market, getting to know the area and its people I also come to know the rest of living things to some degree, those things big enough to see and separate from the mass of throbbing life at the microlevel. I see the birds and the dogs that live on the discards of daily doings. They watch over me as well, 'All watched over by eating machines of loving grace'. 

Guardians of the public health

I like the market area a lot. It's poor and it has more than its share of hard living. But it has an immediacy that appeals to me, a quickness of life one might not find in the "rational" life of other markets where one must weigh and plan to make a living. Here, life is marginal in that there is little room for mistakes. There is little to lose, and thus one mustn't lose anything for fear of losing all.

There is some genuine poverty at Belen Market.
Povrty is not fun. It's not interesting in itself. It's not something better for other people than the good of Modernity. But often one finds the philistine Modernist going on about how happy poor people are and if only the Modernist could give up the rat race he too would go live with the natives and be authentic. Yes, a painted view of reality. Very pretty.

One might romanticize, in oil paint.

In the lower centre of the market stands a ruined site of some pretentious beautification project. People avoid it. The activities of men and women are on the rim of this circle of government meddling.

In our modern world of government caring for us because we are too stupid to do so ourselves, tobacco is one of the worst public evils imaginable. If one smokes tobacco, then another might die of cancer. And if not, then the smoker will certainly do so, adding to the general tax burden of all who must pay for his dying. In Belen Market such infantalising is pretty much unknown.

Even poor people take time out for a smoke break.

The last place I lived before coming to South America, Canada, it cost, I think, roughly $1,000.00 for a kilogram of tobacco at a local store. At Belen Market it costs 20 soles, or about $7.00. Non-smokers can spend time chatting up the ladies who hand roll the cigarettes.

Tobacco by the roll or by the kilogram

If one is a dedicated non-smoker, there is the option of buying other items from the stall, far healthier, I think.

Skulls and other signs of death

One can shop for a machete and a machete teeshirt, and one can find a bowl to make ones dinner in. Evil earth-destroying bastard that I am, I bought a bowl. It's in the black plastic bag.

Cutting down the rain forest to make bowls and plates for people.

One can shop for the evening meal, stooping down to inspect the meal in the works as people brush past with private concerns that leave others to their own.

Maggots eating to be dinner

I've eaten maggots before, though this time, since I've done that already, I have no enthusiasm for it. But there is value in the meat, and these maggots will fry and nourish someone by day's end. Those who remain in situ will continue their work of churning the small into the smaller and making the tiny bigger.

Looking much tastier than those I've eaten before.

One renders all things: some into small; some into art.  Maggots.

Looking much better as a work of art than the work of dinner

Even the market must close at some point so people can return to their homes and families for private time. Saving the people of the Amazon Rain Forest is a job for those who sell food and goods and provide labour and service. But one must rest, too.

Closing time at Belen Market.

Much of what goes on in the public market goes on everywhere, though mostly in the Modern world hidden from us under plastic wrap and stored in cans and shoved away in the darkness. But there is an army of cleaners eating up the muck to keep us healthy so we can continue on our daily lives in peace.

Foot soldier of cleanliness

There is no ideology in the vulture and maggot world of filth. There is only life. I see life very clearly at the Belen Market.

  A gentle reminder that my book, An Occasional Walker, is available at the link here:

And here are some reviews and comments on said book:

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Iquitos, Peru: Hostel La Casa del Frances

Those with a sharp eye will see locations from Werner Herzog's film Fitzcarraldo in the following photos. Claudia Cardinale was here along with the ever lunatic Klaus Kinski shooting after Jason Robarts and Mick Jagger gave up and sailed away.

Herzog Film Poster

Mostly Spanish at the hostel I now call home, but many speak French as well, and some also speak German. I had a friend here who spoke Italian, another who spoke Dutch, and some speak languages I can't begin to understand. The hostel is home to us all, at least for a while.

I sit sometimes by the pots at the entrance inside the hostel and I watch people beyond the gate on the sidewalk, and i think about almost nothing at all.

Many of us sit at the table in the morning and have breakfast and plot our days.

There are children in the morning....

and during the heat of day, some take time off to rest.

Some stand and think about adventures to come.

Some sit, living the life of family and home.

I have found that family is the meaning of life. 
Here at the hostel I sit sometimes and smile at the little girl who is so charming I want to have a dozen kids like her. I am happy beyond recall.

I often just sit. Sometimes I stand. Some stand proud and tall and grin that life should be so good to the undeserving. That would be me. Not that I complain.

In the kitchen at the Frances Hostel. The most macho teeshirt I have ever owned, with the possible exception of "East River Surf Boys" from New York City, picturing a cartoon rat on a surfboard. My wife at the time accidentally poured bleach all over it. This teeshirt is too dangerous to get near.

Such is my life this day at the hostel in Iquitos.

One of the many plaques announcing the importance of a building in Peru.

For a very different view of life, consider turning to this link for my current book, An Occasional Walker. Or, one might read reviews at this link, "Dagness at Noon."

Monday, August 27, 2012

Iquitos, Peru: Belen Market (Part 2 of 4)

To read the rest of this story, please turn to the following link;

Travel is a personal experience so different from one to another that one must wonder if there is such a thing at all as travel or if there is a multiverse of confusion colliding with the indiscriminate manifestation of others one cannot begin to know.

I see things at Belen Market that others seemingly do not see, that being beauty and life intense. Others see the illegal, the forbidden, the ugly and dirty, the dangerous and bizarre. I see life ending and beginning and continuing in all its dirty and violent eruptions. But I travel with the same people who see something altogether otherwise. I don't begin to understand others. I sit and watch and wonder, and I call this traveling. I don't know if I have moved at all.

At the opposite end of town from Belen Market one finds peace

One finds tranquility
Near the entrance at Belen Market one finds stuff.

At the bottom of Belen Market one finds boats

At the bottom of Belen Market one finds junk
At the bottom of Belen Market one finds homes

At the bottom of Belen Market one finds romance

At the bottom of Belen Market one finds promises
Inside Belen Market one finds strangeness
Inside Belen Market one finds common good for all and terror for the confused
From top to bottom at Belen Market, Iquitos, Peru one finds things unlikely to be found in the Modern world. It's a challenge to move among the dogs and vultures and the slime on the muddy paths that separate the buyers from the sellers, the steady from the wandering. I see homes others will never live in, and i see them shudder at the sight of DDT, thinking surely life cannot be so wrong. Monkey skulls on a table. The horror. Filth and decay. And the babies? "They don't do anything with them," as I heard recently.

The market is for life. To me it is a grand mystery. I will come back to it again to attempt an explanation.

A gentle reminder that my book, An Occasional Walker, is available at the link here:

And here are some reviews and comments on said book:

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Iquitos, Peru: Belen Market (Part 1 of 4)

To read the rest of this story, please turn to the following link;

Iquitos, Peru is a city of about a half million people, though it seems small to me as I walk the main streets of the place, seeing the same people daily, some of whom I have now an acquaintanceship that allows me to stop and chat a bit. I know some people slightly, and thus the city seems small enough to be sort of like a familiar place, if not exactly home. I live in Iquitos as much as I live anywhere, meaning I am here, happy enough, and don't mind if I stay longer. I feel that way about a number of places I've been in Peru and Bolivia, though some places are really those I could be happy to return to for the duration should such ever be possible for my wandering nature. Here in Iquitos I find myself as much at home as I can think possible for now, and one place within the place is really what draws me and keeps me, which is the Belen Market area. Belen, Spanish for Bethlehem.

Belen Market

It is there that I found a pair of cayman skin boots in a back alley where a hugely obese man sat on a plain wooden stool shirtless in the heat and worked by hand to repair worn out shoes. He has no shop, just his regular place on the ground where his shoes are spread all around him and his tools and threads are close at hand, as is the ubiquitous garbage and buzzards sorting through it all. He sat and stitched and gabbed with his mates as they too worked on shoes. They all sweated, their teeshirts rolled up their bellies to their armpits, men in shorts and plastic flip-flops mechanically stitching old shoes day after day for the duration of their lives. It's a social life. It has it's charm, I think, like being in school forever without the harassment of lessons and teachers, just a group of boys hanging out for the day.At the Belen Market the closer one is to the river the lower on is on the socio-economic ladder, I think. The poverty is clearer, the garbage thicker, the stench a lot stronger. It is there I found the cobblers and saw a pair of boots so ugly I thought I might be ill from the sight. Alligator skin boots, not at all the works of art I didn't buy in Trinidad, Bolivia when I had a chance. I saw a pair of boots that were homemade rather than hand made. The skin was filthy and greyish and stiff. The heels were flat and too long to work as catches for ones stirrups, and they were just poorly put together overall, the soles nailed on over top of other soles falling apart. And the cobbler, when I asked, said he wanted 30 soles for them, or $12.00 U.S. give or take. I feigned outrage and offered him ten soles, about $4.00, to take them away. We settled on 18 soles. I even got a bad to haul them out of the depths of the market. I was unhappy that the alligator skin boots I wanted so badly were actually such poor things as my new boots. But life is often compromise. I had a project to work on to give my days some focus. I walked through the market and made my way home to make these boots as good as I could.

alligator skin boots from Belen Market

I had a pair of nice cowboy boots from Bolivia but I fear I have done permanent damage to my feet by walking in them for so long. The boots, very nicely made and good looking, were the largest size I could find in Bolivia, and they were at least a size too small for me.I needed the boots I bought, sort of, to replace the ones crippling me. But the new boots were so ugly I couldn't bring myself to wear them in public. I thus went in search of a shoe repair shop, which I found later close to the market, and there I met a girl, 30 something, whom I have been seeing infrequently since. But I got nowhere with the boots' repair. They were in such bad shape the cobbler at the shop gave up entirely. The boots had been painted black, latex paint gobbed all over, and the cobbler didn't want to deal with it. The soles need replacing, and he claimed not to have the size or anything close. So I got the girl but didn't fix the boots. Such is metaphorically at least the nature  of my time at the Belen Market.
View of the Amazon River from Belen Market

I went in search of paint remover over the next few days when it became clear to me that though I could pick off the paint with my hunting knife I could never do a good job of it. I went to shoe repair shops and finally I though of a paint store to find paint remover. I got a small bottle of it and took it home to fix up my boots right. I've used paint remover often over the years in restoring furniture, and when I applied the stuff to my boots I didn't get the right effect at all. I found that the shop had sold me, not paint remover but lacquer. I had to then remove that to get back to the horror of my boots in their primary condition. After a tantrum at the paint store I went back home and pondered my state. Belen Market had boots unavailable most places, and thus it could be possible there would be other things for me I couldn't expect to find elsewhere, something to fit my skins. Little did I realise how right that would be, if not a perfect fit for my boots.

The Sky, as rulers of the market survey their domain.

Everything dies, and it's at such an accelerated pace at the market and especially in the jungle that one comes to breathe easier for it, death being so close all the time that ones fears become faint, the end so close it becomes part of life at last. Everything dies, and much of it ends up at the market to be consumed in some way, often enough as mere garbage flowing slowly toward the river through the layers of oozing mud on the walkways, sometimes more productively as food, clothing, medicine. Sometimes death produces what might be food and medicine for the mind, perhaps for the soul.

Shop at witches' alley, the Street of the Exotic, formally Pasaje Paquito, Belen Market

Everything in the Amazon, and elsewhere of course, is slowly-- sometimes rapidly-- made into smaller. Death is everywhere and death means that what was its size in life becomes parts and bits and particles. It could be a pornographic display of private life on public display. Or it could be life itself as is.

Belen Medical Market

Oten things are a harm to us, and part of my medical treatment for things that ail me is a walk through the market to look at how life is lived in a zone beyond my usual experience.But no. I mean that I like the weird and hate the boring. I like looking at strange and exotic stuff and behaviour even if it sometimes sickens me and sometimes outrages me. I have no idea what I see most times, but I have a reaction, based on my life to date. And then I ask and think and wonder and come away a stranger more than strange. I know less and less the more I live and learn. And I know less because of trips daily through the market place of death and rampant life that is Belen Market.

Herbal remedies, jaguar skins, and illegal drugs for sale.
Peruvians are a happy lot, it seems to me. I have a full account in my notebooks detailing what I know or think I know and what I have at least written about as if I know. I love Peruvians generally in the same way I hate Muslims generally. But not all Muslims are always primitive animal people deserving of extermination, and not all Peruvians are the people I love being among. Peruvians are so often killers that I wonder how they can be otherwise so decent and lovable and kind. They kill just about everything that they see. Much of the killing is gratuitous. Great people. But they kill a lot.

Anaconda skin for sale with drugs and skulls, Belen Market.
Even when I write that I much like a person I am reluctant to put a picture on the Internet. I might like the person, but that person might suffer from being associated with me. I'm not always the kind of man one would brag about knowing. So, the Dutch girl who came with me one day to the market is not shown here. She was less than sensitive about taking pictures of people, and I suggested that to ease whatever nervousness people might have about her taking photos of them that she show them what the photo looks like. She took a picture of the lady below, and as luck would have it, as the lady timidly reached to take the camera she had an attack of shyness and didn't actually take the camera at all. We see here the end of her fishing the Dutch girl's camera out of a vat of hot sauce. The Dutch girl said her camera smelled great all day. It also dried out and worked just fine.

She dropped a camera in the hot sauce

Much of Peruvian life would be not only frowned upon by the usual social engineering crowd and much would even be illegal in the Modern world, five people on a motorcycle, none with helmets, no seat belts, no stopping at the intersection for red lights, no much of nothing that we take as part of normal life in the police states of Modernity. And what could be more offensive to the social engineer that making money by making cigarettes for the poor? At the market there are dozens of tables at which sit men and women and children rolling tobacco into cigarettes. There is no tax. There is no control. For the fascism of Modernity this alone must be as horrible a sight as any one would find in Peru.

Tobacco sellers making handmade cigarettes, Belen Maket

The cigarette makers move faster than my camera's shutter speed as they grab a bit of tobacco and a piece of molding paper and press it with a stick to insert a chunky-looking piece of paper into the mix to make a cigarette from tobacco that must blacken the lungs immediately.


Smoking is some kind of leisure activity for the poor. The tobacco is "organic" here. It might approach healthiness in such case. If not healthy, it at least produces some nice local art. Snake at at the bottom of the tree is probably a moral statement!

Health is what this particular street in the market is all about. Every day I am greeted by smiling people who are keen to sell me things to make my eyesight better. Everything else in that section of the market is illegal in the Modern world. But for those who need a stuffed anaconda, the market is the ticket.

One of the vendors I chat with daily at Belen Market. 

One can pick up things for fun, like piranha head key chains. 

 Or one can get plants for whatever medicinal purpose they might have. I got three of them for no reason I can think of. But the uses for yucca are endless, especially good in making bread.

I am a lover of Modernity, but I hate fascism.I see fascism (the real thing about which I have written a full length and well researched book full of quotations and footnotes and such academic bullshit to shore up my proven thesis) and I see it to the point I hated living in Canada so much that I would have preferred living in a Muslim hell-hole to living with the Freak Show police of Modernity as it is so often today. I hate Canada with such passion that I could almost celebrate if it were to slip into the ocean like Atlantis, never to be seen again. Canada is a police state. Ask yourself when you last had chicken for dinner. What did it look like when you bought it. Or in this case, goose, I think.

Goose guts for dinner

I don't hate the police, and I'm not a violent lunatic anarchist who wants to smash everything. In fact, some of the few people I can say have been about as close to friends as I have had in Peru and Paraguay and Bolivia are police. Police and fascists have, mostly, little in common. The police state has little in common with a state filled with police. The police act within the law to maintain the legal order. They like rules at a personal level, and as much as that they like the group life of police. That's what I like about the police I've met. The police state Canada, to use a place I have had recent familiarity with and loathe so passionately that I cannot write about it further or I would end up deleting hours of hard-done typing, is so psychotic that it is unbearable to me any longer, and yet the Latin American authoritarian states I have visited for this past year are freedom itself in comparison. How can this be?

I was walking home one evening when a staggering drunk passed my by, and he, being a nasty drunk, decided he was going to take out his anger on a parked motorbike. Without exaggeration I will write that there could be as many as a quarter million motorbikes in Iquitos. The drunk tried to kick on the the two hundred of so lining the street he was on, and as he went to kick, he lost his balance and fell over. Not my problem. I didn't kick him, either. I just looked as I got out my camera for a snap shot. But this is Peru, and this is not the police state of a typical Modernist nation. This is something different, and that difference has changed my mind about life as we know it. Along with my indifference to slaughtering animals in the jungle, I am coming to see clearly the benefits of the ethnic nation. Yes, idiots often refer to me as a racist, and I know what racism is, again having written a whole book on the subject, as per above. But I see ethnicity now as something valuable and right in the world, much of my current vision of this right coming directly from the Belen Market. So, there on the street was the bleeding drunk.

If I had been alone in the dark with this arsehole I probably would have taken the opportunity to piss on him. I might have kicked him in the balls as well. In the Modern world such as he are the worst of parasites, calling down the full force of social engineering to save him from himself so he can continue being a piece of shit at the public's expence, i.e. costing not only tax dollars to fund the police state of social workers and other fascist minders but also infuriating the public with his shit behaviour while being lauded as a victim of normalcy. If I could get away with it I might even have killed this guy. That's how disgusted and off the chart angry I am with the Freak Show of post-Modernity. But this is Peru, so I just took a picture and watched as a crowd of people came to see the fellow lying on the street bleeding. This is Peru, and the fellow on the street is Peruvian, just like nearly everyone else around him. To me he's a piece of shit.

Drunk missed the bike he was trying to kick.

A lady knelt down beside this arsehole and stroked his hair and asked him if he was OK. A couple of men called the police on cell phones, and a man knelt down and felt the drunks chest to ensure he was still breathing. Everyone in the area came by to tend to this creep. Not me, of course. I waited for the police. I wanted to see the Death Squads at work here. I haven't seen anything remotely violent so far, and this seemed like a good chance to find the Latin American Banana Republic at its most stereotypically evil. I can like that in some of my moods.

At least five minutes into this minidrama a couple of traffic police came by and called in the drunk and asked for instructions. Then they hauled the drunk up and got him more or less on his feet, though they had to hold him up. They held his wrists as he tried to punch. One officer held the drunk like a child because the other officer had to bend down and straighten the drunk's leg. The cops chatted with the guy, coaxed him to settle down, and one cop stroked the drunk's face. The police didn't shoot this puke. He's Peruvian. He's one of theirs. He's family in some sense that makes sense to them. They didn't smash him. They didn't shoot him. They didn't disappear him. It was clear they were seriously concerned about him and wanted to help him get home to safety. Everyone here knows first hand how seriously dangerous this life is. This is not a sanitized bubble as is Modernity generally. Here life is on the line every minute of ones life. Everything dies. Everything is eaten.

Turtle soup in the works

I love the Mercado Belen because it is a death house of epic scale. But that's only one half of the market. The other half will have to wait till I return, assuming so.

Closing time at Belen Market

Till next time, enjoy this life while it lasts. I'll be out for a walk around. I want to think about how to present the next half of my time at the market. It shocks me. I hope to get it right when I try to put it to words here.

A gentle reminder that my book, An Occasional Walker, is available at the link here:
And here are some reviews and comments on said book: