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Full Circle

Day 208: Iquitos

Belen, Iquitos, Peru 
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Best smoke for twenty-seven years. At Julia's cigarette factory, Belen, Iquitos.
Michael Palin - Full CircleI've quite enjoyed Iquitos and its lazy, undemanding comforts. Its colonial streets have style and a run-down, understated elegance, and though it is surrounded on all sides by thousands of miles of jungle it feels open, expansive and friendly.

The El Arca is a three-deck Amazon river boat built in 1882 and restored by Paul Wright, an American who made a journey from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego by motor-bike and so liked Iquitos that he came back to live here. It's moored up near the old market and is approached via a narrow and precarious wooden stairway that rocks and sways. A man comes by me carrying seventy-two full Coca-Cola bottles secured by a woven harness across his forehead. An ant-like stream of travellers, porters and passengers runs to and from the collectivos - the wood-hulled, flat bottomed, thatched-roofed commuter ferries which fight each other for space at the pontoons. Children appear from nowhere taking one last chance to flog me anything from chewing gum to calculators, bracelets to boxer shorts.

By late afternoon we have pulled out onto the river. At last I'm on the Amazon. It's... well... big. Take a last, fond look at Iquitos. The pilot of the El Arca tells me that because of the sediment brought down by the Amazon it will be totally cut off from the river in ten years' time.
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  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 208
  • Country/sea: Peru
  • Place: The Amazon River
  • Book page no: 274

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