“Some of the male tribes wear loincloths. Some don’t. I think you can see why,” George giggles. The fibreglass statues of the regional tribes made by a visiting artist all have huge penises.
They are housed in the Governor’s Office, on the waterfront of Iquitos, Amazon Jungle. George is an able guide through history and he explains the details of every tribe to anyone willing to listen. He stops in front of a small statue of a woman with a screwed up face and a severe haircut.
“This is my tribe: the Cocama. They live about six hours upstream by slow boat. I am from the jungle, man.”
The man seems to be for the benefit of the tourists. Iquitos isn’t dissimilar to other cities. The roads are laid out on a grid, a church dominates each square and a plush Hilton houses richer tourists looking for a cosy adventure. Many who fly or sail to Iquitos, the biggest city in the world unreachable by road, come to explore the Amazon rainforest or partake in Ayahuasca ceremonies. Be aware, white people with dreadlocks roam these streets.
George moved to the city for “his education” at the age of seven and struggled with the hustle of the city. Dressed in a grey t-shirt with ARMY spread across the chest and a pair of worn jeans, he looks square, but underneath the surface is a clash of two worlds.
I am from the jungle, man
“I still visit my village. I will never leave my roots,” he says. George doesn’t deny that Iquitos is now his home.
“I still stick to the lessons my tribe taught me and I stay because I like how busy it is. There are 20,000 mototaxis in the city. That’s crazy.” The Iquitos mototaxi is kind of a Tuk-Tuks older brother, a motorbike with a bench on the back. They whizz around town, violate numerous traffic laws and go through gaps they shouldn’t be able to fit through. George admits the risk of being a driver isn’t for him and mentions a friend who recently had a metal plate installed in his head after a crash. He settles for volunteering as a guide and getting excited about mahogany.
“These stairs in the governor’s house, mahogany,” he said while climbing the stairs. “These ceremonial vases, mahogany. The Spanish built this place using wood from the Amazon. It is the finest wood around. When the rubber barons came, they liked the place because of the wood.”
My money goes towards my house here and my ancestral home
Iquitos’ resources have long been plundered. When the Spanish colonisers arrived, they systematically wiped out many of the local tribes. George describes the massacres as “wholesale”, and the 19th-century rubber barons, led by Carlos Fitzcarrald aka Fitzcarraldo, stripped the area of the little it had left. All that is left of some buildings on the waterfront is the exterior frame.
George stops by a fountain. Water, he admits, hasn’t sprouted from the tap in years. “Some [local] government bullshit,” he said. “They said they would fix it, they haven’t. But, look at the tiles: Spanish tiles.”
Many tribesmen migrate to Iquitos and to an extent, modern living, to make more money and pay for their tribe. “My money goes towards my house here and my ancestral home. So, a big tip will be appreciated.”