Friday, December 15, 2006

History of Iquitos, Peru

I met an interesting fellow named Bill who moved to Iquitos 30 years ago. He had a fine job as a naturalist guide and made good money in Peru. When he moved to Iquitos he built a nice modern house on the edge of town in the jungle. He owned over 10 acres of land. Iquitos had 100,000 people and everyone had a decent job.

In the 1970s oil was discovered near Iquitos. The oil companies were paying for cheap labor. Many people began to move to Iquitos. The terrorist fighting in the rural areas made many other families move into the city. Within 10 years Iquitos had grown to 500,000 people. Most of the people could not find work or a place to live. The president of Peru said people had the right to settle on unused land. Even if someone owned the land, and did not have building on it... it was considered unused land.

When the Holiday Inn Hotel closed near the airport a thousand people pitched their tents and made a shanty town on the 20 acres of property. The government ruled that the people had the right to live there since the Hotel closed. Holiday Inn could not sell the property to a new hotel owner.

Bill had a similar problem with his land. Bill divided his land into 50 foot by 100 foot lots and sold them for $75 to anyone who would build a permanent house. All his land was soon sold near his house but the shanty towns surrounded his area. Even where there were swamps the shanty town was built on stilts. This is similar to how the houses were built where my friends live.

Raw sewage was everywhere and polluted Bill’s well. He had to pipe in fresh water from the city. The same thing happened all over Iquitos as the town area tripled in size. The unemployment rate (or under employment rate) was over 80% and most people had to find basic jobs selling bananas or fruits for a few dollars per day.

The same problems are still here today. The people are so poor it is hard to believe they can eat. Yet the people are so clean and well dressed. The women look Preppy and and the men dress in clean shirt and pants. I know most of them live in dirt floor houses. Most of the well educated and successful tour guides I know are happy to make $20 per day.

The people look like they care about their appearance yet the streets are filled with garbage and filth. Today I walked down the street, picking up trash. People were coming out of their houses to see what I was doing. They thought I was crazy. No one offered to help. They think trash is normal.

I bought a trash can for my friend’s craft booth to help clean up the area. I have been trying to persuade the merchants that if they expect to receive higher prices, they need to project a higher image to tourists. It is so frustrating to see people not care about their country. Peru is beautiful, but it is being ruined by the people.

The good thing is, there are few bugs. Even with all the street garbage there are few flies, knats or mosquitoes. I walked many miles at night and have not received one mosquito bite in two weeks.



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