October 22, 2010

Motos and Other Obstacles

This, my sixth day in Iquitos, saw me spending an inordinate amount of time riding in mototaxis. For the uninitiated, I will explain: imagine a souped-up tricycle with a seat in back and a driver in front whizzing by on busy city streets, weaving in and out of other "motos," motorcycles, buses, pedestrians, dogs and other obstacles.

Then imagine this same moto getting so close to other motos you could scoot over with ease and join your neighbor, whisper a secret in an adjacent driver's ear, or push their fender with your flip-flop. It's not for the faint of heart! Adding to the chaos is the noise: the moto engines are sputtering angrily, with their drivers honking interminably, at what appears to be random stimuli, or no stimuli at all. I am sure there is a reason for the constant, polite double-tap "beep-beep," but I have yet to discern a pattern. It reminds me of a kid with a whistle: he blows on it because he can.

There are traffic lights in places, but for the most part they appear discretionary: when the light changes, those with the green light are hesitant to be the first one to venture into the intersection. It would be rude, I suppose, to interrupt someone who is already going through in the other direction, so one must be patient and wait for him to finish. By that time the light is changing, and now you're the one going through on red, but no one seems to particularly mind.

An interesting paradox I've noticed in Iquitos is that while time seems primarily to be a very slow, languid thing (i.e., somnambulistic pace of service in restaurants, prolonged back-and-forth haggling with the motos and the street vendors, waiting more than a minute on occasion with a green light at an intersection, etc.), if you ask a moto driver to wait, you'd best not dawdle. Two times today I asked a moto driver to wait. Both times they agreed, and both times they left me stranded, without even getting paid for getting me to the initial stop. I suppose stranded is a bit too strong of a word, as you simply have to look like you might have an inkling of going somewhere to have half a dozen motos queue up offering their services. However, it did seem a bit unseemly that they left, and even more so that I inadvertently stiffed them.

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