November 2, 2010

Aromas of the Belen Market

The first day I arrived in Iquitos, I was dazzled by the city, the speeding motos, the cosmetic-melting heat. I met up with two volunteer vets, Barbara and Judith, who graciously invited me to accompany them to the Belen open-air market. It was a a full-immersion introduction to Iquitos!

Belen Market is one of the largest open-air market in the world, covering 20+ square blocks. In the rainy season, many of the stalls are floating; in late October, the very tail end of the dry season, we were able to reach the vendors on foot.

As you approach the area, you are struck by the smell: the intoxicating aroma of overripe tropical fruits and pungent exotic spices at war with more earthy odors - namely, rotten meat, blood, and animal waste. The smell settles like a live thing in your throat; it can be tasted and swallowed, a discrete sensory experience from that of your nose. Apart from the odor, the market's vendors and wares added to the otherworldliness of the experience: everywhere there are shocks of color and noise, with sellers hawking their merchandise, the laughter and general chaos.

There were different sections of the market, with areas selling beautiful hand-woven fabrics mixed among the trashiest of lingerie and tackiest of t-shirts. There was a toy section which looked as though a dollar store from Ohio had been mysteriously transported to this tropical port. There were incredible, unfamiliar fruits and vegetables, and vendors selling food ready to eat, including skewers of what I thought was chicken (but apparently was not), roasted brown and crackling hot.

Written by by Linda Schwefel

Photographs by veterinarians Catherine Davidson and Judith Bechtum

Next Blog:  Exploring the Shaman area of the market!

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