The Amazon

Though reached only by river or air, #Iquitos is a busy city and a point of trade for goods coming from the #Amazon basin and surrounding #Amazonia. Different in character from the Peruvian Andes - life in the mountains is entirely unlike life in the tropical rain forest - the city is loud and dirty, and organized for commerce.

Iquitos has been likened to a frontier town and walking along the waterfront, I understand the comparison. Vendors on foot and bicycle vie for your attention, hawking tours, food, or rides in their mototaxis. The streets are chaotic with the frenetic honking from swarms of these three-wheeled carriages for hire. Stray dogs pick at detritus in the gutters and cats with patchy fur and weepy eyes adorn low-hung window sills.

Modern Iquitos was born in the late 1800s when the city found itself at the very centre of the rubber boom. A sudden influx of wealth led to the construction of elaborate mansions, some of which still stand today. It also brought misery to millions of #indigenous #Peruvians who were enslaved and abused. These structures, too, still stand today.

For many Peruvian women and girls in the region, opportunities are limited and autonomy is out of the question. I’m in Iquitos to interview members of a local women’s semi-professional team, and investigate a rumour that there’s an #LGBT league in the region. When neither meeting materializes, I reach out within the expat community announcing my presence and my desire to find #female #footballers. I get an almost immediate response: there’s a game the next day and “the only gringo mototaxi driver in Peru” will take me there.

Things go wrong almost immediately. On the drive into the jungle, my driver complains about Peruvians. They’re disorganized and always late, he says, and he should know -- he’s married to one. When we arrive at the pitch, we’re greeted by three adolescent girls. They say they’re waiting for the others to show up and as they walk away my driver follows them with his eyes. “The match should be a good one,” he says, and it starts to rain. “Even better now.” Changing the subject, I ask about the teams we’re here to see and I realize that this is not a regular game; I get the impression that this is an exhibition mounted for my amusement.

While we wait for the match to start, I ask my driver questions about what life is like for these girls. He tells me they have it okay, as long as they don’t get pregnant. Peruvians have too many children, he says, and they can’t support them. I ask what jobs are available to girls and he lists a few: cleaner, waitress, vendor at the market. If things get really desperate, girls work the floating brothel in #Belen. They take girls as young as 12, my driver says. Seeing my reaction he clarifies: “But I’m married now.”

After the match, I conduct a short interview but it’s only for show. My driver is also my translator. I can’t ask these girls any of the real questions I have.

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