As we loaded into a rapido (fast boat) to head up the Amazon, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect for my first jungle beauty contest, actually my first beauty contest of any kind. We were headed towards Tamshiyacu, a town of about 6000 people that was established 129 years ago. A river outpost and this was their anniversary celebration, their July 4th.
When we arrived it was obvious that this was a big deal for a little jungle town; a weeklong celebration with a large stage that consumed most of the plaza de armes. The beauty pageant was the kickoff to a the much anticipated festival, the beer was being iced down, the speakers wired up and beauties making last minute preparations for the big night.
Each school selects their contestant with three seemingly simple rules, you must be born and bred in Tamshiyacu, be between the ages of 15 and 21 and not be shacked up with a guy. With most fifteen year olds in the jungle having already experienced motherhood or being conquested by some dirtbag this was no easy task in the Amazon. Tamshiyacu found six young ladies who fit the bill, all between the ages of 15 and 17. My good friend David, said he had never seen anyone over the age of 18 compete in the pageant. The stakes were high as the winner would win a brand new motor scooter.
I firmly believe in the US that we teach our boys success is measured based on three things, how well you do in sports, how much money you make and how good you are at getting the women; in this culture that is magnified by ten.
As I watched the anticipation, it was obvious that these people were serious. The pageant had four components, bathing suits, dance, formal wear and finally they actually asked the contestants some preguntas (questions), two out of twenty predetermined questions. I guess asking them to answer something totally unexpected would be out of the question, no pun intended.
As the pageant started each girl entered the square with her own entourage, complete with a marching band, chanting and fanfare. The plaza was packed with spectators and street vendors. After being introduced, the festival began. The girls were all quite beautiful and looked nothing like the children that were behind the façade. The intermission between each segment was filled with clowns and politicians bloviating, sometimes it was hard to tell the difference.
The pageant lasted all night. At 12am I decided that I had my fill and headed for my room. David told me the next day that the same school who had won the contest the last four years, won again. In past years there was a lot of grumbling about judges who were paid off and how the contest was rigged. This year they tried something different to make it totally unbiased by letting the mayor pick the judges. It was just a coincidence that the head of the school who has now won five years in a row is a major contributor to the mayor’s political campaign. In many ways the Amazon is a microcosm of America with a magnifying glass applied.