It started out as a normal day, Camila and Nitsy stopped by and said they found a family that I may want to sponsor so Brad and I jumped in a motorcar and followed them to a small neighborhood down a dirt street in town. We stepped into a room with a dirt floor and a couple of wood plank beds. You could tell there were children sleeping but they were all covered with blankets. The grandmother greeted us and said the children’s mother was out working, doing odd jobs. The children were covering themselves because they all had Chicken Pox and did not want us to see the pox covering their bodies. The kids had no medicine or food and they were miserable. They couldn’t talk because their tongues were swollen. Within in an hour our little team had assembled everything the family needed, food and medicine and Brad and I were off to dinner, a typical day in Iquitos.
At dinner we caught wind that there was going to be a national strike in the country. People were upset because the president who was elected a couple of years ago laid off a bunch of government workers. He waited a bit of time until he didn’t think anyone was looking and hired back a bunch of his political supporters. Imagine that? When the people of Peru get upset, they strike, it’s an easy way to get a day off work.
I didn’t think much of it, I’ve seen plenty of strikes in the city, no problem. About 10pm the owner of the restaurant came by and said that he was closing a bit early because he wanted to make sure that his employees got home safely. Hmmm, maybe a clue to head on in ourselves…
We just moved locations and had a number of good conversations when we decided it was time to head home about 11:30pm. One of my Peruvian friends suggested that we not leave, he said the workers were rioting and it would flare up but it should die down in about an hour once they had blown off some steam. So we waited until about 1am and headed out.
When we stepped out on the street, it looked like we had stepped out onto a street in Beirut. No motorcars or motorcycles, fires were burning in the streets and people were congregating or sleeping on the sidewalks.
We proceeded with caution. As we walked up the street I heard a couple of bottles smash behind me, as I turned flames rose from the street where someone had just tossed two matov cocktails into the street. We hustled up the street and around the corner where we caught the sight of a lone motorcycle headed home when a group jumped out with sticks and started hitting the guy on the motorcycle.
We promptly did a U turn and headed back where we had come from. A couple of Peruvians saw us and hustled us into their store and offered us a place to stay for 10 soles but we decided to continue back to or starting point since we had friends there. We finally made another attempt about 4am in the morning, this time with a group of people, this time we were successful. It was a long night during the marcha de los vagos (march of the bums). The next morning when I headed out everything was closed, the streets were covered in trash, broken bottles and smoldering piles of rubbish. Twenty four hours later, all the trash was cleaned up and Iquitos was back to normal, well as normal as Iquitos gets.