The world has plenty of out-of-the-way cities. Victoria in the Seychelles is a good 1,000 miles from anywhere and Perth is said to be the world’s most isolated capital. But you would have to go a long way to beat Iquitos in the Amazon basin for the title. The only way to reach it is by sailing 2,000 miles up the Amazon, climbing over the Andes or flying in – a true jungle city with no road access, but it's no backwater.
Bounded by the Nanay, Itaya and Amazon rivers and in the mist of thousands of square miles of jungle, you can buy anything in Iquitos, providing it comes from the jungle.
The jungle comes into town at Iquitos where the riches of the rainforest are on sale in the vast market of Belen. This is the place to see all local life on parade from businessmen and smartish shoppers to people living from hand-to-mouth in the floating neighbourhood of Belen. Several thousand wood and thatch shacks and huts make up this city within a city that rises and falls with the Nanay river.
All manner of jungle produce is on sale. Miles of street market stalls offering endless varieties of exotic fruit, vegetables, fish, meat and grossly displayed river turtles stripped from their shells with feet, head and eggs proudly displayed. Jungle tobacco is shredded and rolled into cigarettes of various sizes and local herbalists happily diagnose and treat just about every medical condition.
Pasaje Paquito is where jungle products are sold for a variety of ailments including a surfeit of impotence remedies and some general purpose good luck and good business fortune juice. A top purchase is the rum based tonic called 7 raices (or 21 raices). A drink made from 7 tree roots and assured to have aphrodisiac or healing properties depending on the blend – or perhaps whatever appears to ail you.
Down a steep flight of uneven steps a second market starts, secondhand clothing, household goods and an unsavoury collection of caged animals captured from the jungle and on sale as pets – Brown Capuchin monkeys, parrots, small terrapins and baby alligators.
A sad and grubby trade but if someone is prepared to buy 'good luck juice' I suppose they'll buy anything?