Iquitos Water Carnival
A guest post by Barry Brett
One of a series of short humorous stories of life in Iquitos.
Each article is a portrayal of actual events, written from the perspective of a Californian living in the Jungle City of Iquitos, Peru.
It all started so innocently. A casual knock at the door. “Would you like to contribute to the Street Humisha Fund?”
“Well, uh maybe. Just a moment.” I rushed over to my Spanish-English dictionary. No mention of it there! “I’ll get-back to you later”. My mind raced back to the contribution for the Street Soccer Team. He had an honest face – I’m still searching for him!
The Humisha is the trunk of a tall palm tree. Erected to celebrate carnival, it sits in a large bucket and is adorned at the top with dozens of gifts. Humishas are strategically placed at the end of most streets and each Humisha Tree symbolizes the relationship between earthly man and the water kingdom. At the pre-ordained time the Humisha is felled and the people scramble to retrieve the gifts. I soon realized that there was status attributed to the Humisha Tree. Neighbors in the better streets of town raised taller Humishas with more expensive gifts. Some streets had two Humishas while others had none! I imagined a Beverley Hills Humisha Tree adorned with diamond bracelets, Rolex watches and Gucci Bags!
The basic festivities stretch over a period of a week, reaching fever pitch on Carnival Day. There are street Aquatic Parades. Communities select a water princess who parades around town on a flower-adorned float carried by young athletic-looking men. People with painted faces swarm into the Plaza de Armas throwing globos at each other. The globos are nothing more than colored balloons filled with water. As the globo hits its human target, it bursts, drenching its victim.
By Sunday it seemed like everyone was throwing water at everybody. People would drive around town in moto-taxis carrying dozens of globos ready to hurl at the unlucky bystander. People stood at street corners poised with buckets of water ready to launch at a moments notice. Children would act as scouts looking for unsuspecting victims, alerting the “bucketeers” around the corner. Friends visiting my house arrived drenched, looking for dry clothes. It was a war zone!
I thought back to those “wet tee shirt” nights at a local bar in Huntington Beach, California. Partially clad young women wearing tee shirts would sit on the bar to be sprayed with water droplets and the odd glass of beer. Their drenched clothing would cling to their oversized breasts leaving nothing to the imagination! People paid big bucks just to enter. Beers were at premium prices. Bouncers surrounded the female participants, ready to handcuff and arrest anyone who dared to touch or fondle them. I wondered what on earth had gone wrong with our society.
Workers erected a Humisha Tree directly in front of my house. The music started around midday and continued throughout the afternoon. Neighbors beckoned me to join-in, dragging me into their midst, as they danced around the Humisha Tree. Onlookers sprayed water on me in keeping with local traditions. For a fleeting moment it felt like I was dancing around the Maypole, an ancient English custom. On the first day of May, young eligible maidens would dance around a pole to be greeted by young eager males. It was a civilized form of a tribal mating ceremony! They wore clothes! But this after-all was the Amazon, and Iquitos stands at the center of the river communities that surround it. The water festivities are very much a central element of the local peoples very existence.
Suddenly the dancing got faster as they played the pandilla, a special type of erotic carnival music originating high in the Andes. I was hit by a barrage of globos, my pants were wet and slippery as young women (and men) brushed-up against me, frantically dancing around the “Humisha Tree” to the rhythm of the “Pandilla”. (Forty years in Californina and I hardly knew my neighbors!)
As the music intensified dancers pulsated and gyrated. Their shiny, wet-slippery bodies became enmeshed with each other, and with me! I felt like I really belonged here. I was losing control, it was wonderful! I looked around for the bouncers with handcuffs or a hidden camera. I was getting giddy dancing around the Humisha as neighbors threw more “globos” and other onlookers joined the dance pressing their wet bodies up-against me. The water was so cold but I was getting so hot! So this is what they do when they can’t afford Viagra!
Finally the moment arrived. Young men picked-up their axes and cut-down the Humisha with a couple of blows. There was a loud scream as participants rushed over to the felled Humisha, scrambling to grab whatever gift they could find. fights and squabbles erupted. It reminded me of sales-day at Walmart. Slowly the street returned to normal. City workers arrived to drag-off what remained of the Humisha and the sun dried-out the muddy dance-puddles. Who cares about “Wet Tee-shirt Night”, the “Maypole” or the “Street Soccer Team?” I’m go glad I contributed to the “Street Humisha Fund.” I would hate to have missed-out on that party! I would be more than happy to contribute again next year, or next week if they wished!
Iquitos Water Carnival
Barry Brett Copyright July 2009
Barry Brett has spent three of the past five years here in Iquitos, Peru. Growing-up in England, he emigrated to the U.S. as a young man and has lived almost forty years in Huntington Beach, California.