Pampachica, The Watering Hole
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 was a hot, four degrees off the equator! Summertime in Iquitos, Peru. Friends suggested we visit the local watering hole. We could have gone to the “Enchanted Lagoon” or “Quistacocha”. They were the preferred resorts. Pampachica, on the far-side of the Nanay River was difficult to access. It was frequented by rowdy youths looking for fun and a chance to bathe on a hot summers day. It was the ONLY place to be!
As we approached the beachhead, I could see a flotilla of small craft ferrying eager beachgoers to the far side. It resembled the “Spanish Armada!” The waters reflected and amplified the music of the discotheques on the far side. As we crossed the river I estimated more than three thousand beach-lovers had already crossed. It was a wild party. The beach had been under-water for eight months. At last, Summer had arrived. The River Amazon and its’ tributaries had fallen some forty feet revealing a sandy beach, perfect for a day-out with the family or friends.
One of dozens of small boats, our overloaded craft pulled into the shore. There was an overwhelming sense of excitement as everybody rushed-off the boat onto the sand. People pushed and shoved as they tried to balance themselves on the gang-plank. It was like the D-day landings at Normandy!
Along the shoreline were hundreds of families bathing with their children. Numerous makeshift stands sold sodas and traditional foods. BBQs smoked-up the horizon. There were soccer fields and softball nets where just a few weeks earlier there had been nothing but water!
The main attraction for most the youths were the discotheques that livened-up the shoreline. Both on the shore and in the discotheques there was an overwhelmingly large number of guys and few gals. It didn’t take long to find-out that many young girls are just not permitted to go out dancing. Why? It’s the jungle and jungle boys are looking for something! In an impoverished city where few kids can afford protection, that something quickly results in someone! Someone who needs to be fed in a society where undernourishment is the norm. Families encourage the females to stay at home. It seemed strange at first. Culture shock. So many guys dancing with other boys, but no-body seemed to care. The girls didn’t care either. Groups of boys would dance with each other around beer bottles strategically placed on the floor. It was all about dancing, drinking and having a good time.
I thought back eons, to my lusty teenage years in London, England. There were rock and roll dances where all the girls sat on one side of the dance hall and all the guys on the other. Once in a while a guy would pluck-up enough courage to cross the floor and ask a girl for a dance. On an ego-trip, inevitably she would turn-him-down! Why me? Was it my spotty face or maybe if I had just combed my hair a little more to the left! To think we could have just ignored the girls and danced with each other. That would have torn them to shreds! What on earth were we afraid of. Girls danced with girls, but boys NEVER danced with boys. We were brainwashed. We still are.
There were three shore-side discotheques blasting-out “Musica Ambiente”, the latest dance craze. They were packed solid with young men and women dancing, singing and drinking. All the money was made on the booze. It was hot and humid and the dances peeked in a frenzy of excitement. Bodies were dripping with sweat but the dancing never ceased. There was no charge for entry. People in California would pay top-dollar for a sauna like this I thought. “Turn the thermostat up babe, I need to lose another ten pounds”
There were empty beer bottles and beer cases all over the dance floor. People danced around them, worshiping the Goddess of empty bottles in the vain hope that somehow, she would magically fill-up again! There was status at stake. Two beer-cases stacked on top of each other indicated real partiers with cash. Dancing around a lone beer bottle was not good for one’s image! Frowned-upon. Good looking chicks, in heavy demand, would pass-on-by.
The most popular drink was “Climax”. Sold in two-liter bottles, it was an alcoholic carbonated soda. The more affluent dancers would mix it with beer to give it an extra “Kick!” No drinking age limit was enforced. How could it be? Most the kids had no I.D. and no chance of ever getting one. Why? Because they were born in odd-ball villages, two or three days down-river from the nearest town. They never had a birth certificate to begin with and will never be able to get one! If there were an age limit, who would enforce it? Three or four thousand beach-goers at Pampachica, and not even one cop!
My friends wanted to dance. Dripping with perspiration and gyrating to “Daddy Yankee” and “Porn Lust” I lost my step and committed the cardinal crime. There it was, all spilled-out across the dance-floor. Like blood from a sacrificial cow. Someone’s beer! I’d kicked-over the Goddess! For a moment I froze as the beer bottle-worshiper approached, his “Terminator Body” scanning the horizon looking for the “Spiller!” I felt his red laser-beam lock-onto-target. Lost for words, I struggled to understand his Spanish. No time to pull-out my “Easy Spanish Phrase Book” I thought. What good would it do anyway. I could read the expression on his face in “English!” Two simple words; “Pay-back!” A lucky-break. Just as he was about to stab me with those liquid-metal stabbing devices, his friends pulled him away from the brink! I ran to the Beach looking for Arnold. He could save me! No such luck, he was in Sacramento, California, hiding from taxpayers in the Governor’s Mansion! It was time to leave!
It was getting dark. Crossing to the far-shore in a small craft, I noticed that nobody was sober, including the Captain and crew. Passengers were singing and drinking. Desperately trying to illuminate the surrounding waters, the Captain held a small flashlight. Where was his compass? I guess he traded-it-in for a bottle of rum! We seemed to go round in circles that quickly became a spiral. No-one cared! A five-minute cruise became a forty minute circum-navigation of the globe. When we finally docked we were miles downstream and nowhere near the beachhead. “So this is how Columbus discovered America!”
A motokaro dropped us off in the Plaza de Armas, smack in the center of Iquitos. I walked past the bars on the Amazon Boulevard. Now they all looked so civilized and boring. A friend hailed me over to his table. “Hi Barry, I hear you went to Pampachica” I looked at the neatly-stacked empty beer bottles as the soothing music of “Love Ballad” wafted in the background. But “Love Ballad” didn’t cut it anymore. I yearned to return to the watering hole. To the excitement and ambiance of “Pampachica”. The flashing lights and screams of hysteria, the sheer electricity generated by hundreds of bodies pulsating to the rhythm of “Porn Lust” and “Daddy Yankee”. “Barry, let’s kick-back, relax, have a quiet beer and enjoy the evening!!” – No Way.
Pampachica, The Watering Hole
Barry Brett Copyright August 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.
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