Take one January afternoon in Iquitos, 34 degrees celcius with 62% humidity. Location: an old aircraft hangar on the way out of the city. Add approximately 5,000 people packed into the structure, spilling out of the only open side towards a concrete terrace with a few tables and a makeshift bar. To season, let local Iquitos band Explosión! belt out a high-energy mixture of cumbia, merengue and tropical pop, with the odd salsa piece for variety. Simmer at a high temperature for several hours until everything is liquid.
It was a typical Sunday afternoon in Coa, one of the popular (semi) open-air discotheques where weekend concerts start in the late afternoon and continue into the night. The usual protagonists are local acts like Explosión, Kaliente, Sensación, Adrenalina, and so forth. They boast a battery of synthesizers, an extensive percussion section, and at least three or four bikini-and-tassles clad dancers, who sinuously spin and gyrate to the music.
Refreshments are provided by two or three harried people rushing about behind a tiny makeshift bar outside, frenetically opening crates of beer and fishing water and coke out of a bucket which once contained ice, while everyone pushes and shoves, shouts, and waves money.
This particular Sunday was bolstered by the presence of Lima act Los Caribeños, who were supposed to be the highlight. But by the time Explosión had finished their frenetic two-and-a half hour set, with stops only for a couple of crowd competitions (breaks are for wusses), Los Caribeños' brand of tropical ska-funk seemed rather tame and repetitive.
Besides, by then I at least had transferred almost all my body's water content from the inside to the outside. My friend Clayra insisted that she, I, and her friend Blancaflor (they have such pretty names here) work our way as far as possible into the middle and the front of the crowd as possible.
Have I ever sweated more? Has anyone? I made several trips to push and shoulder my way to the front of the bar and bring back beer. Within a couple of minutes, it was like warm tea.
The habit here is when people finish their beer, they simply place it on the concrete floor beside them - with preditable consequences. Clayra did this, and I picked the bottle up, saying: "hey, I'll take them all outside and leave them on a table". "No, it's all right", she said. "Someone comes round and collects them".
This is true - there was a guy with a bag scavenging the bottles. But he didn't always arrive in time, and as the crowd got denser bottle collecting was no longer practical. The previous time I came to Coa, we arrived when the band was already half way through, and the floor of the hall was scattered with broken glass. This time, I was able to see the process in action. It's always going to happen, and with typical Peruvian insousiance, nobody does anything about it.
Carnival is about to start, and groups of the local teenagers were getting in early, covering each other with flour, and randomly spraying around beer. We managed to escape most of the flour, but the beer was unavoidable, and by the time we stumbled out of the hall, three songs into Los Caribeños, I smelt like the University of Canterbury Student Union the morning after Orientation opening night.
Somehow the girls managed to remain relatively dry, and given that we were all in the same place when the beer started spraying, this led me to conclude that the sticky moisture covering from my hair to the knees of my jeans was 90% pure gringo sweat.
Categories: Iquitos, Amazon, Peru