Ask any foreigner in Iquitos about Belen market & they will answer “muy peligroso” (very dangerous). “Don’t wear your watch, or take a camera, & definitely don’t spend more time there than you have to”. Good advice it may be but when Belen is where the mangy street dogs hang out in their hundreds, it is exactly where the staff of Amazon Cares will be going.
Belen market is always busy & noisy & smelly. It’s a bargain hunter’s paradise & you can buy anything there from a hand rolled cigarette for 3 cents to illegally traded wildlife. If I went there alone I would be hustled by Belen toughs who demand a ‘protection’ fee to follow me through the market. Daylight robbery in comparison to the stealthy kind where you are jostled & the pocket picked. A wallet removed without feeling a thing! In Colombia I met a great aussie Aden Mac who had a terrific solution for irritations of pickpocketing kind….he carried a fake wallet with a message in spanish “get a job you SO & SO” – not a polite word. He had it stolen 3 times much to his delight.
The municipality has kindly allowed us to use a huge room on the second floor of the meat market as our hospital. It was unbelievably filthy & required a lot of elbow grease to get it clean. There’s no electricity or water but the natural lighting is good. But noisy! I was certain someone was throwing rocks on the roof continually. It took me half a day to realise that turkey vultures were landing on the roof & sliding down the tin to scavenge in the rubbish below. One vulture misjudged the distance between wall & roof & flew into the surgery. It seemed rather Monty Pythonesque. Sorry mate nothing dead in here!
What a team! We managed to clean, organize & catch & sterilize 8 dogs. And that was just week1. On the second visit it was 10 dogs. And we will be going back to Belen every week until every street dog in Belen is sterilized, mange free & vaccinated for rabies. It’s a mammoth task but worth every ounce of effort to improve the lives of all these animals.
For more info about the graet work that Amazon Cares is doing in Iquitos, Peru see: www.amazoncares.org