Iquitos in Peru is known as the most isolated city in South America. Surrounded by thick jungle, it sits on the banks of the mighty Amazon River. For the first time in decades,it was recently visited by a group of rabbinical students, who were there as part of the Merkos Shlichus Chabad “Roving Rabbis” program.
“Iquitos was unlike any other place we’ve been,” says 22-year-old Yecheskel Posner, who visited the city together with fellow student Nosson Huebner. “There are almost no cars, and many of the houses here are built on stilts because the rising waters of the Amazon often flood the city, known as the ‘Venice of South America.’ ”
Using boats and water taxis, the pair traveled through the city meeting American and Israeli tourists, as well as a few local Jews, descendants of Romanian immigrants who came to the city at the turn of the 20th century.
Many Jewish people also arrived during the rubber boom—a cemetery and synagogue were then built—but the native Jewish population has dwindled to near extinction.
Many of the tourists take speedboats to remote locations along the Amazon where they revel in the abundant nature, seeing pink dolphins, sloths, monkeys, alligators, and exotic birds and insects. Others turn to the area in search of cures extracted from the place’s rich flora.
The students took a two-hour boat ride up the river to an area with many tourist lodges. There, they met many Jewish people, as well as non-Jews who were curious about the bearded visitors.
“It was very special,” says Posner. “There we were at the edge of the earth praying, wrapping tefillin, sharing Shabbat candles, celebrating with our fellow Jews—just like we would anywhere else in the world.”
The two wisely passed up on the opportunity to purchase a baby alligator, but did buy a captive baby pygmy marmoset,the world’s smallest monkey, which they promptly brought to a local animal rescue center.
During their six-week stint in Peru, the pair also visited the cities of Lima, Huaraz and Arequipa, in addition to the town and beach resort of Máncora.