Walking through the streets of Iquitos amid the heat, smog, and buzzing moto-carriages, it’s hard to imagine there’d be a community of queens in the city. Iquitos lacks the quaint appeal of more popular gay hotspots: It’s dirty, rumbling, and while it has an estimated population of more than half a million people, remains accessible only by plane or boat.
Lodged in the Peruvian Amazon of the Loreto region, Iquitos feels more like an exile than a gay destination. But according to British writer Dilwyn Jenkins, who wrote The Rough Guide to Peru, the first travel guide dedicated entirely to the country, Iquitos’ queer scene is unusually active, for a Peruvian jungle town. Looking around, there is no sign of a gay scene. Presumably, it must be hidden away from the plain sight of curious gringos.
There’s little evidence of queer culture in the city’s history either, with one exception. Iquitos rose to prominence in the 1870s, following a rubber boom. It was a prosperous time for the rubber barons, but far less so for the trappers who were local tribesmen and mixed Indigenous-Spanish descents working, in essence, as slaves. Roger David Casement was tasked with investigating the ill-treatment of the Putumayo Indians in 1910 and 1911. Though successful on many levels, Casement was later hanged for political reasons and his diaries were leaked, which exposed him as a promiscuous homosexual.