On the edge of the vast and serpentine rivers of the Amazon live various tight-knit ancestral communities who are isolated from bustling cities and crowded marketplaces. When COVID-19 arrived in South America, leaders initiated social distancing and lockdown measures to keep their populations safe. Small riverine towns, however, experienced the virus differently.
On a journey onboard a cargo ship heading from Iquitos, Peru, to Tabatinga, Brazil, on March 18, 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, I witnessed firsthand a snapshot of the severe problems facing these remote populations. I carefully boarded a cargo ship whose entire deck was loaded with tons of canned goods and countless trays of plastic bottles. The ship glided over dark, silent waters near thick and dense forests, looking like an American neighborhood corner store with its plastic bottle caps and stacked cans shining in the light of the moon.