April 8, 2014 – Manaus, Brazil
Manaus is located on the north bank of the Rio Negro. It is 11 miles above the “meeting of the rivers” where the Negro merges with the Rio Solimoes. It is 900 miles inland from the Atlantic. It is the heart of Amazonia and the cultural center of the upper Amazon region and is an important river port with floating docks that can accommodate ocean going vessels including cruise ships. It is surrounded by jungle and is the only major city in a 600 mile radius. Founded in 1669, it grew slowly until the late 19th century when the rubber boom brought prosperity and short lived splendor. Currently, the population is approximately 2.2 million. The only way in or out is by river or air. There are no roads that go to Manaus from the rest of the country. Recently Manaus has regained importance because of renewed interest in the Amazon Basin and its preservation. Eco-tourism is a major industry along with oil. The city is the seat of several organizations dealing with Amazonian problems. It is a free port and has an international airport. Its manufactures include electronics, chemical products and soap. There are distilling and ship construction industries as well. Harley Davidson has a major factory here. Manaus exports Brazil nuts, rubber, jute and rosewood oil. Local industries also include brewing and petroleum refineries.
Manaus began as a small Portuguese fort, Sao Jose da Barra, to serve as a defense against Spanish incursions into Brazil by way of the Amazon River. On November 13, 1832, the settlement gained the status of Vila and was named Manaus after the indigenous tribe the Manaos which inhabited the area. In the local language, the word means “Mother of God”. On October 24, 1848, it was awarded the status of city with the name Cidade da Barra do Rio Negro. In 1850, Amazonas became a province and on September 4, 1956 it was renamed Cidade de Manaus.
From 1890 to 1920, Manaus was a rubber boomtown. The invention of the process of vulcanization made this possible. The plantation owners became extravagantly wealthy. Many sent their clothes to Europe to be laundered. Immigrants from northeastern Brazil who were fleeing drought and poverty flooded the city seeking riches in the rubber trade. By 1920, synthetic rubber and the growth of plantations in Southeast Asia caused a drastic plunge in the price of rubber, and Manaus declined into poverty. Today it is the financial center of North Brazil and a cosmopolitan city. Because of its location next to the Amazon Rainforest, it attracts a substantial number of Brazilian and foreign tourists who venture into the surrounding jungle. A great diversity of wildlife can be found even in the city limits. It is also the place for one of the most endangered primates in Brazil – the Pied Tamarind.
Okay so that’s the history. This morning as we came into Manaus we could see the mixing of the water of the Rio Negro and the Rio Solimoes. The black water of the Negro was mixing with the muddy water of the Solimoes. The Solimoes flows from melted snow so that its water is warmer than the Negro It also flows at a rate more than twice as fast as the Negro which accounts for the difference in color as the Negro has more time to pick up sediment.
We had a long look at the coastline of the city. It is spread out over many miles. When we arrived at the dock, a military band was playing to greet us. We met Carla, who was our local guide, and began our tour by driving though the center of the city. Street vendors and graffiti were everywhere. We stopped at a park where they are trying to reclaim a channel of the river. They have built new, modern apartments for people who previously lived in stilt houses. They have demolished those houses and have put in a park with walking trails, gardens and picnic pavilions. There is still sewage being dumped into the channel. It is not perfect, but they are making a start.
From there we walked to a rubber baron’s home. He and his wife lived in this huge place alone, and after his wife died, he lived there alone. It certainly reflects the extravagance with which they lived. The house is now a museum which we did not enter. The next stop was a building which the builders of the Opera House built. They stopped working on the Opera House because they weren’t being paid enough, and built this great elaborate building. It is used today as the Federal Prison. One of the outside walls has been painted to reflect the various styles of architecture of a row of houses that might have been seen during the rubber boom.
We passed the largest supermarket in Manaus on our way to the Indian Museum. It looked to be about the size of a super Wal-Mart. The Indian Museum was quite interesting but no photos were allowed. They had artifacts which reflected the utensils, housing, clothing, tools and hunting implements. The blow pipes were a surprise to me. I was expecting something no longer than a couple of feet. There were a few shorter ones, but most of them were 6’ for longer. The only sour note of the entire trip happened here. As Patsy said, Elly took pictures of everything except the signs which said NO PHOTOGRAPHS! Carla told her a couple of times, but Elly just ignored it and went about taking photos anyway. We thought the days of the ugly Americans had largely disappeared. We will have to apologize to Guto tonight.
The next stop was the Teatro Amazonas or Opera House. We stopped at the Sao Sebastiao Church which was across the street from the Opera House. This was a small but beautiful church. It had an interesting altar which was supported by 2 hands. In the square which fronted the Opera House and Church there was a monument to the 4 continents which were known at the time it was built in the 1890’s – Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas. The statue was built in France and transported by ship to Manaus. While we were taking pictures here, Patsy stumbled and fell. She hit her head on the curb and got quite a bump, but she was okay.
One thing to remember about the Opera House as you look at the accompanying pictures, all the marble, iron and stone was transported from Europe. The woods which were used are from Brazil but had to be transported to Manaus by ship. It is absolutely gorgeous. The chairs are made of jacaranda wood and are the originals. All that has been replaced are the velvet seat covers. Before the days of air conditioning, they devised a way to cool the theater. The bottom floor is hollow or empty. Under about every 3d chair in the theater there is a vent. The hollow floor below them drew in cool air and vented it through the vents under the chairs. This kept the theater somewhat cool. Since the daily temperature here is in the 90’s year round as well as a humidity level around 90% year round, they really need to cool it down when all 701 seats were filled. Pretty clever! And, remember that the women wore long dresses with multiple layers of petticoats in those days. The men also wore vests, ties and long coats so they were hot too. It now has modern air conditioning.
There are 4 ceiling paintings which are separated from each other by the legs of the Eiffel Tower. The railings of the boxes were made in Scotland and reflect a Scottish theme.
The Reception Hall had beautiful inlaid wood floors, and the ceiling had a beautiful painting which was one of those where the eyes of the angel follows you wherever you go. It also had a number of furnishings which were shipped from Europe. There are 2 large Venetian mirrors opposite each other. They are hung above buffets which have a small mirror mounted in their bases at floor level. These were put there so that men could catch a glimpse of the ladies’ ankles!
The next stop was lunch at the Choupana Restaurant. We had a traditional Brazilian meal. The fish we had were Pirarucu, which is the largest fresh water fish in the world, and Tambaqui. They were served with mashed potatoes, steamed vegetables, rice and fried bananas. We had 3 different desserts although the menu listed only one. We had one made from bananas as well as one made from passion fruit. The last one was a chocolate mousse with acai berries in it. All of them were custards and were very good.
After lunch, we took a drive to Ponto Negro which is the new housing section of Manaus on the edge of the jungle. These apartments and condos are occupied by foreigners who are working in the various industries in Manaus. The beach here has been built up by the importation of tons and tons of sand so that they have a beach even when the Negro is flooded. We came here specifically to have ice cream. They had varieties made from Brazilian fruits and nuts. Elly had acai, and I had Brazil nut. I don’t remember what Patsy and Alan got, but they were local fruit flavors.
It was getting to be time to get back to the ship so we headed in that direction. The van dropped us a couple of blocks from the port, and we walked back through the produce, fish and handicraft markets. As we waited for the shuttle to take us from the gate of the port to the ship, Elly stumbled and fell. She barked her shin but otherwise wasn’t hurt. I told Guto that he had 2 down and 2 to go!
This evening, we had dinner in the Polo grill. Guto joined us, and we had a nice time visiting. We all made an early night of it.