Manaus, previously known as Manaós before 1939 and formerly Barra do Rio Negro, is the capital city of the state of Amazonas in the North Region of Brazil. It is situated near the confluence of the Negro and Solimões rivers. With a population of more than 2 million, it is the most populous city of both the Brazilian state of Amazonas and the Amazon rainforest. It is most definitely the largest city we have seen on this trip, but still not accessible by road. Mainly, as with the other river villages, people get here and there by boat. The Amazon River is their main, if not only, “road” to anywhere.
I’ll save the extended history for later, but here’s the synopsis. The Amazon region pulled Brazil and parts of Peru up by their economic straps in the 1800s by planting and cultivating rubber tree plants. At that time this was the only region in the world that had rubber tree plants. Henry Ford even saw the potential for his cars and bought a bunch of land here just to get the rubber. There is even a town still semi-functioning named Fordlandia, Brazil after Henry. Unfortunately, as with many other countries who tried to work here, most of the workers died of Malaria or Yellow Fever so his plan to grow rubber trees was discarded.
When the seeds of the rubber tree were smuggled out of the Amazon region to be cultivated on plantations in Southeast Asia, Brazil and Peru lost their monopoly on the product. The rubber boom ended abruptly for Brazil, many people left its major cities, and Manaus fell into poverty. The rubber boom had made possible electrification of the city before it was installed on many European cities, but the end of the rubber boom made the generators too expensive to run. The city was not able to generate electricity again for years.
We took a tour down the Amazon River in a river boat (much smaller than our cruise ship). BTW, depending on whom you ask and how they measure “stuff” either the Amazon or Nile River is the largest in the world. Distance-wise the Nile wins because it is longer than the Amazon, but Water Dispersed-wise the Amazon wins because of the millions of gallons of water that flows through it. Also, by MY measurement (and we have been on both rivers), the Amazon is a lot wider than the Nile so I agree with the Brazilians when they lay claim to the largest river in the world.
Anyhow, one item of interest to see on the river is called either “The Wedding of the Waters” or “The Meeting of the Waters”. This is where the confluence between the dark (blackwater) Rio Negro and the pale sandy-colored (whitewater) Amazon River or Rio Solimões, as the upper section of the Amazon is known in Brazil upriver of this confluence. For 3.7 miles the two rivers' waters run side by side without mixing and this is one of the main tourist attractions of Manaus, Brazil. This phenomenon occurs in other regions of the world with differing characters of rivers and the phenomenon is also seen in other locations in the Amazon region, as Iquitos, Peru. We were told that this phenomenon is due to the differences in temperature, speed and water density of the two rivers.
After observing the “marriage” of the waters we continued on to a local village where all the houses were either on boats or on stilts. We walked the planks across a couple of boats and then on to a plank that led to the shore. Because the river water rises up and down so often, the planks must be replaced at least twice a year to keep them safe for walking. Once on shore we took our walk into the Amazon Jungle and learn a little about the environment and animal changes. Since we visited during the “dry” season, trees and other vegetation was exposed where normally they would be up to 15 feet below the water.
The next day we took tour of the city which included the Zoo and the Opera House. Zoo you say? Yep and it was actually very interesting. Not because of the animals, but because the Brazilian Army runs the place and for not so obvious reasons. In addition to shielding the country from outside threats, the Brazilian Army (something over 200,000) is also the world’s teacher on jungle survivability where even American forces are students. The army is also protecting endangered species by maintaining the zoo. Some species at the CIGS Zoo are extremely endangered, including the pied tamarin (Saguinus bicolor). This small primate – the symbol of the city of Manaus – is listed as critically endangered in the Red Book on Threatened Brazilian Fauna. The Military zoo serves as safe haven for jaguars, monkeys, tapirs, sloths, and numerous kinds of birds and Amazonian fish that have been removed illegally from their natural habitats or forced from those regions because of development. The animals are brought to the zoo by environmental groups who have rescued them from hunters and animal traffickers, who cage them before they are sold for profit. At the zoo – the only place these animals can be housed – workers tend to the animals' wounds and help them recuperate before the vast majority are released back into their natural habitat. However, those that are seriously injured and would not survive in the wild remain at the zoo. “The Army is our partner to receive the animals that are confiscated during searches or are voluntarily surrendered by unregulated breeders,” said environmental analyst Marcelo Garcia, the wildlife manager for the Amazonas Environmental Protection Institute, which rescued 541 animals from January to October of this year. The zoo is on 36,000 square meters of forest inside the Jungle Warfare Instructional Center (CIGS), where service members specializing in combat in a jungle environment are based. Colonel Jorge Teixeira created the zoo in 1967 as part of the Jungle Operations Course (COS), which also teaches students jungle survival skills, the behavior of animals that live in the rain forest, and how to protect them.
Our tour also included a visit to the Opera House in town. I mention it below when talking about the rich and super rich rubber barons, but it is a beautiful building that is being brought back to life after a ninety year “sleep”.
I really wanted to visit the The Mercado Adolpho Lisboa, also called Mercado Municipal or Mercadão (big market). Thanks to two very inconsiderate, selfish and stupid females in our tour group, we ran out of time and had to return to the ship. These two left our group without telling anyone and we spent too much time trying to find them until we discovered that they had already returned to the ship without letting anyone know.
Anyhow, driving by the market we could see that that it is very large, extremely busy and seems to have just about anything anyone would want. It lies on the shore of the Rio Negro and was constructed between 1880 and 1883 and is one of the very first “module” buildings n the world where the building’s metallic structures were built in Paris and sent to Manaus by ship. It has two completely different facades, one facing the Rio Negro and one facing the public road. The market is one of the largest open markets in the city of Manaus, offering fresh fruits, spices, fish, souvenirs, traditional indigenous medications and among other products and also stands out today as a cultural and tourist center.
And now for your extended history lesson: The city was founded in 1669 as the Fort of São José do Rio Negro. It was elevated to a town in 1832 with the name of "Manaus", an altered spelling of the indigenous Manaós peoples, and legally transformed into a city on October 24, 1848, with the name of Cidade da Barra do Rio Negro, Portuguese for "The City of the Margins of the Black River". On September 4, 1856 it returned to its original name. Manaus is located in the middle of the Amazon rainforest, and access to the city is primarily by boat or airplane. This isolation helped preserve both the natural environment as well as the culture of the city. The culture of Manaus, more than in any other urban area of Brazil, preserves the habits of Native Brazilian tribes. The city is the main access point for visiting the fauna and flora of the Brazilian Amazon. Few places in the world afford such a variety of plants, birds, insects, and fishes.
It was known at the beginning of the century, as "Heart of the Amazon" and "City of the Forest". Currently its main economic engine is the Industrial Park of Manaus, the famous Free Economic Zone. The city has a free port and an international airport. Its manufactures include electronics, chemical products, and soap; there are distilling and ship construction industries. Manaus also exports Brazil nuts, rubber, jute and rosewood oil. It has a cathedral, opera house, zoological and botanical gardens, an ecopark and regional and native people museums. With a population of 2,145,444 million people in 2018, Manaus is the most populous city in the Brazilian Amazon area and the 7th most populous in the country. It is located on the north bank of the Negro River, 11 miles above the meeting of the rivers where the Negro merges with the Solimões, to form the Amazon proper. Manaus is 900 miles inland from the Atlantic Ocean. It is the hub of tourism for the rivers, the jungle lodges and the river cruises.
Rubber made it the richest city in South America during the late 1800s. Rubber also helped Manaus earn its nickname, the "Paris of the Tropics". Many wealthy European families settled in Manaus and brought their love for sophisticated European art, architecture and culture with them. Manaus was at the center of the Amazon region's rubber boom during the late 19th century. For a time, it was "one of the gaudiest cities of the world". Historian Robin Furneaux wrote of this period, "No extravagance, however absurd, deterred" the rubber barons. "If one rubber baron bought a vast yacht, another would install a tame lion in his villa, and a third would water his horse on champagne." The city built a grand opera house, with vast domes and gilded balconies, and using marble, glass, and crystal, from around Europe. The opera house cost ten million (public-funded) dollars. In one season, half the members of one visiting opera troupe died of yellow fever. The opera house, called the Teatro Amazonas, was effectively closed for most of the 20th Century. However it was used in scenes of the Werner Herzog film Fitzcarraldo (1982). After a gap of almost 90 years, it reopened to produce live opera in 1997 and is now attracting performers from all over the world.
In the 60's during the establishment of the military dictatorship in Brazil, the newly installed government concerned about the "demographic gap in Brazil", began to introduce numerous projects in the interior of the country, especially in the Amazon region, with the introduction of the Manaus free trade zone in 1967 and with the opening of new roads within the region, the city had a wide period of investments in financial and economic capital, both national and international, attracted by the tax incentives granted by the free zone, in this period, Manaus had enormous demographic growth becoming one of the most populous cities in Brazil.
The Amazon represents over half of the planet's remaining rainforests and comprises the largest and most species-rich tract of tropical rainforest in the world. Wet tropical forests are the most species-rich biome, and tropical forests in the Americas are consistently more species rich than the wet forests in Africa and Asia. As the largest tract of tropical rainforest in the Americas, the Amazonian rainforests have unparalleled biodiversity. More than one-third of all species in the world live in the Amazon Rainforest.
Remember when I mentioned that the Brazilian gals are gorgeous? Another tidbit for my male friends on the prowl, the ratio of Brazilian girls to boys is 9 to 1. Happy hunting. ;-)