Trip Report – May 9-12 in Manaus
It was with much anticipation and a touch of dread that Maria and I headed for the city of Manaus in the middle of Brazil’s Amazonia. Maria, a native of Brazil who has been living in the U.S. for nearly 20 years, was excited about seeing her cousin Rita and her family for the first time in 25 years. I was a bit concerned about the teeming temperatures one associates with the Equator.
Maria’s reunion turned out to be a memorable one. As for those temperatures, well, we live in South Florida, and I’ll take May on the Equator over Miami in July anyday. It wasn’t nearly as uncomfortable as I’d feared.
Our Customs and Immigration experience was not a highlight. With only a handful of officials on duty when we arrived in the middle of the night, it took an hour to get through Immigration and another 45 minutes for Customs. But Rita and her daughter made our frustration disappear when they greeted us with big smiles.
Even at nearly 3 a.m. we found a restaurant open with outdoor seating. There are no limitations on alcohol sales in Brazil, so we were able to enjoy a couple beers while Maria and her cousin began the long process of catching up.
While it can rain at almost any time in Manaus (hey, it is the rain forest), we got lucky. It mostly rained late in the day or at night and created no problems for us. It rained in the morning our final day there, but we just waited it out a few hours and still had an enjoyable day.
Certainly a highlight for us was a boat tour we did in the Negro River. While there are big commercial tours, Rita helped us seek out a small operator who charged us 30 reais (about $20) each for a three-hour trip that took us deep into the rain forest. I don’t speak enough Portuguese to understand, but the captain kept up a running commentary on all we were seeing, and Maria kept up a steady translation. (Speaking of the language, you’ll probably need at least some expertise in Portuguese or, at the very least, Spanish to get by in Manaus, whereas in Rio or Sao Paolo many more people speak English.)
The boat harbor is right downtown, and while there you owe it to yourself to swing by the bustling fish market, which features as many as 40 to 50 stands selling fish at competitive prices.
Just before we arrived a large fire caused significant damage to the downtown market. Many vendors have just taken their goods outside under tarps; it looks like it will be awhile before the market is reopened.
Another of Maria’s cousins, who is a colonel in the Army, accompanied us on a walking tour of a beautiful park in Manaus and took us to the zoo, which houses many animals that roam the nearby jungles including an ocelet and jaguar, and a wide variety of monkeys and birds.
A simple fruit stand in Manaus can be an amazing experience, with fruits you’ll never see anywhere else. We stopped by one and the vendor kept giving us free samples, one more delicious than the next.
One Manaus custom we found both cute and funny proved to be another enjoyable experience. Going to the mall (they call it “the shopping”) is a big recreational activity, in part because it’s air-conditioned and also because there’s typically free entertainment in the concourse. We sat, ate, drank and enjoyed for hours on a Sunday evening.
Manaus, of course, is most famous for being near the spot where the Amazon and Negro rivers join and the blue-green waters of the Amazon mix with the black of the Negro, which is a product of the sediments it holds. Many tours head for the spot where they mix; we’ll be saving that for next time.
But Manaus is equally famous for the Indians who live in the area and the handmade goods they sell, particularly at kiosks not far from the boat harbor. The prices were very reasonable and the artifacts unique to the region.
We found the people of Manaus wonderful and the sights and sounds unique in our many experiences around the world. We’re anxious to get back and experience more.