I’ve been to plenty of steamy jungles before. I know the tropics. But put all that aside, steamy is a new category of sensation when you land in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon, Manaus. It was originally settled by the Portuguese as a defensive port against the Dutch in the late 1600’s. It’s strategic because the port lies on the convergence of two rivers, the Rio Negro and the Solimoes; which forms this terrific separation of colour in the water which I’ll get to later (like next entry later).
By the late 19th century the port had become a city and was bathing in the riches of a booming rubber trade. This brought in plenty of colonial money which has resulting in some nice period buildings in the towns center. Beyond that it’s a widely industrious city where nowadays oil, timer and chemicals make up it’s livelihood, supported by a population of some 2.2 million.
It’s a kind of weird, common, misconception with a lot of visitors, including us to a certain degree. Look at a map as to where Manaus is, and you’ll see what I mean.
‘We’re heading into the Amazon jungle.. to Manaus’ you might say. And the thoughts of sloths, endless jungle and trees, rivers and mosquitoes might come to mind. In actual fact it’s not all that far from the truth, but there’s some serious urbanisation to plow through before you get to that. We’d signed up to a 3 day, 2 night jungle trip that was to begin the day after next of arriving in the city. We got in late, giving us really 1 day to walk around the place and take it in.
You don’t ever really get a chance to escape that tropical sweat film that develops the moment you get off the plane. Even after a shower it’s a good 2 minutes before it’s back again. So you end up just getting used to it. It’s the rainy season too, so once clothing gets wet it generally stays wet. Forever. Doing laundry here is a logistical planning exercise akin to building an underwater metropolis. So we managed to time our outings as best we could between downpours.
We’d spent the first night and first part of the day trying to get money from ATM’s in town. Half of them reported a malfunction of some degree so it was worrying for a bit considering we had both the hostel and the tour agency breathing down our necks for payment. We finally found solace in one of the larger Brazilian banks but all that running around, soliciting every machine in town had meant our cards had been skimmed in the process. While we took our Amazon trip, some crafty crim was fabricating our cards in Sao Paulo and extracting the daily limit. They got away with about $1600 before we could get the bank to put a stop to it. We narrowed the culprit machine down to the HSBC machine in Manaus airport. Every machine we’d been at, and for the past 10 months traveling, we’d demonstrated real care when using and always cover our hands on the keypad, so it was frustrating to be stung like this. Particularly when the whole thing smells of an organised racket. Someone at the airport was being paid to look the other way. Anyway.. back to Manaus.
It’s very obviously Brazil again. The same brands, the same style of paving, the people, the food, even the unique style of graffiti they have here. We spend the day wandering the main tourist promenades, and strolling the tropical urban park areas where there’s sidewalk tattooists set up, imprinting whoever happens to walk past. I got a Kanji symbol for ‘Courage’ on my shoulder. No I didn’t. ‘Courage’ would be the wrong symbol. Anyway it was a horribly unhygienic operation but he must have been good, he had a line of people waiting.
For what we expected might be a common tourist destination, in actuality it seemed otherwise. Even Big Hostel Brazil where we were staying, just out of town was virtually vacant. We took in The Amazonas Theatre, arguably the biggest attraction in town. Finished in 1896 using bricks and tiles from Europe, it’s a lovely Renaissance style building with a dome tiled with the Brazilian flag. Being cheap and nasty we entered the foyer and peered into the main theatre. It cost like 10 bucks to get in.
As you should know, Brazil is a Portuguese speaking nation of over 220 million people. We’ve spent the last 9 or so months in Spanish speaking nations and have been able to get around well, dabble in some basic conversation and dig our feet in a bit so as to feel comfortable. We’re instantly thrown back into the unknown here; despite it’s similarities it sounds so different and we’re really not able to communicate well at all. Back to pointing at items on menus and continually accidentally saying ‘gracias’ when it should be ‘obrigado’. Thankfully the Brazilians are some of the nicest latinos we’ve encountered and do not only seem to not expect visitors to know any Portuguese but seem to be more worried about their lack of English.
Manaus is generally not regarded as an overly pretty city and people come mostly for the Amazon tours. We’d jumped onto TripAdvisor and made some good contact with a mob called Green Tours so we’re booked up and ready to leave the very next day.