When a tourist or traveler decides to go to the Amazon their reasons are usually the same: they want to visit the jungle. Now, whether that is a immersive jungle experience or a day experience is totally dependent on the person. I had the chance to see both angles and I noticed very clear differences. For example, the Europeans and Chinese tend to want to experience time in the jungle, whereas the Latin community and Americans tend to prefer the day tours. Some Americans do go to the jungle, more than the Latin community; however, far less than our European counterparts. Although, no matter the nationality most people do not do the “City Tour”; but, I can relay my story from each angle and I will start with the “City Tour” component, followed in my next blog by the “Day Tour” experience and the the “Jungle Tour” experience.
The first day we arrived in Manaus was fairly uneventful. We came by plane from Rio to Manaus, where we saw the meeting of the waters from the plane, then we were collected by our tour company and taken to our hotel (Holiday Inn). Interestingly enough our driver was surprised that we were staying at the Holiday Inn; because, it is where all the Japanese business men stay. It is in the tax free portion of the city, and many Japanese companies have factories there. As a result the hotel is very nice, and caters to the Japanese by including Japanese food items for breakfast.
The following day we started our “City Tour”. The “City Tour” I highly recommend; because, so many people go to Manaus and while I think it is a fairly ugly city it has an amazing history and some beautiful elements. Our tour began promptly at 9:00 and it was sadly raining (we came at the end of the rainy season). We were taken to the old part of Manaus which was empty, and contained very little anymore aside from a small plaza and bridge, but due to the rain we decided to stay inside and proceed on to the market. On our way to the market we passed by the favelas, but in Manaus they are called palafitas. The government has actually started a project, which so far is being successful, in removing the slum areas and rebuilding the area up as a park utilizing the wood and debris from the slums, all while relocating the residents to government built homes. The market in Manaus is divided in several parts, for example we started out in the Banana Market. The Banana Market is so named due to the high amounts of banana, it is also a very easy place to spot the famous Brazilian Wandering Spider. In case you are unaware the Brazilian Wandering Spider is a highly Venomous spider that should it be given the opportunity to bite you can give a man a four hour erection, and more tragically necrosis if not treated properly. Now aside from that rather morbid piece of trivia the other parts of the market contained various fruits, such as the original “tomato” (another piece of trivia: Europeans were hestitant to eat tomatoes at first because of the red color and thought it was poison).
Guarana is a popular soda drink around Brazil, in fact they have such high competition in Brazil against Coca Cola that Coca Cola has tried to buy them out several times, unsuccessfully. We got to see the original fruit on the exit of the fruit section of the market which our guide showed us, and I had been unaware that most energy drinks such as Red Bull actually utilize guarana due to the high caffeine content. Just as we were getting ready to head into the fish market we saw arapaima or pirarucu scales for sale. In the Amazon they are sold to be used as nail files due to the strength of the scales.
As we entered the fish market you are bombared with a strong fishy smell and a great deal of flys; however, the variety of fish there are amazing. They have fish of all types, sizes, and species. Though if you are a slight germ-a-phobe like me then you would have a hard time purchasing fish there; because, I saw a man cutting a fish with multiple cuts on his fingers, wearing band-aids, blood leaking, and him still touching fish. It is a touch past my limit with food safety. Lastly, we visited the Mercado da Lisboa which is full of hand crafts made by the locals.
From there we visited the Theatre of Manaus which was built during Manaus’s rubber boom. Sadly this lasted only 20 years; because, the rubber tree was quickly exported outside of Brazil and they lost their monopoly of it. Despite it being old, it is probably the most beautiful piece in Manaus as they spared no expense in building it. They imported crystal from Italy and wood from France as an example, and while it is not utilized like it once was it is still used. In the early 1900’s it was in its prime and filled with important and very rich people due to the rubber boom. They would collect there to spectate and watch performances; however, it is thought they attended more as a demonstration of social status. We got to visit a ball room on the second floor where the men would gather during the intervals, and they would smoke, discuss business, and from a secret stairway prostitutes would sneak up. Our guide even shared with us a story about a old tale in Manaus that a very rich noble once came in his horse and carriage to the theatre, and when an employee of the theatre came outside to greet him, he asked what he would like to drink. The noble declared he would like two bottles of champagne and the employee ran inside to collect it. Once he returned outside the noble said, “Yes these bottles are to go to the horses.”
Before the last leg of our journey we made a pit stop at a local cafe to try to the real guarana made straight from the fruit, and mixed with nuts. Due to the high caffeine content it really gives you a quick high. Then we stopped at a grocery to buy a strong version of Off; because, our guide informed us that the Amazon to him while was full of mosquitoes is plagued by ticks. As such he recommended spraying our clothing, not just our skin, and on the subject of creatures that was where our tour would end: INPA.
INPA, the National Insitute of Amazonian Research, is a facility that people come from all over the world to study at due to its fauna and flora left to roam free in most areas. We saw agoutis, two monkeys: monk saki and squirrel Monkeys, amazonian manatees, black and spectacled cayman. The black cayman are the most ferocious of the Amazon as they have the power to take down a jaguar, and throughout the Amazon the locals dread them the most. Now on the opposite end their are the agoutis, which I have true respect for now; because, they are the little creatures responsible for the growth of the Brazil Nut Tree. The Brazil Nut Tree drops its casings where the seeds remain inside, it resembles that of a coconut; however, this coconut is nearly impossible to open without a machete. Well, the agouti opens it with their teeth and buries the seeds, if they did not do that, then the casing would drop and take an approximate two years to rot at which point the seeds would no longer have any potency.
To reiterate I highly recommend doing a city tour in Manaus; because, if you are going to travel all the way from across the world to visit the Amazon you might want to know about an important city that was built literally in the middle of the jungle, and see just how it has and continues to survive after so much loss and hardship.