We got up early on Friday, March 2, because we were scheduled to take a boat trip and we had to be back before the ship left in mid afternoon. The river itself is very interesting. There is quite a bit of boat traffic (there are 70,000 boats registered in Manaus) & a lot of logs and other natural debris. In Manaus they actually have floating gas stations, and we have seen a lot of what appear to be floating lawns, large clumps of grass floating down the river to the ocean.
We were very lucky because the weather was quite beautiful that morning, while the people who took this trip the day before saw nothing but rain. The first part of our trip was in a two level Amazon river boat. We saw neighborhoods of Manaus with houses near the water on stilts, and some with river boats ashore (perhaps to be floated when the river rises, or else pushed into the water when needed).
We saw some villages on tributary streams built largely on stilts and others in which the houses actually float on the river. The children in these villages are picked up each morning by the school boat, which takes them to school.
At a fairly remote stop we transferred into 10 person canoes (which are actually boats with motors) for the trip to Lake January & through some of the flooded marshlands & streams.
We saw a number of unusual birds on this trip, some pretty butterflies, a sloth (hanging upside down with his head away from you), a caiman and others I wasn’t able to photograph. For example, this area is home to anacondas and the guide told us that the movie of that name was actually filmed here. Another form of wildlife that lives only in the interior of the Amazon is the pink freshwater dolphin. We didn’t see any of these and although some other folks on the ship said they did we have concluded that they are like pink elephants, which can only be seen when you are inebriated. I guess that sounds like sour grapes.
On Lake January we also saw giant water lilies. The leaves of these things are about five feet in diameter and there are about a dozen leaves to each flower (although the leaves float they are connected to the bottom of the lake by stems). The flowers only open at night and only for 3 days each, changing from white the first day to purple the third. We found them very interesting.
They took our boat off the lake & river & into the already flooded rainforest (the flooding will get much deeper by June but a few months ago this entire area would have been dry land). Our guide spotted a tiny wasp’s nest on a hanging tree branch & carefully maneuvered around it. But then the second boat came barreling past us & smacked right into the nest. Needless to say, this made the wasps very angry & they swarmed out (very tiny looking wasps), but the other boat had gone so fast that we were the only ones they could see. So we hightailed it out of there. As you can see, there are a lot of trees here deep in water and there were also a lot of yucky looking termite nests.
On the way back to the river boat we saw a 400 year old tree, which had an unusual root system and was tall enough that we couldn’t see the top through the rainforest cover. We also saw a house in the rainforest with a platform by the river covered with grass.
By the time we got back to the river boat it was pouring rain (did I mention that the weather around here is amazingly changeable?). We got in the boat & they pulled down plastic sheeting all around so we couldn’t see much, then we left to go downriver to the Meeting of the Waters. Manaus isn’t actually situated on the Amazon. It is about 3 miles up the Rio Negro river from the spot where the Rio Negro & the Rio Solimoes converge to form the Amazon proper. The water of the Rio Negro is very dark (hence the name) while the water of the Solimoes is light brown, like cafe au lait. Because one of these rivers flows faster than the other (I can’t remember which) & the chemical makeup of the water is different, the rivers don’t mix together immediately but flow for several miles side by side. You saw a version of this phenomenon in the episode for Santorem (which is pronounced with an accent on the first & especially on the last syllable, so it doesn’t sound like Rick Santorum, thank goodness).
Anyway, with the pouring rain we did not expect to be able to see much at the Meeting of the Waters. However, as I mentioned before, the weather here is very changeable and we did get a very good look from close up on this relatively small river boat.
Later, as the ship passed this spot, we saw it from a larger perspective.
Then the ship took us down the Amazon toward our last Brazilian stop in Parintins.
In the early morning of Thursday, March 1, we sailed into Manaus. This is a city of almost 2 million people located almost 1000 miles up the Amazon River.
I don’t know about you, but this is not what we would have expected in the interior of the Amazon. Manaus was founded in 1669 but really hit its stride in the second half of the 19th century as the center of the rubber boom, when huge amounts of money flowed through. Rubber trees are native only to the Amazon region, so this area had a monopoly on rubber (one of the essential ingredients of the industrial revolution) and there were strong laws to protect that monopoly. Natives were ruthlessly exploited as laborers to go through the rainforest where the trees were scattered & tap out the latex. However, in 1876 a fellow named Henry Wickham smuggled 70,000 rubber tree seeds to England, where they were grown into trees in Kew Gardens in London & transferred to British possessions in Asia, the source of most rubber today. Wickham was branded a criminal & traitor in Brazil, but was knighted in England.
During the height of the rubber boom local rubber barons built fabulous mansions & even an opera house. The famous Teatro Amazonas (trust me, its famous even though you and we may never have heard of it before) is an elaborate pink & white structure, all of which was imported from Europe. Even the wood floors & seats, made of Brazilian wood, were manufactured in Europe & then sent here. It took 15 years to build, was opened in 1896, and has hosted many world-class performers (there are no highways here, so the only way for performers & the components of the building to get to Manaus was by boat, & now by plane).
We took a tour of the Teatro. The orchestra was rehearsing on stage and the concert hall was quite elaborate (remember, every bit was imported from Europe & shipped up the river). It was very rainy that morning (this is a rainforest, after all), so that is why Mary looks a little soggy in these pictures.
Upstairs were several salons with inlaid wood floors, painted ceilings and a porch with statues on the corners. We had to put slippers over our shoes to protect (and help polish) the floors.
A lego model of the Teatro was on prominent display in the front corridor.
Next to the Teatro is the Palacio da Justica. The woman with the umbrella in the first picture is the orchestra’s concertmistress.
We went to see the Cathedral, officially the Nossa Senhora Conceicao Catedral, which was nice & not overly elaborate.
There were some nice mosaic sidewalks near the Teatro, reminiscent of Copacabana in Rio, and we passed the clock tower & many vendors’ stands.
We visited a building called the Palacio Rio Negro, which was originally a rubber baron’s mansion but is now a cultural center. Inside were some beautiful wooden stairs & rooms (presumably made in Europe too) & some unusual paintings, including one depicting Amazon women warriors attacking the Teatro with flights of angels descending. Another showed the first flight of a Brazilian named Dumont who, they claim, invented the airplane before the Wright Brothers (a claim not accepted by anyone outside Brazil, as far as we can tell). Just looking at that thing you can tell that it could never achieve controlled flight.
Of course, we found the Biblioteca Municipal (although it seemed too small to be the central library of such a large city) and we also walked by the old Customs House, built in England and then disassembled and transported here piece by piece.
The dock area of Manaus is particularly interesting. The river’s height varies by some 40 feet from the dry season to the wet season (we are about halfway through the wet season now so there is still quite a bit of rising yet to come). So they have built floating docks, which rise & fall with the river. Also near the dock are the ruins of a block of old buildings, reduced now to their interesting facades with vines & trees growing through the openings.
We had a beautiful sunset, then that night we had a Folklorico show on board the ship depicting Amazonian dancing from the Indians through the Samba. The pictures are pretty fuzzy but they give you an idea. After that we went to bed, having had a very full day & needing to get up early the next day.
On Wednesday, February 29, we stopped for a few hours in Boca de Valeria, a tiny Amazon village of about 75 people. This was quite a change from all the cities with millions of folks. While it gives an idea of the lifestyle of rural Amazonia, since cruise ships have started visiting here it has changed some. We saw a couple of satellite TV dishes & we were told that some of the monetary influx from the ships has been used to improve the schools in the area, at least one of which now has a computer.
The locals have also adapted to the ship visits to earn a few dollars. On ship days people come from all over the area & some dress themselves or their children in colorful feathered costumes. Some of the children have exotic rainforest pets like sloths & monkeys. They then put themselves on display & request a dollar from anyone who wants to take a picture (you won’t see any of those here). So, it has become kind of commercial and Disney-fied, in a rudimentary way. We discovered later that all of the children we saw were from out of the village, because the village children were all in school while we were there.
Anyway, it was high water when we were there, so much of the land was covered with water as we went into the town.
The village consists of a small church & a few small rickety looking houses built on stilts to accommodate the rise & fall of the river.
What you can’t see in the last picture is a dog that was sacked out lying on his side in the road in front of the church steps, while people were walking all around him, probably thinking “how boring, another tourist day.” The town was full of chickens, running loose on the muddy roads & under houses.
This is a river village, so of course there were lots of boats on the shore.
We also saw some interesting rocks & funghi.
We were there too and not to forget, these folks live in the rainforest (lots of it).
Several enterprising folks got into canoes & paddled (or motored) out to the ship, where they importuned passengers entering or returning from the tenders to take pictures & give money. One young fellow had a pet sloth with him, which he would hold up to the tender entrance & sometimes the sloth would grab onto the ship.
We left Boca de Valeria in early afternoon and there was a nice & calm sunset on the way to Manaus.