After a late-night arrival at the Manaus airport, we had an early wake-up on Sunday so that we could spend the day visiting the river around Manaus. I knew not much about the city before going but I will tell you that if they ever figure out how to dome it or air condition it down to a more pleasant temperature (95 degrees is not my thing), I would live there. Easy.
Manaus was named for its indigenous people, the Manaós and now has a population of two million. As things go in Brazil, it is wealthy. The level of crime is nowhere near the big cities of the south, and there wasn’t one moment that I felt threatened. It wasn’t like we blended in either–me and blondie L and pale boy N were walking advertisements for the US. No one cared. Manaus’ wealth was originally from the rubber boom of the 1800s – but even after the bust, the place is clearly doing better than many other places. In the 1960s, the government established a free-trade zone in the area and that has had much to do with the economic stability.
We had essentially two days in Manaus which was definitely not enough. On our first day, we spent most of the day out on the river, returning only for dinner, and on our last day and a half before our flight, we ran around trying to see all the sights of the city…which was impossible. I am going back. Soon.
We stayed in a hotel called the Intercity which was chosen by my in-laws as it was close to where they were teaching classes. It was a very modern high rise hotel, with an amazing breakfast buffet, a penthouse pool (with really weird lining) with sunset views and huge clean rooms. They also let us have a late check-out on the day before our midnight flight to Miami. Really good stuff. The only part that was slightly lacking was the service which was slow. Later a waiter told us that after the latest crisis (if you didn’t know, Brazil has lots of crises), the hotel had not re-hired many of its staff because they were concerned about the ups and downs of tourism. The same waiter told us that most people in Manaus didn’t care so much about the crises–he said that if things got bad, they just would all go into the forest and eat fruit and catch fish. They would survive. I like their attitude.
I think I will cover river day separately, but I will tell you that Manaus is a treasure. The Adolpho Lisboa municipal market is modeled on the Parisian Les Halles, filled with shops and simple restaurants where you could choose a fish for which there is no translation. You can see the sign listing all the different fish to the left in this photo. The bottom one, pirarucu, is worth a quick read on this link from Brittanica. The pirarucu gets to be 10 feet long. That’s a lot of lunch! It is the mother of all fishes. And delicious. All simply grilled, with rice, baião de dois (a bean dish) and a tomato/onion salad. Cold beer. Plastic chairs. People trying to sell you random things like cell phone chargers. All good.
The next-door food market (sorry can’t remember its name–and its architecture is uninteresting and utilitarian) is busy, loud, crowded and overwhelming. All the types of fish, the fruit never seen before or since, the rows of tapioca, grains, vegetables: all down narrow rows with people busily moving along with their bags of stuff. Not for the claustrophobic. Or strong-smell-averse.
There were at least two stand-out restaurants for me. One more chic, more elite, more stuffy. Can’t even remember the name! Guess it’s not so stand-out. The other, the Rei do Churrasco (King of Barbecue), stunning in its food. And I mean we were literally stunned after eating hot plates filled with meat. Sorry, all my vegetarian friends, but Brazil is really not for you. Well maybe you can eat the ice cream… oh, the ice cream. The most famous ice cream shop is Sorveteria Glacial where there are 50 choices of ice cream, of which you recognize only one or two flavors like pistachio or chocolate. I had taperabá, my husband chose camu-camu. No translation. So good. I wish I were an entrepreneurial type because I would so import the pulp and create the best ice cream ever to grace the Boston scene. Alas, I am more of an eater than a maker.
Manaus is also home to the amazing Theatro Amazonas, the opera house built in 1896. We walked inside and looked around but were unwilling to wait for the (expensive and long) tour. So we will have to imagine the inside. When I come back, I will definitely go for a performance. Outside is the monument to the four continents–apparently Australia was a no go. I loved the monument and needed at least another half-hour looking at all the details–alas, the husband was hungry.
Outside is the monument “Opening of the Ports”, which is called the four continents monument. It represents the four continents from which Manaus’ residents hail–apparently Australia was a no go. I loved the monument and needed at least another half-hour looking at all the details–alas, the husband was hungry.
Manaus also has an rumored-to-be-amazing botanic garden (sadly, we had no time) and a completely surprising zoo. Surprising good. I am definitely covering this is a separate post because wow! Who knew? There are also some small museums for which we had no time and the gorgeous white elephant known as the Arena de Amazonia, the stadium built for the World Cup. There is no other way to look at that stadium but in sadness–the amount of money put in for a few games–the corruption–the waste. Manaus has no soccer team. So they talk and talk about turning it into government offices or a prison. Wouldn’t it be fun if some of those corrupt officials who took money to make that stadium were permanently housed there? I love the irony.
Politics is never far away from the conversations in Brazil. While we were there, first round voting was underway as the Amazon state had to choose a new governor and vice governor. The old ones had been impeached for buying votes. Where Brazil would be if they could just get rid of the corruption. In the end, Amazonino (yes, that’s his name–little Amazon) won the second round of voting and will complete the former governor’s term.
Sadly I have to stop blogging for the day as I am off to meet the police chief. That sounds much more interesting than it really is. Tomorrow I (and those of you not currently sleeping through this blog) meet the big river for the first time.