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Manaus, Brazil

January 20, 2008

Manaus is a city in the northern part of Brazil and capital of Amazonas State. Located on the Rio Negro near its confluence with the Rio Solimões (also known as the Amazon River), it is the chief port and a hub for the region's extensive river system. It is also a common point of departure for tourists visiting the rest of the Amazon region.

 Manaus began as a small fort, São José da Barra, created in 1669 by Portuguese settlers as a defense against Spanish incursions into Brazil by way of the Amazon River. On November 13, 1832, the settlement gained the status of Vila, and was named "Manaus", after the indigenous tribe, the "Manaós", who once inhabited the area. In the local language, the word means "Mother of God". On October 24, 1848, Manaus was awarded the status of city with the name Cidade da Barra do Rio Negro. In 1850, Amazonas became a province. On September 4, 1856, the city was renamed Cidade de Manaus.

 From 1890 to 1920, Manaus was a rubber boomtown, in part because of the invention of the process of vulcanization. The plantation owners became extravagantly wealthy and the city prospered. Immigrants from northeastern Brazil, fleeing drought and poverty, flooded the city, seeking riches in the rubber trade. 1920, synthetic rubber and the growth of plantations in Southeast Asia caused a drastic plunge in the price of rubber, and Manaus declined into poverty.

 Although the main industry of Manaus through much of the 20th century was rubber, its importance has declined. Given its location, timber and Brazil-nuts make up important trades, as do petroleum refining, soap manufacturing, and chemical industries. Over the last decades, a system of federal investments and tax incentives has turned the surrounding region into a major industrial center (the Zona Franca of Manaus).

 The mobile phone companies Nokia, Sagem, Gradiente and BenQ-Siemens run mobile phone manufacturing plants in Manaus. Also, many other major electronics manufacturers such as Sony and LG have plants there. Plastic lens manufacturer Essilor also has a plant here.

Entering Manaus

As we near Manaus, the weather turns ominous once again. Along the way we encounter a freighter. The first we have seen thus far.

In addition to other boats, the biggest danger is the floating trees in the river. Some are as large as a telephone pole. If the ship should hit one of them it could easily break a thruster which would affect the ability to steer the ship. Above us a crewman in the captains bridge keeps a sharp lookout.

In the photos above you can see some of the floating vegetation. In the distance the clay and stone banks of shore appear. While we are still about 20 miles away from Manaus, we begin to see homes.

 

As we approach the outskirts of Manaus we are greeted by the Rio De Negro river and is sometimes referred to as the Meeting of the Rivers. This natural phenomenon is caused by the confluence of the Negro River’s dark water and the Solimões River’s muddy brown water that come together to form the Amazonas River. For 6 km, both rivers waters run side by side, without mixing. This phenomenon is caused by the great difference between the water temperatures and current speeds. The Negro River flows approximately 2km/h at 28°C, while the Solimões River flows 4 to 6 km/h at 22°C.

As we approach the mixing of the waters, the separation of the Amazon with the Negro's dark water becomes more obvious. It's very similar to what we encountered as we approached the mouth of the Amazon in the ocean.

At this point we are approaching the eastern edge of Manaus. It is where the electronics factories are and subsequently, the higher economic end of the city.

At first we thought this was the lower class "slum" area of the city. We later learned that what we were looking at was the upper middle class district. Note that the homes built close to the river are supported by stilts. The home on the right has a multi-deck boat that is on a ramp similar to what we are accustomed to seeing at one of our inland lakes for boat protection.

Similar to what we saw in Santarem, a fueling station is available for those who need gasoline or propane fuel.

As we get nearer the center of the city we begin to see more homes. Again, this is the upper middle class of homes.

The domed roof in the upper left photo is the roof of the opera house. The building on the right is a governmental building that is near where we will dock.

Cruises - Iberostar Gran Amazon A luxurious boat, with capacity for 150 people, will take tourists on a cruise over the Negro and Amazon Rivers, offering comfort and the excellent Iberostar service. The trip starts in Manaus, stopping at several locations in the Amazon jungle to take tourists on small boat excursions that will explore the thick native vegetation. Ideal for those who like adventure, but want the comfort of a five star hotel.

The dock we pull into actually floats. Thus, as the Amazon changes elevation 30', it is always at a dockable level. We can see our "bus" waiting to take us on our contemplated journey into the rainforest.

Our guide had lived for a number of years in California before moving to Manaus. We was very articulate and knowledgeable about the culture and the interior of the rainforest we would soon enter.

About four miles away we begin our entry into the interior. But first, we cross once again where the Rio Negro joins with the Amazon.

It's hard to imagine that within a month all of the vegetation we see will be under water.

As we approach the entrance to the river we will explore we pass a village.

Note again the blue water container that is a source of hot water for the homes.

We soon learned that in the Manaus area the people have developed an option to building their homes on stilts. This home is built upon a number of logs that have been strapped together. It is tied to a large tree with a rope or cable to keep it from floating away. Thus, like the dock, as the river rises and falls so does the house.

We didn't expect to see restaurants on the river but we found two.

This restaurant was to be our destination to change to canoes that would take us into the rain forest. It to is a floating structure.

We could see the logs below the building that floated the restaurant. Looking through the restaurant we can see those, who arrived before us, who are boarding their canoes.

 

We leave the restaurant in our canoe and begin to see how the native really live in this part of Manaus.

Who worries about pirahana? These kids are having a ball swimming and splashing in the water.

The above is a shopping center.

As we traveled up the river we encountered a number of people fishing with their pets. A three toed sloth apparently is an animal of choice.

For some reason we had a hard time understanding why a child would choose a caiman (alligator) as a pet. The grassy growth behind the lady is a form of rice that grows wild in the river. It is harvested as needed.

We were fortunate to get a front seat on the canoe. It afforded the opportunity to get some really neat photos without having to work around someone's head or body.

Note the tree to the right of center in the upper right photo. The point where the tree trunk turns white is the indication of the high water level from the previous year. We could see similar markings on the other trees but this one stood out.

The trees in the Amazon don't put their roots into the ground. Instead, they spread their roots out over the ground for stability.

Note on the tree in the center of the left photo and the trees to the right of the right photo. There is a distinct white line that separates the dark brown and becomes white. It is the high water level of the previous year.

 

About a mile or two upstream we came upon this lovely home. It is obvious that this property owner isn't one of the normal "natives."

Note the palm tree that is growing out of a container on the floating dock.

As a kid I would have loved to have a tree house like this.

We were always surprised how our guides could see things within the forest that we couldn't. In the photo above (left) look at the dark spot near the horizontal center and about 25% of the way down. It is a knothole in the tree. If you look close you can see a white spot. The white spot is the lizard that is watching us.

At this point we are about 3 - 4 miles inland. The tree is about 20' or more across. Our guide said that the natives use it for a compass. As they are hunting in groups and they come upon one of these trees they climb it. It grows over 150' high. This allows them to see great distances across the forest. When the tree is banged upon by a heavy stick it sounds like a large base drum. The sound can carry 15 - 20 miles in the forest. Thus, when they hear the sound of a distant tree they can determine where their fellow hunters are.

Along the way we encounter lily pads and water hyacinths. In some cases our canoe barely made it over the tight growth. We did reach a point whereby we could proceed any farther because the plants would have fouled the prop of the motor and stranded us.

We saw this in St. Lucia as well. The vine crawling up the trunk of the tree is called a strangle vine. As it grows and encompasses the tree it will eventually kill it.

  

At this point we are almost back to restaurant from whence we began our canoe journey. The native are picking a form of wild rice that grows in the waters.

When we depart our canoes we begin a 1/4 mile walk to an interior lake "January" along an elevated walkway. The growth in the upper right photo is a termite nest.

The termite nests will eventually kill the tree it infests. As we traveled by canoe we kept seeing these nests not realizing what they were. Some were as big as steel barrels.

The lily pads are enormous. They are about 3 - 5 feet across.

 

Within the pond lurks a caiman (alligator). Can you spot it?

It is near the center of the photo above. Only its head is visible and it didn't move all the time that we were there.

 

We couldn't help but wonder how our OSHA laws would look upon the construction and width of the supported walkway we traversed. The walkway is built to be just above the high water level.

Back at the restaurant we looked at the souvenirs that were for sale. Again, we couldn't buy any.

The upper left photo is a dried catfish. The fish on the right are dried piranha.

The wood carvings were gorgeous but again, we couldn't buy anything.

We begin our return journey back to our ship. But first, we must cross the juncture of the Rio Negro and the Amazon River once again. Four hours have passed and the sunlight puts a whole different look on the waters.

We think these are the people with the beautiful home that we looked at previously.

Home once again. Note how the steel tanks form the floating dock.

That night we had a dance show with the people who normally perform at the opera house. It is difficult to take photos in a lighted stage with rapid moving bodies. The costumes were awesome.

We couldn't help but wonder how these people got these costumes aboard when we weren't allowed to bring anything aboard. I guess it all in who you know.

The sun is falling and tomorrow we return home.

This is one of the governmental buildings. All of the building materials were imported from Portugal.

The bus we are on is taking us to a hotel. From there we will transfer to another bus for our final destination at the airport. The bus we are on is not a tour bus but we were fortunate to have a "guide" that spoke about some of the things we would pass. There were no stops so all of the photos were taken on the fly through the window of the bus as it moved along. The sun is going down and darkness is fast approaching. It is about 8:00pm.

We didn't venture into town. When we saw what the interior of the city looked like we didn't regret it. Note the phone booths in the left photo.

The right photo is a church.

Gas station and a typical apartment on the edge of the middle / upper class housing district.

This is an upper middle class home. Remember the houses we could see when we left for our river adventure. They are just a block behind this home.

If you look at the top of the hill you will see a white building. It is next to the building in the previous photo.

 

On the way to the airport  we passed a large military base that stretched out for over 5 miles. Every male must enlist in the Brazilian military at age 18. If they do not they will never get a drivers license, passport or visa and a host of other penalties.

We pass a small park and end up at a hotel to await the bus that will take us to the airport. It is almost dark as the time is approximately 10:00pm as we wait at the hotel. We spent about 2 hours in the hotel waiting for our bus. It was better than waiting in the airport.

Eventually everything must come to an end and we begin our journey home.

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