April 12, 2018
Beautiful sunset last night!
We arrived in Manaus at about 7 AM and our tour was scheduled to leave at 8:15. After breakfast, we left the ship to board the Amazon Explorer, a large riverboat in which we would spend most of the tour.
We were greeted at the pier by some energetic dancers! We heard and saw them from our balcony first.
Our leaders on the riverboat were Francisco, Gabriel and Julio. All were very good English speakers and very informative. The tour was called the Meeting of the Waters.
First we heard something about Manaus. It is a city of almost 3 million people, and like much of Brazil, they have a lot of people coming in from Venezuela and also from Haiti. Manaus is on the left bank of the Rio Negro. There are many industries here, almost 800, and a lot of them are electronics companies. Interestingly, Francisco says that if you want to buy a phone or a laptop, go to Sao Paolo – just because they are manufactured here it doesn’t make them less expensive – they are often twice as costly!
The wealth in Manaus originally came from the rubber trade in the late 1800s and at that time it was one of the richest cities on earth. It had streetcars, electricity and flush toilets before much of Europe. The citizens were so wealthy that they would give vintage wine to their horses and send their shirts to be laundered in Lisbon and Paris! By 1910 rubber seeds smuggled out by an Englishman called Henry Wickham and then planted in Malaysia destroyed Brazil’s monopoly. Manaus was literally plunged into darkness with no money to import coal for generators.
On the way to our first exploration of Lake January, we saw many homes on stilts and others that are floating houses, both allow the residents to stay in their homes during some of the rainy season.
We left the riverboat at a riverside restaurant and boarded 10 passenger motorized canoes that took us into narrow channels in the tropical forest to Lake January. We saw the giant water liles, Vicgtoria Regia, named after Queen Victoria. These plants have huge leaves measuring as much as 6 feet across – and there are spikes on the bottoms.
This is the beginning of the rainy season and the waters are high, but look at the dark part of these trees, by June, the height of this season, the water will rise 15-20 feet higher up to the top of the dark area! The animals here all live high in the trees for this reason.
There are manatees in these waters that eat the vegetation – but we didn’t see any. We did see some beautiful birds, flowers, etc.
We returned to the riverboat and had some time to wander through the local craft markets. One vendor gave me a paracau scale which she showed me how to use as a nail file!
We took the riverboat to the meeting of the waters of the Rio Negro and the Solimoes River where it forms the Amazon River. The Rio Negro is very acidic so no mosquitoes or birds live here. The water looks black because of the trees and the organic material. It is very clean even though it looks black and brown. The piranha here are only in groups of 3 or 4 so are not so dangerous as compared to the Amazon where they travel in groups of hundreds and could eat us in a matter of minutes!
The meeting of the waters is really dramatic to see!
Julio got water from each river to let us touch it to see the temperature difference – this is part of the reason the waters don’t mix, the other is the current. The Amazon is colder!
We again saw some dolphins but they are too quick for pictures and also don’t surface the way our Atlantic dolphins do. The reason for the pink color of the pink dolphins is that the blood vessels that run beneath their skin, which is thinner than that of ocean dolphins, are close to the surface. When they become happy or nervous, their color can change similar to when a human blushes. These dolphins are highly intelligent with brain capacities said to be larger than that of humans.
We saw some of the boats that take people from here to other cities – sometimes taking 4 – 6 days. There are few roads here so transport is by boat or plane. There are hammocks hanging all over in these boats for the people to sleep in during the journey. Talk about roughing it!
After our return to the pier, we had lunch and then went out to explore the city. Gabriel warned us that it would rain, which it does every day here in this season, so I don’t know if he is much of a weatherman! We did make it to the Opera House before it rained and we are so glad we did. We had a guided tour and it is spectacular. It is called Teatro Amazonas and has 670 seats. It was constructed beginning in 1882 at the height of the rubber boom. No expense was spared to make it the grandest opera house in the new world. Everything was brought from Europe. The wood is Brazilian but was sent to Europe to be polished and carved. There are 22 marble columns in the auditorium, each topped by Greek masks fo comedy and tragedy and inscribed with the grandest names of music and literature such as Shakespeare, Beethoven, Mozart and Goethe.
The wood floor alternates colors to depict the meeting of the waters. After the rubber barons left Manaus, the theater sat wasting in the tropical heat until a restoration was completed in 1990. Now all kinds of performances are held here.
This is a lego model of the opera house!
We also saw the customs house, the palace of justice and the cathedral. And, there are places where the facades of buildings are intact but the rest has been destroyed – trees and vines are growing inside!
After our visit to the Opera House, the rain came down like crazy and we took a cab back to the port where we boarded the shuttle through the pier area as you are not allowed to walk there. All in all a fun day in Manaus!