I arrived here in the breathtakingly beautiful state of Minas Gerais last night (for stops in Belo Horizonte and Ouro Preto). Here is an updated map of my trip so you can follow along!
With eyes as big as saucers
Having not seen highways, international airports, ethnic cuisine, parks, high rises, street art, properly paved roads and a multitude of other features of metropolitan life both big and small for close to five months…Donovan and I landed in Manaus with eyes as big as saucers (at one point I even exclaimed…THEY HAVE OVERPASSES HERE!). If you’ve ever been to Santarém (heh…heh…heh), you’d know that it’s isolated in just about every way humanly possible. Thus, it wouldn’t surprise you that my brain short-circuited about one million times in my first few hours in the bustling capital of Amazonas. Nonetheless, without further ado…I present to you stop #1 on the trip…
The City of the Forest
Manaus’ very existence boggles the imagination. Located in the heart of the Amazon rainforest, the city is home to some two million people and is one of Brazil’s economic engines (it was ranked 6th in Brazil in terms of GDP last year). Despite its extraordinary location, since its days as the hub of the first Amazonian Rubber Boom in the late 1800’s Manaus has been a city of opulence and innovation. During the first two decades of the 20th century, the city was apparently amongst the gaudiest and most extravagant cities in the world as rubber barons tried to one-up each other.
Probably the best example of the city’s former decadence is the Teatro Amazonas (Amazon Theater). Built for over 10 million dollars in 1896, the theater is without a doubt the top sight to see in Manaus and an unbelievable example of Renaissance art combined with local Amazonian elements. Apparently, the Teatro Amazonas has the 3rd best acoustics of any opera house or theater in the world…truly, utterly, and completely unbelievable. In the words of one person I met, “They built one of the greatest and most expensive theaters in the world…IN THE MIDDLE OF THE JUNGLE. You can’t make that stuff up.”
However, after the rubber tree was smuggled out of Brazil by a British pirate and sent around the world (see my post a few months ago about all that), the Amazonian rubber boom ended and Manaus fell on hard times. Nonetheless, today one finds a vibrant, innovative, and thriving city in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon that my Polish-Brazilian friend Bartek informed me, “emulates the mindset and drive that characterized the city 100 years ago.”
- Swimming at the Meeting of the Waters: One of the remarkable sights to see in Manaus is the famous Meeting of the Waters. For many miles the Rio Salimões (white water) and Rio Negro (dark water) flow side by side without mixing until the Salimões pushes the Negro out of the way to form the Amazon River proper. With different speeds, temperatures, and colors, the two massive rivers running next to each other is a fascinating thing to see and gives you a sense of both the beauty and power of nature in this region. The highlight of the whole experience was without a doubt taking a dip in the two rivers…simultaneously. Despite our boat driver telling me that it wasn’t the best idea (the current gets somewhat violent where the two bodies of water meet), I decided to throw on a life vest (safety first!) and go for a dunk. BOY I’M GLAD I DID! One of the Kewlest things I’ve done since arriving in the Brazilian Amazon…
- Street Art: In my completely uninformed opinion, Manaus has some great street art. Throughout the city artists have painted a multitude of beautiful murals that give the Jungle City a gritty, unique feel. Check plus.
- Meeting up with some Fulbrighters: As luck would have it…three other Fulbrighters were in Manaus at the same time as Donovan and myself. It was nice getting to know them a little better and having a few more traveling buddies for the weekend.
- Waterfall action: The husband of a friend of a friend of one of the other Fulbrighters took us to a waterfall 150 KMs outside of Manaus on Saturday. A little relaxing, swimming, and rock jumping in the Amazonian “countryside”…splendiferous.
- GIGS Zoo: I finally found a zoo I like. Generally…I find zoos sad and depressing (it just seems wrong to lock up magnificent wild animals in cages). Despite all that, I ended up spending part of Saturday at the GIGS Zoo in Manaus. Why the change of heart? Well, GIGS’ animals have all been injured and are being rehabilitated at the zoo until they are capable of surviving on their own in the wild (at which point they are released). The Brazilian Army’s Jungle Fighting Unit manages the zoo and brings the animals in from training missions in the varzia.
- World Cup Fever: Uhhhh…y.e.s. Manaus is a host city.
Two unbelievable facts about Manaus
It was the first city in South America to have electricity and also the birthplace of the Google algorithm. The more you know…
…I hope you realize Manaus is located in the middle of the world’s largest rainforest…
- Get ready to hear about the incredibly livable, outrageously beautiful cities of Belo Horizonte and Ouro Preto in next week’s post. I’ve been in Minas Gerais for little over 24 hours and I’ve already fallen in love with this place.
- Olympics start this week. Want to wish best of luck to my friend Will Newell. After all the hard work…you deserve it. P.S…SWAG please.
- Headed to the northeastern city of Natal on Wednesday. Beautiful beaches, crystal clear water, DUNE-BUGGIES…yessssir.
- Seeing the doctors on Saturday in Salvador, BAHHHIIIAAAA. Should be a great couple of weeks watching them cope with this wonderful…crazy country. Expect stories.
I would once again like to congratulate myself on another blog post. That is all. Have a great week.
P.S The mineiro (somebody from Minas Gerais) accent is my favorite sotaque I’ve encountered in Brazil…by far.
P.S.S I’m working on making a totally KEWL video for this entire trip. Get ready!