Saturday, 19 January 2008

Around Brazil – Manaus

Most Brazilian Amazon journeys start or end in Manaus.

Manaus happens to be 1500km upriver from the sea but it is still a port and has all the attributes that a port should have – water, land, goods that come in from all over the world, and that crazy air of edginess. The air of edginess had been present since some of our group had their bags slashed on the boat up from Santarem. Some couldn´t handle the idea of another boat ride and flew instead, but the rest of us were pleased that the boat was quite plush compared to our first one. We even got to steer the big wheel for a bit. The cameras and wallets had been stolen by someone small enough to crawl around in the small space under the hammocks, but the crew still searched the only black man on the boat as he´d been closest.

The river police searched the boat too, just as we arrived in Manaus, but not for our gear.

The British-made dock in Manaus floats to cope with the fluctuating river levels. Things are hectic, with bags, boxes and boats, people, gangplanks, sellers, touts, taxi-drivers and tourists to negotiate, with smells and sounds that belong to every port in the world. Rotting fish and fruit, diesel and petrol fumes – the kind of place to get away from as soon as possible.

Manaus has been a tourist centre for may years and this brings surprising consequences. As well as the dodgy tour operators, there are guides that have lived in Manaus all their lives and speak five languages fluently including Japanese. The jungle excursions can be mixed, with a lot of the vegetation around the city having been cleared to feed 1.5 million people. The river also feeds them and the market has fish of every size for sale, from 2m monsters to tiny piranha. There are piranha for sale in the streets too, preserved and mounted on wood with teeth bared. The sharp triangular teeth are an Amazon classic, also for sale in sets still attached to jawbones that can be used to cut hair. Many strange objects are sold in Manaus and many strange fruits, herbs and potions including Amazon Viagra.

One animal that wouldn´t need Viagra is the sloth. I saw my first one in a Manaus tree. Their reactions dimmed by lack of predators, they are built for comedy. Tap them on the shoulder and they turn around ten minutes later. I don´t know how sloths mate, apart from slowly, but I´m sure the herbal potion would wear off long before our hero realised what was happening. Spiking a sloth with Viagra – it´s an idea that sounds like fun for my next Manaus visit.

1 comment:

amanda22 said...

I saw this story on I'm American and spent a total of 2 years living in Manaus. I loved it. As you said, most people either start or end in Manaus. I hope you had a chance to see the rest of the city other than the port and the centro. Manaus has a great nightlife, wonderful people, and is just a short car ride away from beautiful cachoeiras.