Traveling in Manaus, Amazon, Brazil

Growing up my parents took us to lots of different places around the world, but not to the Amazon, which is baffling considering they met at the capital city of Manaus, and I still have many aunts and cousins living there. So when the boyfriend and I found out we had been able to get World Cup tickets for a game in Manaus, I was beyond excited! Sure, a game in Brasilia or Rio de Janeiro would be fun too, but Southeast Brazil is not a vacation spot for me. It is where I grew up, so it’s too familiar. However, going to the Amazon, now we’re talking about a cool vacation!

Amazon River

Amazon River

We stayed with my aunt D. and her son, A., who speaks English since he had lived in Nebraska during high school. His good experience in the US was certainly a part of why my parents allowed me to move here. As with any typical Brazilian family, their hospitality was fantastic. Their long-time maid cooked us huge meals every day with all the typical fish and fruit from the region, and they showed us lots of interesting places.

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With D., we went to Largo de São Sebastião, a cultural and historical area, with a plaza full of screens for the World Cup broadcasts. In front, it is the Teatro Amazonas, or Amazon Opera House. Built in the 1880’s, with all the money from the rubber boom, it still houses many concerts and plays throughout the year. One night, we went to a show called “Estrelas do Amazonas” (“Amazon Stars”), where famous Amazon artists sang music related to Brazil and soccer, in honor of the World Cup.

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The next day, A. and his wife J. took us on a walking tour of the historical downtown. We saw local modern artwork at the Paço da Liberdade, an old city hall now converted into a cultural center and with beautiful views of Manaus. We strolled through the old cobblestone streets to see some of the renovated historical houses, and then made our way to the port area, which was crowded with street vendors. Nearby it was the Adolpho Lisboa Central Market, with arts and crafts, tea bags from every herb and plant found in the Amazon, and fresh fish. The sights and sounds were at times overwhelming (but not so much as India), so I’m glad we were there with our cousins who knew what they were doing.

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On one of the days in Manaus, which is a big city in the heart of the rainforest, we booked a boat tour to see some faraway places on the river. The small motor boat was supposed to have a tour guide besides the captain, but because of the World Cup, Manaus received almost 100,000 tourists in two weeks and guides were not available for every tour. Good thing I speak Portuguese and was able to chat a bit with the boat captain. From the port of Manaus, we went up the Rio Negro until it met the Amazon River, which in this area is called Rio Solimões. The Amazon River is the largest in the world by water discharge and when it meets Rio Negro, the waters, of different density and speed, don’t mix for miles. The Encontro das Aguas (Meeting of Waters) is a beautiful natural phenomenon, with black water on one side and brown water on the other.

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On this boat tour, we stopped at many floating houses. In one of them we saw how the largest Amazon fish was caught, on another one we had a huge buffet lunch with all you can eat fish and fruit, and one a third floating house we had contact with several wild animals: monkeys, alligators, snakes, and the cutest sloth ever.

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The small boat was able to go to the Igapós, which are flooded parts of the forests. Besides observing how people lived (they have floating schools, houses, churches…), we also saw one of the largest trees in the Amazon (Sumaúma or Ceiba), and giant water lilies, with leaves up to 3 meters in diameter.

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In the afternoon, after a 1-hour ride, we arrived at Novo Airão to swim with the legendary pink river dolphins. We waited a long time since there were too many tourists around, but when a big boat full of Portuguese people left, the dolphins came to see us. They have really long noses and are truly pink. The natives believe that if a female swims with a pink dolphin at night, she becomes pregnant.

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Speaking of natives, our last stop was at an Amazon tribe. We saw their thatched roof houses and a dance performance, which I got to participate in. The boyfriend was a little uncomfortable since they were in their native attire (naked from the waist-up) and because of the loads of tourists there for the World Cup, but all and all it was a great experience to have. The village was on top of a hill with a beautiful, peaceful view of the Amazon River. An unbelievable experience, especially considering there were no mosquitoes in sight and no one got sick! Definitely one of the coolest vacations ever and I can’t wait to go back (well, the boyfriend would even consider moving there).

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