Monday, March 13, 2017

Manaus, Capital of Amazonas

12 March 2017 - posted on 13 March, Alter do Chao

We arrived in Manaus on Friday, 10 March.  Manaus (pronounced man-NOWS, rhyming with house) is the largest city in the Amazon Basin with some two million inhabitants.  It’s also the capital city of the state of Amazonas, and is completely surrounded by the Brazilian Amazon Rain Forest.  The main way in or out is by air or the river, although Manaus is actually located on the Rio Negro, not the Amazon. 

The Rio Negro has very dark brown, almost black water due to the high tannin content.  It also is a rather slow moving river, and quite warm, averaging about 78 F (24 C) most of the year.  The Rio Negro empties into the Amazon at the Encontro das Aguas, the Meeting of the Waters, where the almost black water meets the muddy light brown café au lait waters – and the two remain separate for miles due to the differences in temperature, speed, and viscosity.  (There are numerous Meeting of the Waters along the Amazon.)

Manaus was settled by the Portuguese in the mid-17th century, and was the center of Brazil’s rubber industry in the late 1800 to early 1900s.  The city grew rapidly at that time, and many of the beautiful old colonial buildings date back to the rubber boom.

The best known of these buildings is the Manaus Opera House, a lovely pink and white confection topped, incongruously, by a shining mosaic dome.  We decided to walk there, since we arrived on a cloudy morning with a slight breeze deflecting the incessant humidity. 

We wandered up the main street in town, packed with stores, street vendors, wheelbarrows full of fruit, and hordes of shoppers.  Two tourist police stopped us to let us know to be careful of our belongings, that there have been incidents with pickpockets.  They were very nice, confirmed our directions to the Opera House, and agreed to pose for a photo.

We walked onward, slightly uphill, and then the rain began.  Okay, this is the tropical rain forest, we’re just barely south of the equator, and this is rainy season.  So rain is always expected, even if it isn’t convenient. 
But this isn’t just rain.  This is the tropical RAIN that authors write about, the pelting pounding drumming rain that bounces off surfaces and floods the street, that streams off roofs and overhangs and drenches unsuspecting walkers.

Yeah, we got a little wet. 

Luckily, we were right by a tourist information center just about the time the rain reached the height of being torrential, so we could shelter there for a few minutes.  And we were right across the street from the Opera House, a fortunate coincidence. 

Eventually the rain let up enough so we could head over there, though it continued enough that we arrived a bit damp.  Well, it also took a while to find the entrance, since there aren’t any signs.  Paid our entrance fee, and found out that the wifi at the café there was not working. 

But what a gorgeous building!  The outside is incredible, sort of a bright rosy or candy pink, with white ornamental trim and topped with that dome or cupola covered in colorful mirrored tile in almost a Turkish rug pattern.  The official name is Teatro Amazonas, though everyone just calls it the Opera House, in capitol letters.  It was built in 1896, and totally reflects the architecture of that time. 

And then the interior!  All the chairs look like Victorian chairs with tufted round backs, upholstered in cherry red velvet.  The boxes have angels and cherubs for ornamentation, and the balconies are divided into small semi-private open boxes with curved half walls.  The balconies form four curving tiers dotted with frosted glass sconces that match the central chandeliers.  All supported by pinkish marble pillars topped by sculpted theatrical masks and shields honoring famous authors, playwrights, composers, from Aristotle to Shakespeare to Moliere, from Rossini to Beethoven.  Also a ceiling painted with scenes from plays, or maybe the Muses who inspire all the fine and performing arts.  Absolutely gorgeous in that very Victorian, very colonial, very late 19th century opulent kind of way. 

There was also room on the second floor that most likely was designed for receptions, and may still be used.  Painted ceilings, painted walls, frosted chandeliers, rose marble pillars, gold-framed mirrors, and perfect for an upscale cocktail party or even a wedding.  Actually, wonderful for a small intimate wedding!  But probably not available for the average person, and even less so for the average visitor. 

For those wondering, I have absolutely NO idea who thought Manaus needed a sumptuous opera house for plays and music.  All I can think is that during the rubber boom of the late 1800s, the community felt that there was a need for city culture, the arts of Europe, something like that.  I also don’t know what famous persons have performed here, because Manaus is definitely out of the way.  But the opera house has brought culture and the performing arts to this corner of the Amazon in a most beautiful building. 

After exploring the interior, we stopped for a snack at La Gioconda, the café right in the Opera House.  (I mention the name because my art friends all know that this is the Italian name for the Mona Lisa.  It just fit the entire milieu of the place.)

We eventually walked back down the hill and found a hotel that allowed us to use their wifi, so we could at least empty out the junk email and I posted a few blogs.  That’s the most frustrating part of cruising, not having wifi available so that we can’t maintain contact with family and friends, and I get way behind on the blogs.

Managing to avoid the afternoon rain storms, we later headed back to the ship.  Richard had a near incident with a would-be thief, a teenager who tried to snatch Richard’s necklace off his neck.  I had noticed this kid who was walking way too close to us, and warned him – kid acted all nonchalant, but once we turned and took a few steps again the kid pounced and grabbed.  Broke the clasp, but Richard turned and the kid went running without the necklace.  Annoying, frustrating, and it put a bit of a damper on our day.  Like my would-be purse snatchers in Cambodia, these kids have no idea who they’re messing with – we might be over 60, but we’re both feisty and strong and refuse to be victims.  So, we have to get the clasp repaired, and then we’re good.

Our ship spent the night in Manaus, and I had a big adventure on our second day.  But it deserves a second blog, so stay tuned.  And of course, large photos for the details:

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