Manic Manaus, Brazil

There’s Always a Way


Brazilians have a saying: “Sempre tem jeito,” or, “there’s always a way”. The tone hints that their way is not always conventional. For us, it was an appropriate welcome to Manaus, a city of two million people in the middle of the Amazon Basin, where I thought that for once, we wouldn’t need to haul Zippy, fully loaded, up and over the barco’s rail. Surely, this city would have a proper port with a floating dock for more efficient loading and unloading of a boat full of people, plantains, solar panels, and luggage.

I’d been fretting about losing my grip on Zippy on his way onto the boat and couldn’t erase the image of the bike’s large chainring crunching down on the rail as the porters tried to help. It was too high for me to try to lift and Bob was very busy with the front end. My skinned knuckles and bruised shins will heal, but we need the bike to keep working for the rest of the trip. This time, instead of being easier, the way off the boat was harder. We simply rafted up to another barco. We crossed the first plank easily. At a foot and a half, it was wide enough for Bob to walk the bike over the span of water. We had a couple of landings where Bob had a choice of keeping the bike on an eight inch plank and slogging through the soft, ankle-knee deep muddy bank along side or awkwardly pulling the bike from the front.

The way from the intermediary barco onto the dock involved porters reaching and stretching to pull the bike across a three foot span over the water. It’s a real leap of faith for me to let go of the back of the bike when I can’t explain to the porters how unbalanced the load is, even if they do have a solid grip on the front end.

The N/M Sacred Heart of Jesus was originally to arrive in Manaus around noon, but a narcotics smuggler was arrested off the boat the first day, so we were delayed considerably, arriving after dark again in a very foreign city. (On the second night underway, our boat apparently hit another boat, delaying us further.)

Finally ashore, well after dark, we pushed Zippy along narrow pedestrian lanes, through a quickly closing market, dragging behind us the long stares of idle young men. We knew the neighborhood wasn’t an especially good one, an understatement it turned out, but it was close by and I thought we’d at least be able to find a hotel. We did find many which had two or three hour specials–in Brazilian–a love motel. I was so proud that we negotiated for the whole night plus extra, allowing us not to check out until noon. We slept our first night out of hammocks on a rubber coated mattress with rubber coated pillows. We were too tired to watch the “special” Channel 3.

Old Manaus


I’d somehow expected Manaus to be just a huge village, like the river towns upriver in Peru. Not so. It’s a large, fairly modern, city, with some bad sections. Cars and large transit busses dominate the streets, not the motorcycles and moto taxis so prevalent since we left Lima.

San Sebastian Plaza is fronted by a huge theatre and many restored homes from the rubber baron era. Elsewhere, the older buildings are crumbling, being replaced by boring glass and steel or concrete construction.

We left our love hotel just before noon, after availing ourselves of everything but Channel 3 (utterly unnecessary, after a week of absolutely no privacy) and made our way to a less strange hotel closer to the Centro. We knew immediately we were closing in on the Equator when we smelled the moldy room. We are paying more for everything here in Brazil, more than we would in the U.S., the result of our weak dollar and Brazil’s hot economy. Their central bank just lowered their rate to 12%!

The Amazon River here is deep enough to accommodate ocean going ships, and they crowd the port along with the upriver barcos (many sizes and configurations) that we traveled on. We’re not exactly sure of the source of all this economic activity in the mid-Amazon, but it is no longer virgin rainforest; rather, it’s small farms and second growth timber. There is oil exploration, but it is not visible from the river.

Even the small villages we called on in the past few hundred kilometers, had streetlights, a central plaza, football (soccer) field, cell towers and satellite TV. The upper river in Peru is still pretty backwater, less changed and still dominated by small agriculture and fishing.

The internet is painfully slow; difficult to upload photos, or spend much time on Facebook or answering emails. Frustrating, and something they will have to deal with if they expect businesses to site manufacturing or satellite offices here. I’m sure they will. Brazil is hot, and I don’t mean just temperatures and liberal sexual mores, business is booming; worth watching.

Claire dancing the Samba in Manaus

After a dinner of Portuguese pizza and a couple of weak beers, we walked to the plaza to see what the locals were up to in the slightly cooler evening hours. We heard music, unmistakably Brazilian, live music, and found a free concert, attended by a couple of hundred samba crazed fans of a middle-aged performer and his excellent band. As he sang, the crowd joined in, obviously familiar with the lyrics. It was a Brazilian samba love-fest and a joy to be a part of. We began to get a feel for the samba, something of a national dance, and music, for Brazil. We danced along with people on the fringes, and received smiles and applause for our efforts. We would have liked to talk to people, but here in Portuguese Brazil, Spanish is not useful beyond the basics.

We leave soon northbound on one of only two access roads to Manaus. We can find little information about the route ahead, except that there is an indigenous reserve well over 100 kilometers across, where absolutely no stopping is tolerated. We might not be able to cycle that if it is hilly or the road is bad. We saw a video on YouTube before we left of natives throwing stones at a car. So there may be a bus section in our future. We’re looking forward to the highlands of northern Brazil, and Guyana.


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