May 6th, 2011 – This was my last full day in Manaus, and I wanted to see as many of the historic sites as I could before departing the next day to Brasilia, the capitol city of Brazil, and then on the John of God. I walked the short two blocks over to the Palacia de los Negros (Palace of the Amazons). It was once the old Governor’s Mansion, but when the rubber boom went belly-up, the Governor went bankrupt and left the Amazon.
The building was well maintained and displayed the elegance of its era. Circular wooden staircases constructed without nails, the three different colored woods of the Amazon (black, white, and yellow), bronze and marble busts and statues, black wood furniture that looked like cocobola wood, large European paintings, iron railings from Scotland, floor tiling from Italy, and well groomed gardens. It was amazing to look at the old photos on the Palacia walls and see how much like conventional Europe the entire town of Manaus looked just 3 centuries ago. Now when you walk through the city streets, it feels like a densely packed city scene from “Blade Runner.” What changes have occurred!
I walked again to the Palais do Policia, to experience my favorite coffee shop in the city one more time. It was air-conditioned, quiet, elegant and the coffee was delicious. The insane craziness of the outside city was a world away. Inside the coffee shop, there was peace and order and civilness. Outside, there was wretched heat and humidity and the overwhelming press of humanity.
After my reprieve from the masses, I ventured out again into the muggy heat, and walked down to the Port of Manaus on the Amazon River.
The bustle of life at the Port was intense – if one was observing it from above, it would have looked similar to a very large anthill with ants running in every direction, doing all kinds of jobs. I was riveted by the amount of various activities that were being conducted in every direction, on water, land and air.
While shooting pictures in every direction along the waterfront, I moved one street back and started shooting more pictures of the large market places that sell goods from all up and down the Amazon – fish, fruit, vegetables, herbs, souvenirs, books, clothing, art – you name it, it’s there!
While photographing everything, I noticed a Korean film crew with a bald-headed middle-aged man who seemed to be the focus of attention. I kept seeing them throughout the aisles of the market – we kept serendipitously bumping into each other at the end of each lane. Finally I spoke with a young man and woman who were with the entourage, and learned that the center-of-attention was a famous designer for the likes of Lady GaGa!!! He was trying on hats, holding up clothes, putting on the ham for the camera…he seemed to be having a good time. What a stitch – ya gotta go to the Amazon to meet the designers from New York!
Continued to stroll through the marketplace, and then on to the old Customs House, and beyond to the floating docks where people board the large cruise ships. The Port of Manaus is the heartbeat of the Amazon. Without the ability to receive and deliver goods from and to the east coast of Brazil by shipping them up the Amazon River, this deep inland jungle would never have become developed. Access to the rich region via the river was pivotal for exporting rubber and receiving necessary provisions. Today, one can easily fly into the area, but even still, without the use of the Amazon River and all its tributaries, this region’s economy would grind to a halt.
On my walk back to Hostel Manaus I passed a couple bulk health food stores. I’d not seen stores like this before in Brazil, and it was interesting to see the difference between them and similar stores in the United States. Many of the bins were clear square plastic, not round cardboard bins. There were many different types of legumes and grains, but overall the stores were relatively small and appeared to be quite exclusive.
Later that evening I watched the sunset from the Hostel Manaus rooftop lookout. The sky was clearing, and salmon-colored clouds were back-dropped with pale blue. It was a beautiful evening, and held out promise of a sunny day tomorrow.