After 3 days sailing down the Amazon, we arrived at Manaus.
At first sight, Manaus is quite shocking. During the 3-day trip, we had only seen wild nature and just a few small settlements or houses scattered along the river bank. Now, the view was completely different. Amid a lush rainforest stood a big city with several ports, heavy boat traffic, skyscrapers, traffic jam and almost two million souls.
After checking in at hostel Manaus (good place to meet people), in the afternoon I strolled through the historic centre of the city. The main tourist drag here is Teatro Amazonas, a late 19th century theatre. The most luxurious materials were used for its construction, all imported from Europe. They spared no effort or money to build a world-class theatre in the middle of the jungle.
Wondering where they got all that money from? At that time, there was a “rubber boom” in the area. Rubber was increasingly used in Europe and North America, while the Amazonian Rainforest was the only region in the world that could supply the stuff. Prices skyrocketed, and Manaus became one of the wealthiest cities in the world. However, such prosperity would be short-lived. Around 1910, the British took rubber seeds to their colonies in Malaysia, where they grew rapidly. Oversupply caused world rubber prices to plummet. Manaus’ golden age had ended (although Teatro Amazonas remains).
Knowing the history, this building reminded me of others in Dubai and Abu Dhabi: luxurious, even ostentatious undertakings in the middle of nowhere, underpinned by a boom in the price of local commodities. They leave the visitor a feeling of nouveau riche. And all this is largely ephemeral. As any boom and bust cycle, it lasts until the bubble bursts… although in the Middle East it still goes on.
After that, I visited a small museum dedicated to indigenous tribes. It was interesting to learn what life was like here before colonization, and how some continue to live, for there are still some tribes that live isolated, without any contact with civilisation.
Another pleasure of visiting the Amazonia is to try delicious sucos (juice). Two local varieties are the most praised: guaraná and açai, delicious!!
Despite all this, what really attracts tourists to Manaus isn’t the Teatro Amazonas or the sucos. Manaus is the main gateway to visit the Amazon Rainforest. Many travel agencies offer tours of different duration and price. I’ll tell you about this in my next post.