Brazil – Amazonas/Manaus
February 8, 2008
(February 4,5, 6; 2008) We spent three days on the five-cabin Amazon Angler, venturing 90 kilometers away from Manaus. Our many “canoe,” excursions were more about birds and scenery than animals, which is typical for the Amazon. Amazon Clipper Cruises, the owner of our boat, offers several different trips and several boats, ranging from our five air-conditioned cabin Angler to a fully air-conditioned boat with fifteen or twenty cabins and a swimming pool.
The part of the jungle through which the Angler traveled is flat and therefore subject to flooding. The snow melting from the Andes accounts for about 80% of the 12-14 foot rise in the river level; the rest from the heavy rains.
At this time of year, the river is just starting to rise so the farmers are moving their cattle to higher ground and harvesting their manioc and corn while they are still able to.
On one of our “canoe” trips, the eight of us on board wound our way for almost an hour through overgrown channels of the river to pick up a lady and her granddaughter who wanted to come on the jungle walk with us.
“Granny” was terrific, popping off the path in her flip flops, machete in hand, to bring us back some trophy or other from the abundant plant life, explaining with hand signals and Portuguese what its uses were.
Luckily, our guide, Augusto, was quite knowledgeable in describing many of the medicinal uses of the various jungle plants we encountered. He was also able to point out bees’ nests and plants that we shouldn’t let touch us. An hour after our jungle walk had started, we arrived back at our departure point to be met by Granny’s son and a few ragged and charming kids from further inland.
Over our buffet meals and drinks, we had many spirited exchanges and all enjoyed ourselves, solving all sorts of world problems.
The food was very well prepared, with manioc appearing in several guises at virtually every meal, but never as what we know as tapioca pudding. Our favorite was the manioc bread at breakfast, which seemed to us more of a chewy, egg-less pancake than bread.
In Manaus, we stayed at the Tropical, actually two hotels with more than 500 rooms some 20 kilometers north of town. One of the hotels is a resort, built decades ago in sort of a hacienda style; and the other a new high-rise geared more to the business traveler and our pick of the two were we to return to Manaus because the atmosphere is calmer.
The resort is a family place, featuring brightly lit restaurants stressing quantity and nightly entertainment to keep the party alive. At the business hotel, the single restaurant is small, and offers dishes from a menu rather than buffet. Neither hotel is anything to write home about but from what we have read, seen or heard from others, may the best in the area.
Manaus itself, a thriving industrial city of 1.5 million, has only two buildings of note. One is the Mercado Adolfo Lisboa, a replica of the original Les Halles in Paris, said to be designed by Gustave Eiffel which was unfortunately closed for restoration.
Other than these two the city lacks sights or neighborhoods worth visiting. In this respect, we found it much like Rio but more manufacturing oriented.
Maybe the Brazilians are so busy working hard and playing harder that they haven’t been able to focus on aesthetics of historic preservation and other refinements.
Up to now we had not eaten at a churrascaria, a Brazilian steakhouse so we to try out Churrascaria Bufalo, a highly recommended restaurant in the center of town.
Choose either the large or not-so-large version although we never saw the menu to make the choice. We did, however, get to choose a nice red wine from the list of decent Argentinean and Chilean wines. There is a salad bar to end all salad bars, with one huge table full of prepared salads of unimaginable variety and another full of fresh greens of all manner and stripe, topped by a selection of maybe twenty different olive oils.
There is even a huge plate of sushi. Once your plate is full of salads, the “passadores” circle the dining room “rodizio” style with skewers of grilled meat and poultry slicing off a piece or two which you grab with your tongs.
If you need to take a break you spin the small cardboard dial on your table to the red side, which says “No Thanks” in Portuguese. When you are ready again, spin it to green and savor the next type of meat being passed.
The cost for this feast was about $US25 each and the bottle Chilean red another $US25. Everybody else in the place was South American, obviously enjoying the plentiful and incredibly delicious food. Stuffed, we passed on the desserts, the most appealing one being fresh strawberries drowned in rich cream.