It has been five days since the Seven Seas Mariner entered the 200-mile-wide mouth of the Amazon River. Nearly 1,000 miles later we have arrived at Manaus, the largest city in and on the Amazon. Founded in the late 19th century, Manaus is at the confluence of the Solimoes River and the Rio Negro. It grew due to the discovery of the enormous amount of rubber trees and the use of the rubber they produced. The city became sophisticated along with its great wealth and for a time was known as “Paris on the Amazon.” Henry Ford even established his own rubber tree plantation, “Fordlandia,” to produce rubber for the making of tires. The city sits in the middle of the largest tropical forest on the planet!
From Manaus, a city of nearly two million people, boats rather than buses serve the communities that are up the tributaries surrounding the city. They deliver goods and supplies, take children to school, take residents and fishermen to surrounding towns and to their jobs.
It became cultured. Their Opera House, built in 1896 at a cost of two million dollars, is one of the most spectacular buildings in South America. It took 16 years to build and has just been restored. It is elevated and has the feel of the Paris Opera House, although it is not as big.
There is an elegant dome covered in multi-colored tiles. The building itself is stone that is beautifully cut and came as ballast in ships from Europe. Both the interior and the exterior are of French influence.
The rows of chairs are of beautifully designed, carved mahogany and have flip-up seats. The second, third and fourth floor boxes are in a horseshoe-shaped tier that is just as elegant as any in Europe. Most of the interior is of white marble carved to a fare-thee-well! The exquisite chandeliers came from Paris.
At one time it was a wealthy city of colonial design. The market place is a copy of the iron one designed and built in Paris by Eifel (of Tower fame). The English-built Customs House is beautiful too. It was built with materials that came over as ship’s ballast.
It must have been a fabulous city in its day. They had elaborate entertainment, mansions, dressed fashionably and sent their dirty laundry to Europe to be washed and sent back! It was the first South American city to have trolley cars and street lights. It was Paris in the jungle!
For one of a number of our off-ship excursions we got on double-decker boats and sailed down river to witness the merging of the different colored waters of the Negro and Solimoes Rivers where they join to form the Rio Amazonas. They run side by side for more than four miles without mixing. The separation is caused by the difference in temperature, pH, density and flow rate of the waters from each river.
The Rio Negro is transparent and the color of black coffee. The color is the result of dissolved minerals. The Solimoes is muddy because it dissolves its bed of hard pan clay and washes it down river along with everything else. In fact, the Amazon Rainforest is sitting mostly on hard-pan clay covered by only two to three inches of good soil. As a result, the roots of trees and bushes grow laterally and those along the edge of the river eventually fall in from erosion and are washed along.
This continually changes the navigability of the river and as a result we have had two pilots on board who know the river and will stay with us until we exit the Amazon. The water of the Amazon flows with such force that it pushes “sweet” water 200 miles out into the salty Atlantic.
At sea the Mariner makes her own fresh water. This is done by a desalinization of sea water by evaporation and condensation process but to do this we need to have clean sea water. In the Amazon, the river water has a lot of sediment, so it is not possible to use our onboard system. Therefore, water is very precious and we are asked to minimize the use of water in order to save fresh water as we transit the Amazon.
After dinner my husband Brad left for a nighttime caiman spotting excursion. The group took one of the large river boats upstream for an hour to a floating restaurant that served as the rendezvous spot with small motorized canoes that hold 10 passengers. With one local operating the outboard motor in the rear and a “spotter” with a flashlight in the front, off the “hunters” went. The flashlight is used to sweep the waters close to shore for a pair of reflected red eyes. Once spotted, the canoe heads straight for the eyes, the spotter goes into the water and grabs the caiman. Two feet long on average and looking just like a miniature alligator, the catch is brought into the canoe for all to hold and photograph. I was told all of this because, trust me, I was with friends in the bar having a pisco sour.
After overnighting in Manaus we took one of the riverboats, a miniature version of the Belle, and sailed into the Rio Negro. There we got into long motorized canoes and headed into the jungle for several hours. It was fascinating! There were enormous water hyacinths, tapirs, river otters, lily pads, giant and snowy egrets, a cabin or two, lots of monkeys, a pink dolphin, a manatee and white bark trees. The trees had dark water marks up nine to 12 feet from the rainy season. There are also several species of sloths, spider monkeys and howler monkeys. The jungle also holds between 900 and 1,000 species of bromeliads and orchids! There are over 900 species of birds and a Jesus Christ bird – it walks on water! The parrots and parakeets fly by twos.
The next day we headed down the Amazon and stopped for a few hours at Parintins to take in a performance of its famous Boi Bumba Folk Show. Parintins is a town that sits on Tupinambarana Island in the middle of the Amazon. It can only be reached by boat or plane.
Wow! As we entered the Convention Center we were given a Caipirana, a delicious cocktail that is made with Cachaca – a potent liquor made from sugar cane, lots of macerated limes, sugar and ice. It is guaranteed to put everyone in a great mood. The Boi Bumba is part of a huge three-day folk festival and is the biggest celebration in the Amazon. It combines elements of theater and circus with drumming, singing and dancing. The festival enacts the legendary tale of the kidnapping, death and resurrection of an ox, a metaphor for agricultural cycles. In Parintins the event has become a competition between two Boi teams, each with several thousand members. Tens of thousands of people descend on Parintins to see the parades in the Bumbodromo, a stadium-like structure that holds 35,000 people. The teams are judged on their music, dance and costumes. It was loud, fun and fabulous!
The next day we stopped briefly at Santarem, our last stop on the Amazon. Rather than going into the middle of town, we took the opportunity to shop, this time at the arts and crafts booths on the dock.
The next day we were invited to a small lunch with the ship’s Canadian Executive Chef, where he demonstrated and served his fabulous recipe for Western Style Beef Tartar. If readers want a copy of this and his recipe for Vanilla Fudge, send me a note in care of The Voice.
Later in the afternoon was the ship’s “County Fair” around the pool on the top deck. We will officially leave Brazil and cross into the Atlantic on our way to Devil’s Island, French Guiana.
About the Author (Author Profile)
A fixture in Louisville society, Carla Sue Broecker has been writing her weekly column for more than two decades.