Wednesday, 4 March 2015
Whereas Brasilia is a functional city, Manaus is a place of progression. In and around the colonial buildings built by the European settlers during the rubber boom period of the late 1800's/early 1900's are shops selling more building materials than you could imagine, forecourts offering a menagerie of brand new cars and over 500 warehouses manufacturing products for global companies such as Samsung and Volkswagen. The city itself is a huge contrast to the Rio Negro it is situated on. This river runs directly towards the Solimoes river, where for 12km they run along side each other before joining to form the Amazon river as we know it. I had never heard of 'Solimoes' but the two rivers actually have six different local names before they become the Amazon.
The riverside is dominated by shipyards enabling the two way flow of goods from land to river and vice versa. The Amazon is Manaus' lifeline providing a constant supply of products from all over the world.
During the rainy season the weather changes in an instant and our speedboat today heads into the centre of a storm. The horizon disappears behind grey dense clouds and only the methane-burning fires from oil plants break the bleak outlook. Lighting breaks above our heads as if a whip is being cracked in the clouds and thunder rumbles loud enough to shake your bones. Our guide Milton simply shrugs when we question the days weather and vaguely says "this is the Amazon, there is no forecast." Downtown there is a real hustle and bustle around us, with every street lined with clothes shops, opticians (and lots of them) and electronic stores. Everyone is trying to make a quick buck and they seem to have just the knack for it. I am in awe of the city's people working in the withering heat and humidity. Milton says the South call the people here lazy as they work at a more relaxed pace, but there is a method to that else otherwise "we would all die from the heat," he muses.
Life here is adapted to benefit as much as possible from the river. Floating supermarkets are everywhere selling an abundance of freshly caught fish, whilst the justice system has even extended to the water with floating prisons and courtrooms. Palafitas, or houses on stilts, line the river bank prepared for the inevitable rise of the water, a yearly occurrence which brings with it both good and bad. The land surrounding the river is dry and infertile for most of the year, but once the tide rises farmers can move their cattle to lower ground to make the most of the rich soil. However in 2012 the water rose so high the city was flooded and many people were displaced from their homes - hence the need for Palafitas.
Manaus has literally gotten under our skin thanks to the anti-malarials we are taking. Although the locals we have spoken with ensure us malaria is no problem here, our daily pills bring with them sleepless nights and minds that can't shut down. Hopefully we will become accustomed to them or else the next couple of months will be fun!