Up far into the Amazon River is the city of Manaus; a city that rests on the Amazon, close to where the great river meets the Rio Negro. The name “Manaus”, means “mother of the gods” in tribute to the indigenous nation of Manaós. The city has an interesting and quite astonishing history for such a remote place in such an intense environment. What makes the Amazon intense is the level of heat and humidity, the intensity of large beetles, moths, and other flying creatures that grow to gargantuan sizes, the abject level of poverty, and the waters that are laden with piranha, crocodiles, and pink dolphins.
Manaus is the most populous city of the Brazilian state of Amazonas with a population as of 2008 of 1.71 million people. The city was at the center of the Amazon region’s rubber boom during the late 19th century. For a time, it was considered one of the gaudiest cities of the world. One historian has written, “No extravagance, however absurd, deterred” the rubber barons. “If one rubber baron bought a vast yacht, another would install a tame lion in his villa, and a third would water his horse on champagne. The decadence extended to a grand opera house, vast domes and gilded balconies, and marble, glass, and crystal, from around Europe. The opera house cost ten million (public-funded) dollars, but its foolhardiness was demonstrated by the death by yellow fever of half the members of one visiting opera troupe. The opera house, called the Teatro Amazonas, still exists today and has been restored.
Will and I spent the day on a river tour exploring the environs of the Amazon and Rio Negro up close and personal in a small boat and via a walking tour on a small island where we encountered spider monkeys and a baby sloth. In the evening we opted to head towards the Opera house and central plaza in hopes of taking in a show at the historic location and enjoying a cold Caipirinha at one of the many outdoor cafes surrounding the plaza. The plaza was colorfully decorated with Christmas decorations and Christmas music was blaring out of loud speakers, pan flutes lyrically rendering versions of American Christmas classics. In all honesty, it was very bazaar to be sitting in the Amazon, under the hot tropic sun celebrating Christmas while sipping on a cold Caipirinha. The opera house was also equally bazaar, a turn of the century English opera house crowded with families clamoring to see a second rate modern production of the Christmas Naivety. Needless to say, it was yet another experience not to be forgotten, however one we do not have a great desire to revisit again.