As I mentioned somewhat in passing in my last post, back in 2011 I went to Brazil. To set the scene: I was a young, newly minted Ensign, having graduated from the Naval Academy like a month before. I was granted about 30 days of basket! (the exclamation mark is because I couldn’t remember that it was called “basket leave” until just now) leave, and wanted to spend it in some dramatic way. I chose to go to Brazil! Specifically, Manaus! The reasons for this were several-fold: 1) I had for some time wanted to see the Teatro Amazonas. I forget how I first came across the Teatro there, it was potentially on Atlas Obscura, but once I got it in my head I wanted to go that was that. I’m not even like, an opera fan. Next, 2) I wanted to see the Amazon rain forest before it all disappeared. The sense of urgency was probably prompted by both like, reality, and also a memorable display at the National Aquarium which showed in a series of LEDs the whole Amazon disappearing. I figured I should look at it before the illuminated prediction came true. And probably 3), people who go to Brazil go to Rio or something like that, and I gotta be hipster and different!
I had been planning this trip for a bit, but, lemme tell ya, not too well. I convinced my dad to come by offering to buy his plane ticket, which I thought would be relatively cheap for me because I had a voucher due to a disastrous series of events that went down in the American Virgin Islands just months before, but in a fit of Spring Cleaning I think I threw it out. That’s pretty irrelevant to the story, actually. I figured it would be nice to bring dad because I dunno, he’s my dad, and also because he spent several years in Brazil as a youth and I thought his familiarity with the terrain (not that familiar, he had never been to Manaus) would be handy. Bringing Dad along came even more in handy than I thought it would, because this being my first big international trip that I had planned I was pretty dumb (hence my “not planning it too well” comment from the beginning of the paragraph). I had been out of the country before, but other people had planned those things, and I just followed instructions. It was Dad that brought up unsavory topics such as “have you applied for a visa” to which my answer was “what’s a visa.” American privilege at work!
Because by this point we were pretty late in the process, getting the visa was another harrowing series of events involving an impromptu trip to the Brazilian embassy, beseeching mom’s lawyer cousin to act as our legal representative in picking up those visas, and then mailing them overnight to an at-that-point-unidentified motel in Florida where we stayed while watching the Shuttle launch. But it all worked perfectly! I was pretty stunned. If I was by myself this would have been a very short trip, involving me flying to Brazil probably and then flying right on back, if I even made it that far. As it was, travelling there went great, and the only downside was a pretty long layover in Panama which was boring. The only other solid preparations I had made in conjunction with this trip was buying some shirts and pants I thought would be rainforest-appropriate, and trying to study Portuguese only to never make it much farther than “Não falo português.”
The trip itself was to be split into two parts. The second part was going to be a weekend in Manaus, looking at all the sights. The first part was to be a very exciting week-long river cruise along the Amazon! Very cool I know! I was looking forward to this because I like the concept of boats! Dad as well! Awesome. I don’t remember exactly how I found the company, I think on Yelp or somesuch, but I had contacted them via email and I think had to provide a down-payment via international money order or something else terribly straightforward. This was 2011, I guess they might have had a website, but it couldn’t have been great. Nevertheless, I had sent the company my flight information, and we were expecting to be met at the airport by one of their representatives who would take us to suitable lodgings for the night.
And they did! Again it worked perfectly. Dad and I landed in Manaus and got through customs and a very nice lady met us there and between dad, myself, and this lady, we cobbled together enough Portuguese and English to confirm we were the people they were expecting and that we should get into the van. After getting into the van, we proceeded to drive into Manaus. She drove us to a part of town that now, in my worldy and cosmopolitan post-Peace Corps days I would probably find very very lovely, but back then in my cloistered youth seemed suspicious. We arrived at a corner that appeared to hold an office, and she turned around and asked us for the relatively large amount of money our trip had cost, an amount we had on us in cash (as we knew would be required), but which was a fact we were loathe to admit to here in the dark. Dad and I looked at each other, and then dad suggested to our host we pay after actually seeing the river boat, which apparently was amenable to all parties. She then drove us to a hotel and we checked in.
We awoke in the morning to discover that we had already achieved the end-goal of this whole trip, in that the hotel room had a lovely view of both some electrical infrastructure and also the Teatro Amazonas! Looking back at the pictures I had actually identified this the night before, but that makes for a less dramatic reveal. We had an amazing breakfast, and before long our friend was back to pick us up and carry us off to an adventure of a lifetime!
Here a lot of my geographic sense is going to break down. The whole time we were on the riverboat I knew we were like, on the Amazon, or near it at any rate, but I never had a solid clue of our exact coordinates. I only bring that up to say that it was quite the journey to the river boat from downtown Manaus. The first thing we did was see one of the sights of Manaus, which was the riverside fish market. I think the point of this part of the journey was to demonstrate some of the huge diversity of ichthyic fauna. There were a lot of fishes, let me tell ya! None interesting enough that I thought them picture-worthy, apparently, but I didn’t have a way to charge my camera the whole time I was in Brazil so I was worried about conserving battery life.
The next thing we did was to hop on a ferry to take us across the mighty Amazon river. This was super cool, because, as you’ve picked up by now, I like being on boats. Being on this boat gave us an excellent view of the economy of the river. Manaus is where it is because it is about as far up as sea-going vessels can travel on the Amazon. It’s kinda crazy to see cargo ships like the ones I captured above this far essentially inland. Pretty neat!
The big attraction in the middle of the river, however, is the Meeting of the Rivers. At this spot, the dark-colored Rio Negro meets the light-colored Rio Solimões to form I think the Amazon proper. Because of the different characteristics of the rivers, they meet but don’t immediately mix, allowing enthusiastic tour guides to park their boat right on the border of the rivers and provide ample opportunity for neat pictures. If I recall correctly, legend says the two rivers never really mix. So that is cool. After gazing at this, we had more river to traverse, and I remember admiring various ranches with cattle and other animals abutting the river and getting my first glimpse of something jungle-like. After a while we finally disembarked, and then there was a very long (it felt like) land journey in jeeps (or jeep-like things). To break up that part of the trip we saw several more sights, including very large lily pads:
And a cashew in its natural habitat:
Until finally, have a long and perilous journey, we arrived at…
Aaaaaaand that’s where I’ll leave you for this week. Return next week, same time, same place, for the interestingly-named, Brazil Part 2!