Reading this week:
- Peaceland by Séverine Autesserre
This, my friends, I promise is the last installment of my riveting Brazil Series. Thank you for sticking with me for so long. Over the past five installments, I have described how my dad and I landed in Brazil, got on a riverboat, bothered a bunch of animals, and went on adventures, among other things. As I mentioned way back in the beginning, one of the major things that actually drew me to Manaus was visiting the Teatro Amazonas, which was a thing that I got in my head that I wanted to do, probably from Atlas Obscura (where so many of these blog posts originate).
After finishing the riverboat cruise, my itinerary had given us a weekend in Manaus. I think we spent the time pretty efficiently. The top priority, as I have said like three times, was of course going to the Teatro Amazonas. It was within easy walking distance of our hotel, so we uh, walked over there, and they offered regular tours. I demurred from thinking too hard about the impacts of the rubber trade on the people of the Amazon in my last post, but the Teatro Amazonas was built on their backs. The reason that Manaus is where it is is because it is about as deep into the jungle as ocean-going ships can get. Where those ocean-going ships were going was to haul rubber out of the Amazon, which of course was a big commodity. To get the rubber out of the jungle, the rubber barons mercilessly oppressed the indigenous people of the rainforest, forcing them to harvest vast quantities of rubber and drive themselves into debt to do it. The rubber barons got rich off of this, considering themselves more European than anything, to the point where they sent their laundry to get done in Portugal. Seeking some entertainment at home, they got together and built the Teatro Amazonas.
It’s certainly opulent. They spared absolutely no expense and on the tour they showed us a lot of the features. It even had an intricate ventilation system that came out from underneath the chairs to try to provide the space some air conditioning. It’s covered in busts and has tapestries hanging from it and all sorts of statues. I utterly failed to get a single good picture of the interior, so here is one from Wikipedia:
On the tour they acknowledged how and why the thing was built, but were very proud of all the intricate details that highlighted it’s place in Manaus. There were paintings all over the place of idyllic jungle scenes, and particularly impressive parquet flooring made of jungle hardwoods:
The theater is itself also set in a large plaza with a very nice fountain out front. After our tour dad and I hung out at one of the outdoor cafes across the plaza and enjoyed a beer while plotting our next moves.
The rest of our time in Manaus, and Brazil, was pretty quiet. We went to the Museu do Índio, which didn’t let you take pictures but where I was particularly excited to correctly identify an indigenous still. The museum itself was set within a convent and was a very peaceful spot, with gardens and flowers and if I recall correctly a nice-looking basketball court. We stopped for lunch at a small corner restaurant where everyone was distracted by a soccer game.
We spent the largest chunk of the next day visiting the Manaus Zoo, which if I’m reading everything correctly is run by the Brazilian army, I think to provide an opportunity for their soldiers to see what sorts of animals they’re likely to run into in the jungle. They did indeed have a variety of animals (some pictured above), house in a variety of habitats. Not too shabby a little zoo, and it gave us an opportunity to see more of the animals of the Amazon that we hadn’t been able to bother in person.
After that, our Brazilian adventure was largely done. We spent some additional time wandering around in Manaus a bit, seeing the sights, and at one point eating at a Brazilian steakhouse, or, as they’re known there, a steakhouse. Finally early the next morning we trekked off to the airport to catch our flight back stateside, having had a fantastic time in the great country of Brazil and enjoying our final cup of Brazilian coffee at the departure gate: