|Tuesday 1st April 2014
We arrived on the ferry into the port of Manaus during the night around 1:00am and we slept on the ferry until morning. We then packed our bags and waited on the dock for our transfers to the hotel only about 10 minutes away. We were transported in 4 or 5 VW Kombi van taxis with all of our luggage. The hotel was in the centre of the city diagonally across from the world famous Manaus Opera House (Teatro Amazonas) that was built in the 1890’s at the height of the Brazilian rubber boom. It is very ornate with a huge dome of coloured tiles and appears to be very well cared for now. It started raining heavily once we had checked in and had breakfast. After breakfast, it continued to rain for about two hours, by which time we had decided to go for a walk and explore the city. There are about 1¼ million people live here in what is pretty much one of the most isolated places anywhere. The river traffic and tourism to the area are the main earners of income for this city. The only bridge across the Amazon (actually the Rio Negro here) is situated just near Manaus, but doesn’t really go anywhere – only to some villages in the area. There are many historic buildings here and it appears to be a very pleasant city. In the afternoon, we looked around the shopping area and checked out some restaurants, went out to dinner at about 6:30pm and had a very nice steak meal. We were back in the hotel by about 8:45pm for a relatively early night as last night was very disrupted because of the ferry docking and most of the local people leaving during the night. Temperature up to about 30°C today and as it is the rainy season, pretty wet in the morning, but dry in the afternoon. The forecast is rain every day this week, but probably not all day.
Wednesday 2nd April 2014
We had a very nice breakfast in the hotel this morning and had a long chat at breakfast with our tour leader, before heading out to explore the city on our own city tour. The first stop was the tourist information centre, then we went to the world famous Manaus Opera House (Teatro Amazonas), a beautiful building directly opposite our hotel. We joined a guided tour of the building. The guide explained the history of the building and the details of the artwork and statues etc. located in the building. All of the marble in the building came from Italy (to the middle of the jungle in the 1890’s) – a totally amazing and bizarre concept. Whilst we were on the tour, a practise of the next opera was taking place on the stage – it was Puccini and was a romantic death scene. Anyway we really liked the whole site and all the things in it. It is very ornate and obviously is loved by the local people. We then went to the supermarket and bought some supplies (beer, coca-cola, etc.) for our stay here. What an experience! We stood on the line for at least 40 minutes, wending our way to the front and just when we reached the cashier, the slowest one in living memory, staff from the shop decided it was time to change cashiers, count money etc. – so another 10-15 minutes waiting while this happened. There was almost a riot by the customers standing in line who started to shout out to the security staff. Then we spied a couple of our fellow travellers right at the back of the line so we invited them to the front to put their couple of items with ours. More angst! This “trick” was quite common and we saw many people “jumping” the queue (while we were waiting), joining a friend at the front of the queue with a pile of goods. Finally we were out with our bread rolls for lunch and back to the room where we had a light lunch with cheese and vegemite on said rolls. After lunch, we headed out again, continuing our tour. We went into a travel agent and booked a tour for tomorrow to see “The Meeting of the Waters” and other attractions. Later in the afternoon, it started to rain, so we went to an art gallery and museum located in a historic building. It was free, but, surprisingly, very interesting. There was an archaeological museum – not so interesting, but the art in the gallery was fascinating and the military museum was really good. Each section of this museum had an English speaking young person (student) who was able to engage with the visitors and explain things on display. As we were pretty much the only ones there, we chatted at length to them, so it was good. Then we went back to the hotel and out again to the same restaurant as last night – chicken this time. Back home and to bed about 10:30pm. Hot today, mostly fine though, except for a shower in the afternoon. About 31-32C, always humid here.
Thursday 3rd April 2014
We were up early today as we were going on a day trip. Today was also the day that most of the rest of our group was going on a 3 night jungle trip leaving around 7:30am. We had decided not to go on this optional trip, mainly due to the cost but also because we wanted a break from the group. 5 others also stayed in the hotel. We had paid a cash deposit for our day trip of R.150.00 and had to pay the balance of R.200.00 by credit card today. We were picked up at about 8:25am by Pedro. We then walked around the corner to another hotel to pick up two other people who were going on the trip and then go together by taxi down to the port (about ten minutes away). They were a Swiss “couple”, one an elderly man about 70 or 80 and his Brazilian “wife” who was only about maybe 40. When we arrived at their hotel the woman was still eating breakfast and, although she knew we were waiting and it was past the time to leave, she kept us waiting 20 minutes! Finally we set off – when we arrived at the port we were escorted to the speedboat [a narrow wooden boat with a roof and 12 seats] – the Swiss man and his “wife” were nowhere to be seen, even though they had just travelled down in the taxi with us – and we were whisked around to the refuelling point in the harbour, and filled up the speedboat with R.200.00 worth of fuel that David then paid for. Very neat way of paying by credit card……we then motored back to the jetty where the Swiss man and his “wife” were now waiting. Already before we had set off, we had plenty of fun….we, and a total of 8 others, then set off up river (the Rio Negro) under the suspension bridge – 3½ km long – the longest in Brazil – and continued for about an hour till we reached an indigenous village of Tepu people, where we disembarked and walked up to their meeting house and they performed a number of dances for us and then invited us to dance with them. It was quite fun, if a bit bizarre, but it set the scene for the day. Back on the speedboat and down the river again where we reached a house on a pontoon with a wharf attached. We were told this is where you swim with dolphins, so we stripped off to our swimmers and had a life jacket attached to us as a flotation device and climbed down the ladder into the dark river water. A young guy attracted three dolphins by splashing the water surface and offering them fish – how could a dolphin refuse that? – and the dolphins swam around and so did we – our bizarre day continued. The dolphins swam close to us, frequently touching us, and jumped up to grab the fish right in front of us. It appeared there were 2 grey dolphins and 1 pink one (a special species). After about 45 minutes, we were told it was time to go so we got changed and continued in the speed boat through some narrow channels to our lunch spot, arriving there about 1:30pm. After we had left the swimming spot, one of the girls on the trip said she had seen a yellow snake swimming in the water near where we were. There was quite a nice meal but the fish had been so overcooked, it was inedible – pity. After lunch, we walked along the ramshackle boardwalk high above (about 6 metres) the water, flooded at this time of year, and saw monkeys – the rare red howler monkeys and the more common squirrel monkeys, as well as a caiman on a log, a sloth in a tree and giant water lilies 2 metres across. We took many photos there but it was then time to head off. Next stop was a house by the river where a family lived. They had an anaconda about 2 metres long – very small for an anaconda – as well as a couple of pet sloths!!! And a small caiman. Lynn held all of these animals while we were there. After we had visited this family, it was time to head back along the river, under the bridge and past Manaus to see the “Meeting of the Waters” where the black water of the Rio Negro met the brown water of the Rio Solimoes to form the Amazon River. It is an amazing sight and the waters continue separately for many kilometres until they merge. The black water of the Rio Negro is much warmer to touch than the brown water of the Rio Solimoes. Then it was back to the Manaus dock – the dock is interesting and it was installed in 1906 when it was considered a technical marvel because of its ability to rise and fall as the water level of the river changed (10-14 metres) – and a walk back to our hotel. We just had a snack in our room tonight as we had already had one meal at lunch time. To bed around 11:00pm tonight after a fun day.
Friday 4th April 2014
We had a good breakfast in the hotel again this morning. Today we were searching for a hairdresser to cut David’s hair, so we walked down to a busy street where we had been told there were a number of hairdressers and pretty soon found one who was available. We explained by sign language how the hair should be cut and he seemed to understand OK so soon David was shorn of his locks. We then walked down to the city centre and went shopping, buying a couple of clothing items and checking out markets. A couple of bread rolls for lunch and then in the afternoon caught up posting the blog, rang Carly for her 3rd birthday and then in the evening we went out to the restaurant down the street for a really nice fish dinner this time. Back to the hotel for a relatively early night.
Saturday 5th April 2014
After breakfast this morning and a long chat with one of our fellow passengers, we went out for a walk to check out a couple of museums that we had been told were good, but they were all shut (probably because it was Saturday), so we checked out the cathedral, but it was also shut, so we checked out some items in the markets, but most of it is all the same stuff, probably mass produced, mostly made of seeds and/or wood, so no joy there. It was much hotter today, very sunny – about 38°C, so walking around the streets was hard work. We went back to the hotel for a beer from our fridge and at 2:00pm, we went out again to go on the tourist bus that visited the city sights. We saw much more of the extensive city than we had previously. We eventually stopped at Ponte Negro, an extremely upmarket part of the city where there was a long beach on the river with many people swimming. An English speaking guide on the bus told us that the government had done all the work in this area 3 years previously. Lots of paved areas, not much shade, but fairly impressive. After a short stop there, we then went over to the other side of the river on the suspension bridge (finished in 2010 – 3.5km long) and then came back again and returned to the city centre and then back to our hotel, by which time – about 4:00pm – it had cooled off a bit due to cloud cover. Had an aperitif and a rest before dinner. We went out to dinner in the square nearby in front of the Opera House which was fun as we could watch families having fun in the cooler evening air. The square is lit by coloured lights and there are various activities such as motorised toy cars for the children.
Sunday 6th April 2014
After breakfast in the hotel this morning we went with one of the other members of the group to the supermarket to do the shopping for the whole group for the next few days. We only have one night’s camping so we had to buy food for that evening as well as two days lunches. Luckily the leader had given us a shopping list! Lynn asked the security guard if we could borrow the trolley and he agreed. This all took about 1½ hours and we loaded all the groceries into the truck which was parked just outside the hotel, having finally arrived on the vehicle ferry. We then took the trolley back to the supermarket down the street and then had a look at the Sunday market. There were many stalls and we bought some brazil nuts (!) then went back to the hotel. We thought we would go for an early lunch but not many restaurants were open so we had an ice cream instead which filled us up. Then back to the hotel to get up to date with the blog and start packing ready to depart early tomorrow. Today is fine and hot – about 36-37C.