What a cool city. I didn't get to see as much of this city on the banks of the Amazon River but what I did see I loved.
We travelled down the Amazon for 2 days and passed quaint villages with just a few small houses and a church or a small school overlooking the water. After traveling West down the Amazon River for several hundred miles, we came into the Manaus port on Sunday 1/23 around 7:30am. I ended up waking up at 6 so actually got to see the meeting of the Rio Negro and the Amazon (more info later on this) , and miles of little communities right next to huge power plants and large shipping vessels. It was a bit cloudy that morning with a light drizzle which was just beautiful!
Approaching the city, it looks like a small town with maybe a couple hundred thousand people because most of the port area/downtown section is filled with beautiful old buildings and a few high-rises mixed in….but Manaus actually has over 3 million people and has been an important trading post for many centuries. One of the buildings that stuck out was the orange-yellow & white Cathedral of Matrise, one of the oldest churches in town. Just beautiful! In my photo album, I have pictures of some other buildings that I couldn't stop taking pictures of!
As we got closer to port, there were these small river boats (ranging from 2-3 ppl to several hundred ppl capacity) that were docked. This is a major form of transportation for folks here since so much of the communities in this region of Brazil are on the Amazon River. We were greeted by some Samba & Carnaval dancers in bright colors and feathers with some great music. They even had a sign that read "Welcome Semester at Sea". As we all poured out to the 7th deck to take pictures and take in this beautiful (yet somewhat dirty) port, I got really excited. The immigration and ship clearance usually takes about an hour at each port so during this time, I had breakfast on the back deck of the ship while the clouds gave way to a rainbow and some sunshine!
Once we got off the ship, a couple of the LLCs and younger Life Long Learners (LLLs) took off to explore! We first wanted to find an ATM and found that there was also a Sunday street market taking place! Some of it was pretty touristy but there were also lots of locals just doing their weekly shopping and coming in and going from local communities. But we wanted to first hit up the big highlights in downtown so headed off to the Teatro Amazonas, the famous opera house in town. It was built in the late 1800s and funded by several Amazonian moguls of the rubber, coffee and other industries. It was meant to help make this city a world attraction and to make it the center of town. It's just an absolutely lavish and beautiful building with lots of cool architectural elements. My favorite parts were the dome and the mural on the inside of the dome. http://jorgevismara.net/ce/2008/1005tabest/
We were quite lucky that as we got there, people were starting to sit down…and found out that there was a few symphony concert about to start in 15 minutes!!!! How cool is that? So we took over several booths on the third balcony and enjoyed an incredibly beautiful concert for about an hour. Then we went off to the plaza with cool mosaic patterns (similar to what I would later see in Rio) and a beautiful water fountain with the four directions and different continents on it.
We also got to sit in on a church service in Portuguese for a few minutes before heading back to the market to get some food! Unfortunately, I had a hard time finding any vegetarian food since there was a language barrier (the only word I knew was Obrigado which means thank you) and their usage of pork, sausage and meat stock in most of their food, even the beans & rice. But I did get to buy some beautiful scarves being sold by this guy from Ecuador and got to speak some Spanish with him. Since it was Sunday afternoon, the market started closing down by about 2pm so we rushed to get some quick souvenir shopping done since this was my only day in Manaus.
We made it back to the ship and I tried Brahma, the local beer (I didn't like it) and packed for my 2130 trip to the airport so I could catch a flight witha group of 12 students to Rio de Janiero!!!!!! I was a bit hesitant to take a group of students by myself to a city I've never visited, but it was such an incredible experience!
Rio de Janiero
Last week I was asked if I wanted to serve as a trip leader for this trip that somehow didn't have a trip leader….i was a bit hesitant to do it since it was titled Rio through Sports…and if you know me…you know I'm not the athletic type! But I figured since I am on this journey, I should challenge myself and try something outside of my comfort zone!!!! What a great decision!
We had a bit of a delay on our red-eye flight and a 2 hr time change (Rio is two hours ahead of Manaus) which meant we didn't get much sleep and didn't have time to check in to the hotel. Once we arrived at the hotel, Ricardo, our tour guide, met us and pretty much ran the show throughout our time in Rio! We started off with a bus tour from the airport to Copacabana Beach where we saw some of the new construction, the different suburb communities and the Favelas, the slums on the sides of the mountains. Around 8am we arrived into the Nescafe breakfast kiosk right in the middle of Copacabana Beach and had a traditional breakfast of toast with cheese, incredibly fresh fruit, oj and coffee! (there was meat slices too but clearly not to my preference).
After our quick breakfast, we jumped onto bicycles (I haven't been on one in like 5 years!) and had the most incredible ride down Copacabana Beach (most of the beaches have a specified bike lane) and Ipanema Beach. Ricardo explained how each of the sections of the beaches are known for different communities. So section 7 on Ipanema is for the surfers, 8 is for the LGBT community (which is close to Rua Farme- the gay part of town) and such. I was just blown away by:
-The beauty of the beaches and the huge mountains that come out of nowhere all across the city and help people navigate the city as well.
-The incredible 85 degree weather that was a bit hazy and gorgeous!
-Everyone was wearing bikinis or speeo-like swim wear regardless of age, body shape, etc. I LOVED how everyone just felt comfortable wearing what they wanted. I would never see this in the US!
-The boardwalk and many of the sidewalks in the city are made with white and black stone mosaics with some beautiful patterns. These were actually planned and executed by a famous artist. The story is that when the Portuguese ships came to Brazil, they would fill them with rocks for weight and return to Portugal filled with gold and other resources so all the stones were left behind.
After riding along the beaches we took a little break to have some coconut water (yumm!) and went of check out Flamego, the premier sports club in the country. This is the home a world-famous futball(soccer), swimming, diving, rowing, volleyball and gymnastics teams! We got to check out the museum so trophies, the work out facilities, the training stadium (which just a few weeks ago was filled with 20,000 people when Ronaldinho made his first appearance as a member of the team!).We also got to see the bus that they use when travelling, several Olympic medalists in gymnastics (and my favorite part was seeing the male gymnasts practice J) . Then we were on our bikes and back on the roads of Rio around the lagoon in the middle of town (where they have this huge metal Christmas tree that floats across the lagoon and lights up with fireworks during the holidays) to a little park. This park used to be a Favela but the rich people/developers in this upper-class neighborhood built houses for them in the suburbs and converted this back to a nature park which was nicer for them to see. There is also an adventure course that's been built into this park so we hiked up the hill and got into harnesses and started doing, tightrope walking, log - ladder walking, and other ridiculous things in mid-air and then ended with a really cool zip-line all the way down to where our lunch & snacks were waiting for us! My favorite was the organic pineapple-mint juice and also Guarana a local soda which kinda tastes like ginger ale and cherry soda together.
After this we got to check in to the hotel (the South American Copacabana Hotel 4 stars) and chill for a few hours before walking down to the beach and playing soccer. I just sat and watched all the people on the beach and took in the fact that I was sitting on this beautiful beach in Rio! J Some of us went to dinner at Temperate (temp-er-a-chay), a Kilo restaurant where there's a buffet and you can either buy food by weight or a flat-fee all-you-can-eat buffet. The coolest part was that I got a free meal because I was the trip leader and brought students there! Unlike Manaus, I was able to find loooots of delicious vegetarian food! Right next to the beach is a street that becomes a market every night so after dinner we spent some time chillin there before I headed back to the hotel.
The Next day we started early! We went to Red Beach, which is right below Sugar Loaf mountain (more on this later) and right next to all the military offices & residences of Rio! Here we got suited up to kayak on this beautiful beach. This was my favorite beach because it was much smaller than the others, had less people (though by the afternoon it was packed) and it had the coooooolest sand I've seen ever! The sand here was light brown and in granules like raw sugar , not small like traditional sand). It was just soooo cool! Anyways, I faced my 7th grade fear of kayaking by going into the water twice and though I was a bit scared, it was totally worth it! There was this sense of freedom in being in the middle of the water by myself in a small kayak and paddle. I was clearly not the expert but I made it! We did a small competition in pairs and since there were 13 of us, I got paired up with David, one of the instructors. J
After several hours on the beach of kayaking, a snack of apples and orange & soybean jucie (I was skeptical at first but it was really good!), we started our hike up the first leg of Sugar Loaf mountain. This is at the entrance of Guanabara Bay, which is reason this city was settled. It provides a natural protected bay and the Sugar Loaf mountain provides a great landmark and entrance into the bay.
On this hike we saw some small monkeys, which are not native to this place but have started destroying the local fauna & animal life but eating them! Soon we got into a steep trail which was beautiful. I can't describe how gorgeous it was! On this road, we saw the Pao de Brazil, the tree that gives Brazil its name. It's this big great and it's bark was used as a pigment for clothes, etc and provided all the color for the royal family's clothing!
At the top, we did a short scavenger hunt, where we found more little clues and pieces, please in previous events, Then we went up the tram from the lower mountain to the top of Sugar Loaf to see the most incredible 360' view of the city! At the end we combined all of our clues (square or cylindrical blocks) to form a town. It was cool to be able to see the Christ statue from all across the city, especially here. (see pix). Then we took the tram all the way down to the base of the mountain.
As you can see, my posts are getting shorter with each event…it's because it's 2:55 am and I'm still up trying to finish this!
Anyways, back to the trip, after this, we had the rest of the day off so I took some rest, walked around the Ipanema neighborhood (where the gay section is) looking for some post cards, postage stamps & some decent pictures of Favelas. This evening there was also a free concert in the Girl from Ipanema Park so left a bit early to go check out the sunset from the rocks as is tradition here and them went to the concert. The sunset was incredible and it was just sitting and waiting for the Sun to set. And the coolest part is that when the Sun does set, everyone starts clapping..almost as if we are saying thanks for a great performance or thank youfor another wonderful day! The concert was good but I didn't feel like standing in this crowded park so one of the students & I went back to the market where I bought some sarongs, keychains and some other stuff.
Next day, we were met at the hotel by two people we are part of the Brazilian Olympic Committee! They took us to Maracana, one of the largest and most popular soccer clubs in the world! It was cool to see the history and all the work being done to get ready for the World Cup in 2014 . Most of the stadium will need to be redone and is currently in ruble. Even though I don't' know much or care for sports, this was pretty cool! After this, we actually came back to Ipanema to have this delicious lunch at Carretao . Then we ditched the small bus we've been travelling to get into Hummer Jeeps to travel up into the national forest. We saw beautiful waterfalls and flowers, After a short walk and a museum tour of local topography and animal profiles. Then we headed up the see Christ the Redeemer which was pretty magnificent .just to see it in person when it's such a presence from all angles of the city is cool. This statue was made as part of the 100 years of independencecelebrations. It's made of concrete with little triangles of soap stonemaking up the exterior layer! I actually hiked up the 217 (somewhere close to this) steps to the top after our short drive. After this we chilled again, did some last minute shopping and got back to Manus!
When we got back on the ship and departed Manaus, we again crossed the meeting of the Amazon and Rio Negro. It's cool that we can actually see the line where they meet. The Rio Negro is really a dark brown/black color and the Amazon is a bright brown color.
Someone the other day said "the Amazon Rainforest is the lungs of the Earth". The number of trees, wild life and self-sustaining communities in this region is incredible! Unfortunately, globalization and increased need for lumber and irresponsible use of natural resources in this area (mostly funded by the US, China & EU) is destroying whole ecosystems of rare trees, animals and communities. Here's a little something you can do to help:
Ways to help the Rainforest: