Flying across Brazil, we see the lush green landscapes extending to the horizon. The sun is truly shining as the plane touches down on the runway at Manaus’ Eduardo Gomez International Airport. It is a very small, but newly renovated/rebuilt for this World Cup. Somehow we are nearly the first out the door of the terminal and I get the first taxi I see. We arrived at our hotel in 5-10mintes and I immediately realized I was ripped off on the cab fare…yeah, I didn’t negotiate a price before getting in, so I was stuck. I paid the driver and rolled our things into the Da Vinci Hotel and Conventions. The lobby was well decorated, appeared as if it were just updated with the new clean appearance…the only thing was that the updates resembled the early 80s.
Whitney and I waited until it’s our turn at reception. The young lady checking us in kept looking at her computer and hardly glancing up at us, her appearance was of confusion and concern. She begins to scramble through another couple boxes of papers, possibly other reservations that were printed. She speaks no English so I can’t even ask what the problem is. Then she walks toward another office, and returns with her manager. Similarly, the manager starts speaking and gesturing toward the front door. I have yet to learn Portuguese, so Whitney and I are so incredibly confused. We point to the print-out of our reservation and are getting nowhere. Thankfully another traveler steps in. This kind gentleman dressed in his German jersey speaks perfect English to us, Portuguese to the staff, and German to his wife and family…once I get over the combination of languages happening, he is able to translate for us. Apparently the reservation we had made through a 3rd party site could not be honored. We are now stuck in the middle of the Amazon Rainforest with a sudden panic of facing homelessness. Fortunately, the hotel staff had already arranged for another room at Amazonia Tower Hotel in downtown Manaus.
The hotel manager walks us outside, tells the taxi driver where to take us and sends us on our way. The driver parks at our new hotel, walks us inside and helps us check in to our room. Apparently, the previous hotel prepaid this cab fare for his time, but I remained uneasy until we finally entered our room. After all of the drama of arrival had subsided, we are able to relax momentarily before heading out in search of dinner. We walked a few blocks and found the first restaurant…pizza, we can’t go wrong with that.
After binging on pizza we are drawn toward the crowds and music playing a couple blocks away and stumble upon a World Cup celebration in the central square.
We dance a little with the crowds and live music playing, snap a few photos of the historic Theater of the Amazon, an opera house built in 1896 when Manaus was one of the wealthiest cities in the world. The wealth at that time was due to the “rubber boom,” but the city later fell into poverty as rubber was planted elsewhere in the world that provided easier access to trade. We still see the beauty of the historic areas as we absorb the cultural excitement in Manaus before heading back to the hotel for the night.
We wake up early and after recently enjoying the “World Cup Fan Fest Area” in Rio, we decide to do the same in Manaus. We gather the details for taking public transportation to get to Ponta Negro Beach. Here we consider taking a plunge into the Rio Negro or relaxing on the sandy shore, but lacking a change of clothes we simply wander through the park and later up to the “big screen” to watch another world cup match. We see a surprising number of Americans here reminding us that tonight is the big game. We will be attending our first World Cup Match ever, USA vs. Portugal at the new Manaus Football Stadium. As the game time is nearing we get a head start to the stadium on a shuttle directly from the “Fan Fest”. We want to get inside before the crowds and lines begin to form outside.
We near the stadium and are let off the bus maybe 10 blocks away from the stadium. The streets are closed and Brazilian police and military has set up a gigantic perimeter with security checks to keep us safe (and yes, we did feel very safe). Once through the gates, we find a discrete area to get our game faces on!!
Once in our gear, we take advantage of the empty stadium and snap a ton of pictures…here are our favorites. It’s said that this controversial stadium cost $300 million to build and will likely never be used again beyond the 4 World Cup games scheduled. It was built specifically for the World Cup and expected to be used for local teams to play matches in the future. However, local teams draw as many at 1000 or so fans, making a stadium built for 42000 guests a bit unnecessary. The world will just have to wait and see…the 2016 Olympics will surely be back, but who knows after that.
As we are exploring the arena, the party outside gradually builds until game time and we settle into our seats…”I BELIEVE THAT WE CAN WIN, I BELIEVE THAT WE CAN WIN” is intermittently chanted by the growing crowds of Americans. Attending an international football match is one of the most exciting occasions for fans. The cheering, the screaming, the standing up and down keeps us involved the entire game. This game in particular was more exciting than ever with Team USA leading 2-1 in the last seconds of the game following Clint Dempsey’s short range finish in the 81st minute. We are anxiously awaiting the final whistle to blow in extra time when Portugal’s Christiano Ronaldo sends a cross to Silvestre Varela who makes the strike that ties the game with a final score of 2-2…we were so close.
Following the game we squeeze into the buses taking us to city center, knowing that the party will continue there. We find the park packed with people and music. We spend a while celebrating not losing to Portugal before stopping at our savory pizza joint again. After binging on the “house special” again, we make our way home hoping for a good night’s rest. However, to our surprise the Ru Paul Discotec at the back of our hotel is hosting an outdoor party…with ear plugs in and pillows over our heads we try our best to block out the booming techno music blasting outside. Eventually the music turns off at 2am and we are able to sleep soundly at least for a few hours.
Our alarm goes off at 7am and we scramble to get ready for another fun filled day of exploring. Prior to arrival, we booked a trip with Amazon Eco Adventures for R$300 ($84US per person) for a full day trip. We load a bus at the offices near the central square and drive out to the docks along the shore of Rio Negro. From here, a group of about 20 of us embark on a tour of the Amazon rivers. Our first stop gives us the opportunity to swim with the elusive “pink dolphins.” We slowly ease into the water at the designated area of the river and place small bits of food on the water to encourage them to swim around us. It’s only when these animals slide above the surface of the water when I see their actual color is the usual gray that appears pink in the dark waters of the river.
Next, as Brazil hosts the largest number of uncontacted tribes or isolated tribes, we are given the opportunity to cruise to a small tribal village to see a short dance ritual and presentation by the villagers. Whitney even purchases a handmade necklace from the village. Then as we are boating to our next stop a gentleman is seen paddling his small boat in our direction. The captain decides to stop the boat as the man climbs aboard bringing a small anaconda for us to hold as well as a tiny alligator. He says they are his pets…I don’t ask any more questions.
Soon we are on our way to lunch at one of the floating villages of the Amazon. The food is nothing special, but the further understanding of a culture built on the rivers of the Amazon is very interesting. The guides on the boat describe how the floating town operates, pointing out the school, the general store, and describing the way of life for these people. We later stop at the village’s small fish nursery and are able to do a little what I’ll call “knot fishing.” Basically, the bait is placed through a loop at the end of a rope attached to a large pole that serves as a fishing pole. Once you lower the bait into the water, these gigantic fish swallow it whole as you struggle to pull them out. There is no hook, so the fish simply pulls the bait off and spits out the rope. It’s quite fun.
The next and final destination on our Rio Negro tour is the “meeting of the rivers.” Here we can see the dark rivers of the Rio Negro clashing with the light sandy colored water of the Rio Solimoes as they combine to form the massive Amazon River.
Slowly we make our way back to the dock soaking up the intense sunset. We take the slow van back to the central square and we can’t help but enjoy another round of pizza at the same restaurant before turning in for the night.
Manaus was an interesting city. It was the first time in our travels that Whitney and I felt completely lost without knowing any of the local language. I do absolutely recommend this tour we took to anyone travelling to Manaus. Lastly, there may be a time when we do return as the intrigue remains in exploring the Amazon further someday. For now, we are off to Recife to follow our Team USA for the next match against Germany.