Manaus: City of Contrasts From Opera House to Floating Village

Day 12, 2024 Grand World Voyage

Sunday, Jan. 14, 2024; Manaus, Brazil

When last I cruised to Manaus (just last month!), we moved slowly past a tanker grounded on a sandbar. Our ship had barely more than a meter (39 inches) under the keel. Due to the low water level, we delayed our arrival so we could pass this sandbar during daylight.

Today it was a nonevent. We crossed the sandbar in the wee hours, and I am just assuming the tanker is gone. I was not awake to see.

Having explored on foot the half mile between the cruise terminal and the famous Teatro Amazonas, or opera house, the last time I was here, today I took a tour to see more of this city of two-million-plus people almost a thousand miles up the Amazon River. It lies at the meeting of the Negras and Solimões rivers, which join to become the Amazon.

In the late 19th Century, Manaus was the center of a rubber boom that generated immense wealth, leading to the construction of the amazing opera house. Today, the city is a center for electronics manufacturing – your Japanese or Korean television or microwave oven likely was assembled here.

Our tour today left from the cruise pier (eliminating the need to take a shuttle bus out of the industrial port area), past the Customs House and other buildings that have seen better days. The jungle seems to never stop trying reclaim its land. Last night brought a heavy rain storm, and our guide said the water surging through the drainage canals would leave baby caiman and anacondas in its wake. I saw neither.

Despite their disrepair, the many abandoned buildings still bear vestiges of past beauty.

High-rise buildings become canvases for huge modern murals.

Our first and only stop on this bus tour was at the opera house, which sits on a large public square that also is opposite the St. Sebastian Church. Gone are the Christmas decorations I saw being erected in early December, but the distinctive paving tiles leave no doubt as to the city’s Portuguese roots. I’ve seen them from Lisbon to Rio de Janeiro, from the Azores to Madeira. I hear they also are in Macau, next to Hong Kong, but have yet to visit there.

Sadly, the opera house auditorium was closed for viewing — the seats were removed and the room sealed as strong chemicals had been used for cleaning. Still, we toured the opulent second-floor salons used for intermissions. Almost all the materials came from Europe, including Italian marble and Venetian glass chandeliers. The colorful dome tiles represent the colors of the Brazilian flag.

From there we returned to the pier to board a boat for the rest of our full-day tour. After crossing the Rio Negras, we stopped at a floating restaurant for an expansive buffet of fruit, salads and entrees traditional to the Amazon – of course accompanied by local beer. I was surprised to see the main choices were Heineken (which is very popular in Brazil) and Antarctica. We seemed so far from my journey there just two months ago.

We spent the afternoon learning from our great guides about life on the Amazon, a subject that I will write more about in a few days. Our guides were born on the river and now are school teachers leading tours during school breaks. We traveled by small canoes through an ecological park between the two rivers, full of birds and floating houses. The rice plants growing around us soon will be under water, as the river levels continue to rise with the season.

The heavy rains had left the trail to a small indigenous village muddy, so many of us chose to avoid soaking our shoes in the shallow trail and instead waited at a floating souvenir shop. While there I watched local fishermen pull a large catfish from the water. I’m guessing that it will provide meals for quite a few people, or perhaps bring a nice price at a fish market.