Amazon, the place not the store
September 14, 2009 8:51 AM   Subscribe

I have a friend about to move to Manaus, Brazil for a two year work related stay. Any hive members have experience there or in Brazil in general that can help him be ready for the good the bad and/or the ugly?
posted by Freedomboy to Travel & Transportation around Manaus, Brazil (5 answers total)
I asked a previous question about tourist travel to Brazil (not Manaus but Rio) which may have some related tips for your friend's stay. Hope they have a good trip.
posted by sharkfu at 9:12 AM on September 14, 2009

He should seek out tambaqui, a fish that subsists largely on fruit that falls from trees directly into the water in the varzea flooded forest. It tastes delicious, and has freaky teeth that almost look human.

Also, pato no tucupi is a great dish he should try. It is a fermented manioc broth (a kind of manioc miso) with duck and a kind of daisy stem in it. The stem is kind of like spinach, but as soon as you bite down on it, you realize that it has an anesthetic quality to it. Your mouth, throat and esophagus tingle, and you get a wonderful feeling of well-being for about a half-hour. Despite what it might seem, this dish is completely legal and served even in fancy restaurants.

Find an ice-cream store. The best ice-cream stores in Manaus have 40 different flavors of fruit ice cream. Chances are only half of them will be translatable to English.

Check out the open-air markets, because the variety of amazonian seafood is insane. There are piranhas, armoured catfish (to protect them from piranhas), huge pirarucu (up to like 400 pounds or something), delicious tucunaré and other Dr. Suess-like fish.

Also, go down to the main dock, where riverboats prepare to go on long routes as far as the borders with Ecuador and Colombia, and talk to folks. I remember talking to an Avon representative who was about to go on a 29 day trip to Letícia in a hammock. That's some serious perserverance in the name of door-to-door marketing.

Check out the lavish opera house that the rubber boom built, to stake out the extreme contrasts present in the city.

What a great opportunity. I hope he has an amazing time.
posted by umbú at 11:24 AM on September 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

There are tons of expat websites out there, just google "Living in Brazil".
posted by MaryLee at 2:21 PM on September 14, 2009

Oh yes, the fruit and ice cream! I had several extended stays in Santarem (just down the river) for work a while back, and I loved that not only were there so many fruits new to me, but all of the flavors were also available in ice cream form! (well, almost all of them.)

Also, I would suggest that your friend take umbú's suggestion to visit the docks a bit farther, and take some river trips himself. I took a day trip through the varzea during the rainy season that was fantastic.
posted by harkin banks at 8:55 PM on September 14, 2009

I was in Manaus (and the surrounding area) a few weeks ago, and still get a little breathless when I tell people about our trip. I was there for tourism, and only spent a couple nights in Manaus proper -- the rest of our time we spent a few hours upriver, at a lodge (Anavilhanas) on the Rio Negro -- so I don't know how relevant my advice will be for your soon-to-be-expat friend. But god, am I jealous. That area was maybe the most fascinating place I have ever been.

All the things I did and ate and saw are, probably, the sort of things your friend would find on his/her own in short order. But maybe someone else -- with less time than your friend to figure things out -- will read this someday and find it helpful; plus writing it down brings some awfully pleasant memories to mind. So here you go:

Cupuacu. Cupuacu sucos or vitaminas or caiprinhas; hell, cupaucu anything. I couldn't get enough of the stuff. It's just a random Amazonian fruit, but I became firmly addicted to it. I have no words to describe the taste, really -- just that it is sweet and subtle and wonderful. Have something with cupaucu.

Oh, and acai -- much more common elsewhere in Brazil (where cupuacu could be hard to find), but also delicious. Try it with granola. When we came back to Canada, we searched out and bought basically every fruit juice or shake that had "acai" somewhere in the ingredient list, with mostly disappointing results -- these have generally turned out to be pale shadows of the all-Acai stuff we had in Brazil, blended with massive quantities of blackberry or blueberry or some other non-Acai (and not-as-delicious) berry. On the beach in Rio, there are guys who roam around shouting Acai Acai Acai, selling it semi-frozen, out of a cooler.

Non-food things. I wasn't blown away by Manaus itself, to be honest -- it is an interesting blend of extreme opulence, left over from the rubber boom days, and a slightly seedy large (approx. 2 million person) city. (Re: level of seediness: At night, people walking back home in certain parts of the city would walk in the street so as to stay in the light. We never had any problems, though -- and the people we met who actually lived there assured us that, really, it's pretty safe.) The houses, opera house, etc are all beautiful, if you can avoid speculating about the misery that helped fund them. (Just before going there, I'd read "One River," by Wade Davis, which has plenty of terrible anecdotes about the days of the rubber barons. Good book, though.) The port is pretty neat, though, with a mix of big boats going up or downriver to Belem, Tefe, wherever else, lots of tourist sightseeing boats, fishing boats, etc etc etc. There's a spot where they've marked the high-water point of the floods each year; this year, the waters came as high as they have this century.

Your friend should, at some point, take a week or so and go to one of the various "jungle lodges" that surround Manaus. If it's in within his budget, I can't recommend Anavilhanas enough -- it's up by Nova Airao, about three hours by ferry + car, or a few hours by fast boat, or a short seaplane ride. The activities sound gimicky, and I guess maybe they are, but they are also things you will never, ever do anywhere else. We went "caiman spotting" one night -- and yeah, it was pretty neat that the guide was able to get close enough to scoop one out of the river and pass it around the boat. But the part I will never forget was just being on the Rio Negro at night, no lights visible in any direction, the water so still you could make out constellations of stars even in reflection, the Milky Way stretching so brightly above us. Another time we went canoeing in the flooded forest, making our way gingerly through the trees; we kept thinking it was like a ride in Disney World ("Amazon Adventure!"), only real. We swam with pink dolphins that live in the river.

The river -- oh, man, the river. Where we were staying, it seemed like the shore was pretty far away -- only it wasn't the shore at all, just an island. The opposite bank was 20+ km away, and the river so impossibly deep for most of that. When you swam in it, you couldn't see past your own waist; the tannin-filled waters turned everything beyond that into darkness. Don't mind the piranhas, they said, ho ho ho. (Um, except we'd gone fishing for piranhas? In, like, the same water? Which is also the water where the caiman -- local crocodile-esque things -- live? So maybe don't swim if you have an open wound.)

At Manaus, the Rio Negro comes together with the Solimoes (aka the upper amazon) to form the lower Amazon. For miles, the two rivers run side-by-side without evident mixing, the one dark as strong tea, the other cloudy and light-brown, like coffee with too much (personal opinion) milk. We (fiancee and I) hired a guy to take us out in a speedboat for half a day around there, part lolling in the wide open channel, part dodging through paths in the flooded forest, part passing back and forth across the "meeting of the waters." Where the two rivers meet, you can run your hands through the water and feel the temperature pass from hot to cold, as suddenly as someone turning a faucet.

If I'd had more time, I would probably have tried to stay somewhere on the Solimoes as well, or on the lower Amazon; the white water has more nutrients in it, so the wildlife along the river is (apparently) different and richer. The trees are different, too: along the Rio Negro, the forest was, unexpectedly (to me), mostly spindly trees that spread out roots along the surface. For the big, primeval-looking trees, you need to go along the white rivers. If I'd had even more time, I would have gone up to Mamiraua -- you take a boat (two days by slow boat, 13 hours by fast boat) or plane to Tefe, then make arrangements with a lodge from there. It sounds like a special place.

God this is crazy long. I hope some tiny piece of it is useful to your friend. Best of luck.
posted by chalkbored at 9:15 AM on September 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

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