If you’ve been following the World Cup these past two weeks, you’ve been catching glimpses of one of its host cities. Carved out of the Amazonian rain forest, Manaus (pop. 1.8 million) has been little known by the outside world but has surprised and delighted the multitudes who have come for the 4 matches held here so far (it’s even been chosen by FIFA as the best of Brazil’s host cities thanks to visitor care, local volunteers, and security).
The capital of Amazonas state is filled with contrasts and intrigue, and previously lived through a golden age due to the rubber boom in the 19th century. The results can be seen in the architecture, which exude majesty and the inspiration of Belle-Époque Paris. The Amazon Theatre is the foremost example; inaugurated in 1896, it’s adorned with original decorative items brought from Europe, particularly England, France and Italy.
Manaus still shines to this day, but in a different way – less because of the fancy buildings as the local cuisines and surrounding natural environment and its Amerindian peoples.
The culinary diversity found here is mainly thanks to the region’s vast variety of fish, grilled, fried or made into croquettes, usually served with fruits and vegetables and with the bold flavours of ginger and tucupí (manioc sauce) often present. Caldeirada de tambaquí (fish with tomato, onion, pepper and oil) is one of the most traditional and popular local dishes.
The tribal population of the surrounding area is vast, numbering some 350,000. So Manaus offers some wonderful opportunties to buy artisanal products such as beautiful hammocks and baskets.
And what can I say about the Amazonian rainforest? Covering 80 percent of Brazil, it’s home to an amazing array of flora and fauna – with 1,000 different species of fish alone. The city is home to numerous outfitters which offer excursions, cruises along the nearby sections of the Amazon River (the world’s longest, and 6,400 kilometres/4,000 miles), and jungle lodge stays of varying lengths and degrees of luxury and cost.
And now that Manaus has been having its closeup and the world has been liking what it’s been seeing, I expect something of an outbreak of jungle fever, as more intrigued travelers come to take advantage of the ecotourism opportunities here deep in the Amazon, Planet Earth’s green lungs.
image | Pontanegra