My week with Manaus

It’s kind of hard to understand how a city of the size of Manaus could ever end up in the middle of the Amazon. But if you dig a bit deeper, there’s a roller coaster of an explanation for it all.


In the late 19th century Manaus was at the epicenter of the rubber boom, as it was here and only here where the Pará rubber tree grew. The city’s monopoly made it fantastically wealthy almost overnight. One historian wrote:

"If one rubber baron bought a vast yacht, another would install a tame lion in his villa, and a third would water his horse on champagne” [1]

But the party soon ended when a British man smuggled out the precious seeds of this tree and grew it abroad. Everything quickly fell apart in Manaus and the city was plunged into poverty.

Today the city is more well-known as the gateway to the Amazon, but vestiges of those opulent times still remain. One of the most grandiose of them is the Teatro Amazonas, a decadent opera house constructed almost entirely of materials painstakingly shipped from Europe.


Into the woods

After a day of sweating around the city, we ventured into the jungle to feel a bit more hardcore.


As is our tradition in embarking on outdoor adventures, we spent the day shifting into progressively smaller modes of transportation until, finally, a canoe brought us to our home for the week on the bank of the Rio Negro.

Once we set our bags down, we met Chris who would guide us on a week of fishing, boating and jungle hikes.

Piranha masters

First up, we boarded an unsettlingly tiny canoe to fish for piranha.

Chris instructed us to bang and thrash our poles in the water to simulate a struggling animal, which seemed at odds with the golden quiet rule of fishing. Sure enough, after a good amount of flailing, we started to get bites on our raw chicken bait.


Stef kindly let Chris and I catch a couple fish before hauling in the biggest of the day. After rowing back to camp, we put the fish on the grill and found that the meat was actually quite delicious. Chris insisted that the head was the best part, so we elected to let him have ours as a thank you.

Walk about

The next morning we elected to go on a jungle hike to see some land animals and test the efficacy of our travel vaccines (so far so good!).


While we were treated to an amazing array of plant life — including a type of bark that instantly catches fire — we also met a nest of bees attracted to everyone's hair and a great many mosquitoes.


After that hike we decided to keep to our canoe.


Fleet week

We spent the rest of the week venturing out in our tiny canoe to look for caimans (crocodiles), do a little more fishing for piranha and catfish, and explore the surrounding area.


At this time of the year the water is at its highest and boating means bushwacking your way through floating forests – a service we’re eternally grateful to Chris for carrying out.

The animals in the jungle were wary of humans, so while we didn't see an incredible array of creatures from our boat, we did get a small sampling like this dolphin encounter on a particularly early ride.


Thoughts back in civilization


Stef had been the larger proponent of heading into the jungle, and while it took me a day or two to get into it, the serenity of our new home after a long rain, the calls of wildlife in the rustling trees and the impressive stillness and scale of the river made the whole trip well worth it.

And watching Chris slicing his way through the jungle did make us feel pretty hardcore.


Up Next

We head back east to the city of Salvador and to a nearby national park.