Some Connecticut Yankees In Manaus: February 9, 1998

In a lot of ways, Manaus is a reborn city. Established in 1669 as a fortress by Portuguese settlers, Manaus went through of period of enormous growth around 1890, when demand for the sap of the rubber trees brought fabulous wealth to the city. It was during this period that Manaus’ renowned opera house, the Teatro Amazonas, was built. It is said that some of the businessmen of the time were so well-to-do that they would send their shirts all the way back to France by boat just to be laundered! When rubber tree plantations were established elsewhere, however, Manaus faded from prominence.

Today, Manaus is once again a center of commerce for the region. Portside, the city’s open-air markets stretch for blocks on end. Since the port is at the heart of the city, that’s where we want to go.

As we walk past the marketplace stalls toward the port itself, we’re struck by the odd mixture of items for sale. But one of the oddest things to us is the sheer number of stalls selling hammocks. Surely, so many people don’t live out in the rainforest? Having spent an uncomfortable night myself, in one of these contraptions, I personally can’t imagine ever wanting one even in my backyard! So why are they everywhere? At the Port of Manaus, we get our answer: they’re the bring-your-own seating of choice for the Amazon’s favorite mode of transport: double-decker travel boats!

As you step outside your hotel in Manaus, you could believe that you’re in a typical South American city with its mix of old and new buildings, colorful storefronts, and jostling crowds. But this city, we find out, is very different— stray from the city limits on any side and you are in the trackless rainforest, deep in the heart of the Amazon basin. So cars are not the primary mode of transportation, since you can’t really get too far. As it has been for hundreds of years, the major mode of transportation is by water: canoe, raft, houseboat, oceanliner. A riotous mix of all these greet us at the Port of Manaus.

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