Tough Time In Manaus: The Dry Season

Mario Cohn-Haft - November 4, 1997

    Here it’s the dry season, and everyone who clears forest for whatever reason is taking advantage of the climate to burn. This year is the worst I’ve seen. This is the least devastated region of the Brazilian Amazon, yet, to judge from the smoke that has enveloped the city, limiting the view to just a few hundred meters and turning the full moon orange, the whole Amazon is on fire. It’s an extremely disturbing sight.

It’s already hard to believe that I was in the woods taping and collecting Hemitriccus in far eastern Amazonia a few weeks ago. Back in Manaus, it’s not just the usual "manausea" setting in: things are weirder than ever. Between the heat, the smoke, the drought, the energy crisis, the infernal traffic, and El Nino, it’s "Manaus, o caos" (that means "Manaus, the chaos"—only in Portuguese it rhymes).

It’s hot. Like every other summer, there are lots of real hot days. The temperature is in the mid-nineties in the shade. At night it cools off considerably and there’s often a nice breeze. But by 8 am the sun’s already starting to cook. Unlike most summers, however, it’s like this virtually every day. It just doesn’t rain at all it seems. Constant heat like this drains everybody’s energy and makes people cranky and irrational. And of course the drought facilitates burning.

Several people back home have asked if the smoke is really that bad, or if it’s still going on. The smoke had eased up a bit. For over a month it was so smoky in town that you couldn’t see to the end of the street, that the sun started to set orange at 4 in the afternoon, that boats heading up and down the big rivers were cruising right by Manaus without knowing it, that it smelled of smoke everywhere and at times seemed to be snowing ashes (in the house!), that little kids and folks with respiratory troubles were getting sick. Then, for about a week last week, the sky was mostly blue overhead and it felt more like typical summer weather (blazing, unobstructed sun).

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