Manaus is the premier port city put on the
map by the landed aristocracy in the 1800s. At that time it was one of the
richest cities in the world.
For many years Manaus, carved out of
the very heart of the Amazonian wilderness, was a faded vision of the former
center of the Brazilian rubber boom. It was said that the wealth of this city,
deep in the heart of the Amazon, “dripped as sap from the rubber
trees”.   Today, thanks to commerce and tourism, it is taking on a
second life.
Grandest of all the relics of the past
splendor of Manaus is the fabled Teatro do Amazona, the ornate,
salmon-colored Opera House with its mesmerizing mosaic plaza, French crystal
mirrors, and Italian marble and rare wood floors. The Great Enrico Caruso, Anna
Pavlova, and Sarah Bernhardt were all said to have performed in that grand
restored Opera House that opened in 1896 at a cost of $10 million.

At this “decadent symbol of Manaus’
golden era”, my English-speaking guide told me the history of the Domenico de
Angelis-designed structure.  She explained the trompe l’oeil dome, and had
me cover my shoes with duck-like slippers before I could walk upon the elegant
wood ballroom floor.
Evenings at the opera house present
a variety of performances from opera to jazz.  During an evening with the
Amazon Jazz Band Concert at the famed Opera House, patrons relished the sound
of a 35-member jazz band conducted by world-renowned Brazilian conductor, Rui
Carvalho.  At the conclusion of the performance, there was a festive
champagne toast in the foyer.
A Jungle River Cruise will take you
onto January Lake (The Indian name for “Lake of Bad Spirits”) where you board
motorized canoes for an upstream journey into the igarapes (small
creeks) that wind into the heart of the Amazon jungle.  
This fascinating experience enables
you to observe the day-to-day activities of the Ribeirinhos (river
people), to photograph the giant Vitoria Regia water lilies,
and to witness the Encontro das Aguas…the Meeting of the Waters.
 This rare phenomenon is caused by the sluggish, inky black waters of the
Rio Negro meeting with the fast- flowing, café-au -lait colored waters
of the Amazon.  The two rivers, differing in density and speed,
flow side by side for nearly 40-miles before they integrate completely.


A visit to the art nouveau
Manaus Municipal Market (Mercado Central) revealed an architectural
style reminiscent of Las Halles in Paris.  It was built during the
rubber boom in Manaus.   Though you may not be buying fish to cook
for dinner, don’t miss the opportunity to photograph the colorful workers as
they filet huge pirarucu and other exotic fish in the fish market
Within the Municipal Market you can
buy everything from souvenir piranhas, tiny man-eating fish…dried and
mounted with their razor-sharp teeth ready to devour, to guarana powder,
the Brazilian’s natural root version of Viagra.  Directions tell you to
dissolve one teaspoon of guarana powder in water to produce an
“energetic product”. 

In Manaus, there is also interesting
shopping at the gift shop in the Indian Museum.  Here you will find hats,
bags, wall hangings, masks and ceremonial costumes made from yanchama. 
is a crude cloth made from the inner bark of the oje tree. 
This is dried, bleached in the sun and painted with vegetable dyes. 
The museum shop also stocks
handicrafts made of cumare. Also known as chambire, this is a
vegetable fiber (from a palm tree) used in weaving bracelets and cumare
bags.  The latter were used by the Indians for collecting the harvest.
However, for the ultimate Brazilian
memento, head to H. Stern, South America’s foremost jeweler.  H. Stern’s
Manaus shop in the Hotel Tropical, one of 160 H. Stern branches in 12
countries, will dazzle you with its unusual creations.
Founder of H. Stern, The late Hans Stern,
came to Brazil from Nazi Germany (at age 17) with his parents and his prized
possession, an accordion.  Fascinated by the art of lapidary, Hans Stern
found a job with a company that exported mica, rock crystals and precious
stones.  At age 24, he sold his accordion for $200, rented a room, and
founded H. Stern that today is one of the largest jewelers in the world.
The late Hans Stern, consummate
gentleman that he was, succeeded where fast-talking, fast-dealing jewel
merchants failed.  In a business with a caveat emptor (buyer
beware) reputation…where inexpensive green tourmalines were often sold as
costly emeralds…Hans Stern rose to the top with his personal code of ethics:
scrupulous honesty.
Having traveled 1000 miles up the
Amazon River to Manaus, I came face to face with another world.  O Rio
gave me a taste of a country as virgin as 16th century
explorers found it, yet as modern as civilization allows it.
Once before you die, GO!
JANET STEINBERG is an award-winning
Travel Writer and a Travel Consultant with THE TRAVEL AUTHORITY in Mariemont,