The Manaus-Iranduba Bridge over the River Negro, from Manaus to Manacapuru. (also called the Ponte Rio Negro Bridge)
The River Negro meets the River Solimoes at Manaus to become in Brazilian eyes, the great River Amazon. The ‘Meeting of the waters’, is a tourist attraction, because the two rivers flow side by side and the difference in colour between them can be clearly seen for some distance until they blend into the Amazon proper. The River Negro is a black water river and the River Solimoes is the colour of milky coffee.
Above this spectacle has just been built a massive bridge, 3,595 m long, joining the Amazonian capital of Manaus to the opposite shore. The building of this bridge has been a sightseeing must for both locals and visitors, as the massive pillars emerged from the water to stand like ghostly giants. At night it was particularly spectacular, emerging from the blackness, enormous and powerful and humbling to the small boats that crept beneath it.
The building of this bridge has been controversial. I often heard people ask ‘Why?’ A professional I spoke to said, ‘What we need is good education for our children, good health care, improved infra-structure etc. Why do we need this bridge? Who is it for?’
It does seem odd to spend $400 million, on a bridge that seems to be going nowhere and I have had many a discussion with people from all walks of life who although impressed by its grandeur are bewildered by it.
The usual way of travelling from shore to shore and to the towns situated on the opposite shore to Manaus, was by small fast boat or slow ferry, with buses and taxis available for further transportation on either side. It took an hour or so, but was cheap, free for walk-on passengers and an enjoyable break in the day. I never heard anyone complain about this method of travelling.
So why? That’s what everyone I met asked. ‘Why?’ It’s a lot of money to spend to cut a half hour from a trip across the river.
During discussions I’ve heard said it could be that the towns on the opposite shore ie Manacapuru, are needed to mop up the surplus of people from Manaus. It could be because of the gas-line that has been built below the River Manacapuru and the potential for further development. It could be that the forest is to be opened up for farming.
That is bad for the forest, of course. In the years I spent too-ing and fro-ing I have seen a gradual clearing of the forest along the road leading from the ferry to Manacapuru. Thick tree lined roads have made way for vast plains of nothing, often with a solitary, towering Brazil nut tree in the middle, as its forbidden to cut them down. The sight of that lone tree saddens me. It looks ominous.
The smell of burning timber and brush also adds to the feeling of foreboding. Out for a barbecue one day, some friends and I went for a dip in a small stream and barely made it back to safety when someone lit a fire in the surrounding forest that was lapping at the pathway we had taken. It’s frightening how quickly a fire can take hold, especially in the dry season and how much damage, intended or not, it can do in a short time.
The forest surrounding Manacapuru is full of extraordinary wildlife, remarkable birds, magnificent jaguars, enormous trees, tiny rare orchids and so much more. It is loved by most of the locals, who have a connection to it by birth and don’t want to see its destruction.
I will watch what happens with interest and, no doubt, sadness.