Manacapuru. Jungle town of Amazonia on the River Manacapuru, Brazil….Town harbour. Part Two.

Manacapuru. Jungle town of Amazonia on the River Manacapuru, Brazil….Town harbour. Part Two.

The town or city of Manacapuru is close to Manaus. Although regarded as a city it looks and acts like a town.

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The harbour of Manacapuru is my favourite place to people watch. There is a bustling community of people living and working there. There are small family shops, cafes and carpenters at work and fishermen setting off or returning with a selection of fascinating and sometimes odd looking fish.

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The walk down to the decking can be a precarious one for flat footed Westerners. Brazilians, even in their flip-flops, are more light footed and agile. The walk down is best done with a partner for balance or a helpful local. In the dry season a large tree trunk serves as a bridge between the slippery concrete ramp and the wooden harbour decking. Fortunately a terrified look will usually generate the help of a man or two who will help with the crossing.

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There are ferries coming and going. Large wooden ferryboats and smaller, faster aluminium craft. They carry locals to their communities on other parts of the river.
Canoes of various sizes are tied up to the harbour posts.
Before the ferries became a mainstay the canoes were the only way of traveling longish distances and could take a day or two of rowing in the heat of the sun to reach town.
Now the canoes are rowed out to meet the ferry midwater if the people can afford the cost…cheaper on the wooden ferry than the speedier metal boats.

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Along the harbour decking shops sell all sorts of goods…fresh fruit and vegetables, fish and turtle meat, drinks and water, alongside newly built canoes and plastic kitchen goods.
Washing hangs on lines across the walkways and families, including children, sit chatting, arguing and laughing.

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Across the wide river you can catch a glimpse of rainforest…so close and tempting.

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Manaus-Iranduba Bridge over River Negro-Amazon(also called Ponte Negro Bridge)

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.

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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.

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Manacapuru, the harbour of the town in the Amazon Rainforest. Part Two.

The Harbour of the town of Manacapuru, Amazon Rainforest. Part Two.

The harbour area is a bustling community of shops, offices, workshops and people’s homes, perched on top of misshapen wooden decking. Sometimes the connection between one area of the decking to the other is a single, bouncy plank of wood. Locals balance on this small bridge without a second thought, they just stroll across. Visitors, looking into the murky waters below, tremble.
All day ferries, boats and canoes, jostle for a place to stop and tie up. People loaded with supplies, children with lunch boxes and satchels, travellers with back packs and office and shop workers eager to get going, can be seen disembarking or, in the evenings, trudging back up the gang planks.
The smartly dressed children clutching their lunch boxes and bags are taken into town for several days of schooling. They are the lucky ones, whose parents see the importance of education. Most children get only a few years of basic education.

Counters overlooking the wooden decks are elbowed by young people competing for potential passengers for the ferries. Willing to give travel advice and tickets between intense conversations with their colleagues.
Harbour shops are varied, either barely making a living or a delightful Aladdin’s cave, filled with stacks of dried food and bottles of water or soft drinks; gaudy coloured, plastic household goods and shiny, metal pots; hammocks and flip-flops and ice….. in blocks or cubes for fridge boxes…with no, or little, electricity in the forest, its the only way to keep food fresh for a few days. Shopkeepers sit outside their shops daring you to disturb them, but if you do they couldn’t be nicer.
Fresh fish from the rivers are on sale here too, but most of the produce from people’s small plantations or local rivers will be hauled up to town, where people will sit on street corners to sell their goods.
Beautifully made canoes can be bought at the harbour complete with hand carved oars. They are taken straight from the decking and pulled onto a canoe or boat for delivery.
Also vying for attention are the little cafes. Places where a coffee or cold drink can be had. Somewhere to slump before the boat trip out.

I like the harbour. I like the hustle and bustle and anticipation of travel and I like the sense of community amongst the people who live and work there.
Due to a viral infection my sense of smell is not strong, apparently a good thing I have been told, when by the harbour. This enables me to sit without hindrance and enjoy a coffee and relax and people watch……a favourite pastime.

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Manacapuru. Jungle town of Amazonia on the River Manacapuru, Brazil.

Manacapuru. Jungle Town of Amazonia on the River Manacapuru, Brazil.
A personal view based on experience. Part One.

The small city of Manacapuru is reached from Manaus, the capital of Amazonia, by car or bus across the huge new bridge over the River Negro or by the traditional ferry and taxi route. It lies on the River Manacapuru off the River Solimoes.
The River Solimoes joins the River Negro close to Manaus to become, in Brazilian eyes, the great River Amazon.
Manacapuru itself is unlike the city of Manaus. It is designated a city, but is more like a large, sprawling jungle town with a population of 86,000 people. There are no high rise blocks of apartments or offices. Houses and shops are usually just one or two levels at most. It is closer to the forest which lies all around it and is relatively unmodernised.
The new main road leads to the market area and church, which holds a prominent position in the town and in the lives of many of the people. Improvements have been made to this road which is fairly smooth and, when it passes through town, lined with attractive trees. Local town roads are tarmacked, but often potholed. Those further out are dirt roads.
The principal mode of transport for locals are small motorbikes. I have seen whole families loaded on to them: pregnant mums with toddlers, babies and children on laps of driver and passenger, elderly grandmas riding side saddle with bags and produce. I’ve even seen toddlers standing on the seats holding on to dads shoulders!
While the road has been freshly tarmacked for cars, the pavements for walkers still require attention. They are often cracked, broken or missing. Care has to be taken not to trip or fall into holes.
Houses are either painted brick, or wooden shacks and often unfinished and not well constructed. The better houses are tucked away behind high security fences, the poorer homes are open doored. With little of value they have no need for precautions.

Manacapuru is noisy, very noisy. Coming in from the forest it is a shock to the ears. Cars and bikes hoot constantly. The taxi bikes are the main culprits trying to catch the attention of potential clients as they race up and down the road.
If you are unlucky enough to visit during one of the many elections, the noise is horrendous. Huge loud speakers on the back of small pick-up trucks, blast out propaganda and music at ear splitting levels. It’s constant. Up and down the road they drive all day. One car I saw plastered in election stickers had bullet holes in its front window. Opponents? Or someone looking for a bit of peace and quiet……
At night the noise is even greater, if that’s possible. The stadium at weekends often has pop concerts. The music vibrates through the floors of houses and hotels close by until the early morning. Great if you’re a teen, not so great if you’re trying to sleep.
I prefer the outskirts of the town. Picnicking, barbecuing and bathing in the forest and rivers surrounding the town with locals make up some of my favourite memories.
People in Manacapuru are generally friendly and helpful. I walked around alone at night on occasion and was never worried or harassed. But I did keep to lit areas and main roads as I would anywhere in the world.
Open eating areas are fairly easy to find and the food is good. I have a fairly sensitive stomach, but in Brazil have never suffered from problems usually associated with eating out.
For shopping the area near the old Town Hall holds a market place where all sorts of things can be bought: music and film CDs, ‘designer’ sun-glasses, plastic kitchen utensils, mobile accessories, plastic toys, food and drinks and more. The salesmen are often Peruvians, many speak English. There are also, close by, supermarkets, chemists, banks and clothes and shoe shops. Brazilians love shoes.

The River Manacapuru, as always, is the lifeblood of the town bringing in produce and people and providing transport to outer areas and work.
Ferries and boats and canoes gather in the harbour, a bustling area of shops and offices and peoples homes, built on wooden decking over a dubious looking dark coloured liquid derived from the river.
The walk downhill towards the harbour can be precarious. Either down an appropriately named concrete slipway or uneven wooden steps.
Be warned: The bridge from the ferry dock to the concrete slipway, at certain times of the year, is a large tree trunk, which moves alarmingly. Luckily, a frightened expression is usually enough to bring a kind local to your aid.

I have fond memories of Manacapuru. It’s a very noisy, but very welcoming town. I have some very dear friends there who showed me great kindness and generosity, who translated and explained to authorities on my behalf and who comforted and fed me. A mention for the hotel I always stayed in, the Maranata. The staff took care of my belongings and me and provided me with a safe base when in town.

Questions welcome…..

First photo..the main road with Stadium. Second photo..view towards town centre. Third photo..Town centre, shopping area and church. Fourth photo..watching football at local pizza restaurant. Fifth photo..the Harbour. Sixth photo..the wooden steps down towards ferry and boats.

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