Don’t eat at this one outdoor plaza restaurant in Manaus about a 15-minute cab ride from the main port. The restaurant name is unknown but they didn’t blend the drink. Not good. Just fyi…
If you like getting caught in the rain, however, Manaus is your city.
I’d say it was a perfect ending to an amazing four days as we left Carrefour, the grocery store, and had a 15-minute walk/run back to the ship through the pouring rain, dodging under overhangs and umbrellas on the street vendor carts. Carrying one hundred Reals-worth (Brazilian currency) of groceries in my new overnight-backpack and the rest in my arms while running across streets, going in and out of building covers and eventually running half the way through the uncovered marketplace was quite an unforgettable experience in an unforgettable country. I, of course, am naturally attracted to rainy situations, but add in a foreign country, awesome friends, and warm weather, and I’m hooked! And doused completely through my clothes.
When thinking about how to write about the past few days I didn’t even know where to start. Brazil was so amazing. Manaus wasn’t the best city, I didn’t have a life-changing experience of any sort, and there wasn’t any experience that really stood out to me, but I had an overall great time. Let me just explain the trip from day one.
So Caroline, JP, Moriah, Alexis, John, Beri and I all got up nice and early to head out and explore the city of Manaus, Brazil. After waiting for the ship to clear customs, which happened at about 8:30, we made it off the ship, through the complicated port system of a shuttle bus from the ship, walk through the port shopping area, then over the overpass and finally you find yourself in the middle of the bus terminal and just past that in a marketplace. The marketplace, and just shopping in general, was so interesting. Each cart vendor had a cart filled with different kinds of items for sale, one cart would have watches, or sunglasses, or hardware pieces, or food, or underwear (yes, underwear: bras, panties, corsets, fake butt stuffers, etc.). It was all a little confusing at first because obviously that was not stuff tourists want to buy, but we finally realized that is how the locals shop, at the carts, because a lot of the stuff is cheaper than it would be in the stores.
After wandering for a while, and continuously separating as groups, since each person would stare and stop and then head different directions. It was really just so interesting to experience. Then we all decided to hit up the ATM because no one had cash and the first one we found didn’t take the kinds of cards we had so we had to go find yet another bank and at first the machine we tried didn’t work but then I tried a different machine in another area in the bank, and that worked. What I finally figured out is there will be a large group of ATMs but each one can typically perform a different function, so not every one is the same. Really strange. After getting money, we found the Havaianas store (which are made in Brazil and were much cheaper than in the states) and after making our purchases, we headed off to explore. The city was just so cool to walk around in. Many of the stores are just open air, with no doors, even the appliance stores, restaurants, etc, and many salespeople stand right outside the door, luring customers in with funny/witty comments (or at least I think so since I don’t speak Portuguese). And right outside the stores, like clothing stores, grocery stores, etc, there would be carts completely lining the other side of the sidewalk. So sometimes you would only have a few feet in between the two, but we learned to navigate around the people and carts pretty well.
(this is the part in the blog post where Kenzie fell asleep at 8pm and didn’t wake up until 8am the next day. Exhaustion had clearly set in)
Act 1, Scene 2
After Beri and Alexis headed back to the ship, and we picked up a SAS girl, Tiana, being the tourist-y Americans, and after wandering the city and realizing that all the shopping near us was pretty much the same, we grabbed a taxi and shoved 6 of us (plus the driver) into a regular car and headed to the mall. They don’t have anything bigger than 5-person taxis so yes, there were seven people all stuffed in, 5 of us in the back haha.. This was not a mall I would have expected in Brazil but it was a giant, three-story mall, like you would find back in the States, with nice stores (Nike and Adidas were the only “American” stores), but it was fun to shop around. We found a store that sold clothes and accessories for outdoor/adventure activities. We all ended up buying shirts for the Amazon, and some people found pants. (We actually ended up coming back to the mall on the last day and I bought a really nice overnight backpack because that is one thing I hadn’t brought and needed for my South Africa safari.)
After wandering the mall some more, and picking up a new bikini, Brazilian style, we headed back to the marketplace to explore more. I found a stand that sold açai smoothies and HAD to try it. Nobody really knew what it was so I was excited to get it, the açai berry being from Brazil and all. The vendor poured the mixture from a spigot attached to his cart (a little sketchy) and then asked if I wanted tapioca added (all in Portuguese of course). The açai berry is naturally very bitter, so when I tried it at first, before adding sugar, it was not good. After adding sugar, and the tapioca for crunch, I was set with my snack. I made all my friends try it, because they were all looking at it with slight disgust. Some of them liked it, but it is definitely a different taste. In the US, açai bowls have become really popular, and many places sell them, like in Brazil, and you can add things like granola, bananas, and lots of other toppings. They had those places elsewhere but I didn’t get to try anything other than the almost plain kind. Another treat we had learned about in Global Studies was “pao de queijo” or cheesy bread, and it was delicious! We found a café, a lot like Starbucks with locations everywhere in town and multiple stands in the huge mall. the Pao de queijo was mini rolls of bread with cheese inside. So delicious! We all had too many orders of those over the span of the 4 days
After wandering all day, and sweating buckets because it was SO hot and humid outside, we headed back to the ship to get ready for dinner. We had our sights set on a Brazilian steakhouse that we had stopped by on the way back from the mall, but after a very complicated taxi ride landed us at a very fancy steakhouse and left us arguing with the taxi driver in Portuguese (aka just some yelling but mostly confusion), we ended up eating there. And boy am I glad we did because it was one of the best meals I think I have ever had…ever. A Brazilian steakhouse sits you down and immediately a waiter comes up with a “sword” of a kind of steak and slices off a piece for you to grab with your tongs. This is the pattern that continuously happens until you flip the little card they give you over to red, signaling “don’t serve me right now.” I didn’t ONCE turn my card over to red, and I’m not one bit ashamed. Then green brings them back. I’m pretty sure I out-ate all the guys that night; I was obsessed! I can’t begin to describe how delicious this meal was. But we were served every kind of steak, from rib to filet, and even chicken hearts! I’m proud to say I tried one. It was an interesting flavor, very rubbery, but still pretty good. After three and a half hours, countless meats, an all-you-can-eat buffet of salads, olives, cheeses, meats, seafood, and sushi, and 2 bottles of wine AND dessert (everyone tried a different thing) we closed out the restaurant at about 11:30pm and headed back to the ship for a good night’s sleep.
The next morning I headed to meet up with my SAS riverboat trip group. We walked immediately to our boat, which was at the same dock our ship was docked at. We sat on our chairs on the top deck and headed immediately to the meeting of the Amazon River and Rio Negro, which is a point where those two rivers meet and don’t mix. They mix a little, but because of several different factors, there is a distinguishable line where the water on one side is muddy and brown and the other is almost black water. After checking that out we headed to trek through the jungle and see the giant lily pads and while there we saw monkeys and also a Cayman, which is essentially a small alligator, sunning itself on a rock. Then we began our 5-hour boat ride to the Acajatuba Village. We all napped for a little while on the way there and about an hour before we reached our destination, it started pouring rain, so they had to pull the tarps down on the sides. Some kids had been in their bathing suits from sunning on the open deck so they were dancing in the rain. It’s so weird when it rains there because it’s still so warm outside that it’s not cold when it rains. We finally made it to the village and got to see how the local people lived. The village had about 300 people living in it but we only saw a fraction of them. We played soccer with the kids and toured one of the houses. All the houses are on stilts because when the river floods, they have to be high up since their village is right on the water. I met a boy the same age as my brother and it took about 10 minute of me trying to explain I had a brother his age because the tour guides were in another part of the village. The language barrier continually proved to be very difficult, but amusing at times, as the boy obviously found our conversation very hilarious, with me trying to use Spanish and hand gestures, and even English in hopes that a word might be similar to the Portuguese word. Our professor leading the trip actually ended up knowing the word for brother so we finally communicated what I was trying to tell the boy, Iago, but he wasn’t impressed when I finally got it across… haha. After playing with the kids more, we headed out on boats to go Cayman hunting, which is done in the dark because their eyes glow red when a light hits them. Our boat caught one and we all got to hold it while the other 2 caught up and we had a lesson all about the Caymans, and the wildlife of the Amazon in general. The one we caught actually had part of his tail bitten off by a piranha. Ouch!
Finally it was dinnertime but we had no clue what to expect, as out boat had left the village earlier so we didn’t quite know when or where we would meet up with it. After traveling in our little boats in the pitch black, we arrived at a private “beach” in the middle of nowhere along the Amazon where they had obviously brought in sand and the beach was all decorated with mini palm trees (they had planted them in the sand) and lights and in the middle was a beautiful feast of meats and grains and flan for dessert! Then after eating we played all kinds of fun games I hadn’t played in forever, like musical chairs, limbo, and the head-spinning stick game that has no name. After that the girls wanted to learn how to Samba so one of the guides with us taught several of us how to Samba, and then the dance “Foho.” Not sure if that’s what it’s called or how it’s spelled but that’s what it sounded like. It was a fun dance of simple steps and lots of complicated spins. After lots of dancing, and lots of pictures, it was back on the boat for sleepy-time. Since we were all sleeping in hammocks and they had run out of room upstairs, I got bumped to the main floor hammocks with several other students and a professor who was on the trip with his wife and kid, who made it into the upstairs hammocks. I ended up next to the professor, who snored so horribly that I couldn’t fall asleep, I ended going upstairs where several people were still up and stargazing and I was up there until about 4am when I fell asleep on the ground. I woke up around 5am to see the sun rising and made my way back down to my hammock where I slept for an hour and a half until breakfast.
All the meals we had were always so delicious: fruits, unique grains, and more. And they like their coffee SUPER sweet so that was very interesting to try. After breakfast we headed to go swim with dolphins! The river dolphins are special in that, not only are they wild, they are PINK. I got to pet it but because they are wild they get pretty feisty, as the trainer person would tease it with a fish to get it to jump out of the water. At one point, a dolphin’s tail was right under my feet and as it went to grab the fish it whole body smashed against my ankle so hard I’d felt like it had broken. Luckily it’s not broken, just severely bruised 😉 It was so fun swimming with the dolphins but the water we swam in was so disgusting that it turned our skin brown with grease, or whatever else is in the water, and we got out quickly and showered out. As we got out, there was a woman handing us all necklaces they made from seeds and other things from the jungle. Then they showed us a water cage of sorts in which they had these giant codfish. To feed them, they put a fish on the end of a pole and it comes up to grab it so viciously there’s this super loud noise as they try to clamp down and bite the head off the little fish. We headed back to the boat to go piranha fishing. No one caught a piranha, except the guide, and he caught three. Our last stop, after a lunch of this sort of coconut curry fish stew and a dessert of guava jelly and condensed milk sauce, we headed to our last stop at another indigenous village. This village was more different than the first as they had more open-air buildings and they gave us a demonstration of how to make the common “flour” of Brazil. The manioc plant is shaved up into an almost playdough-like substance and the juices are squeezed out of the plant, because it is cyanide, and you can die if you drink it. The dry shavings part is then dried out and eaten as tapioca or turned into other dishes, or just eaten plain. After playing with some of the children for a little while, we headed back to the boat for another long, 4-hour boat ride.
We made it back to the ship dock safe & sound and I immediately went to my room and took a shower to rinse of the dirt of the Amazon. Then I headed out to dinner with Caroline, JP and Grace. We tried telling the taxi stand guy that we wanted a good dinner place, and he suggested Búfalo, the restaurant we went to the first night, so he suggested another place and we just went with it. The taxi driver ends us taking us to a crappy version of Búfalo so when we realized what it was we walked right out and tried to tell him we didn’t want a steakhouse. We drove another 10 minutes and end up on this street with several restaurants and a plaza of chairs and tables in the middle of the two streets. It looked a little sketchy, as we were the only white people, but we went for it and ended up having a great time. I ordered something that sounded good, after trying to decipher it, and ended up with a plate full of fried empanada-type things, and half were filled with beef, the other with cheese. We all had ordered drinks, and the margaritas came out tasting disgusting, too strong and nothing like a typical margarita we’re used to. Caroline ordered a piña colada, and it was gross too, not blended and way too strong. But oh well. The whole experience was fun, and just as we were leaving there was a table of locals who looked about our age, the asked us to take a picture for them, but then we ended up hopping in the picture, so of course we had to take our own picture with them and JP took one of all of us girls, we were all laughing but they didn’t speak English so it was just funny. Then we headed back to the ship to see what we would do for the rest of the night, we ran into a group of our friends who were heading to a local club, Crocodilo’s, so we ended up there for a while, along with a lot of SAS kids. And we danced the night away to funny dance remixes of a lot of American songs. That was a funny thing about music while in Manuas; a lot of the music, like in taxi cabs and such, was our music, and there would only be a Portuguese song every couple songs. We all found that very odd since not many people spoke English.
So the last day in Brazil we headed out in the town again to go back to the mall and grab a few things, like my backpack, and clothes the girls wanted, and then we headed to the grocery store. We only had so much time to shop and get through the ridiculously long line and make it back to the ship in time, so we were all nervous and we slowly moved through the line. After we all paid we look outside and realized it was pouring rain outside. And it’s about a 15-minute walk away from the port. Luckily most of my groceries were stuffed in my waterproof backpack, except the 12 pack of Coke I had caved in buying, which I was carrying. It was so hilarious as we ran through the rain making sure we made it back to the ship on time, without getting dock time. If you get back to the ship later than “On Ship” time, you get what is called dock time. That means that in the next port, you have to stay on the ship for however long you were late, except it’s one hour of dock time for every 15 minutes you’re late to the ship, I believe. If you have a trip planned in the next port that means you’re missing your trip and you lose all the money that you paid for it. My goal is to never get dock time and so far so good! In Dominica, no one got dock time, because an announcement told us that everyone had made it back in time, but we didn’t get the same announcement this time, so obviously people weren’t as lucky. I haven’t heard to many bad stories from Brazil, except for a few people getting mugged, but they were being stupid. In Rio, these two girls left a bar alone at 3am to head back to their hotel all dressed up in club clothes and one of them had a purse and some guy came up to them and motioned for the girl to hand over her bag, with her credit cards in it. One thing the pre-port meeting told us is that if someone comes up to you, you give your stuff up without struggle, cuz it could turn bad if you try to run for it or fight. I know another girl got punched in the throat as someone ran by her and stole her necklace.
So this was a ridiculously long blog post, and that was only a 4-day port. I can’t imagine what it will be like when I’m in port for longer! Well adios! I’m off to clean my room from the disaster it turned into after Brazil and then going to workout and grab dinner. We have about a day and a half left in the Amazon and then we enter the Atlantic Ocean to head to Tema, Ghana. We arrive in Ghana on February 13, so I’m so excited because that is going to be such a long time on the ship! I hope I don’t get too sick when we’re crossing.
If you want to reach me, I can email often, so email me at Mackenzie.firstname.lastname@example.org