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They say if it was good advice, it would sell itself, but throughout life, we pick up baggage we want to share. Given all that has been said about the World Cup and about tourists, I decided to give my opinion. From someone who has lived in Manaus for 11 years. So if I can give you some advice, I would say: don’t go to the Amazon. Don’t visit Manaus. There’s many things wrong there.
Starting with the people. These are people who were (and are) harassed, who suffered prejudice from being born in the region and still they treat us well. Strangely, the Amazon makes you feel at home. And look, their home is warm, but the people manage to be even warmer. Amazon is indeed welcoming. Even if you’ve only just met, they are so odd that it does not take long for them to offer you a (fish) barbecue with beer. And when you leave their house, you leave with the impression of having known them for a long time.
Speaking of food, don’t eat anything in Manaus. Especially not fish. Run from pirarucu, flee from tambaqui, turn away from Matrinchã, don’t try jaraqui or bodó. You may be doomed never again to eat fish like them. A simple roast tambaqui is already a delicacy in itself, but when mixed with delicacies of the land, it knocks down the strongest caboclo, imagine immigrants with spoiled stomach. Fruits are also special attractions. If you played shoot the castor as a child, you will be surprised to know the rambutã, a kind of red castor, which has a unique taste. And yes, chocolate improves everyone’s lives, and cupuaçu cream can enhance a chocolate. I could write pages here about cuisine and spices, but there are still more things to be wary of.
For prevention, if you live in another capital, beware of Manaus. It is not usually violent. Yes, you can go out at night and come home without being assaulted and worse, without needing to be neurotic. There is violence of course, but it is localized and punctual, with a little attention you too can spend 11 years or much more unscathed. And look what often comes out at night.
On the night issue, Manaus is really a land of many tribes. There you will find rock (from light to death metal), blues, jazz, roots samba, classical music, forró, cheesy, country. The diversity is such that it is possible to go out every day of the week. Every day. And to think where I lived in the south, I rarely saw concerts, less so operas. In Manaus, I was very upset when I missed the Amazon festival of opera. In fact, there is no shortage of cultural festivals because in addition to the music, there are festivals of dance and theatre. And although not as valued, as in many other corners of this country, the troupes do many presentations. It was in the jungle that my cultural life took a turn.
About the jungle, a tip for outsiders: Manaus has almost two million inhabitants. The city is immense. You don’t see many animals on the street, beyond those which are seen in other cities. Next to some protected zones or parks, yes, but nothing beyond a sloth or birds (those who study at the Federal Amazonas often come across sloths crossing the street, because UFAM is in one of the largest forest areas preserved within a city). To see forest and native life, you only need to leave the city a little and then I tell you, it’s worth every penny. The cities and nearby tours are extraordinary. It starts with the beauty of the landscapes and sumptuous rivers. Fantastic waterfalls, as in the town of Presidente Figueiredo, and beautiful animals, like dolphins in Novo Airão. There is plenty of natural beauty in these lands.
As for the ideas of men of the earth, they don’t deserve much attention. The rich culture of legends and myths, not rich, my friend, VERY rich, carries a bit of the indigenous universe with pinches of the immigrants. For everything there is a mythical explanation. And if the stories have enchanted you with their beauty alone, when the caboclo turns them into songs, he transforms them into tunes that deserve the respect of being listened to with closed eyes. As a friend of mine citing a bumbá song from the legend of the bull would say, there’s much more on “green that fades in the distance between the forest and the man” than we think.
Speaking of Bumbás, there is life beyond Garantido and Caprichoso. The Manaus tradition of bulls is very popular in the city, and other dances like the merry-go-round of the nearby town Manacapuru. But the attraction of the Parintins bulls transcends the taste for folklore and makes for rivalry not just in the arenas but also in the strips of bars and groups of friends, where heated conversations always remember moments and festivals. If you want to offend a group of Amazonians, put on the songs of just one bull. There’s always an opposite for every contrary.
As I said before, don’t go to Manaus. The city lacks infrastructure, has problems in politics and education, as every Brazilian city today has. But it was there I found Amazonas and the brave who gave me, without pride and without false nobility, legends to dream of, life and wealth in my struggles. It’s not just an anthem, but a sincere image of a people who have no shame in giving a little of themselves. If you ignore my advice and want to see for yourself, I insist you don’t go with an open mind. Surround yourself with prejudices and comparisons with other places in everything you see and feel there, because otherwise, my friend, I openheartedly assure you: you will fall in love as I fell in love.
Translated by Donna Bowater