Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Manaus to Alter Do Chão

Manaus may be in the middle of nowhere in the Amazon jungle, but it's also a city of 2 million people, so it doesn't feel like it. I was there 4 days, which on reflection was too long. It was nice to be somewhere which actually had shops with things in them you might actually buy. It even had shopping malls though the prices weren't much cheaper than home.
Opera house

Manaus riverfront

I did go out to see the Meeting of the Waters where two rivers of different colours meet but don't mix. You couldn't see an awful lot from the shore. It just looked like muddy water to me, in fact not too dissimilar from what the sea looks like for the first 5 miles of Eastbourne when it's been raining heavily.

I also went to the Bosque Da Ciência which is some rainforest inside the city. There are various animals running around in the trees plus some pens of Amazonian manatees that they're planning to return to the wild, alligators, electric eels, one otter and a few other animals.

All these things meant catching the bus, which wasn't too difficult. It's a flat rate fee. You get on. Hand your money to the conductor and then walk through the turnstile on board. You basically need to pay to get off as the exit door is on the other side of the turnstile. Of course the tricky part is knowing when to get off. I used Google Maps to cache the 10 square kilometres of the city whilst I had wifi in the hostel and then, using GPS, would take a punt on when we looked like we were nearest to where I wanted to go. It wasn't perfect but it was a lot better than guessing.

There aren't many roads out of Manaus. There are lots of river boats and my next stop was Santarém which is 36 hours down the river. Alternatively, it's an hour and 10 minute flight and it wasn't much more expensive. For reasons known only to them, Brazilian airlines seem to like scheduling flights at 3.30am so I wasn't exactly wide wake when I arrived at 5.40 at the small airport in Santarém (different timezone if you're wondering where the hour came from).

After knocking back offers of a taxi about eight times, the bus turned up and I got it into town. I got off at what looked like the centre then looked around for the bus stop for Alter Do Chão. They actually have bus stops with the destinations marked on them there, though I couldn't find mine when some other people waiting shouted "Alter Do Chão" at me and there it was. I guess it was fairly obvious where I was going with my backpack.

Off we trundled, the bus driver doing his best to imitate Ayrton Senna over some incredibly bumpy roads. So obviously I fell asleep, occasionally waking up with whiplash on the exceptionally big bumps, and was woken up by my fellow passengers when we got there. It's not a big place and Lonely Planet neglect to provide a map, which is annoying when trying to find somewhere to stay as a lot of the pousadas are down side streets. Pousada Tia Marilda was the first place I tried and I got a room for R$80 a night with en suite (cold) shower, TV with one channel (no.3), a fridge and air con. For 4 nights, I probably should have argued a bit.

Alter Do Chão's big draw is its river beach. It does look pretty. There's an island in the middle of the river. There are boats across for R$3 but at this time of year, the water is only just over your knees. There's also the Lago Verde and I took a kayak out for R$5 an hour. It was nice being out in the quiet, on my own, paddling along the banks listening to the various birds and/or animals making noises in the rain forest.

There's a small square in the town. There was free wifi which worked most of the time there, a convenience store and several restaurants. Some of the restaurants were only open at the weekend. I was surprised that the whole place wasn't busier. There's no bank. There is a Banco Do Brasil ATM in the store and it did work for me, but obviously you can't rely on it.  There were very few travellers about. It was mostly Brazilian families and there weren't that many of them. Most of the restaurants seemed to do the same food, either meat on a skewer (churrasco) or river fish, all with rice, beans, salad in vinagrette and farofa. Farofa is manioc root ground up. It's a bit like yellow grit. I wasn't really a fan. Breakfast choices were a bit limited. There is a Lanche just around the corner where you can get unhealthy pastries and even a cup of coffee without half a ton of sugar in it.

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