Laura and I spent our last night in Manaus on an impomptu street vender crawl. We walked up and down a main drag sampling whatever looked delicious. We tried several different types of of pastels, fried bananas, some kind of corn-tapioca pudding, and other things. It was a delicious and very cheap dinner.
Then, we headed over to the magnificent Manaus Opera House for a free performance of the Amazon Philharmonic Experimental Orchestra. It was fabulous and afterward we ate a piece of cake and listened to more music at a sidewalk cafe near the theater.
It was a perfect evening, in a surprisingly welcoming city.
Throughout our time in Manaus we’ve been impresssed by it and I think it’s been mine and Laura’s favorite city to visit so far (though we liked staying at The Maze Inn in Rio more than at Hostel Manaus). The people have been generally welcoming and helpful. However, while that isn’t a surprise (I’ve found Brazilians to often be welcoming), what has surprised us is just how content and cultured the city is. It’s filled with multilingual people, a lot of great (and free) museums, and streets that feel striking safe compared to other parts of the country. In other words, Manaus feels like a booming city with an almost European cultural scene (except for it’s tropical heat).
After only a few days in the city I haven’t seen a lot, but one thing that has been impressive is how the city is tackling poverty. To travel in Brazil, we’ve been seeing, is to be confronted with the absurd disparity between the relatively rich (including ourselves) and the poor. That disparity is still on display in Manaus, but the government seems to have substantially improved things in recent years. They’ve replaced favelas with parks, built homes for the poor, and worked to reduce crime (I learned a little bit about these things from people I talked to at Amazon Gero and the hostel).
These measures seem to be working, as they city is noticeably better off than other parts of the country. Even just the bus ride into town showed of much less squalor than every other city we’ve visited so far.
I’m no expert on city planning or economic development, but as a visitor to Manaus the recent changes have made my experience immensly more pleasurable than it might otherwise have been, and it seems like the same might be true for many of the actual residents as well. Now that we’re leaving, we’ll definitely miss the city.