Friday, 4 January 2008

Black Gold


Utopia or Nightmare

I broke my rule! I had planned for this journey only to takes flights to and from the islands off the South American continent. But on Christmas day I flew from Manaus to the capital Brasilia. I had to! Getting out of Manaus by land is not possible and I really didn't relish the thought of four days on a crowded boat following the Amazon down to it's mouth. Brazil is also huge, the 5th largest country in the world, and I needed to head south fast.

Brasilia was only begun in the 1950's and is a completely planned city, stuffed full of futuristic 20th century architecture. At first I hated it. Everything was "zoned": the shops here, the banks there, hotels in that section. It was a city without a heart, without a human presence and certainly not built for walking. But after a while I appreciated it for its dfference, its bold attempt to plan and build a functioning city. And it does function, so I guess it works. It has rapidly expanded, its still the seat of government, and was the catalyst for economic growth inland from the coast. Plus there are some wonderful examples of what a concrete mixer can produce!

Oi Brasil!!!

After Angel Falls I headed further south in Venezuela, on another overly air conditioned bus, to the border town of Santa Elena. There I planned to organise a hike to the top of Conan Doyles "Lost World", the Tepuy Roiaima. However this plan was twarted by the absence of others in town wanting to do the trip. The next departure would have been over Christmas and I did not want to hang around this little frontier town that long. That said I did hang around a while as a) Venezuela is dirt cheap if hard currency is changed on the easy to use black market and b) I could only escape from Manaus on Christmas day itself.

Crossing the border into Brazil exposed the contrast between the two countries. Brazil is modern, developed, stuff works and feel safe. Venezuela the exact opposite. This border crossing is remote! From Santa Elena to anywhere is minimum 300km.

After getting the passport stamped, I looked up a collectivo to get me to the nearest town, Boa Vista. I shared my ride with two Nepalese tourists "doing" South America's highlights in just 3 weeks. (They already looked tired). Arriving in Boa Vista the first bus that was available down to Manaus on the mighty Amazon, despite departures every hour, was 6 hours later at 10.30pm. The Christmas getaway had begun.

I woke up the next morning on the bus on a road stretching straight ahead through dense jungle to arrive Manaus, capital of Brazil's Amazon region, a city accessible to the rest of Brazil only by boat or plane.

Manaus, a huge city, centered in the biggest jungle on the planet, was a hot sauna like city. The humidity was intense, and the daily thunderstorms the most violent I've ever encountered.

Manaus is famous for it's Opera House. Built in European style by the rubber barons it dominates the city. Opera in tyhe jungle .................Most gringoes here were heading out for jungle trips, I got my jungle experience in Bolivia with Sam in August, so opted not to head out into the wilds. But I did go to see the confluence of the Rio Negro (Black river) and the Amazon (a white river). For many miles the waters do not mix leading to images such as this.

The Amazon here, 1600kms from its mouth, is as wide as the Solent. Huge sea going vessels are visible from the port of Manaus. Hard to believe that this is a river!!