Saturday, December 22, 2012

From SF to Manaus

Travel day yesterday. We crossed a couple of continents and landed, after a brief stop in Panama City, in Manaus, the city that advertizes itself as--and probably is--the gateway to the Amazon. The city largely owes its existence to the rubber boom at the end of the 19th Century, when the industrialization of production of rubber created immense fortunes, and also when a lot of local population was displaced and forced to work on the plantations. We didn't know any of these things yesterday and are learning everything as we go along.

Little things strike me as we travel. The airport in Panama City resembled nothing more than a Los Angeles Grayhound station: everything about the airport, for example, the bathrooms, is similar to a US airport (all the toilets and the sinks, for example, are likely made by same company), but slightly shabbier. In front of the gate, we were surrounded by families with dozens of children, all munching homemade snacks and sipping soda. Possibly because most of our travel is to Europe, we expect the foreignness (in practical terms) to start right away as soon as we cross the border; here, even if the announcements were made in Spanish first and English second, the sense of being abroad was for me largely lacking. We didn't leave the airport in Panama City, of course.

The airport in Manaus is more like a giant warehouse (and still nicer than Pulkovo, that cramped and smoked through gateway to St. Petersburg)--not particularly fancy, but functional. It took us less than fifteen minutes to get our passports stamped and receive our luggage. Then we battled with the ATM machine to receive local currency in the amount that we need (more than it was willing to give us). A guide from the company that will take us to the Amazon today met us at the airport and delivered to the hotel--an unexpected and lovely bonus.

As soon as we got to the hotel, and after spending another half hour checking email, we went out. It had gotten dark early, but it was still balmy. The presence of the forest is felt everywhere in the city. We walked the straightest way possible through downtown to Teatro Amazonas--the main attraction, a salmon pink neo-baroque theatre built by the rubber barons. There was a show in progress on the theatre's magnificent staircase--a rehearsal of a Christmas spectacular. A bunch of bored kids in angel wings danced to the right and to the left, and wiped off sweat from their foreheads after every move. We satisfied ourselves with enough feelings of strangeness and foreignness for one day by getting funky-flavored ice creams (acai was one flavor I tried) and returned to the hotel.

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