Despite all the partying we saw some amazing sunsets and scenery with the occasional river dolphin diving through our wake. More importantly we met some cool people who made the stay in Manaus more enjoyable.
I would love to do it again but with more locals on board to get the real experience...although having had to sleep in a hammock for 3 nights which wasn't uncomfortable I was glad to be on dry land and on a flat bed that doesn't swing.
With low expectations re: Manaus thanks to Roy Hodgson's comments earlier in the year, the city of 2 million Brazilians has made a good impression on me. Yes it's remote but thanks to its thriving history in late 1800's due to rubber (before Malaysia took over) the city has a lot of character ... not least the fact it is in the middle of the Amazon! 4hrs flight from Rio, the only road is North to Venezuela/Guyana or sailing East/West so you can tell its remote ... that has certainly not stopped the abundance of footy fans from around the world not least England and USA.
Having been in Manaus on/off for 2 weeks after a while a break from the footy is required so I have explored the city and surrounding Amazon. Also the beauty of the world cup means Manaus has been show casing its sights and sounds for the tourists. Been to some architecturally interesting buildings of which Teatro Amazonias is most impressive! A jewel in the jungle! The market was cool and a melting pot of locals buying/selling which is a spectacle to enjoy and observe. But as expected the Manaus climate is hot...damn hot...hot and wet (That's nice if you're with a lady, but it ain't no good if you're in the jungle - quote from Good Morning Vietnam). When it rains the cats, dogs, piranhas and monkeys all fall from the sky ... luckily only for a short period but it soaks you right through ... like fine rain! (Peter Kay) Oh and don't forget the Mosquitoes to add into to the mix!
Now lets get down to the proper business of the World Cup and footy ... the real reason I and thousands of others are here in Manaus. I got tickets to England vs Italy and USA vs Portugal ... arguably the best tickets in town!
Like any host city they also have fan fests and big screens up in town therefore never far from football on a big screen and never far from a bar stocked full with cold Brahma beers! En mass the Brits arrived followed by the yanks and the town didn't know what hit them...the town square and surrounding bars all ran out of booze the first night we got off the boat. The police closed off the streets as too many people were on them drinking and cheering. The police closed the bars as the fans were having too much fun and thought it might get rowdy. Now in week 3 loads more police, loads more beer and food sellers...I just feel they are a little late as this week is the last game for Manaus and it's moment of glory will be over...the games will be watched just by the locals as the fans move towards Rio. Don't think the locals realised how many would decent on the jungle and how much we would drink!!
First game was the opening match for Brazil which we went to the fan park for...30 mins out of town on the beach...yup the Amazon has a beach! The fan park was a sea of yellow as the locals came out in force for the first game. Pre game music showed me how much the Brazilians like to dance and how quick they are at learning the routines...within a few steps they were copying the Amazonian style dancers on stage. But the main event was the footy which didn't disappoint. We had one Croatian fan in a top who became a local celebrity among the 20,000 Brazil shirts...turned out he was from Galway, Ireland! Afterwards the roundabout was turned into an impromptu rave that we all partied away at until the traffic died down. All other games we spent in town around the square at the erected screen with the backdrop of the city and beer vendors never too far away! Still has a cracking atmosphere for every game including Nigeria vs Iran!
Next up the England game and for me the highlight. The build up and hype was created by the sea of white/red on every street descending on the ground. Few true Italians could be heard until in the stadium when the local Brazilians cheered their every move and booed England...a little harsh I felt...again maybe anti Roy Hodgson abuse from his previous comments. The atmosphere was good although without the England band felt it could of been stronger. Would of loved to have seen a win or draw but wasn't to be. Due to few true Italians and being the WC there was no trouble afterwards just lots of songs taking us from bar to bar! Had great seats thanks to my partner in crime Tiffany. She is on crutches so can obtain wheelchair tickets...as her "companion" I go for free...a right proper touch! We beat all the queues and have seats at the perfect height on edge of the penalty area. Due to FIFA being PC there are also fat boy seats...double seats with padding...we managed to swap our 2 seats (one is really just a space for a wheelchair) for one of these fat boy seats!!
Now as an England fan travelling I was not wearing an England shirt...I have 3 at home but not a fan of wearing them outside matches...touched on nationalism in a previous blog. I'm proudly English but don't always like the image the England shirt brings with it and this was summed up at half time. Got chatting to an old lad from up North and we were chatting about the first half...then he says "I am not racist but" (which immediately makes me think you are) "it's great having black players up front who are a lot quicker than the white guys in midfield". Gave him a polite nod and ended the conversation. I proudly say I am a English when asked just don't always have the outfits to prove it. Anyway the lads played good and just such a shame they are not getting past the group stages.
The final game for me at Manaus was USA vs Portugal. For me a chance to see Cristiano Ronaldo disappoint again and experience the full force of TEAM USA. Now as we all know soccer (as they call it) is not their first sport so decided to note down all the Americanism's that they allow to creep into conversation:
- if you warm this guy up you cant stop him
And my favourite
- shake and bake the defender
The USA fans know how to support and cheer and dress up with the usual American Eagle, Statue of Liberty and item of choice a bandana! One guy in cowboy boots from the typical Texan! Yet my favourite chant was "no one likes us...we don't care. No one likes us...we don't care". Now USA played poorly against Ghana and won so was kind of hoping they would lose/draw with Portugal to open the group and give Ghana a chance. Game ended with a last minute goal for the draw which is dessert best served cold!! One US fan was already running the victory lap and missed the last minute goal!!
It would be rude not to spend time in the Amazon so I ventured away from the big screens for 4 days to hear, see and sleep in the Amazon jungle. Due to choosing a budget backpacker operator they had massively over subscribed their trips ... we had 15 whereas the following day some trips had 40! Not only did they over subscribe they also weren't organised nor had enough accommodation ... it didn't dampen our spirits despite getting caught in a few torrential downpours!
I had 3 nights - 1 in their lodge, 1 in a local house in hammocks and another in the actual jungle. The jungle night was the best as our guide Antonio aka MacGyver made a shelter for 11 of us in the jungle! He saw a clearing, chopped down trees and within an hour had dinner on the go. It was great to sleep in the hammock with the stars above, I was an unlucky one should it rain as I had no cover but luckily no cats and dogs this time! Was alarmed to see red blood on my mosquito net in the morning but realised it was the tree bleeding from the decapitation the night before.
We saw loads of stuff during our adventures: Caimans (like alligators), boa snakes, monkeys, sloths, a baby monkey abandoned by its mother, pink river dolphins plus numerous birds. Was meant to see piranha as we went fishing but had no luck yet the market proved the best place to catch them.
Not sure whether a highlight but most of starred in "I'm a backpacker get me out of here"...after opening up a seedling Antonio knocked out a white worm/grub that was wriggling in our hands. Saying it tasted like coconut milk we all bite down which caused the grub to explode in our mouth!! The taste was palatable but the sensation of squeezing something to its death will need some more practice. We won a star which was rice and spaghetti for dinner...there is a theme to the culinary delights of Brazil here!
The Amazon is vast and amazing to be within but didn't feel as though got to the heart of huge Amazon. The people all wear normal clothes, have mobile phones and satellite TV for the footy. No spears or bow/arrows or saucers as front lips. For that experience need to go deeper into the jungle...maybe next time! It was great to see the river as it's highest and meeting of the waters an interesting natural phenomenon. The Rio Negra (dark brown) and Amazon (light brown) don't mix for 6km due to different temperatures and speeds. Like all the things I have seen can always come back and see different things and have an equally amazing time.