From the Atlantic Ocean to the top of the Andes Mountains, Argentina is a bridge between the Old and New Worlds. Innately European but distinctly Latin American, the country is a melding of cultural influences brought by the Spaniards and western immigrants and a unique geographic backdrop that offers some of earth’s most stunning scenes. Renown Argentine writer Ernesto Sabato described his homeland thus: “Because of our European roots, we deeply link the nation with the enduring values of the Old World; because of our condition of Americans we link ourselves to the rest of the continent.” One cannot sit drinking a glass of Mendoza wine in the foothills of the Andes or enjoying parrilla (grill) in the shadow of the cruise ships bound for Antarctica departing from Tierra del Fuego without thinking of Europe and the Americas. Argentines are rightly proud of their country and culture that invite visitors to indulge in and savor.

More About Argentina

Casa Rosada in Buenos Aires

2008_05_15 Argentina Buenos Aires IMG_3557

Penguin and Seal Colony in the Beagle Channel, Tierra del Fuego

2009_01_25 Argentina Beagle Channel IMG_5229

Llao Llao Resort and Nahuel Huapi Lake near San Carlos de Bariloche

2009_02_03 Argentina Bariloche Llao Llao Resort IMG_6372

Perito Moreno Glacier in Los Glacieres National Park

2009_02_09 Argentina Perito Moreno IMG_6210

Map picture

Manaus, Brazil – Heart of the Amazon

This is the first in a series about the Amazon region of Brazil that is featured in my illustrated picture book, Alexander the Salamander. This post is about Manaus, the largest city in the Brazilian Amazon. Upcoming articles will focus on the Amazon River Basin, the rainforest, indigenous groups and wildlife in the Amazon, and the Amazon Ecopark, an eco-resort. Enjoy these travelogues with photos and stories from the world’s largest rainforest.

My family and I visited the Amazon region in July 2008. We spent the day in Manaus, the capital of the Brazilian state of Amazonas, before embarking on a trip to the rainforest.

2008_07_19 Brazil Amazon Manaus (1)

The city lies at the confluence of the rivers Rio Negro and Rio Solimões, the two major tributaries that form the mighty Amazon River flowing east to the Atlantic Ocean. Surrounded by a dense sea of green forest that blankets the region, Manaus is a gritty, industrial city of approximately 1.85 million inhabitants carved out of the jungle. It’s a four-hour flight from São Paulo, the primary airline hub for most international flights entering Brazil.

2008_07_19 Brazil Amazon Manaus (2)

The name “Manaus” is derived from the Manaós indigenous group that lived in the area until the city’s establishment by the Portuguese in 1669. Manaus has been called the “Heart of the Amazon” and “City of the Forest,” although a more appropriate name is the “Industrial Pool of Manaus,” reflecting the city’s status as an industrial center. A rubber boom in the late 1800s fueled urban growth for half a century. Since the establishment of the Free Economic Zone of Manaus (ZFM) in 1957, a bevy of industries from shipbuilding and petrochemicals to manufacturing and agribusiness have developed thanks to tax incentives offered by the ZFM.

Although the city’s footprint is one of the largest in Brazil, its historic center between the river port and the main square is an easy walk. Visiting Manaus’ highlights is a day tour on foot from any number of hotels clustered in the center. Heading north on Avenida Eduardo Ribeiro takes you to the Renaissance-style Amazon Theater (Teatro Amazonas), an opera house that opened in 1896 and is home to the Amazonas Philharmonic. The easily recognizable dome features a large mural of the Brazilian flag.

2008_07_19 Brazil Amazon Manaus (3)

2008_07_19 Brazil Amazon Manaus (4)

The main square is lined with historic buildings that house the Palace of Justice (Palácio de Justiça), São Sebastião Church, Municipal Prefecture, and the Indigenous Museum (Museu do Índio), one of two showcasing local indigenous culture (the other is the smaller, nearby Museu Amazônico). Although small – just one large city block – the square is a must-see when visiting Manaus. Park benches in São Sebastião Park are a great place to stop and enjoy the plaza.

2008_07_19 Brazil Amazon Manaus (5)

2008_07_19 Brazil Amazon Manaus (6)

Walking down Avenida Eduardo Ribeiro toward the river port will introduce you to the sights and sounds of Manaus. There are some free-for-all markets that sell a wide assortment of knock-off goods. We passed on the faux leather goods and “Swiss” watches.

2008_07_19 Brazil Amazon Manaus (7)

2008_07_19 Brazil Amazon Manaus (8)

Next to the port is a large open-air market surrounding the Church of the Mother Manaus (Ingreja de Matriz Manaus). Cluttered and somewhat disorganized, the place was abuzz with activity when we visited and filled with items that seemed more geared to locals than tourists. We enjoyed browsing the stalls for mementos, food, and drink.

2008_07_19 Brazil Amazon Manaus (11)

2008_07_19 Brazil Amazon Manaus (9)

My son enjoyed drinking milk straight from the coconut sold by one of the vendors.

2008_07_19 Brazil Amazon Manaus (10)

Across the street on the banks of the Rio Negro is the Adolpho Lisboa Market (Mercado Adolpho Lisboa), the city’s oldest market built in 1882. Next to it lies the ornate Customs House (Alfandega) overshadowed by the contemporary but gaudy Ministry of Finance (Fazenda) skyscraper out of place in the historic center.

2008_07_19 Brazil Amazon Manaus (12)

The large, modern wharf next to the river port crowded with cafes and piers blends in well with the colonial architecture.

2008_07_19 Brazil Amazon Manaus

The port is a jump-off point for river cruises and tourist excursions that range from daytrips to the Meeting of the Waters at the confluence of the Rio Negro and Rio Solimões to multi-day trips to ecotour resorts.

2008_07_19 Brazil Amazon Manaus (13)

2008_07_19 Brazil Amazon Manaus (14)

2008_07_19 Brazil Amazon Manaus (15)

2008_07_19 Brazil Amazon Manaus (16)

2008_07_19 Brazil Amazon Manaus (17)

2008_07_19 Brazil Amazon Manaus (18)

If you visit the heart of the Amazon, you’ll likely transit through Manaus on your way to the rainforest. Many tourists head straight to the river without stopping to enjoy the city. While much more awaits you in the wild, a brief stopover will introduce you to Brazilian culture and prepare you for the jungle adventure that lies ahead.

2008_07_19 Brazil Amazon Manaus (19)
Alexander the SalamanderAbout Alexander the Salamander

A young salamander named Alexander living in the Amazon River Basin joins his friends Airey the Butterfly and Terry the Tarantula for an unforgettable jungle adventure. Come along with Alexander and friends as they meet birds, monkeys, and other creatures, enjoy the beauty of the rainforest, and face danger along the way.

The first book in the World Adventurers for Kids Series, Alexander the Salamander is an illustrated story inspired by the authors’ visit to the Amazon in 2008. Fun for kids and adults alike, the story teaches children the importance of listening to teachers and other authority figures.


More About Brazil
Click on the icon below for more articles about Brazil


Uruguay – Of Buildings and Beaches

With the weather heating up in Asunción, Paraguay, my family and I decided to cool off for a few days during the off-season in Montevideo and Punta del Este, Uruguay, before the summer crowd arrived on vacation.  Thousands of visitors descend each year on Uruguay during the January-February summer season to escape the summer heat and spend time at the ocean.
Uruguay’s capital, Montevideo, is a feast of Spanish colonial architecture and surrealist art inspired by Uruguayan painter Joaquin Torres Garcia.  Many of its buildings have been restored to their original splendor, and its architecture is similar to that of Buenos Aires located just across the delta of the Rio de la Plata.  Montevideo is a good excursion for those who enjoy great architecture, colonial history, music and dancing, and fine arts.  (Montevideo also hosts Uruguay’s largest Carnaval celebration.)  The city offers an understated elegance and tranquility befitting a vacation getaway.  Many of the city center’s primary attractions are located within walking distance of Plaza Independencia and Plaza Constitution, the city’s main squares.  Consider starting your tour of Montevideo with a walk through the old city, Ciudad Vieja, near the waterfront, and wind your way through quiet neighborhoods to the tomb of Jose Artigas, the “Father of Uruguay,” in Plaza Independencia.  After taking in the city center, consider heading to La Rambla to take in the beach and have lunch at “El Viejo y El Mar,” one of the best restaurants in town.  Or consider dining at the Market at Ciudad Viejo located in a renovated warehouse on the waterfront.  The Market offers an excellent selection of barbeque (parrilla) restaurants.
We also spent two days in Punta del Este, Uruguay’s best known resort destination.  Located just 1.5 hours by bus from Montevideo, it’s an attractive destination virtually any time of the year.  The city’s population ebbs and flows with the season, and during the off-season, lodging and beach access are easily available. The city sits on a peninsula surrounded by the restless Atlantic Ocean (Punta Brava) and the more serene Rio de la Plata (Punta Mansa), Great waterfront views and beach access are just minutes from virtually any hotel.  The city also offers shopping, although many shops are closed or scale back operations in the off-season.  Casa Pueblo, designed and built by Uruguayan painter and sculptor Carlos Paez Vilaro, the Punta del Este lighthouse, and “Los Dedos,” a hand-like sculpture protruding from the beach on Punta Brava, are its main attractions.  Real estate in Punta del Este is attractive to those searching for potential retirement homes.  Condominiums with waterfront views in Punta del Este listed for as little as $150,000 when we visited.
We spent the night in Montevideo at the Hotel Lafayette, an aging but decent hotel not far from Avenida 18 de Julio, the city’s main boulevard.  We stayed at the Days Inn Punta Brava in Punta del Este.  Consider staying near Avenida 18 de Julio in Montevideo and at a hotel on the beach in Punta del Este.  The Uruguayan peso-U.S. dollar exchange has also improved, and Uruguay is now a more affordable destination for a short getaway trip.  Now that the Uruguayan airline PLUNA offers cheap, direct flights between Asuncion and Montevideo, Uruguay is closer than ever.
Enhanced by Zemanta