Today is going to be a long day and so this will be quite a long post when all is said and done. This morning we’re going on a 1/2-day Amazon River boat tour, and of course later in the day is the pivotal Group G match between the U.S.A. and Portugal. Since we’re attending our first World Cup here, it’s also the first time we’ll get to see the USMNT play in a real World Cup match. Needless to say, Carlie and I are both very excited–and perhaps a bit on edge about it all.
First up was breakfast. The hotel breakfast in Manaus was perhaps our least favorite compared to the other places we’ve visited. The coffee was good, but the eggs were super-runny (soupy, almost) and the bacon seemed only to incorporate the fatty part, and was the opposite of crispy. The fruits on offer were also a bit less attractive than the other cities we visited too, including the ba-nay-nays, which for the first time I did not sample. That’s saying something, since like coffee they are literally hard-wired into my daily routine. They did have good cereal though, and Carlie found the bread for toasting to be very good. Oddly though, the bread was completely “crustless”, and brought back some fond memories of the crust-removal procedures that used to be necessary to prepare an acceptable sandwich for young Carlie.
Immediately following breakfast we met our Amazon River guide Rodolpho for the ride to the Porto Negro, the main port in Manaus. The Amazon River does not actually flow right here at the port but the river that does, the Rio Negro, intersects with the Amazon River just a short boat ride away. There is a lively fish market here at the port, with most species coming from the warmer waters of the Rio Negro, as opposed to the colder waters of the Amazon. More on this in a moment.
Those of you who have seen what I’m about to describe regarding the meeting of these two rivers can skip to the next paragraph.
Known locally as the Encontro das Aguas, or the Meeting of the Waters, is the place where the Rio Negro, which flows from the swamplands and low hills of the Northeastern Amazon, meets the Amazon River, which flows from the Andes. The Rio Negro carries with it an abundance of decomposed plant life, and is therefore very dark in color and highly acidic, while the Amazon carries mostly soil and silt, has very low acidity, and takes on very light brown color. Since it’s not chemically possible for the creamy, alkaline waters of the Amazon to absorb the dark, highly acidic waters of the Rio Negro right away, the two rivers literally run side-by-side for several miles (as far as the eye can see), making for some startling photographs and quite a few “What the heck?” comments. We were by ourselves with Rodolpho, so it was really just us saying it, but I presume you may have the same reaction.
Having sufficiently taken in the Encontro das Aguas, we set off down the Amazon River. Our vessel was fairly small, and while I would not necessarily describe it as a “speed boat”, we did speed along at a pretty good clip. Call it 25 knots. You can get some idea what this thing looked like from the photo below.
Rodolpho’s English was excellent, by the way, so in addition to describing the “science” behind the Meeting of the Waters, we were able to discuss the various options in terms of what else we could see in the 4-hour timeframe we had. We settled on visiting a few of the many “floating villages” situated along the numerous “tributaries” (for lack of the proper word) that run off the main river, as well as the giant lily pads and some Amazonian “wildlife”.
While at first glance the structures in the floating villages may appear to rest on wooden stilts (and some earlier ones were, apparently), they’re actually built right on top of what appear to be enormous logs that float up and down with the level of the river. As explained by Rodolpho, there is no concept of winter and summer in the Amazon—or anywhere else this close to the equator—only the wet season and the dry season. For residents, this simply means they and their homes ride the rainy season up and the dry season down. Perhaps even more remarkable than the floating nature of the residential construction is the fact that electricity has arrived here, and satellite TV; you can see the partially submerged utility poles running along the river behind the homes, along with the occasional satellite dish.
We had to keep reminding ourselves that the water in these off-river channels recedes significantly as the dry season approaches, to the point where much of the area can be traversed on foot, and at which time residents could literally walk right out of their “floating” homes on to dry land. That would be a good time to paint the house, come to think of it, fix any leaks down below, and maybe even do some yard work! It’s definitely a difficult concept for desert-dwellers to wrap their minds around.
We also saw one of the tallest trees in the Amazon. Like everything else around it, the tree is partially submerged and appears to be growing right out of the water. And of course there were the giant lily pads. If you could look underneath them you would see their thick “trunks”, with 2” to 3” “shoot” going off in multiple directions, one for each “pad”. When you see a branch with a little flower poking out of the water, that’s the beginning of a brand new pad. Pretty cool, isn’t it?
One of the advantages of our smaller craft was its ability to go “off river” into very narrow channels to see areas of shallow waters that are only accessible by foot during the dry season. Swamps, essentially, but not in the way we traditionally think of them. Take a look at the photos below and you’ll see what I mean. We also took video of the boat going into and out of this area, and the movie will likely incorporate some of it.
For the wildlife component of the tour we were met out on the river by a group of kids in a small boat who earn money by pulling up alongside the tour boats with various native creatures on display. The one that came over to our boat featured a few crocodiles (including a little baby), an anaconda and a sloth (UH EEEW!).
The crocodiles’ jaws were tied shut, and while we had the opportunity to hold any and all of these creatures, we opted out. Getting home in one piece has been a priority from Day 1 of this trip, so that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. I also decided that I just didn’t really need this on my resumé, and neither did Carlie. I also don’t like small planes and will never skydive or bungee-jump, which means I’m not adventurous. I also still have a Blackberry.
Another quick stop we made was to the floating home of a family that keeps a small (call it 10’ x 20’) cage of native fish right off their dock. Rodolpho knows them well, and for a few Reais they’ll bait a few lines (no hook, just bait) and let you drop it in the water. You’re not fishing, but rather feeding, and these are some really big—and hungry—fish. When they hit that bait you feel a jolt strong enough to rip the thick wooden “rod” right out of your hands. You’re expecting it, of course, but you’ve no idea when it will come; it could take just a few seconds, or 15 or 20, but no matter when it happens it’s still a bit of shock. As long as you’re bracing yourself for it, with the pole at the proper angle and seated firmly against your body, you too can become proficient at this.
We bought a couple of waters and a few hand-made souvenirs too, which seemed like the right thing to do under the circumstances. I also asked if I could use their bathroom. I could have held it, of course, but I just had to see what sort of plumbing comes with a floating house. And so I was shown to the rear of what is essentially a floating pier with a house on it, and there it was, in all its glory and splendor: A separate little poop shack, with real-live plumbing. I was too embarrassed to ask the obvious “routing” question, so if anyone knows the answer please let me know.
For our final stop on the tour we visited a floating restaurant with a nice souvenir shop, where Carlie picked up some bracelets for the “friend group” and a few other Amazonian trinkets.
We took well over 200 photos during our river tour, and while those posted here don’t tell the whole story, hopefully they give you a good sense for the place.
Needless to say, we were both blown away by our “Amazon River Experience”, which was truly one of the highlights of our trip. For anyone planning to go, we booked our tour through Amazon Destinations – Private Tours, who can be found at either www.amazondestinations.com.br or www.ToursByLocals.com. You can also contact our tour guide, Rodolpho Emanuel, directly with any questions at: email@example.com. Rodolpho was excellent, and we highly recommend him.
As if we could hope for any more excitement in one day, it was only 12:00 Noon when Rodolpho dropped us back at our hotel, and we still had a certain soccer match to attend later in the afternoon. USA vs. POR was set to kick-off at 6:00 PM local time, and wanting to be in our seats by no later than 4:30 PM or so, we set off from the hotel just after 3:30 PM. Carlie decided to get a little more creative with the face paint for this game; I assumed she would go with the traditional red, white and blue stripes, like she applied for Spain, but she ultimately elected to go with mini U.S. flags, and a #19 for her favorite player (and crush), Graham Zusi. This took a bit longer to apply than expected, but as you can see below it was well worth the effort.
Of the four arenas on our match schedule, Arena Amazonia was the only venue walking distance from our hotel. It was only about a mile about a mile away, and involved only a couple of turns, so it was our best option. As it turned out, once we walked a short distance from the hotel we found all of the streets closed to traffic anyway, so from that point on we walked along with the rest of the crowd. The regular and military police were on full display pretty much everywhere you looked, and their presence seemed to keep the crowds in order. They were actually checking for match tickets at all of the street closings, and unless you had one you weren’t allowed through.
There’s a thing about gas stations in Brazil that we don’t have in the U.S., at least not anywhere I’ve been, and it’s the allocation of space for tables and chairs for people who just want to hang out, eat and drink. Kind of like we do in the U.S., only in bars. We first encountered this at the BR filling station near our hotel in Salvador, which not only had two separate seating areas with flat screen TV’s, but also a fully-staffed “deli counter” of sorts, offering pastries, empanadas and the like. We saw such a place along to route to the arena in Manaus, in this case a Shell station, with a huge crowd of people imbibing inside and out.
We made it to the arena shortly after 4:00 PM, and found the hot sun was beating down on our seats. We promptly retreated to the cover of the concourse, and got in line for some cold “refreshments”. Refreshments and souvenir cups in hand—and with an hour and a half until kick-off, we wandered out on to the outdoor plaza to take in some of the revelry.
With game time approaching and our section now in the shade, we returned to our seats and got settled in. I never win anything, and am generally skeptical of “no purchase necessary” contests, but the couple right next to us was there courtesy of Degree (the deodorant), who sponsor Clint Dempsey. They pointed out at least a dozen other people in our section who had won the same contest, which included tickets to all three U.S.A group stage matches, flights, transfers, hotels, meals, tours, etc. Pretty much the whole ball of wax, with the only issue being they found out they were going on June 3rd, so about two weeks prior to departure. Perhaps it’s not quite the big scam I assumed it was; I use Ban though, so I’m probably out of luck for 2018.
I’m thinking no one really wants to relive the details of what happened at the very end of bonus minute of 2nd half stoppage time, so I shant analyze what happened, criticize who allowed it to happen or hypothesize about how it could have happened differently in an alternate universe. Instead I will leave you with three positive thoughts, the kind of thoughts the guys need to have as they head into Thursday’s match against Germany:
- The voodoo hex that Ghana seemed to have on us, the on everyone fretted would extend to a third consecutive World Cup, is no more. Ghana received zero points from their match with us in Natal. This is precisely the result that, after the December draw, everyone said was necessary for the U.S. to have any hope of advancing out of the so-called “Group of Death”;
- Despite the heartbreaking draw with Portugal, we were the better team on the field on Sunday in Manaus. Yes, we could have been even better by eliminating costly errors, but no team is immune from this. They never gave up, came from behind and brought a very good team to the brink of elimination. They still got a positive result, and like with Ghana, it was precisely the result that, after the December draw, everyone felt was necessary (and realistic) for the U.S. to have any chance of advancing; and
- No matter what happens on Thursday in Recife, in just two matches this young and exciting group of players has already done so much to continue increasing their national following. Nearly 25 million people tuned in to watch the U.S.A. – Portugal match, not including the countless fans that either streamed the game or watched in bars, restaurants and other group viewing sites. To put that in perspective, that’s about the same number of viewers who tuned in to watch the 2014 BCS Championship game.
Good teams don’t let bad things that happen define them, and I believe the USMNT has the leadership, character and fortitude to overcome what happened in Manaus. So even though there remains at least some chance that the USMNT’s 2014 World Cup run come to an end on Thursday, I’m certain of one thing. They will give everything they have to the game, and regardless of the result will do our nation proud. One Nation. One Team.
Now that we’ve been to an actual FIFA World Cup match involving the U.S. Men’s National Team, it’s become abundantly clear that our respective wardrobes are woefully inadequate. With that in mind, for anyone searching for gift ideas we’ve provided a short list of the items we lack, followed by some pictorial examples:
- “Rocky” style bathrobe, suitable for indoor / outdoor use;
- Wife-beater tee, in stars and stripes, naturally;
- U.S. Flag pants (and shorts, for warmer weather);
- Red white and blue knee socks;
- Enormous Uncle Sam hats; and
- More face paint, lots of face paint
If you’ve gotten this far, thanks for reading, and please accept my apologies for the very long post. I hope you enjoyed it…
I BELIEVE THAT WE WILL WIN!
I BELIEVE THAT WE WILL WIN!
I BELIEVE THAT WE WILL WIN!