The Great Cities Of The Amazon
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
SOME FEATURES OF PARA. AND MANAOS, WHICH CONTROL THE TRADE OF THE VALLEYóHIGH AND LOW LIFE AT THE AMAZON'S MOUTHóMANAOS, THE METROPOLIS OF THE RIO NEGROóAN OCEAN PORT A THOUSAND MILES FROM THE ATLANTICóA TOWN OF ELECTRIC RAILROADS, TELEPHONES, AND CHARITABLE INSTITUTIONSó IQUITOS, ON THE PERUVIAN AMAZON, A STEAMSHIP PORT 2,300 MILES INLAND.
THE great cities of the Amazon valley! It seems odd to think of the savage Amazon having cities at all, but it is really a trade centre, annually exporting products worth many millions of dollars. The biggest city on it is ParŠ, which lies atį its mouth, 1,000 miles east of ManŠos where this chapter is written.
Para, now has a population of 100,000, and it is growing as fast as the dense vegetation by which it is surrounded. It is a modern city, with electric lights, telephones, and street-cars. It has a large theatre, two second-class hotels, and an amount of vice that would shock our modern reformers. It has numerous cafťs, in which string-bands with women-performers nightly act, and on the main street in the heart of the city is a building known as the ę High-Life Hotel" which is devoted to life of the lowest . order. This hotel, as pronounced by the Portuguese, is called the " Higgy-Liffey," for that is the way the Portuguese pronounce high-life.
Notwithstanding this wickedness, I rather liked ParŠ. It has a very respectable club, the members of which give dances twice a week and to which the families of the better class come. It has fine residence streets, a number of beautiful parks, and were it not for the fear of yellow fever, which always hangs over it, life in it would not be so unendurable. As it is, nearly every foreigner is in constant dread of the fever, and many of the business men carry bottles of castor oil about in their pockets and drink a tumblerful at the slightest headache or intimation of indigestion. This is, I am told, the best remedy for immediate use in case of a yellow-fever attack.
But let me tell you how Para, looks. As you see it from the river it is a low white city with red and other bright-coloured buildings rising out of the white. A row of palm trees lines the shore, and behind them are the huge wood and corrugated iron warehouses from which the ParŠ rubber is shipped to all parts of the world. You see this through a thicket of masts, for the Amazon is here filled with shipping. There are big ocean steamers from Europe and the United States ; there are iron lighters shaped much like the whaleback boats of the lakes; there are scores of miscellaneous sailing-vessels and hundreds of dug-out canoes, with dark-faced boatmen paddling them to and fro.
On landing you find yourself in one of the busiest of South American ports. Negroes and mulattoes are loading and unloading the ships; they are carrying on board great boxes of rubber; they are bearing boxes and bales on their heads to the shore. The crowd about the wharves is much the same as that on the docks of New Orleans. The people are of all shades of white, yellow, and black. There are swarthy negroes from Jamaica, yellow-skinned men from upper Brazil, sallow Portuguese, besides a sprinkling of all the nations of Europe.
The labouring people are in their bare feet, and most of them are bare-headed. The men wear cotton shirts and trousers, the latter upheld by waist-bands. The women dress in bright-coloured calicoes. See that negro trotting along with a bale of sole leather on his head! Behind him is a woman with a great basket of mandioca carried in the same fashion, and farther back comes a mulatto with an enormous turtle balanced on his crown. The turtle is as big around as a wash-tub: it kicks out its legs, and agonizingly thrusts forth its head as it lies there on its back shading the man.
Here comes a cart, hauled by a pony. It looks as though it had a load of hams in it, and as it goes past us we are greeted by a smell like that of a smoke-house. Those are lumps of rubber on their way to the shipping-houses for sale. There are scores of rubber-houses near the wharves. Everyone is handling rub-ber, and the air smells as though there had been a recent fire and water had been dashed over it. Men are carrying rubber from the canoes to the warehouses. They are taking it in and out of the buildings. They are chopping it up and packing it into boxes and marking it for shipment to all parts of the world. ParŠ is the greatest of all rubber ports, and the chief business of the city is the supplying rubber camps with goods and selling the product.
But let us take a street-car and ride out through the residence section. ParŠ is one of the cleanest and best-built towns in Brazil. It has hundreds of houses of ventilated brick, covered with stucco, painted in all the colours of the rainbow. Some are frescoed and others are decorated with wreaths and figures in plaster. There are many houses faced with porcelain tiles, which have been brought here from Portugal. Some of the houses have balconies of wrought-iron, and many have wrought-iron work over their windows. They are well-furnished and make comfortable houses.
The city of ManŠos is even more interesting than ParŠ. It is 1,000 miles inland, in the heart of the great Amazon forest. There are woods about it so dense that monkeys could travel 1,000 miles through them, jumping from branch to branch and never once touching the ground. They are so thick that you could not possibly go from one place to another except by the streams. It would take you a day with an axe to go five miles, the country about here being so very wild. It is, in fact, one of the least-known parts of the world, and ManŠos, the metropolis, is the chief city of a region hundreds of thousands of square miles in extent.
ManŠos is on the Rib Negro, about ten miles from where it flows into the Amazon. In coming up the Amazon, as we approached the Rio Negro I could see where the two rivers united, without lifting my eyes from the water. The Rio Negro is as black as one's hat; the Amazon is as yellow as pea-soup. For about two miles below the mouth of the Rio Negro the waters of the Rio Negro and the Amazon flow side by side without mingling. Our steamer for a time cut the joining of the waters, so that on one side of the ship the stream was as tawny as a lion's mane, while on the other it had the panther black of the Rio Negro. A little below this the two colours disappeared, the waters of the Rio Negro having been swallowed up in the mighty flood of the Amazon.
As we steamed on we passed out of the Amazon into the wide mouth of the Rio Negro. We were now sailing through a jet black stream: our steamer churned the water into foam and it looked like boiling black molasses. A sailor dropped a bucket over the side, and caught up a gallon for me to examine ; in the bucket it looked brown, but when I took it up in a glass it seemed almost clear.
The Rio Negro is an immense stream. It is very wide at its mouth, and at first sight it seems almost as large as the Amazon itself. It drains a vast region, and, as I have said, is so connected with the Orinoco by the Cassiquiare river that you can enter the Orinoco at its mouth and sail -down through it to the Rio Negro and the Amazon. As it nears the Amazon, the Rio Negro increases in size. A large part of its lower course is a succession of lakes, some of which are from 20 to 30 miles wide. Its flow is not very rapid, and its ordinary depth is from i00 to 150 feet. It has numerous sand-bars, which hinder navigation at low water, but during the rainy season it rises 30 or 40 feet and floods a large part of its basin. At its mouth there are high bluffs lining the banks; these are dotted with cocao plantations, back of which are dense forests. There are numerous palm trees, and among them now and then a thatched hut upon piles.
A little farther on, upon a hill on the north bank, is the city of Man‚os. The town slopes up from the river, covering the hills at the back, and from the steamer it looks like a large city. At first you see only a maze of white-coloured one- and two-story buildings, roofed with red-brick tiles. As you come closer, the houses near the wharves grow under your eyes until you realize that they are large business establishments. You see many fine buildings, and out of the mass notice a structure some-what like the Pension Building at Washington, which is topped with a great dome, covered with porcelain tiles. That is the theatre of Man‚os. It will seat 2,000 people, and it is finer than many of the so-called good theatres of the United States. The theatre is partially supported by the government, and troupes are brought here from ParŠ and other Brazilian ports. It is not a one-night stand, for it takes 2,000 miles to get to and from it, so that the troupes usually stay a week or more. With us came an American circus, which has a guarantee from the government for entertaining the people for a month in Man‚os.
Man‚os is an ocean port 1,000 miles inland from the Atlantic. Suppose that a big Atlantic liner could sail across the United States to Chicago, and you have about the situation of Man‚os in respect to the sea. The steamer I came on drew sixteen feet; it was an English ship which had come from New York to ParŠ, thence to Man‚os; its time from New York to Man‚os is about two weeks; I asked as to the fare and was told that it was $90 in gold.
There are steamers here from Lisbon, Liverpool, and Ham-burg. There are two lines of ships from New York, and there are small steamers which go in seven days from here to Iquitos, Peru. Iquitos is about 1,300 miles west of Man‚os. It is a large town, and is a great port for rubber. The fare to Iquitos is $30, and the time consumed in the passage is seven days; so that in three weeks, if you make the proper connections, you can go from New York more than 2,000 miles up the Amazon by steamer.
There are also vessels here which go up the Rio Negro, the Rio Branco, and the Madeira, so that you can readily reach any part of the upper Amazon region. Among the leading steamship companies is the Amazon Steam Navigation Company, which was founded by English capitalists in 1853. Its steamers are of about 500 tons and were built in England for this trade. There are 29 of them, and they cover altogether about half-a-million miles of travel every year. In addition to these there is the Brazilian line, which has 12 steamers, aggregating about 13,000 of a total tonnage.
The population of Man‚os is about 50,000, composed of Portuguese and Brazilians, with a few English, Germans, and Americans. The chief business of the town is as a supply-point for the rubber camps farther up the Amazon valley. It has many large stores, whose stock-values run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. The merchants furnish goods to the rubber camps and take rubber in return.
Man‚os, notwithstanding its situation, has more modern improvements than most other cities in Brazil. Its streets are paved with cobblestones brought over 1,000 miles down the Amazon. It has a cathedral, a museum, a college, and an orphan asylum. It has electric lights and a telephone system, with 225 subscribers; and an American syndicate is already putting in an electric streetcar line.