Local Takes: Manaus

Five notable locals from a social media influencer to a celebrity chef show us how to do their town, their way

WORDS Shasta Darlington
September 2019
SHARE

Photography Lucy Hewett

For many visitors, Manaus, which sits at the confluence of the massive Amazon River and Rio Negro, is little more than a gateway to the world’s largest rainforest. But with two million people and a rich melting pot of cultures, including European immigrants lured by a rubber boom in the 19th century and dozens of indigenous ethnicities, there is plenty to explore in this unparalleled urban landscape. It’s an island in the middle of the jungle, a major port connected to the rest of Brazil not by road, but by thousands of miles of rivers. Whether it’s the colonial history, the Amazonian dishes or the juxtaposition of nature and metropolis, five locals show us this city’s utterly unique offerings.


Carol Heinrichs, 35
Social Media Influencer
Memories in the Historic Center

Everyone will tell you: if there is one place you must visit in Manaus, it’s the opulent, very pink Teatro Amazonas, opened in 1896 at the height of the rubber boom and built with imported Italian marble and chandeliers. But when I meet Carol Heinrichs for an afternoon in the historic center of town, she says that for her it’s a place of powerful memories of what it was like to grow up in Manaus.

“When I was in the high school band, we gave a concert here,” says Heinrichs, one of the most popular social media influencers in the city, as we walk past the profusion of baroque and renaissance accessories in the entry hall. “It’s this incredibly beautiful and historic building, and we got to hang out and rehearse in here. They even let us climb up to the dome. I get emotional just thinking about it.”

The giant dome, covered in green and yellow tiles to evoke the Brazilian flag, looms over the district. The theater hosts a popular opera festival in April and May as well as contemporary rock bands and folkloric shows year round. For locals, it’s a stunning backdrop for their everyday life.


Interior of the Teatro Amazonas.

“I come here just to walk around with my daughter or for photo shoots for my site,” says Heinrichs, who quit her job as a nutritionist when her blog on low-cost fashion took off. She now uses her Instagram account, with 344,000 followers, to dispense fashion tips, share videos of her 15-month-old daughter Catarina and urge visitors and Manauarans—as locals are called—to take advantage of Manaus’ idiosyncrasies.

“Everyone thinks Manaus is just jungle and animals, but it’s also culture,”

she says as we stroll out of the theater and across the São Sebastião square, its cobblestones arranged in a beautiful black and white wave pattern. A mythical Amazonian woman warrior stands atop a statue in the middle of the square, which is still sleepy in the afternoon heat, but comes to life at night as locals and tourists gather for food and open-air entertainment.


Exterior of the Teatro Amazonas.

We head up the steps of the São Sebastião church, where Heinrichs got married. “There are a lot of myths about how long it took to build the church. Now it just takes a long time to get a wedding date—it’s the most popular church in Manaus!” she says. The gray-stone exterior of the church, built in 1888, contrasts with the explosion of color on the inside with stained-glass windows, painted ceilings and an ornate altar.

For our next stop, Heinrichs suggests something new: the recently opened Museu da Cidade de Manaus a few blocks away, which recounts the history of the city and its multicultural population with interactive exhibits. We walk through a replica of a traditional market with herbal remedies and Heinrichs spots something familiar, a guarana seed powder that she says her mother mixes with water and drinks like coffee to stay awake.

Heinrichs, who had never been before, is impressed and takes a few minutes to post a video to her followers: “You have to come! This museum shows off our traditions and it’s totally free!”

While Heinrichs was born and raised in Manaus, her family, like so many in the city, represents many cultures. Her father is Colombian and her mother has roots in the Amazon and in Germany.


A bowl of tacacá, shrimp and jambu leaves, an ingredient commonly used in Manaus

It’s dusk now and back at the square, families gather. Heinrichs shows me one of her favorite ways to end a visit to the historic center: with a bowl of tacacá, an indigenous broth made from manioc root, dried shrimp and jambu leaves that make your tongue tingle. It’s served piping hot at Tacacá da Gisela, a kiosk in the middle of the square. There’s a queue forming. After a couple slurps, I decide the bitter brew is something of an acquired taste—but one I won’t likely have the opportunity to experience outside the Amazon.


Felipe Schaedler, 33
Follow the River
Celebrity Chef

Despite his Germanic name, startling green eyes and sandy blond beard, Felipe Schaedler is totally in his element as he navigates the crowds at the bustling downtown port.

“When you live in a city that is surrounded by water, the port is like the central bus station,” Schaedler says as he jostles with passengers unloading from a three-deck riverboat that just tied up at one of the floating docks. “Everyone and everything arrives right here and leaves from right here.”

This is where you find the Amazonian fish and tropical fruits that Schaedler—voted the best chef in Manaus—has championed at his award-winning restaurants Banzeiro and Moquém do Banzeiro.



A fisherman prepares his catch for sale

The port on the shores of the Rio Negro is a major hub for vessels headed to the Atlantic Ocean nearly 1,000 miles away and for tourists headed into the jungle.  Just downstream, the tea-colored water of the Rio Negro converges with the sandy Rio Solimões— the famous Meeting of the Waters —to become the mighty Rio Amazonas.

“Every time I come back home after traveling I understand how the city looks to people who are seeing it for the first time. Something that is mundane to us is actually very unique,” he laughs.

Schaedler was born in Brazil’s south, where German and Italian immigrants are the predominant influence. But his parents moved to the state of Amazonas when he was 15 and for Schaedler, it has been home ever since. After going to culinary school, he knew he wanted to work with traditional Amazonian food. “There were so many native ingredients that weren’t really valued. I felt I truly had something to contribute.” While he popularized the giant fish of the Amazon River, one of his most sought-after dishes is a starter with a single saúva ant, with its bright citrusy flavor, served on a dollop of manioc foam.


Chef Schaedler tops off one of his dishes with an ant

We cross the busy street and head into the Adolpho Lisboa Market, built during the rubber boom in the 1800s and modeled after the Les Halles market in Paris. The stalls offer a wide range of handicrafts from indigenous villages, herbal remedies and fragrant soaps.

But Schaedler ushers us through quickly. The real treasures are next door at a sprawling fish market in a warehouse, swarming with shoppers and tourists.

“Those are tucunaré—fishermen come from all over the world to fish those,” he says, pointing to piles of green-tinged peacock bass. There are matrinxã fish and small silver jaraqui, slashed and ready to be thrown in the fryer. The massive pirarucu, which can grow up to eight feet long, is sold salted and dried. But the “king of the market,” Schaedler says, is tambaqui, pointing to a large, 20-pound oval-shaped delicacy.


A fishmonger shows off a tambaqui at the Adolpho Lisboa Market

We jump in his car and drive past the colorful buildings of the working class neighborhood of São Raimundo so he can show me why, pulling up in front of Peixaria do Joca, an open-air tin-roof shack overlooking the Rio Negro. The notoriously cranky owner, Jokka Loureiro, greets us under a sign that reads “only for friends and invited guests—don’t enter without permission.”

Within minutes we are presented with bracingly cold Original beer and a whole fried tambaqui covered with tomato and onion vinaigrette. The ribs—as big as pork ribs—are best eaten with your fingers.

“This would be prime real estate in any waterfront city,” says Schaedler, pointing at the view over the water.

“But for years Manaus turned its back on the river and on the jungle; it turned its back on its own identity.”

Schaedler’s culinary exploits are starting to change that. His passion for uncovering local ingredients and traditions has prompted many jungle expeditions, and last year, he bought a powerboat to help him get around. “Going out on the river is the best way to understand Manaus.”


Cruising on the Rio Negro

Soon enough, we’re speeding through the white-tipped waves of the Rio Negro on our way to the Tupé tribe, 30 minutes away. At the village, we encounter performances of traditional songs and dances. Our greeter, Miró, whose father was the tribal chief until he died recently, explains that demonstrations for tourists are an important source of income, but also a way to express pride in their heritage.

She takes us to the moquém, the traditional indigenous slow-cooking grill, where we sample toasted termites—while not that flavorful, they have a delightful crunch. “What I love best about Manaus is that there is always something new to do, something new to discover,” says Schaedler.


Victor Israel, 30
Blogger and business owner
Soaking Up Swank in Adrianópolis

Though tourists might be happy to sweat it out at sidewalk cafés, locals who want a night on the town get gussied up and want air conditioning and something a little special. That’s why I head to Adrianópolis, a well-heeled neighborhood boasting some of the city’s most exclusive condominiums as well as trendy bars and restaurants.

Victor Israel, a social media influencer with an infectious sense of humor, has me meet him at a gallery just off the Manauara Shopping Center. “For locals, this is the heart of the city. There is a Manaus that tourists should get to know: a gastronomic, fun, musical city.”

We start with the gastronomic, grabbing a table at the aforementioned Moquém do Banzeiro, where Chef Felipe Schaedler takes regional ingredients and spins them into sophisticated dishes. I start with banana chips topped with sauces made from local fruits and cheeses while Israel orders the risotto with wild native mushroom. For dessert, we discover that here, even fresh mango are smoked on the grill, then wash it all down with a local take on the famous Brazilian caipirinha with lemongrass juice and a sprinkle of grated Amazonian nuts on top.


A water taxi

Israel loves that so many things once disparaged are now trendy. “When I was growing up, being a ‘caboclo’ was seen as negative,” Israel says of the term used to describe people of mixed indigenous and European heritage. “Now people serve ‘caboclo’ dishes and drinks.”

Israel, who descends from indigenous communities as well as Jewish and Barbadian immigrants lured to the Amazon during the rubber boom, was born and raised in Manaus. “I consider myself ‘caboclo’—with pride!”

After studying advertising in Brazil’s biggest and most cosmopolitan city, São Paulo, he returned home determined to launch food and travel sites like those popular in larger cities. “This is where my roots are. I love it so much that I want everyone to know about it.”

With his curly black hair and several tattoos—including the Charlie Chaplin quote “a day without laughter is a day wasted”—Israel is now a fixture on the food and drink scene. When we head next door to UME for some Amazon-inspired cocktails and live bossa nova, the barman greets him warmly. Here, the Rio Negro sour is a local twist on the pisco sour with purple açaí berry liquor replacing the pisco and giving the drink a dark, sultry color.


UME's Uirapuru cocktail with gin, tucumã fruit and pepper jelly

The next stop is Caritó, where the beer is icy cold and the dance-floor is full of young Manauarans kicking it up to sertanejo, the country music popular in Brazil’s heartland. With so many migrants from around the country, regional music genres always find a big following in Manaus.

The event of the evening, however, doesn’t start until after midnight. That’s when we head to All Night Pub, a wildly popular nightclub where feathered dancers and percussion bands from the Amazonian town of Parintins are staging a show to whip up excitement over the upcoming Boi Bumbá festival, where two teams compete in a three-day, carefully choreographed spectacle with live music and elaborate costumes based on local folklore.

It doesn’t take much to get the crowds going. If you’re from the state of Amazonas, taking a side in Boi Bumbá is as inevitable as choosing a soccer team. Revelers come dressed for the party, some wearing red feather headdresses, others wearing the rival blue color. They erupt into song and dance as soon as the musicians take the stage and don’t stop until daybreak.

Thousands of Manauarans will flock to Parintins for the festival at the end of June. “It’s a rite of passage,” says Israel.

“This is our carnival and everybody joins the party.”


Michelle Guimarães, 34
Entrepreneur and political hopeful
A Sporting Life

Michelle Guimarães picks me up in her car and promises a “typical” day in Manaus. After a quick espresso stop, we’re off, paralleling the Rio Negro, heading west, upriver, out of the city. “For me, Manaus is an athletic, outdoorsy place where people practice all kinds of sports,” says Guimarães, who used to compete professionally in standup paddleboarding and now wakeboards and barefoot waterskis on the river for fun. “I’m always the only woman out there,” she says. To top it off, she has a blue belt in jiujitsu. And that’s in her free time. Guimarães, a mix of Portuguese, Peruvian and native backgrounds, also owns a corporate consulting firm and is preparing to run for city councillor in the next elections.


Michelle Guimarães paddleboarding 

“Manaus offers so much that tourists never find out about,” she says as we drive past the Ponta Negra beach, a one-mile stretch of sand on the shores of the Rio Negro where locals swim and play volleyball in the late afternoon or enjoy bowls of frozen açaí at one of the many kiosks. During the dry season (July to October), the beach is a wide swath of sand against the tea-colored river, but today it’s barely a sliver, with the river, which can rise 30 to 40 feet in the wet season, stretching some five miles to the opposite shore. “It’s great if you have just a couple of hours to spare,” Guimarães says. “But if you really want to have fun, you have to go a little further.”

We swing by the buzzing Marina do Davi, the jumping-off point for water taxis that will ferry you out to any number of Manaus’ unique floating restaurants or remote beaches—some just 10 minutes by water taxi up the Rio Negro or Rio Tarumã tributary, but hours away by car.


At Flutuante Peixe-Boi they serve freshly cooked tambaqui

One of the favorite destinations is Praia da Lua beach—largely underwater in June—but in drier months it’s a delicious spit of soft sand where you can rent umbrellas and buy freshly cooked snacks.

When the beaches are flooded, locals tend to head to one of Manaus’ dozens of floating restaurants. We hop in a skiff provided by the restaurants, navigate through submerged treetops jutting out of the swollen river and end up at Guimaraes’ preferred riverfront eatery, Abaré SUP, a broad open-air wooden raft suspended just off the jungle shore. There’s a patio where the kitchen plates contemporary cuisine made from regional ingredients.

 

After some fresh cupuaçu juice and a taste of the house specialty—seared tambaqui coated in sesame seeds and served with soy dipping sauce—we grab the standup paddleboards.

“No piranhas here—there aren’t even mosquitoes,” Guimarães says, explaining that the natural acidity of the Rio Negro and its tributaries leaves them virtually bug free. After a few laps in search of the native pink dolphins that inhabit the waters, we sit back on the boards and watch river dwellers float by in everything from indigenous canoes to expensive power yachts.

“There’s no place on earth like this,” Guimarães sighs.


Lilian Fraiji, 37
Art Curator
Pockets of Green in the Concrete Jungle

Growing up in Manaus, Lilian Fraiji used to wake up to the sounds of toucans and howler monkeys. Her parents, both doctors, would let her run wild in what was still a small city at the edge of the jungle.

“Manaus in the ’80s was so cool,” says Fraiji who moved away when she was in her late teens to study. “My Manaus was full of snakes and monkeys invading the house even though we lived in the middle of the city.”

She moved back six years ago at the age of 31 to run Labverde, an immersion program for artists to explore the connections between art with nature and climate change, resulting in works such as a percussion composition based on recordings of Amazonian ants. Fraiji spends much of her free time connecting with the urban pockets of green that remind her of her wild childhood.


A view of the Amazon

“In other cities you don’t have this conflict—the humidity and the jungle creeping in on the cement world,” she says as we head to the Bosque da Ciência, or Science Forest, where sloths and monkeys range free and alligators and manatees can be spotted in fenced-in ponds. The 32-acre park is just 10 minutes from the swank Adrianópolis neighborhood, but seemingly worlds away.

“It’s an obligatory stop for whoever is going into the Amazon jungle—here you’ll actually see everything that you will spend your time searching for in there,” she laughs. Inside the park, the newly renovated Casa da Ciência has an impressive display of flora and fauna and a wall full of local insects, some as big as your fist.

For another jungle experience inside the city limits, we head north 20 minutes to the Museu da Amazônia, more than 240 acres of a “living museum” with botanical gardens, extensive trails through the jungle and a hardy 11-story tower that allows visitors to peer down on the dense treetops below.


Monkeys inhabit the trees of Bosque da Ciência

Before making the ambitious climb you can stop for a bite at the MUSA restaurant, with a small but tasty menu of regional dishes like rice with duck and jambu leaves. The tower itself is best tackled just before dusk—make sure to reserve a spot. When we begin our ascent, the forest floor, covered by the tree canopy, is in virtual darkness, but as we climb, we emerge in broad daylight near the top. On one side, Manaus and its urban skyline stretches before us and on the other, treetops as far as the eye can see, which we discover is about 14 miles.

“It’s an ocean of green,” Fraiji says as the sun dips below the horizon and the bird songs grow louder.


MORE LOCAL TAKES

Carolina Fernandes
Conservation Filmmaker, Banksia FilmS

I really recommend visiting Vila Paraiso, the rubber museum, a replica of a real rubber plantation in the middle of the jungle. It’s a great outing that shows the tenacity and injustice of being a rubber tapper. Once back in Manaus, go to Waku Sese for dinner and don’t miss the duck risotto with jambu herb, which makes the rice creamy and fun when it starts to numb your tongue!

Maria Oiticica
Jewelry Designer, owner Maria Oiticica jewelry stores

Do something unconventional. I highly recommend a boat visit to Tumbira, a sustainable community in the Rio Negro Reserve. The locals, who once illegally cut trees, now dedicate themselves to sustainable ecotourism. You can stay at the Pousada do Garrido and chat with the locals, preferably while feasting on freshly picked caju fruiton the banks of the river.

Roberto Moita
Architect, Roberto Moitá Arquitetos

I take visiting friends to Beer’s & Beer. It’s got the best menu of craft and local brews in the city, with more than 200 rotating options. And it’s in the hip Container Mall, a food court made of shipping containers that even has a hostel, The Container Hostel. It’s very leafy and green with great people in a cool space. It’s the image of urban, contemporary Amazonia, but
with a local accent and rooted in local flavors.

Monica Dias photographer
Blogger and social media influencer

For people like me who like to explore a place through their food, try Caxiri restaurant, a charming place with a view right over the Teatro Amazonas. The menu offers sophisticated reinterpretations of traditional Manaus dishes. I recommend fish such as the matrinxã or tambaqui, and try a dessert with cupuaçu or cumaru fruits. It’s going to be hard not to fall in love!


ONE DAY, TWO WAYS

In our companion video this month—available on in-flight entertainment—we see two different sides of Manaus via two local hosts. So how do their experiences stack up?

Watch the video at americanway.com/manaus

Share

Recent Features

UNESCO Heirlooms of the World

The New Terminator Comes With a Latin Accent

Zenni's Hindsight Is 20/20

Hungary’s New Vintage