Thursday, February 12, 2009

Travel Blog #21: The Last Morning

We return to the boat after our caiman hunt. It's well after midnight and we are tired. Time for something quick to eat and then one last sleep in our stateroom.

Our bags have vanished and we will see them tomorrow at the airport. We have kept only the basics: an extra pair of underwear, the iPod, the Palm Pilot and our cameras. Just the same life necessities the settlers had.
We have several hours before we have to go to the airport, so we are off the ship and headed for the Mercado Market. This was reputed to be one of the largest outdoor markets in the world, built when Manaus was a fabulously wealthy city.

It is only a few blocks away from where the cruise ship is docked. We get off the ship and walk through the terminal. A tour guide taps me on the arm. I know what's coming. This guy is going to ask me if I want a tour. Usually the answer is at least a marginally excited "maybe."

"Would you like a tour?" he asks, oozing charm and credibility in equal parts. These are the hallmarks of a really great guide.

I do a quick internal calculation. I sigh. We have only a few hours and there is no way we can make this work. I shake my head. "I'd like one...but we are going home in a few hours."

I had expected to be blown off instantly. Instead he smiles and asks if we need directions. I ask where the Mercado Market is and he gives excellent and detailed instructions. At the end he stops and puts his hand on my shoulder.

"Keep one hand on your wallet all the time," he says softly. "Manaus can be...what is the word? Hungry."

It sounds more sinister than it was. But it still gives me a little thrill.
We venture into hungry Manaus, happily taking pictures.

We learn the Mercado Marketplace had a fire and most of it is being rebuilt. This explains the clustered huts against the fence. There are hundreds of these selling cheap sunglasses from China, knock off purses, t-shirts, fruits of apparently infinite variety.
There's meat and ripped off movies. There are clothes and shoes and nuts.
One lady specializes in selling combs. That's it. Just combs. This image makes me smile because there is something so interesting about the textures and colors...the expression on her face. This image, despite the clutter, pleases me each time I look at it. It makes me think of Brazil, like she knows a secret she's keeping to herself but she doesn't mind smiling at a stranger. That's Brazil to me.
Inside a building is a meat market. I don't think I would buy here. It's like a buffet line for flies. But the merchants watch us arrive with a distant interest and when we start taking pictures, some of them are entertained enough to pose.
Others, like the man working on the grinder wheel, look up for just a second and then, after learning we are not customers, go right back to what they were doing in the first place.
It is an affable indifference, but indifference all the same.

I see a man with the most unusual eyes.
He is regarding me from the side of a stall. I am not sure whether he is a merchant or a customer. But I know I want his picture.
I have found a smile and slight nod to be a great universal language. I wave my arms around the surroundings and shrug in a "Holy Crap this is cool" gesture.
He smiles back and shrugs. I assume this means "Sure, fella. Whatever..."
I hold up my camera. He shrugs again ("Sure. Take the picture. Knock yourself out, Guy.") and I take his picture.
I don't like doing it this way. The poses you get are too stiff. It's much better to talk with a person, get to know them a little and then take some candid pictures that show a little more of the heart.

This man is a fishmonger. He was utterly charmed by Sheree. He looked her straight in the eye and made dozens of little slices into the fish without once looking down or losing a finger.
Yes. He was showing off.
Yes. It was impressive.
When he was done, Sheree smiled at him (this can be a devastating event for the average unprepared male) and he laughed. Here he is.
I am checking my watch. I don't particulary want to, because whatever news it is going to give me will be bad. Every minute drags us closer to the airport and the seven hour flight from Manaus to Miami. It's a cruise boat charter so you KNOW it's going to be cramped and functional.
I allow myself to get distracted for a minute. I stop and photograph a stand selling exotic fruits. The colors are amazing, but the owner walks up and asks me in broken english not to take the pictures. I smile, wondering if he is in the witness protection program or something. But I delete the images.
When I look up, Sheree is gone.
Not good.
About thirty seconds later I become aware of a hostile presence. She is standing by a phone booth glaring at me. We have agreed on at least seventy six previous occasions to keep one another in sight. So she stands there, glaring. So I take her picture. It's entitled "You Idiot." This is her serious face. Could you tell?
It is time to get back to the boat and wait for the bus to whisk us away from Brazil. We arrive in Miami at about midnight and plan to pick up the vehicle we have reserved. The plan is to drive through the night and wind up somewhere near Key West by morning.
I choose to think about Florida. I am not looking forward to the flight and I viscerally resist the notion that our trip is almost over.
But sitting here now with it all behind me, the trip has gotten only better in retrospect. I remember wonderful sunrises and sunsets. I remember people who became good friends as travelers often do, for that precise space in time. I remember the people of Brazil with whom we crossed paths for just a few minutes, from Vincent to the "comb lady." I remember the Amazon and bugs that moved through the jungle. I remember Eni and the hefty guy with stick legs who walked through the jungle with us. I will always remember ziplining...
I hope you have enjoyed taking this trip. I really wanted to share it with you...even though I have no idea who you are or where you live or what you're about. Thank you for reading and thank you for your comments and your emails.
I am now looking forward to April when Sheree and I will make a Transatlantic crossing for the first time. We're going to Paris and Ireland and a number of ports in between. We'll finish that trip in Southampton visiting with a photographer friend and his wife we know from flickr who has offered to show us his corner of the world.
We are relocating our office and wrestling with all the decisions that have to be made. I am painstakingly learning my new BlackBerry Curve and setting the groudwork for a much more efficient company.
So we can travel more.

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