Eight Hundred Leagues on the Amazon
Chapter 1: Manaos
THE TOWN of Manaos is in 3° 8' 4" south latitude, and 67° 27' west longitude, reckoning from the Paris meridian. It is some four hundred and twenty leagues from Belem, and about ten miles from the _embouchure_ of the Rio Negro.
Manaos is not built on the Amazon. It is on the left bank of the Rio Negro, the most important and remarkable of all the tributaries of the great artery of Brazil, that the capital of the province, with its picturesque group of private houses and public buildings, towers above the surrounding plain.
The Rio Negro, which was discovered by the Spaniard Favella in 1645, rises in the very heart of the province of Popayan, on the flanks of the mountains which separate Brazil from New Grenada, and it communicates with the Orinoco by two of its affluents, the Pimichin and the Cassiquary.
After a noble course of some seventeen hundred miles it mingles its cloudy waters with those of the Amazon through a mouth eleven hundred feet wide, but such is its vigorous influx that many a mile has to be completed before those waters lose their distinctive character. Hereabouts the ends of both its banks trend off and form a huge bay fifteen leagues across, extending to the islands of Anavilhanas; and in one of its indentations the port of Manaos is situated. Vessels of all kinds are there collected in great numbers, some moored in the stream awaiting a favorable wind, others under repair up the numerous _iguarapes, _ or canals, which so capriciously intersect the town, and give it its slightly Dutch appearance.
With the introduction of steam vessels, which is now rapidly taking place, the trade of Manaos is destined to increase enormously. Woods used in building and furniture work, cocoa, caoutchouc, coffee, sarsaparilla, sugar-canes, indigo, muscado nuts, salt fish, turtle butter, and other commodities, are brought here from all parts, down the innumerable streams into the Rio Negro from the west and north, into the Madeira from the west and south, and then into the Amazon, and by it away eastward to the coast of the Atlantic.
Manaos was formerly called Moura, or Barra de Rio Negro. From 1757 to 1804 it was only part of the captaincy which bears the name of the great river at whose mouth it is placed; but since 1826 it has been the capital of the large province of Amazones, borrowing its latest name from an Indian tribe which formerly existed in these parts of equatorial America.
Careless travelers have frequently confounded it with the famous Manoa, a city of romance, built, it was reported, near the legendary lake of Parima--which would seem to be merely the Upper Branco, a tributary of the Rio Negro. Here was the Empire of El Dorado, whose monarch, if we are to believe the fables of the district, was every morning covered with powder of gold, there being so much of the precious metal abounding in this privileged locality that it was swept up with the very dust of the streets. This assertion, however, when put to the test, was disproved, and with extreme regret, for the auriferous deposits which had deceived the greedy scrutiny of the gold-seekers turned out to be only worthless flakes of mica!