World Cup matches in Manaus are long over, but did the spotlight help the city transcend its reputation as a jungle outpost? Above, photos from Leco Jucá, part of a collective aiming to shine some light on the real city.
by Chris Feliciano Arnold
On the Sunday of the U.S.-Portugal match in Manaus, Isaura Vitória Fróes Ramos sunbathed on the top deck of a riverboat near the Lago do Iranduba. With a cold beer in hand and salted steaks on a nearby grill, she raved about the World Cup.
“It’s wonderful to see so many visitors. There’s a lot of ignorance about Manaus,” said Fróes, a local banker. “We have a lot of industry as well as natural beauty you won’t find anywhere else in the world. More people ought to visit here instead of taking their vacations to Miami or New York.”
Despite being a city of nearly 2 million people, the capital of Amazonas is often misunderstood by foreigners and Brazilians alike as little more than a jungle outpost. Over the course of the World Cup, Manaus saw an influx of nearly 30,000 foreign and 150,000 Brazilian visitors, according to government estimates.
Local organizers responded with more than 1,200 cultural events to showcase the region’s diversity and dispel tired stereotypes. But despite these efforts, many World Cup visitors will experience the city merely as a waypoint to the jungle, barely exploring Manaus beyond its new stadium and famous historical center.
Beto Silva, a water taxi driver who’s been working the river for more than 22 years, says he’s seen triple the usual amount of business the last couple weeks, but that most visitors are heading to the jungle for a few hours before catching a game and jetting off to their next host city.
“It’s been a lot of work, and I’ve met a lot of new people,” he said. “I hope they’ll go back and tell their friends about Manaus so that even more people come.”
Yet when those visitors go home, what stories will they tell?
Beyond the Forest
A trio of storytellers wants to make sure that the world sees a different side of Manaus and Amazonas. Rosana Villar, Leco Jucá and Beatriz Gomes are the founding partners of Yes, Bananas!, a media agency that aims to show Brazilian and international journalists that there’s more to the region than its rainforest.
“I’m from São Paulo, and when I first got here, I had no idea what to expect from Manaus,” said Rosana Villar, 31, who founded Yes, Bananas! when she was reporting at Diário do Amazonas. “There were so many cool stories that weren’t being covered, and I wondered why the press wasn’t showing another side of the city. There is a magnificent forest here, but it’s not all about the animals. We need more stories about the people who live here.”
Villar tapped her colleague Beatriz Gomes, 33, to become the Production Director at Yes, Bananas! “When I got to Manaus from Fortaleza, I was just so impressed with the city,” said Gomes, who covers the economy for the Diário and local news for TV Cultura. “It’s totally different from the Northeast.”
Back to the city
“People are so used to seeing the forest and the animals and the Indians that they forget about the city,” audiovisual director Leco Jucá said. “They just look to the jungle. It’s almost as if Manaus doesn’t exist as a city.”
Jucá was inspired to document Manaus through images after discovering a book by famous Brazilian photographer Silvino Santos who chronicled the city’s boom during the 1930s and 40s.
“He wanted to look at what people were forgetting,” said Jucá. “The people inside the city of Manaus.”
When Jucá arrived in Manaus more than 4 years ago, he would walk the city for hours in the morning, sometimes without even taking pictures, just to let the city reveal itself. His latest projects have been informed by the work of Italian writer Italo Calvino, whose classic novel Invisible Cities has made Jucá more sensitive to the way people and places can shift as the seasons turn or as day turns to night.
“Manaus can seem frozen in time, but it’s constantly changing.” Jucá said. “There are always new things here. What I’m looking for are the changes that you might not even see before your eyes. The kind of changes you just have to smell and feel.”