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Starting with its famous 19th-century opera house—in the Brazilian rain forest—Manaus is a study in contrasts, an electronics mecca on the Amazon.
No knock on Rodeo Drive, if that's your very expensive cup of tea—and for sure Wal-Mart has its conveniences—but for my limited money, give me a shopping experience a bit more off the well-heeled path. The Russian Market in what passes for suburban Phnom Penh, Cambodia, fills the bill, especially for those who crave french-fried tarantulas and ready-rolled packs of legal marijuana.
In Luanda, Angola, the Roque Santiero, a thieves' market like none other, splays out for miles, a phantasmagoric open-air emporium where mango vendors muscle for selling space with hawkers of AK's. But for sheer, seedy Conradian romance, few bazaars compare with the fish market in the frenetic river port of Manaus, smack in the middle of the Brazilian Amazon: the biggest city in the world's biggest forest.
The best time to catch the action is just past dawn. That's when the fishing boats, a hundred or more, round-bowed and belching black smoke, tie up at the Terminal Pesqueiro de Manaus, a quarter-mile-long floating pier built atop metal drums that allow it to rise and fall with the level of the mighty river.
The Amazon and its many tributaries contain at least 3, they haven't counted them all yet species of fish, most of which are found nowhere else in the world. Many of these swimmers have nasty reputations, but the piranha, for all its terrorizing tabloid press, isn't particularly feared by locals, who sneer at the fesh's relatively diminutive dentition. Far more formidable is the toothpick fish, known for swimming into the opening of the human penis, creating such pain that the afflicted party screams for the organ to be sliced off.