Manaus, Brazil: Museu da Cidade – Paço da Liberdade [City Museum – Palace of Liberty]

Hoho, what do we have here?  A third country?!  YES!  It is time to visit some museums in an ENTIRELY. DIFFERENT. BIOME.

The city of Manaus, in northern Brazil, is called “The Gateway to the Amazon” because it is smack in the middle of the Amazon rainforest.  Its boom age was the late 19th/early 20th century, when it was at the center of the rubber industry.  The rubber barons brought a lot of European sensibilities to the city as well as opulent displays of insane wealth.  It feels a little weird, looking around Manaus, as it does sort of give the impression that several shiny European buildings were plopped in the middle of the jungle.  Which, fair, I guess.

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Neoclassical!

The City Museum is housed in the old city hall building, constructed in 1879.  And it’s frickin’ neat.  The museum is tech-heavy, at least tech-heavier than I’m used to in a history museum, and it’s done really well.  You don’t even have to take my word for it:  The museum has an app.  You can go download it now (it’s called Museu da Cidade de Manaus).  It’s got an English setting.

If you’re actually at the museum, you’re definitely going to want the app.  If you don’t have it in advance, the museum has free WiFi, in addition to museum-grade air conditioning (yaaasssssssssss).

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One thing you really notice in the rubber boom era architecture and decor is that it is all aggressively Euro-jungle.

This is the ceiling of the Mayors Room, which displays the portraits of Manaus’s civic leaders through the years.  The app will have the biographical data on these guys, but it is sadly thin for this one:

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And entirely devoid of mention of his personal style.

Next up, the room of Growth Rings!

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SYMBOLISM

This is an interactive display about the growth of the city of Manaus.  You can trigger the projection of the history images by moving your hand over the tree rings where the maps are projected.  You can see the relationship between the city’s growth and deforestation.  If this all sounds very informative and you are wishing you could read more about it and see the projections yourself, you totally can because the museum has them on Youtube and the app links right to it.

Next up is the room of Flying Rivers.  Yes, all the rooms sound like they’re in Hogwarts.

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SCIENCE

See how the Amazon rainforest fits into the water and carbon cycles (including the impact of Manaus’s pollution).  The forest’s role in water circulation is known as the “flying rivers,” according to the museum.  I do love it when some good poetic turn of phrase is applied to science stuff.  Again, the room’s video is linked in the app.

Time for archaeology!

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This is the floor of the room, exposing the dig site from 2003 that uncovered funeral urns from the 7th to 12th centuries.  And, uh, that’s my toe.

The area around Manaus has been occupied for at least 11,000 years.  There’s been a lot of research in the region, and this room lets you take a peek, not only through the glass floor but also through VR headsets.

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VR stands for VERY RAD

The video is introduced and narrated by a Brazilian university professor with a pretty good speaking voice, which is great for Spanish speakers as it makes him easier for them to understand.  For non-Portuguese or Spanish speakers, you’re a bit out of luck, as the VR has no translation.  But it is still a very rad (heh) look at the sites and artifacts.  You can see the introduction portion, with English subtitles, through the app.

There’s a room with an art exhibit in it related to Brazilian poet Thiago de Mello–art inspired by him–and I’m tossing it in here because I really like this one.

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WEEEEEEE

And now, my second favorite room: the market!

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Can’t really do better than the app’s description: “The marketplace is where the cultural identity of a community manifests itself best–full of life, flavors, aromas, words, and sounds.”
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The herbarium, which is what I’m calling my spice rack from now on.

You can scan, with your phone, many of the plant labels for recipes and folk stories (also guess what ALL THERE IN THE APP YOU CAN DOWNLOAD RIGHT NOW), although the folk story animations also play in the bottom of this barrel:

Which sounds kind of weird but actually really works.

Wandering back over to the other side of museum there is my favorite room, Affluent Rivers.

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A representation of the rivers around Manaus, principally the Rio Negro and the Solimões (they join at the Meeting of the Waters to make the Amazon River).

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As you move along the water, the history of Manaus is projected onto the surface.  Once again, I can’t do better than the app:  “A timeline is like a river: flowing uninterruptedly, carrying different layers of time, which sometimes overlap, sometimes become separated and then reconnect.”

Again, the images are interactive, and can be triggered by the visitor’s hand movements.  It is such a clever and gorgeous concept, which makes it my favorite room.

Finally, I’m going to mention briefly the Bath of Origins room, which was too difficult to photograph, but you stand in the middle of several screens with projections of locals, who give their stories in turn.  They are all standing at the river’s edge, and after they talk, they dive in, and then you see them swimming on the floor you’re standing on.  The affect is cool, but there are no English subtitles.  HOWEVER, you can see the videos with English subtitles through the power of your imagination.  Just kidding, you can totally see them through the app, too.

The City Museum is amazingly well done.  The interactive elements are creative and well designed.  I can’t speak highly enough of the museum’s app–it’s the best museum app I have ever seen.  The museum has clearly been heavily invested in, and I hope it continues to be.  If the shop had been open, I would have bought a lot of swag because the museum frickin’ earned it.

The City Museum is free (FREE!), open from 9am to 430pm Monday through Friday, 9am to 1230pm on Saturday, and the second Sunday of every month from 5pm to 9pm.

 

El Museo Argentino de Ciencias Naturales Bernardino Rivadavia [The Bernardino Rivadavia Argentine Museum of Natural Sciences]

It’s been an eventful few weeks here in Argentina.  The presidential primaries happened, and also the value of the peso plummeted.  Good times!

But before all that happened, I went to one of my favorite buildings in Buenos Aires, which happens to house the Rivadavia Natural Sciences Museum.

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So, ya like spiders?

The museum opened in 1826, owing to the work and advocacy of Bernardino Rivadavia.  It was the first natural sciences museum in South America, and kind of a big deal.  The current building, in the slightly-out-of-the-way-for-tourists Caballito neighborhood, was inaugurated in 1937.  It’s got SO MANY ANIMALS.

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OWLGOYLE
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INTERIOR CEILING BAT

There’s more, and I recommend walking around the inside and outside of the museum squealing in delight when you spot them.

When I visited, it was the winter break for the local schools, and the place was full of excited, noisy children. There was a line out the door and around the gate to get in when I was leaving around lunchtime.  It was glorious.  The children were even exclaiming over the minerals.

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To be fair, there was some pretty great fluorite and stuff that grows in distinctive shapes.

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There is more than awesome rocks to see, of course.  The museum does boast a large collection of native specimens, but it’s not limited to them.  And who doesn’t love dioramas of successful hunts and dramatic battles for food and survival?

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This warthog, I guess, is not all that thrilled with dioramas of successful hunts and dramatic battles for survival.

Giraffes aren’t the only ones who like to nibble trees.

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Gerenuks do too, and are actually also called “giraffe gazelles,” which I didn’t even notice until I looked it up just now.

Although you might know the species better as that “popcorn eating gazelle” meme.

This is a pretty photo-heavy entry, you guys, because I appreciate and value artistry.

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“NEEDS MORE BLOOD”

There is a very nice hall of bird specimens, including some in dioramas of Argentina’s environs.  This was my favorite one, because it happens to depict a park very near my house.

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A good place for birding and Pokemon Go.

I especially loved the little riff on a fairly common stencil graffiti motif.

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Look I’m never gonna be good at taking photos but most importantly why doesn’t the MACN have this on a t-shirt

The bird wing (haha) is actually really good.

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Andean condors have great personalities.

You might know, if you are into dinosaurs (you are, because everyone everywhere always is into dinosaurs), that Argentina is pretty rich in dinosaur fossils.

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TA DA

It’s no Sue, but it’s not at all shabby!  There’s plenty of other native megafauna, too, which is great because ancient megafauna are so frickin’ weird.

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HUG ME
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SKELETON DRAMA

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Not a boulder hunt; those are glyptodons.

 

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And some Glyptodon tails were BANANAS.

There’s also a section of the building that covers the museum’s history.

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I’m starting to feel real bad about the terrible photos. The MACN doesn’t deserve this.
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Guess what dictatorships aren’t fond of.

At the start of the military dictatorship (no not that one) of 1966, faculties of the University of Buenos Aires were occupied by students, professors, and graduates in protest of the military’s overthrowing of the government. The protesters were violently removed, beaten, and arrested during La Noche de los Bastones Largos. The military ended university autonomy, hundreds of professors left the country, and research was quashed.  It was an enormous setback for academia in Argentina.  This is your pointed reminder that there’s no such thing as “sticking to science” because everything is political and education is the enemy of oppressors.  So, study hard and fight evil.

Anyway, that’s a pretty big bummer, so how about a preserved giant squid’s eye as a palate cleanser.

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The best part is the museum’s snack area is right around here too, so Squidward here can watch you eat.

The only objection I have to the Natural Sciences Museum is the aquarium hall (no photos were allowed).  It’s very small, which is fine, but the tanks all look like the worst aquarium store that would be allowed to legally operate.  The fish are in bare, small tanks with nearly no features aside from a layer of gravel.  The lone piranha, sad enough because they are a schooling fish, had only a small plastic plant to hide behind, which it was trying to do the whole time I was in the hall.  I really hope they improve the conditions for the fish soon.

The MACN is a really a lovely visit overall.  It’s set in the Parque Centenario, a huge park with a small lake.  Like all the bigger parks in the city, it’s a nice spot for bird watching (the tiny museum shop sells a guide to the park’s birds).  Entry to the museum is a very reasonable 100 pesos (about $2 US, and as always subject to change).  It’s open every day except holidays from 2pm to 7pm and easy to get to by bus and the B subway line.  Check the website for up to day admissions, closures, and guided tour info.

Valle Fértil: Parque Provincial Ischigualasto [Ischigualasto Provincial Park]

This will be a mini-post, just a quick look at Ischigualasto and its museum.

Ischigualasto Park, also known as “The Valley of the Moon,” is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a hot, dry, wind-blasted rockscape that’s an absolute treasure field of paleontologic significance of the late Triassic. I have been dying to go for years.

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100% on the strength of having seen a photo of this formation, the “Bocce Court.” There are not nearly as many of the round rocks as there used to be, because people stole them. Now you have to go on a guided tour to see the park. People are assholes.

Frankly, having to be on a guided tour isn’t that bad an idea, as if you were to get lost in the park you would absolutely die. The name of the park, according to the ranger leading the tour, is from a Native word meaning “tierra sin vida”–the deadland.

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I mean, pretty accurate.

There are several famous rock formations to see on the tour, including this one:

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The Mushroom, with the barrancas rojas (red cliffs) in the background.

Photographs really don’t do the place justice.

There is a small museum onsite!

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Non-dinosaur prehistoric megafauna were the absolute weirdest.
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It’s not completely devoid of animal life today. There are guanacos, choiques (Darwin’s rhea), foxes, condors, and others, including the biggest grasshopper things I’ve ever seen.

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This mother and her babies got what I hope was an unfortunate recreation, shown below.
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…Yikes.

The tour of the park takes about three to four hours with a break at a small building with a dig display and snack bar halfway; you ride in your own car (you can hire a local car if you don’t have one in a nearby town). The ranger picks a car from the line of tourists that has room for him and rides in it, so if you have a free seat, don’t be surprised if the ranger hops in. Check the website for hours, available tours (there’s a night one during full moons), and rates. The park does occasionally have to close on account of the Zonda wind, but I don’t think that’s very common. For the love of all that is holy, wear sunblock.

San Agustin del Valle Fértil: Museo Piedras del Mundo [Rocks of the World Museum]

Recently, I was on a road trip to the provinces of San Juan and La Rioja.  The main point of the trip was to see Parque Ischigualasto, Parque Talampaya, and guanacos.

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Mission accomplished.

But, there was an opportunity to take in one of my favorite type of little museums: a personal collection that got wildly out of hand.  This is the Museo Piedras del Mundo:

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The enterprising proprietor of the museum has put together three rooms of displays, which he will lead you through (Spanish only).  The main gallery boasts a hell of a rock collection.

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Pains are taken to give information on the chemistry of various minerals, which are indeed from around the world.  There are also sections dedicated to the local geology.

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And from the Argentine territory of the Antarctic.

A second room houses local archaeological finds (the region is rich in fossils and ancient human-made relics, as well as impressive rocks)…

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…and also some truly alarming local creepy crawlies.

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Remember, your hotel absolutely cannot keep them out! Sleep tight!

The third room houses the seashell, fish specimen, and photography collection (all the photos were taken by the museum owner).

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You will easily burn more time in the museum than you thought you would.  And it’s a fun little place!  It is maybe just past the middle of nowhere, if you’re coming from San Agustín, closer to a very, very small village called Usno.  There’s literally nothing around the place.  It is, if I recall correctly, $100 pesos for entry, and it’s open from 8am to 7pm daily.  He’s also got a little gift shop.

 

Jardín Botánico Carlos Thays de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires [Carlos Thays Buenos Aires Botanical Garden]

December is here, and despite my strenuous objections, spring is warming up the city.  These will be the last weeks to enjoy the parks and gardens without feeling super hot and gross the whole time.  It’s time to visit the plant museum.

Okay, technically, it’s the Botanical Garden.

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But for real what’s a garden if not a plant museum

The Buenos Aires Botanical Garden is, objectively speaking, the best place in the entire city.  It’s one good soundproofing and a few shady hammocks from achieving empirical perfection.  These are just the facts.

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Luscious, green facts. 

And there is a small sort of museum on the grounds: the main building, where garden designer Carlos Thays lived while he was director of parks and walks, so there’s a nice perk you don’t see in city governments much today.

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Inside, you’ll find some models of the gardens and structures and antique prints and maps.  The whole thing is very picturesque.

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The museum/administration building is the center of the activities for the Garden, and there’s also a wee children’s library, which is adorbs.

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The Children’s Library of Nature

The Garden itself has QR code labels for some of its collection, which is very handy for an outdoor museum (just go with it okay), as you see here on the artwork circuit.

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I don’t remember if this one had a QR code, but c’mon it’s a gimme.

And like many large public gardens, you can find contemporary art installations, too, such as “Instalación Mesológica” by Didier Rousseau-Navarre, which is meant to “question our relationship with the earth in the Anthropocene Age.”  The seeds are made from the wood of their species.

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The Botanical Garden hosts many workshops and activities and is a goddamn delight.  It’s in Palermo, near the Rural, the Japanese Garden, the former zoo, the Museo Evita, and lots of other stuff.  It’s a nice place in the city to find some birds; I saw a really pretty green hummingbird.  It’s free and open every day except Mondays, and closing times depend on the season; check the website.  It’s accessible via the Plaza Italia stop of the D line of the subway and a whole mess of buses.

 

MUNTREF Centro de Arte y Naturaleza [MUNTREF Center of Art and Nature]

I am still recovering from a “flu-like” virus, which wasn’t too bothersome as I mainly slept for three days, but I managed to make a quick visit to the Centro de Arte y Naturaleza (part of the Museums of the National University of Tres de Febrero, which also includes the Museo de la Inmigración).  It’s in a really lovely building on the perimeter of the old Buenos Aires Zoo, which was chiefly built around the turn of the 20th century and as such is a fascinating example of old zoo architecture but was closed down for being a cruelly terrible zoo.

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In 2016.

Despite being technically within the limited-capacity (now called) Buenos Aires Eco-Park, a transformation that has not been going well, incidentally, the Centro is accessible from the outside, although you can peek out the back windows and see the maras wandering around the grounds:

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The maras are large Patagonian rodents that were always allowed to range freely within the zoo.

The Centro itself faces the large and busy Av. Sarmiento:

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You cannot move in.

It’s quite small and doesn’t take much time to visit–but it is free, has a helpful staff, changes exhibits entirely every few months, and is right within a nexus of other attractions, making it an easy addition to any plans that include La Rural or the Botanical Gardens, or any other of the numerous museums and gardens within walking distance.

Two artists are currently featured.  The first floor holds Zoología Fantástica, by Argentine biologist and artist Pablo La Padula.  From the description on the MUNTREF website: “…it invites us to re-read the historical-cultural markers that reside in scientific devices and their interpretations, as well as in the decisions that are made for scientific dissemination, and the forms that these constructions assume in the social imagination. The materials that are used, the assembly, the lighting and the organization system, come together to place the spectator in the place of the scientist.”

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Man, remember the ear mouse?

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The upstairs houses a show by Peruvian artist Claudia Coca called “Do Not Tell Me I Do Not Know How to Catch the Wind.”  It examines the city’s life forms and their interaction, and includes embroidered verses.

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“Who is the one that, like the tiger, rides the wind with a ghostly body?”

If you’re already in the area, and if you spend much time in Buenos Aires at all you eventually will be, pop into the Centro and see what they have showing.  It’s free and open Wednesday to Sunday from 2pm to 7pm.  I really hope they put whale kid on a postcard.

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MUMIN Museo de Minerales [MUMIN Mineral Museum]

I need to get this posted, because I was told that this museum will be closing next month, which sucks, because it’s pretty cool.  It has a strong online presence, a good physical space, and a great staff.  It will be a loss.

The MUMIN (MUseo de MINerales, get it?) is the educational endeavor of the SEGEMAR, the Servicio Geológico Minero (Argentine Mining Geological Service).  It caters mainly to school groups, tasked with making rocks interesting to children.  Geology, being perhaps not the sexiest of sciences, could make that a bit difficult to achieve, but they have done an admirable job.  Things to touch, demonstrations to look at–there’s a lot of activity for minerals.

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If a rock museum could have jazz hands

The museum is located within a government ministry building, the name of which escapes me at the moment–but you do need an ID to get in.

I poked around on my own until a staff member came out, discovered my terrible Spanish, and immediately went back to send out a very patient English-speaking geologist.  He showed me around the museum, told me about all the displays, and answered all my questions.  Let’s see a little of the collection!  Argentina has a lot of mineral-related loot.

So, do you have a favorite kind of fossilized thing? ‘Cause I do.

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That thing is petrified wood, and the MUMIN has a huge chunk of it. Yaaass.
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Patagonia’s got some crazy fossil deposits.
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Up top you can see the impressions of a plant; at the bottom is a sauropod bone fossil.

“That’s cool,” you’re thinking. “BUT ARE THERE PRETTY ROCKS”

Of course!

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Fluorite!  One of my favorite minerals.
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Big ol’ piece of rhodochrosite, the national stone of Argentina.

The museum does have an app available on the website that will do AR stuff with a few signs as well as a VR headset with a short meteorite thing to watch; nothing extravagant but fun and memorable.  There are a few more hands-on elements to see/do, including some SUPER FUN SAND TABLES:

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whaaaaaaaaaaaaat

If you move the sand around, the volcano changes:

There’s another one!

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Islands in the stream, that is what we are

In this table, you move the sand around to form the topography of the land.  Then you can make it rain by spreading your hand.  The idea is to demonstrate how water moves over the topography.

Know what else I liked?  This Argentina-specific graphic of geologic time:

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Although the geologist explained that it is just illustrative–if you dug beneath the Obelisco, you wouldn’t find a whole lot of the middle layers.  You would, however, cause no end of excited reactions on the part of the local government.

Wanna see more minerals?

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Good news.

I will never not find it fascinating that some minerals naturally grow in distinctive shapes.

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NEVER.

Finally, I will close this out with a geode.

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The label doesn’t tell you this but the very nice geologist will, this geode is an enhydro agate–a geode with water inside of it.  Did you know that was a thing?  I had no idea that was even a thing!

The MUMIN is free and open to the public Monday through Friday from 9am-5pm (closed on holidays).  Take your ID though because you need that to get in.  It’s very close to the Plaza de Mayo and easily accessible by all the subway lines that go there.  Go while you can.