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Black market merchandise thrives in remote World Cup host city Manaus

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MANAUS, BRAZIL — If anybody wants to purchase a brand new World Cup jersey, I’d highly recommend the Brazilian city of Manaus.

It may cost a pretty penny to actually get to the Amazonian outpost. But for those select World Cup fans that ventured far west into Brazil to watch their national team play, what they discovered upon arrival is that Manaus is the black market king of the jungle.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect of Manaus before arriving, especially after realizing the clear cultural distinctions between all the other Brazilian cities I had visited thus far.

Sao Paulo is a tremendously vast metropolis with endless sub-city backdrops similar to Los Angeles. Rio de Janeiro is an atypical blend of shoreline beauty and downtown city culture that can’t really be compared to any other place I’ve visited. Natal is a small, quaint beach town with a legitimate local Brazilian atmosphere stretching along the unfinished boardwalk.

Manaus was different . . . really different.

An uncharacteristic port city located along two expansive rivers (Amazon and Rio Negro), Manaus is a cultural split of exoticism and industrialism. The entrance road into the city takes you past shipbuilding factories, chemical plants and computer manufactoring, right before you pass a dozen fruit stands and a handful of riverboat jungle cruise tour booths.

Walking around the surprisingly populous capital of the Amazon state, one can roam through a sketchy, unsanitary, bamboo-covered fruit and fish market, turn the corner, and find yourself in what can only be described as the worlds largest flea market.

When the sun goes down, the city shuts down with it, and the alleys between the streets are dark and bleak. But at sunrise, the city comes to life through the alleyways. Merchants line broken roads in spades, selling everything from knock-off World Cup jerseys, to Playstation 4 consoles, handmade jewelry, and anything imaginable in-between.

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The best part about the free (black) market-style that Manaus provides is the ability to barter with the merchants. If I had to give a piece of advice to jungle travelers making a purchase from one of the vendors there, it’d be to say “no” at least twice after being given the original offer price.

The dialogue should go something like this . . .

(Excuse my half-Portuguese/half-Spanish dialect)

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Buyer: “Perdón amigo, cuanto cuesta?”

(“Excuse me, how much is this?” – pointing at a Brazil jersey with a Nike swoosh on the front and a separate unrecognizable label on the inside)

Merchant: “Cincuenta real”  (“R$50 – Brazilian Real”)

Buyer:       “Cincuenta?  (handing jersey back to him while shaking head)

                   “Obrigado”   (“Thank you”)

Merchant:   “OK….OK”   (he speaks English?)

Cuarenta.”  (“R$40 – Brazilian Real”)

Buyer:         “Treinta?”    (“R$30” – Brazilian Real)

Merchant:   “Nao (no)…Caurenta”

 …

Buyer:          (pauses for a few seconds as if actually contemplating accepting)

                       “Hmmmm….No, Obrigado” (buyer turns to walk away)

Merchant:  “Treinta! Si Treinta! . . . tudo bem  (30! OK yes 30 is all good.)

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Congratulations buyer, you’re the proud new owner of a somewhat legitimate soccer jersey with a Nike logo on the front that was undoubtedly being sold in violation of trademark infringement . . . and for the cost of just $14 U.S. dollars!

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I don’t think Nike, Sony, or other major corporations will be going out of their way to protect their brands in the Amazon. Especially since doing so is about as impractical as policing the black market in Beijing. About a third of Manaus’ street kiosks would have to be shut down one by one, incurring the wrath of the city’s 1.9 million population of willing consumers.

Needless to say, plenty of family and friends will be receiving souvenirs upon my return to the States. But don’t blame me if the number on the jersey peels off the back after its first run through the washing machine.

What do you expect? Thing cost me 14 bucks!

I’ll get you another one next time I go to the Amazon.

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