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Something's Fishy At Manaus Airport In Brazil


So if you're one of those people who find it hard to choose gifts, you really need to listen to this next story. NPR's Philip Reeves was recently in Brazil's city of Manaus in the middle of the Amazon rainforest where he found a pretty unusual gift.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: When you travel a lot, you learn certain rules. One is this - never return home from a trip with a gift for the family from the airport. You can't fool them - at least I couldn't until now. This is the international airport in Manaus, a city in the Amazon rainforest.

ERIVELTON SOUZA: (Foreign language spoken).

REEVES: Erivelton Souza has a solution for the desperate traveler who's heading home empty-handed after a great trip to the jungle. He's holding it in his hand. It's a very large fish.

SOUZA: (Foreign language spoken).

REEVES: Souza's standing at a stall behind three big freezers full of fish. He's pretty sure this is the only airport shop in the world that just sells freshwater fish.

SOUZA: (Foreign language spoken).

REEVES: These fish from the Amazon River basin, explains Souza. He says they're caught and sold legally and in some cases farmed. There's an intriguing selection. You can buy your family a bit of pirarucu, a carnivore that can grow bigger than a man and has teeth on its tongue.

SOUZA: (Foreign language spoken).

REEVES: When this shop opened a year ago, doing business was tough, says Souza. Travelers took a while to cotton on to the idea that a fish can be a souvenir that gives your family a little taste of your gastronomic adventures in the Amazon.

In Manaus, there's one fish that the airport stall does not happen to sell, which catches every gastronomical adventurer's eye. They make horror movies about it in Hollywood.


ALIPIO MARTINS: (Singing in foreign language).

REEVES: In Brazil, it's inspired song - and soup.

I'm in one of the many restaurants here that serve fish. And above me, there's a big sign and it says drink piranha soup. It's good for the heart and better than Viagra.

Alas I can't test that claim. Piranha soup is not on today's menu. In Manaus fish market, though, people know all about this story.

JOSE RAIMUNDO: (Through interpreter) It's really delicious.

REEVES: Jose Raimundo, a 45-year-old fish seller, says piranha soup is indeed an aphrodisiac.

RAIMUNDO: (Through interpreter) They say if a guy drinks this soup when his morale is low, it'll turn him into a 20-year-old.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken).

REEVES: But remember, Manaus is a big tourist town. Every year, roughly 1 million visitors come here to see its opera house built during the huge 19th century rubber boom and to head out on rainforest safaris. Everyone loves hearing exotic stories about piranhas, says Hilario Teixeira, a market worker.

HILARIO TEIXEIRA: (Through interpreter) Tourists come here every day and they go nuts when they see a piranha and take loads of photos of it.

REEVES: Perhaps that's why there's so much fake news about piranhas, about how shoals of them carry out frenzied attacks reducing the human to a skeleton in seconds. Attacks are actually rare and only occur in certain conditions. Teixeria's had first-hand experience.

TEIXEIRA: (Through interpreter) I was bitten by a piranha a long time ago when I was out fishing.

REEVES: He shows me a scar on his thumb. The bite did hurt, he says.

TEIXEIRA: (Through interpreter) But then I had some beer, and the pain was gone.

REEVES: Back at Manaus airport, it's time to choose a souvenir. I select a tambaqui. It's the size of a laptop and costs 12 bucks. My tambaqui thawed before I reached my home in Rio de Janeiro 10 hours later. But this airport gift fooled the family, and it was also quite delicious. Philip Reeves, NPR News, Rio de Janeiro.

(SOUNDBITE OF EMANCIPATOR'S "OUTLAW") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.

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