Belém, Brazil

                                                                        Going Ashore in Belém

January 13, 2012

Our third port of call was Belém, Brazil.  Our stop here was our first visit to Brazil.  Belém is located in the northern part of Brazil, on the Pará River, which is part of the Amazon River system, about 60 miles inland from the Atlantic Ocean.   We were docked in the bay of Maranjó, so we took shuttles into shore.  The area we were in did not have docks built that would accommodate a ship the size of the Amsterdam.  Belém is the eleventh largest city in Brazil, with a population of about 1.2 million people, and it is the capital of Pará state.

As we approached the dock we noticed that there were a lot of large black birds on the shore.  They turned out to be black vultures, and we have never seen so many at one time anywhere else.  Over the course of the day it became obvious that the birds live on leftovers from the fishing industry.

The village where we came ashore is called Icoaraci.  From there we had a 30-minute bus ride into Belém.  The tour we chose was called Belém Highlights.  Our first stop was the Ver-O-Peso market, a huge outdoor market that sells just about everything you might want:  clothing, cookware, fruits and vegetables, meat, fish, and herbal medicines.  Our guide, Barros, introduced us to the Açai berry which is famous for its antioxidant properties and which is actually the fruit of a palm tree.  He taught us about the difference between manioc (yellow, poisonous) and cassava (white, edible, the source of farina - a cereal food - and tapioca).  We also got to watch the preparation of Brazil nuts.  Apparently they are varieties of the same plant, and even the most toxic variety, properly prepared, is edible.  Ver-O-Peso is the largest market we have ever seen.  It is worth going to visit when you have enough time to study it thoroughly, because it is a really amazing place.  The market’s name means ‘check the weight’ - what customs did to determine tariffs due on goods.

Once we left the market we walked over to the Forte do Castelo, a fortress built by the Portuguese in the 17th century.  On the walk we passed some fishermen preparing their fish for sale, assisted by black vultures.  It has occurred to us that given the amount of fishing and fish sales in the area, the birds are the only reason the whole area does not stink of rotting fish.  The fort did not hold much interest for us.

Our next stop was at the Basilica of Our Lady of Nazareth, which is modeled on St. Paul’s Basilica in Rome, a church we have both visited in prior years.  The church is very beautiful, as you can see from the photos.  The church does not have the courtyards that St. Paul’s does, but is otherwise similar.  There is also a very old statue of Mary with her Baby, which is quite special to the people of Belém.

However, perhaps even better than the church was the natural phenomenon we observed outside the church: a full solar halo.

Our final stop on this tour was the Emilio Goeldi Zoo and Botanical Garden.  The most interesting animals were the spotted jaguars (as opposed to black ones).  

One fun thing that happened here is that while we were on the bus our guide talked to us about snakes of the area, making sure we would know the difference between the boa constrictor (that lives in trees) and the anaconda (that lives in the water).  As we were walking past the water lily garden, he mentioned that we needed to beware of boa constrictors and anacondas dropping out of the trees onto us.  Some people actually panicked over that.  Clearly they had not been listening!  We just got a good laugh out of it.

Even after we got back to the dock and onto a shuttle boat to return to the Amsterdam, the adventure was not over.  When we approached the Amsterdam the shuttle pilot looked in vain for a platform to dock at.  The ship was closed up tight!  The shuttle pilot kept sounding his horn to attract the ship’s attention.  Finally, one of the ship’s officers, who happened to be on the shuttle, was able to rouse the ship via walkie-talkie.  We had to wait for a few minutes for the door to be opened on the ship.  The ship had turned while we were gone, so the shuttle could dock on the leeward side, and the crew had not yet had time to reopen the door.  It gave us a moment of concern until we figured out what had happened.

Even though there is a lot of poverty in the city of Belém, there are also quite a few well-to-do people, judging by the cars we saw.  All the cars seemed to be shiny and new; we just didn’t see any older cars.  Apparently three of our tour buses got caught in traffic jams, so we were late leaving the port.

We enjoyed our visit to Belém, and there are other excursions here that would be fun to do.  Many people were put off by the poverty of the city, but it was still a pleasant enough place to visit, and a nice introduction to Brazil.  The visit was made nicer by an excellent tour guide who not only spoke good, comprehensible English, but was also amenable to help with the language.  He wanted to make sure that we learned a lot about his country and culture, so it was an educational experience.

There are additional photos in the album.

© Susan L. Stone 2015