Today we arrived at our second and last port in Brazil. It was a very different kind of day than the city tour we had in Fortaleza. We took the ship’s tour that went on a riverboat ride, followed by a hike in the jungle.
First some quick facts about Belem: the southern channel of the mouth of the Amazon lies just to the north of Belem, and so the city is known as the Metropolis of the Brazilian Amazon region. It is also known as “the city of mango the mango tree” due to the large number of these trees in the city. It is the capital of Para state (one of the 26 in Brazil) and the name comes from “Bethlehem.”
The Amazon river is about 4,000 miles long from source to mouth. One fifth of all the fresh water that drains into the the ocean comes from the Amazon. Because of the force of this mighty river, it affects almost 300 miles out into the ocean with its brown coloring mixing with the blue of the ocean. When we entered into the mouth of the Amazon during the night, we had to travel 80 miles up to get to Belem, on one of its tributaries.
We actually dropped anchor off Icoaracy Village. Instead of taking the ship’s tender boats, everyone used the ferry boats from this village since they were larger and our smaller tenders would have had a more difficult time with the currents. It may not be as obvious in this picture, but the river is vvery brown – a sharp contrast to the blue of the Atlantic. On the wooden pier where we landed, there were lots of smaller boats, some filled with fruits and vegetables. I liked this one with the Mickey Mouse balloon tied to it!
This was a very poor area, and so I was surprised by the really nice buses that were provided for our travel today. This was a day of many modes of travel and many hours. It began with the 20 minute ferry ride, and then the bus ride that took us to the city of Belem where we would get on the riverboat (a little over an hour’s drive to the city.) And as we boarded our buses, we were once again surrounded by armed police – who were OK with having their picture taken. Until we reached Belem, we passed through very poor residential areas. I took lots of pictures, but this one is a good representative. And like Fortaleza, there was a lot of graffiti.
When we reached the waterfront in Belem, we boarded our riverboat near a very famous market there – the Mercado Ver o Peso (“check the weight market.”) This was created in 1688 as a result of the Portuguese tax for everything entering and leaving Amazonia. It was weighed here and then given a tax amount based on the weight. The yellow cranes are still in front of this market area which sprawls across several city blocks. It is the city’s best-known landmark and one of the largest markets in Brazil. The myriad of stalls offer all kinds of exotic items, including foods, herbs, and arts and crafts. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to explore this market.
Our riverboat trip took over an hour. We were on the Para River which is a tributary of the Amazon. From here we could see the modern skyline of Belem. In the forefront, along the river, there were more humble dwellings. But the more interesting sights were still before us. As we left the big city, we started to enter the more remote and jungle part of the river. We saw lots of houses up on stilts along the river bank, but here are some of the best sample pictures of what we saw. At one point, we left the wider river and went down a smaller and much narrower tributary so that we had a closer look at the people living here and their homes. And there was green everywhere – in many shades. It was fascinating and beautiful.
When we reached our destination, we got off our boat and headed into the jungle. Our guide pointed out some plants and trees as we went along. I had not brought my little notebook, so I can only work from memory. Most of the plants were used for spices or medicinal reasons. The red plant is an herb, the large seed-looking thing hanging from the tree is what they use for white chocolate and is called “copoaso” (that is the phonetic spelling – have no idea how to spell it – will have to Google this as well!) And the tall whitish tree is a rubber tree. Our guide is pointing out that some sap is coming out of the tree. The last tree is a young kapok tree (we later saw a much larger and older one.)
We didn’t see wildlife, but here is what we saw for the most part. The second butterfly was just sitting on the ground. Then our guide put this huge ant on his sign to show us how big it was. It was huge!
From nowhere, this child appeared and started climbing the vines of a tree. We thought with the long hair it was a little girl, but it was a boy. His family lived nearby (where we would have refreshments) and he enjoyed entertaining us with his climbing antics! When we arrived near his house, a table was laid out with local fruits. Our guide took several and cut into them so that we could try them. One was the white chocolate seed we had seen earlier. Doug and I didn’t try any of it because we had heard that other people had gotten sick from eating these fruits from the jungle.
While we were there, a man showed us a sloth on a tree. At first we thought he might get away so we all went running to get a picture. It turned out that he had caught the sloth the day before and planned to let it go that night after our tours left. But it was very sad to see this animal tied by his leg so that he could only go up a little way on the tree. Sloths do live in this jungle, but they are hard to find. At least we got to see one, I guess, but at what cost to the animal. He then brought out his pet tarantula and our guide held it and offered it to anyone else to hold. He promised it wouldn’t bite or hurt.
We only walked a little way to see the huge, 400 year old kapok tree. It was so large it was difficult to get a picture of the whole tree. While we were standing there taking pictures, we suddenly realized we were standing on an ant’s nest because these large ants were climbing up our pants’ legs and were all over the tops and sides of our shoes. I took a stick and tried to brush them off, but some of the ones on my pants seemed to be stuck and I had a hard time getting them off – it was like they were locked in on my pants! It was an awful feeling. After that, we saw cutter ants which were bringing all the leaves they had cut and carried to this central spot. It’s hard to see the ants in this picture, but they are under each of those small leaf parts.
While it was great to walk in this jungle area, we really didn’t see much. We could hear lots of birds, but never really saw them. I think maybe having 30 people in our group was too large and we probably scared off anything long before we got to the spot where they had been! It was a pretty walk, but a very hot one! So, after about 1 1/2 hours of walking, we went back to the riverboat that had taken us to the jungle. We now made our way back to Belem where we would get back on our bus for another hour’s ride to the dock.
We were running late, so we couldn’t take a drive through Belem (the pretty downtown area) when we got back. So, we went back through more poverty and slum areas. It was very sad. But before we started our drive, we looked out our window and saw these two heavily armed police pull over these two young men and did a pat down on the police car right under our bus window. Our guide told us on the drive that in Belem if you were an under age (under 18) youth and committed any kind of crime (murder, rape, theft) nothing could be done to you. You were given maybe some community hours to work off or a few weeks in jail, but then you were let off because you were not an adult. There is a lot of drug traffic in this area and so youth are constantly getting into trouble and then being let off quickly so they are back on the streets laughing at the police. Our guide said it was a huge problem here. When we were stopped at a traffic light, I looked up and saw this young man on the pedestrian overpass bridge. His look seemed to say it all for me – he looked sad and rather hopeless. I had that feeling at this port – the sort of hopelessness of the poor conditions here.
When we arrived back at the pier where we would then take the ferry boat to our ship, we could see that the tide was very low. We were glad our ferry was far enough out into the water so that we weren’t stuck! Most of the little stalls had already closed up by the time we got back. And once again, there were no soccer shirts to be found anywhere.
We had a late sail-away since one of the tours ran late – there was a lot of traffic to get through to get back to the pier. But all most of us wanted was a cold shower and a quick bite to eat (we had missed dinner in the dining room.) In fact, Doug and I did dinner on our own – each getting some pizza by the pool – because I wanted to go the movie, Medicine Man, which was about a scientist/researcher in the jungle searching for plants with a medical cure and after that I went to the 10 p.m. ship’s entertainment which was another marionette show. It was as good as the first, except the finale was even better. A Chinese emperor turned into a Chinese dragon, complete with smoke coming out of his nostrils. It was so amazing.
Doug was asleep when I got back to the cabin around 11 p.m. It had been a long day and I was glad that the next day was another sea day so I could sleep in a bit.
Overall, it was a good day, but in summary, both our ports in Brazil were very depressing and very similar. Between the danger and the armed police presence and the poverty and graffiti everywhere, they were not places I’d like to see again.