We crossed the equator very early in the morning and then anchored off Icoaracy Village. It is warm (low 80s) and very humid here. We tendered ashore via a 200 passenger ferry and climbed aboard a tour bus for the 45-min ride into the city of Belem. Belem means “Bethlehem” and is a large city of 1.6 million people. We are on an all-day excursion called, “A Taste of the Amazon”.
We are not on the Amazon River but in a region known as Amazonia. It is up river from where the Amazon River flows into the Atlantic Ocean. The water is a chocolate color because of all the sediment. Our first stop is the Ver o Peso market. It is a big tourist attraction but also where the locals buy fresh produce. We sampled Brazil nuts and some of the exotic fruits. We learned that Brazil nuts are in a group of 25 encased in a shell similar to a coconut. After extracting the nuts from the shell, each nut must be shelled individually using a large knife. We wandered the market for about 1.5 hours. We moved from fruits to fruit juices to vegetables to grains to eggs to shrimp to herbs, medicines & perfumes to fish (had to breathe through our mouth there) to live ducks, pigeons, rabbits, hamsters, chickens and mice. We even encountered a naked lady just wandering the market. It apparently was an unusual sight as even the locals were whispering and staring. We stopped at a juice bar to sample an exotic drink of a fruit from the mango family mixed with mineral water ---very tasty and healthy too.
Walked to a local pier and climbed aboard a regional boat for a trip out to one of Belem’s 38 islands. Scattered along the shoreline were small houses. The houses are on stilts because the Atlantic Ocean tide causes the river to back up causing inland high tides. Nearly all the houses had boat docks that also served as the kitchen, eating area and laundry. It must have been laundry day because most had clothes hanging on a line to dry. We could not help but wonder how clean the clothes could be if washed in the brown water. We even saw an occasional child swimming in the river.
Stopped for lunch at a local restaurant. It was an open air, wood hut on the riverbank with a wonderful view of the Belem skyline. As we walked in, a large bowl of water and antiseptic leaves greeted us. It felt good to wash our hands. The buffet table was decorated with palm leaves and red bromeliad flowers---all were growing wild near the restaurant. The food was all native dishes: 3 different freshwater fish, grilled to perfection; rice, mashed squash-like vegetable, a white potato-like root that was both boiled and fried. For dessert, we had flan and a white fleshy fruit from the cacao family that had been whipped and partially frozen.
While the food was interesting, our table mates made the meal. They were adventuresome and fun. They consisted of a black couple from Baltimore, a mixed race couple from South Carolina and 2 white couples from Oklahoma and Australia. We talked every subject from Tim Tebow (Broncos quarterback) to Macy’s shopping. But the fun began when one lady misunderstood the tour guide when listing available beverages. He offered her a rum cocktail and she thought he said rum cocaine. She said, “I’ll try that rum cocaine.” We all roared at her expense. After a few local beers, the food tasting became an adventure in which some tried the hot peppers, some the raw cacao beans (source of chocolate) and then a true jungle juice that supposedly cured anything that ailed one.
We traveled the waterways again and encountered a typical Amazonian rain shower on the way back to Belem. The bus ride back to the tender was long and slow. The rain had intensified the mixture of smells. We were very late back to the ship but so were 3 other tour busses so the ship had to wait on us.