Today it is hot and humid – very hot and very humid. We know we are approaching the Amazon, but this is “Amazon light.” We are actually in the Pará River, one of several “Amazon” rivers that empty into the Amazon delta. Because of the constant silting of the rivers and because of our relatively high draft (about 24’) we cannot sail all the way up to Belem (about 50 miles from the mouth), so we are anchored offshore at a small suburb of Belem called Icoaraçy (ee-kor- a-RA-sey) and be bussed into the city.
The tender ride in is uneventful – calm and fast. The beach community is, however, something to behold. It is about as third-world as anything we have yet seen in Brazil or anywhere else in South America. We remark to each other that we are glad we chose a ship’s tour rather than wandering off on our own.
As we drive into Belem, it gets better, as regards the third-world image of the area, but not a lot. Our first tour stop is the Ver-O-Peso Market, the largest market in northern Brazil. As we exit the bus, we find that in addition to our regular Tour Guide and the obligatory member of the ship’s company (in this case, one of the tour lecturers), we are accompanied by two other young gentlemen: an assistant guide to keep tabs on people at the front of the group while moving and to see that no one strays too far ahead; and, another assistant guide (more muscular and black-shirted) to keep tabs on the back end of the group to see that no one lags (and to keep the riff-raff away: pickpockets, beggars, drunks, etc.). As I said, we were, all of us, remarking that we would not want to be wandering on our own in this particular city.
The market is unreal. It is so huge, that the government has assigned specific locations fror different types of vendors. In one area are the fruit vendors, in another the nut vendors, in yet another are the food stalls/stands (going 24 hours a day seven days a week we are told). The fish market is in a building by itself and shows just about any kind of sea creature you can imagine (and, possibly, some you have never imagined). We got there late – just past noon – and a lot of the vendors were cleaning up, but there was still a lot to see, smell and hear. Imagine a fishmonger cutting down a large fish into filets and steaks with a machete…and making it look easy…
We also noticed several people “mucho borracho” staggering around or sleeping right on the street. Interesting…
While at the market, our guide showed us many of the various fruits, nuts, and vegetables that the locals use in their diet as staples. Many of these (and I apologize for not having the names, but I was not in note-taking mode) are unknown outside of Amazonia. A number of them are, in fact, poisonous unless properly prepared by cutting, pulping, aging, drying, and otherwise processing. I imagine it was a deductive process somewhat similar to the first person to eat a raw oyster. Of course trial and error in food preparation can bring some spectacular results – including painful intestinal effects and most likely including death. Needless to say, although offered tastes of various items, we mostly declined.
After the market, we walked along a short part of the waterfront and viewed some government buildings and a small church.
After this we went to the city’s cathedral, the required church stop. It was another example of beautiful stone, wood, carving, painting, tile, etc. I cannot help but wonder if all that effort and money had been put into something else, would people in the area have had an easier life? Oh well, enough editorializing, on to the zoo.
We then drove to one of Belem’s other highlights: a botanical and zoological garden. This was a gift to the city from one of its early benefactors who was concerned, even 150 years ago, that many of the Amazonian flora and fauna might be lost to the future. He collected both plants and animals and put together a “living laboratory.”
We saw trees that were over 125’ tall that were planted in the early 1800s and were now over 30’ across at the base (see the picture above). We saw many of the Amazonian jungle animals and birds, but there are no pictures here because we are a little funny about showing pictures of animals in cages. Suffice it to say that toucans, macaws, jaguars, and large tortoises are as gorgeous in person as in pictures and if you really want to see them, you just have to go there.
Back to the ship, but first the tender ride back. By this time of day – mid-afternoon – the clouds had rolled in and the rain was dripping in places. By the time we arrived at the tender dock it was in full rain mode. We made it to the tender with only a little water around the edges. The tender ride was normally about 15 minutes and should have been relatively smooth since we were in a river and not the open ocean. However, because of the rain, it was more like a half hour and we were rockin’ and rollin’ all the way back. It was an adventure getting from the tender into the ship, but after the first few people made it, we realized that one merely counts the waves and about every sixth or seventh one will be just a small roller and you can easily step from the tender to the ship. It took a little longer that way, but no one got hurt or even stumble.
We now have another “sea” day and go on to Santarem. The sea day is really a river day. We will enter the mouth of the Amazon early in the morning and spend the day moving upriver to Santarem. While in Santarem, we will be visiting Lake Maicá and doing some Piranha fishing. Stay tuned…