Belém, Brazil

February 23, 2017

Our ship was anchored, which required taking a tender boat into port. Larry and I went ashore with our friends, Julianne and Brian (from Tasmania), to explore. Looking north, we could see what appeared to be a small village, which was what we expected along the Amazon River. To the south was the big city . . . and I do mean big! The eleventh largest city in Brazil has a population of more than two million in it’s metro area.

The city lies approximately sixty-two miles upriver from the Atlantic Ocean, on the Pará River, and is considered the gateway to the Amazon River.

Belém is the Portuguese word for Bethlehem. Founded in 1616, by Portuguese Captain-General Francisco Caldeira Castelo Branco, the economy depended up the sugar trade until the end of the seventeenth century. Cattle ranching supplanted sugar until the eighteenth century, when cultivation of rice, cotton, and coffee became profitable. The discovery of rubber and its importance in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries triggered an economic boom in Belém. The city became known as “the tropical Paris.” a cultural legacy still evident today in the in the splendid colonial buildings that remain. Today the economy is dependent on transporting immense quantities of fish, shrimp, and timber through the port.

Many of the buildings in this port, and others, were in need of a good power wash and paint job. It’s a bit sad to see them in such bad shape. The photo showing the power lines was common throughout many of the countries in South America and other parts of the world. Seeing the dangerous looking tangle of wires increased our appreciation for underground utilities in our city.

We opted to stroll through part of the market area, where many eateries were patronized by locals. Freshwater crab, a traditional local delicacy, is popular. Found only in swamps, its well-tempered meat can be served in different forms: as a shell, the so-called unha (the claws) or toc-toc. “Maniçoba” is another highlight of local cuisine. Its preparation is time-consuming, and its final appearance is quite surprising for those who have never tried it, due to the dark look of the cooked maniva (ground manioc leaves). But this first impression ends quickly, after you taste the dish with its seemingly awkward ingredients. Maniçoba is often served in ceramic dishes and can be eaten with rice or with manioc flour and capsicum.

Quite a few stands were piled with Brazil nuts, in and out of the shell, for sale. I haven’t been able to find out what they do with all the leftover shells though. There were also the usual trinkets available as well as an abundance of produce.

After covering about half of the market, and not finding anything we couldn’t live without, we encountered another couple from the ship. They had just been pickpocketed, so we decided it was time to head back. We stopped to enjoy a local brew before catching the tender back to the ship.

Julianne and Brian joined us for dinner in the Lido, and we all went to the movie in the Wajang Theater. I had already seen Inferno, starring Tom Hanks, but the others hadn’t and I enjoyed seeing it again.

Soon it was time to drift off to sleep with visions of brazil nuts . . . ZZZZZZZZ

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