By Derek Lacrone
January 6th, 2015
Being outside around midday makes you feel like a vampire trying to get a tan, as the burning sun digs deep into your skin, make certain to bring your sol protecto (sunblock). And this brutal heat isn’t occasional, as the high temperatures are more consistent than the swift and tiny Brazilian feet that tear up the dance floor doing the Carimbo on the not so distant but sought after island of Algodoal. There is no hiding from the 24 hour 365 day consuming hotness and umidade (humidity) that never drops below 60%, often climbing higher than 90%. And right now the sky is dark with clouds – which happens regularly, almost daily during some months, to feed the luscious foliage of the Amazon rainforest – and the sun is setting, creating the illusion of a cool night yet it remains hot enough around the clock that a warm shower would be ludicrous. The rains are refreshing at times, but developmental planning here is an oxymoron as downpours of heavy rain frequently flood the streets during the rainy season, transforming the ruas (roads) into rivers and making it possible for you to kayak to your destination all the while hoping your car doesn’t get washed away from parking in the wrong spot.
If you search Belém, Para on the Internet, the top 10 search results will yield more articles about the homicide rate than anything else, labeling it frightening as one of the most dangerous cities in the world, falling inside the top 10 more than once. Despite all of this over two million people have flocked to this industrious Brazilian capital city and region in the state of Para, and for good reasons.
Northern Brazil is known for having more than the almost mythical açai branco. It also calls itself home to beauties such as the Portal de Amazonia, a gorgeous and lively place to spend a Sunday evening doing yoga or visiting the food vendors whilst enjoying an amazing sunset over the mouth of the Amazon river! Belém doesn’t brag, but it should, because some of the kindest and most welcoming people on earth, Northern Brazilians, live here, and having traveled to 9 different countries my sample size of culture and people is quite healthy. You only get one first impression and this region, without a doubt because of its people and unique atmosphere, has left a quite positive one on me. I have been bombarded by a purely genuine kindness and sincere curiosity since I arrived in Belém in September of 2014.
While foreigners do visit Belém, Para, they don’t come in droves or tend to stay for great lengths of time and typically see only a few places such as Ver-O-Peso, a wonderful market on the water, and Estaao das Docas, home to one of the most beautiful buildings I have seen (with a platform that travels lengthwise down the long building while a live band performs on top of it). There are however many more places to see here, one of my favorites is Mangal das Garas, a beautiful park to sit and enjoy the art that mother nature brings to our planet. Once inside this park you are greeted by serenity and wonderful creatures as well as a pond, with the option to visit an amazing butterfly conservatory. Very close to Ver-O-Peso and Mangal sits the Forte do Castelo, awaiting your arrival so that you can take pictures alongside old war cannons and visit the small museum which contains Amazonian history and artifacts of the indigenous people of the region. And make sure your host provides you with a Muiraquitao to bring you good luck on both this and future trips. This tiny engraved frog is a symbol of fertility and luck and usually comes in the form of a necklace.
Now, I must admit, I have been a naughty Gringo this holiday season. I myself have not yet seen everything this city offers, but, I have seen enough to know that you should spend at least a few days here, preferably with someone that knows the city because the bus system isn’t exactly… systematic, although finding a cab or moto taxi is extremely simple. And if you don’t know anybody in the area to show you around what do you do? If you haven’t used Couchsurfing before check it out online, there is a group that meets weekly and you are sure to receive a warm reception or at least solid advice by dropping a message to your local Belém CouchSurfing community.
All in all Belém is beautiful and so are its surroundings. Just a couple hours in different directions you find yourself on the wonderful sandy beaches Brazil is known for having or in the depths of the Amazon rainforest. A jungle excursion or a boating trip down the river will satiate those seeking adventure, while the acai is thick, the people are great, and the caipirinhas will provide you the ability needed to tackle the dance floors. Enjoy!