Monday, February 27, 2012

2012, 29th January – 7th February: São Luis, Belém & São Paulo, Brazil

2012, 29th January – 7th February: São Luis, Belém & São Paulo, Brazil

My final days in Brazil were spent in the cities of São Luis, Belém and São Paulo.

For the photos covering this period of my travels, use the following link to Flickr:

São Luis: 29th & 30th January

On my route from Barreirinhas to Belém, I stopped for one night in São Luis. I stayed in the colonial centre. The city did not capture me. The historic area has some character, but the exteriors of many of the buildings are in need of renovation, which takes the edge off the charm of the place. Away from the historic area and into the commercial centre there is little that grabbed my attention.

Belém: 31st January – 2nd February

The mighty Amazon is an iconic world river, so as part of my Brazilian travels I wanted to at least got a feel for the river systems that drain the vast swathe of Brazil. However, I did not fancy a week travelling upstream in a hammock on a (reportedly) very mucky boat to Manaus. So for me, while Belém is not actually on the Amazon river itself, it is close and Belém´s rivers (such as Rio Guamá) offered me an appreciation of a very similar river environment.

The hot and humid city of Belém is bordered by Rio Guamá close to where this river meets Rio Pará. The mouth of the Amazon river is to the north east, the other side of the large island Ilha de Marajó. One day, rather than take one of the very expensive tourist boat trips on the river, I took a public ferry across Rio Guamá to Araparí and back. The importance of river transport in the area was very apparent, with numerous ferries as well as a car transporter and even a floating petrol station. Even though Rio Guamá is small compared to the Amazon (but then most rivers are), it is very wide with dense vegetation along all its banks.

Port at Cidade Velha (Old City) in Belém

The city of Belém starts from the Cidade Velha (Old City) near to the port, which has many historic buildings, a fort, many old churches (Cathedral da Sé is particularly beautiful inside) as well as the bustling Ver-o-Peso market. The streets of nearby Comércio (commercial district) have a chaotic mix of stores, with plenty of hustle and bustle.  After this, the Nazaré district (where my hostel was) is more relaxing with tree-lined avenues.

One afternoon  I took a tour of the Theatro (theatre) da Paz which is very ornate inside. It was built in the 19th Century in the rich days of the rubber boom. The benefactors wanted to emulate the style of European buildings and splashed-out on ornate woodwork, stonework and decorative features.

Central Light in Theatro da Paz, Belém

On my last full day in Belém I went on a canoeing excursion - joining two men from Israel (Guy and Geva) that I met in the hostel. We paddled on a ´small´ river to the north of the city and enjoyed exploring it´s small tributaries. All the banks were lined with mangrove trees and the mud at its edges was home to countless crabs. We finished with a swim in the river and a delicious lunch of local fish. When back in Belém, an açai smoothie was the order of the day. Açai is a berry-like purple Amazonian fruit which tastes more like blueberry than raspberry. It is very popular in Brazil and the smoothies are normally made with something less sharp such as banana or guaraná (another Amazonian fruit) to make the smoothie less tart.

Tim & Friends Canoeing on River North of Belém

São Paulo: 3rd to 7th February

I wanted to travel from Brazil to Venezuela by plane, but my research showed the only way to make the route from Belém to Caracas was to change in a major city. One of the options was to change in São Paulo, which gave me the perfect excuse to stop there a few days and visit my new-found friends Sergio and Mariangela who live there. I met Sergio while travelling in Argentina, while Mariangela is a friend-of-a-friend back home.

I stayed at Sergio´s home with his girlfriend Leomar. Sergio was very kind and arranged some social events for me to join. His very amiable friends made for some fun times, including a party at Sergio´s house with many home-made pizzas (even chocolate and banana or strawberry – obviously without tomato) and a sing-along session with one of his friends on guitar and yours truly on a improvised bongo (old plastic drum).

Sergio, Leomar, Mariangela and friends strengthened the opinion that I had already formed while in Brazil – that Brazilians are nice people.

Mariangela, Tim & Sergio

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