Belem - Biggest city on the Amazon

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February 14th 2008
Published: February 14th 2008
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Armed and Dangerous!Armed and Dangerous!Armed and Dangerous!

But coconuts probably don´t make good cannon balls!
Sorry about the amount of photos. Please continue onto Page 2 to see the rest of them!

We expected great things of Belem. It didn’t disappoint but neither did it really live up to expectations. Arriving on a Sunday morning it is like a ghost town. The taxi drivers (as always) asked far too high a price and we ended up walking 20 minutes to our hostel. There was a wonderful market in town but that was as lively as it got on a Sunday.

We had a bit of a wander around and saw the new docks area which has been regenerated. The restaurants in there are not cheap but a beer in the microbrewery wasn’t too bad. Cheap eats come in the form of street snacks and close to the theatre we had some tasty food for very little money.

Monday proved to be just as bad for tourists as Sunday! All of the attractions remain closed!! Still, we made the most of it by walking around the old town seeing the colonial buildings and palaces. The cathedral is closed for restoration and it certainly needs it! The Archbishop’s Palace is nice though. We also walked through some very dodgy parts on our way to the Naval Headquarters which were impressive.

On Monday evening we returned to the square near the cathedral to have a beer in a very posh bar! The bow-tie clad waiters bring you far more beer than you order. The bottles are placed in an ice bucket just in case you decide you want more. Not at those prices we don’t, but the atmosphere was worth splashing out for one!! The atmosphere soon changed as the heavens opened and our beautiful riverside view changed to a crowded patio thankfully undercover. The rain got so heavy that even under the cover everyone was getting wet from splashes. It abated enough for us to dash across the square to the Palafita restaurant where we had a fantastic fish supper. The wooden house is held above the river on stilts which gives it its name. It was so dark (romantic?) in there that the waiter brings a torch to your table when you order, so that you can read the menu properly!!

Tuesday turned out to be a great touristy day, as well as seeing our departure from Belem. First up were the
City ClockCity ClockCity Clock

We have come across many mini Big Bens in South America
Botanical Gardens, also known as the Bosque Rodriguo Alves. It is like a city block of jungle filled with various aquatic species for you to see. The manatee is supposed to be its star attraction as they are not commonly seen anywhere, but it was very sad to see it swimming in circles in a pool far too small for it. The aquarium was interesting in that you had to jump across stepping stones to view the different tanks. Russ was disappointed that the water he was jumping over contained no piranhas! There were also lots of birds, including a pink ibis, monkeys and hundreds of tortoises.

After checking out of the Hotel Vitoria Regina (highly recommended and cheap!) we went on another theatre tour. Belem’s Teatro da Paz is older than the one in Manaus but not quite as interesting to visit. Still, it tested our Portuguese to the absolute limit and we enjoyed it. Unlike Manaus though, there are no specific anecdotes to quote for you.

Lunch was in the food court of a shopping centre. That’s being rather disingenuous though. We had a huge buffet for just under R$20 each (US$12) and feasted on different types of meat and fish. We needed to do that to survive the night’s 12 hour bus journey!

Following lunch we walked back down to the Naval HQ which is close to the Mangal das Garças nature reserve. This wonderful attraction is built on former navy land and features mangrove swamps, various ponds and an aviary crammed full of birds. Strangely the birds seem half domesticated as it was possible to get very close to them indeed. The scarlet ibises were probably our favourite as they were so strange. The butterfly pavilion was good but it was also supposed to have lots of hummingbirds. We saw two! The reserve is dominated by a huge observation tower. It was great to look out over the park from the top. We finished with a look around the fascinating museum charting the naval and nautical history of the area. It seems that on the day we visited all of these “extras” were free as nobody asked for any money despite there being turnstiles and price lists. Needless to say, we were delighted. This is truly a hidden gem of the Amazon.

It had been a full day and, with no siesta, the 12 hour overnight bus journey to Sao Luis wasn’t too bad. But where are these wonderful buses everyone told us about? Granted they are better than in Bolivia but so far they are not a patch on the Argentine ones!

Additional photos below
Photos: 30, Displayed: 25


A scarlet ibisA scarlet ibis
A scarlet ibis

They were a dazzling shade of red

Not just a good scrabble word, but also a wonderful instrument for finding latitude. Not quite so good for longitude though. We´ve just read the novel!

Isn´t there a scene in the Jungle Book like this?
An old tramAn old tram
An old tram

Every Sunday you can ride the streets. We found out too late!
The CathedralThe Cathedral
The Cathedral

How did they let it get into this state?

See what I mean? This is as good as the view gets!!

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