A taste of home... in the form of a supermarket!
At 4am on April 29th we landed in Belem and immediately rested by a water feature inside the airport, waiting for light to ease our passage to town. Eventually we summoned some kind of energy to find a bus going anywhere near our hostel, though once we were onboard the driver took pity on us and delivered us right to the front door. This, we learned, was typical Belem kindness and hospitality.
Belem is a large port city lying on the south bank of the River Amazon's mouth, which is so wide it makes the city look irrelevent. Exhausted from our flight, we arrived with the intention of going straight to bed; however, the hostel workers had the royal wedding on the television, so we sat for a while and watched pictures from home, not at all wishing we were there. Belem is a hot and humid city, so we were relieved to find air-conditioning in our otherwise basic room.
We slept until mid-afternoon before wandering to the nearby Praca da Republica to see the Teatro da Paz, one of the largest theatres in the country. We returned to the hostel and slept like sloths that evening, catching up
The Praca da Republica
The main park in Belem.
in one night what we had missed during two-and-a-half weeks in the jungle.
The next day we explored Belem more thoroughly, visiting the lively and colourful Ver-o-Peso market, where locals sit and drink beer to the sound of samba while others sell gifts and fruit. Next to this is the plush Estacao das Docas, abandoned warehouses reformed in to a restaurant and market complex. The air-conditioning provided welcome respite from the suffocating heat; Cairu ice cream parlour fuelled our refrigeration!
Some time later we returned back outside to the 96% humidity, but we struggled to walk very far before needing (and we mean NEEDING!) shade, so we collapsed on a bench outside the cathedral. We then walked to what we thought was tourist information, only to be greeted by armed soldiers! They were very friendly, though all we could really do was smile and nod! On our way back to our hostel we took a look at the Basilica of Nossa Senhora de Nazare, a stunning church with magnificent stained-glass windows. Once back at the hostel we spent the remainder of our evening teaching English words to an Italian guy.
May 1st was a celebratory day in
Belem; market stalls were dotted around the main park while small groups of people sat around playing bongos, all while music blared from a car/disco. Similar to May Day in England, but with a Brazilian soul as people sat in the sunshine, drinking from coconuts and dancing to the constant beat.
We took a walk to the Mangal das Garcas (via Cairu ice cream!), a new park with birds and trees native to the region and a lookout tower over the river and the city. The park itself was beautiful and, as it was another glorious day, it was the perfect place to spend a few hours. The sun attacked us relentlessly though: even sitting down left us drenched in sweat!
Belem is not the most beautiful city, but it has a vibrant and friendly atmosphere that we really loved. The people were exceptionally nice and even though there were basically no tourists around we did not feel distant from the city as we were made to feel so welcome.
We left for Sao Luis that evening on what turned out to be the most frustrating journey we had yet encountered. A 13-hour ride became a 23-hour
nightmare, due to heavy rain destroying the main road. Just as we were on the home stretch the engine failed. The bus itself was uncomfortable and Carina's seat was broken. A disaster, from start to finish. Because of our delay we missed our chance to see Sao Luis as we had to leave straight for Barreirinhas, a small town in close proximity to a National Park we were keen to visit.
Despite arriving late and having little sleep we rose early to take a tour to the Lencois (literally translating as "bedsheets") Maranhenses National Park. We had our first of what would be many rides in a 4x4 truck, an absolute necessity over the dunes and so-called roads. After an hour we arrived at the most extraordinary landscape. With forest behind us, 155,000 sq km of sand dunes stretched out as far as we could see; between the dunes blue lagoons sat in tranquility, inviting us to dive in. We spent a few hours enjoying this blue and white world before heading back on the 4x4.
With the help of London-based Brazilian woman we learnt that we could take a plane ride over the dunes later that afternoon.
Dangling that particular carrot was only going to produce one result, so we were soon taking our second small plane ride of our travels - and this time there was only one pilot!
It was an incredible experience. We flew directly out to sea, over the town of Cabure, straddled on a beach caught between the river and the ocean. We then flew over the dunes themselves; from altitude we could see the enormity of the park. As far the horizon sand dunes rose from one lagoon and fell in to another, creating a stunning vision. It became clear why they are called bedsheets!
We landed and went straight to a restaurant on the river front for our first proper meal in days. The following day we left Barreirinhas for Parnaiba and the miles of deltas that surround it, on our way to another Brazilian wonder...
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