"Get me to the Airport" - Recife to Belem

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November 27th 2012
Published: November 27th 2012
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Salvador to Belem


Unicycle doing it the hard way
Day 407 Wednesday 21st November

Around 1.00am the bus stopped at a terminal somewhere along the way and we sat there for over an hour. Because this was a long stop the driver turned off the engine along with the air-con and so we sat and sweltered in our little tin can. The stop was unannounced and no one was too sure when we would get underway and so everyone stayed on the bus and seated in the stuffy containment. We eventually got back on the road and with the air con back on managed somehow to snatch a few hours sleep laying with wedged feet and in a half foetal position. Got to the Recife bus terminal around 9.30am making it a 14 hour trip as opposed to the Lonely Planet’s 10 hours and the Bus Companies advertised 12 hours, thought I was getting used to the stuff around but I am not.

The Recife bus terminal is 17km from town, way out on the fringes and so we decided to pick up our onward tickets whilst we are here. Luckily a nice guy who worked for the terminal pointed us in the direction to get tickets and

Colourful buildings
at the counter we were confronted with a very un-nice guy. Explained that we needed tickets to Fontaleza for Sabado (Saturday) and was given a long fast spiel in Portuguese followed by a blank stare. Despite our very best efforts, (ie writing what we needed in Portuguese and pantomime) the guy just refused to give us anything but blank stares and long winded talks. We sort of grasped that maybe he was asking if we wanted a night bus and so we wrote “noite” and nodded our head and pointed to our watch and said “hora” (hour). What we got back was blank stare and long Portuguese story. He refused to even make the slightest gesture to help so it was about then that I (Scott) hit the roof.

Been travelling in Brazil for a few weeks now and have to say they can be the most unhelpful people we have ever encountered. Not knowing the language is a big part of the problem and I take that on as our fault completely for being the useless gringos, but we have tried so hard at communicating to the point of exasperation. I have progressively been worn down by their
Belem - ZooBelem - ZooBelem - Zoo

Hmm you look tasty I mean nice
complete apathy and the people we have had to deal with in the transport and hospitality trade are generally devoid of any hospitality. Spanish South America was a breeze and a joy to travel through, Brazil has been an endless nightmare. We have met some really lovely people and had some great experiences but the place finally got to me at the Recife Terminal.

“Get me to the f#%ing airport I am out of here”, “Had a gutful”, “F#%ing had it “were just a small selection of my rant as I stormed around looking at getting out of the place. Shelley in her great caring wisdom got me to calm down and suggested we get a chocolate milk shake for breakfast, (a beer perhaps would have been better). Top idea except it involved me trying to order one off the sister to the bus ticket guy. The place describes their milk shakes as exactly that “milk shakes”, no Portuguese here but the girl decided she couldn’t understand me and so I went off again. Shelley once again settled me down and managed to get the shakes but only after the manager of the shop came out and had a

Street art
quiet word to the girl selling them, sort of got the feeling she was getting her jollies out of torturing a pair of gringos. Could see how frustrated Shelley was with the situation but she was smart enough to keep her head. I am not at my best in the morning when I have had little sleep or coffee so I guess it was inevitable for me to have a meltdown.

As much as I wanted to leave Brazil right then and there we needed to work out a plan of escape and so knew we had to find a room for the night and do our homework. Got a taxi out the front and paid a ridiculous 60 reais ($30) to get us to the town of Olinda. Recife is a huge city of apparently 1.5 million people but looking at from the bus coming in I would reckon it would be easily triple that. Adjoining Recife is the small colonial town of Olinda, which still contains heaps of charming old buildings and churches (haven’t seen enough of them on this trip). This is where you go to relax and chill so I guess it was made for

Wonder if they are biting today?
me right now. The taxi ride was expensive mainly because it is a long trip and it took about 45 minutes. Got dropped at the Alberque de Olinda which is the HI hostel in town and managed to snag a room for three nights.

Dropped off our bags had a quick shower and then headed out to look over the town and get a bite to eat. Olinda is a really lovely old town right on the water, although you can’t swim here because of the high number of shark attacks. We got a crepe for lunch in town from the usual unsmiling Brazilian waitress, and I snuck in a beer to calm me down. Back at the hostel in the afternoon we started the long process of going through our options and by nightfall had only started to confuse ourselves with endless options. On the Skyscanner website we were able to investigate our flight options and discovered we could fly to Frankfurt Germany for $321…tempting but the German winter wasn’t appealing to Shelley. Easter Island was what we really wanted to do and discovered for $397 we could get a return ticket there from Lima…but it would cost

Igreja NS do Carmo exterior
us $1000 each to fly from here to Lima. New York was $1235, Marrakech $1252, Hong Kong $1779, choices, choices, choices. Wanted to move onto Cayenne in French Guiana, just up the road from here but it would cost $778, when we could fly to Phuket Thailand for $861, or Istanbul Turkey for $636. As the afternoon wore into the night we just got more confused and grumpy and so headed out for a feed.

Found a place hear the centre of town called XinXim, and it was a great funky spot that was a bar restaurant and appeared to have cultural events and exhibitions. Tonight it looked like they were having a local talk about racism, which we naïvely thought may not have been a big issue here, but unfortunately it must be. If we could understand Portuguese it would be interesting to sit in on, but then again if we understood Portuguese we probably wouldn’t be looking at getting the hell out of Brazil.

Day 408 Thursday 22nd November

I slept well but Shelley didn’t, sitting up worrying about what to do with her big baby that keeps spitting the dummy. I thought

Igreja NS do Carmo interior
I had given her an easy solution “take me to the airport”, but soon discovered that in life and in particular Brazil, nothing is quite that simple. A case in point was getting laundry done in Olinda, the hostel couldn’t do it and the only place in town was, you guessed it, on the other side of town. After breakfast we took our huge bag of laundry for a half hour walk across town where we thankfully could get it done today. From there we had a long walk right around town taking in the sights and sounds and checking out the shops. Discovered that although this is a tourist town it still has the usual Brazilian/worldwide social problems of poverty and homelessness. Crime is also a serious problem in this corner of the world and we spotted an article on the net last week listing the 50 most dangerous cities in the world based on murders per 100,000 inhabitants. No surprises that Latino cities featured heavily, but what came as a shock was the list looked like a Brazilian travel brochure with nearly every major town featuring. The town of Maceio, just south of here came in at number
Olinda and RecifeOlinda and RecifeOlinda and Recife

Olinda with Recife in the background
3 with a murder rate of 135.26 people per 100,000 inhabitants, and Belem (our next destination) sits at number 10 with a murder rate of 78.04. Mosul in Iraq came in at number 43 with a rate of only 35.33……maybe a safer bet. Lucky for us tourists the murders are mainly between drug gangs trying to control the flow of drugs through the ports and rarely do tourists get “capped”. Unfortunately for the locals they have to endure living in a war zone and put up with not only the violence but all the other social problems that flow from it. The list made sobering reading but ultimately wasn’t going to stop us travelling through what is a beautiful country (people in the hospitality trade did though) it just would make us more cautious about straying from tourist areas at night and being a bit more vigilant.

In this particular corner of the world most of the violence and problems are contained in the huge city of Recife whilst Olinda is a protected tourist enclave, so we spent an enjoyable 3 hours looking over about every square inch of this quaint town. After our walk around in the blistering

One of the churches
midday sun we headed back to our room to resolve “where to next”. Was in contact with our friends Donna and Ken who were able to give us some good tips on Easter Island but unfortunately by late afternoon we had to scrub it as the $2200 cost would kill us. Eventually around 6 at night we had bashed together a rough plan on what we wanted to do, and that wouldn’t kill the budget. To celebrate we returned to XinXim for yet another good feast.

Day 409 Friday 23rd November

We both slept better last night knowing we had a rough plan in place. In the morning I opted to look into getting a bus out of Olinda rather than flying despite my earlier “I’d rather eat my f#%!i(MISSING)ng boots than step on another Brazilian bus” rant. A flight from Olinda to Belem will cost us both $700 while a short (for South America) 15 hour bus journey up the road at Fortaleza will only cost us $360. Of course the bus trip will cost us nearly $200 but it is still a saving and I have to stop being such a baby and get

View of our street from the hotel
on with it. The woman at the Hostel showed us on a map where there was a travel agent in town so we decided to check it out. Before leaving though we had to change room and we now have bunk beds instead of the lovely double bed. Anyway we ended up walking the town again in search of this travel agent without any luck before going to a tourist information office where a lovely guy (I never said they didn’t exist in Brazil it is just that they are a rare commodity) told us we had to go back to the bus terminal to get bus tickets….stuff that we are flying.

Returned to our hostel and got on our favourite website at the moment “skyscanner” and managed to track down a flight that leaves tomorrow night at 6.30 for Belem for $685 for both of us. Sounds expensive but I would reckon that the combination of bus fares and accommodation would be higher than that. We had to book the tickets online through the Azul Airline website, which is great with the home page being in English, but the booking page all in Portuguese. We fumbled our way

Estacao Das Docas
through somehow, but after putting in all our credit card detail just got an error page. Ended up having to use Shelley’s credit card before we got a confirmed payment email from the airline, but still not 100 percent sure if the seats are booked or not. I did mention how difficult it is to travel through Brazil didn’t I. We both sort of expect that this will blow up in our face when we arrive at the airport tomorrow, and it will be our fault for not knowing Portuguese, we just wished it could be a bit easier.

For dinner we went looking for an alternative an ended up getting a cheap pizza that was just okay.

Day 410 Saturday 24th November

Both woke up today with a case of the nerves at the prospect of getting a flight. The flying doesn’t actually ever worry us, it is just the passing through airport that is a bit nerve racking. Our flight wasn’t till 6.30 but we decided to head straight out to the airport after checking out of the hotel at midday just so we are sure our tickets are okay. Our packing

Old Port
today was made all the more difficult because we had to pack our sleeping bags inside our backpacks instead of the outside, and we had to try and keep our bags under 23kg. Shelley ended up carrying a stuffed handbag and a day pack onto the plane that was filled with all the heavy stuff from our main packs. This ruse worked, and our bags ended up weighing just a touch over 23 kilos each.

The taxi from the hotel cost another ridiculous 60 reias ($30) but it was a long drive through the heart of Recife to get to the airport. Inside the terminal the self use boarding pass machine “thingy” just wouldn’t give us our tickets and so a great guy (one of those rare smiling Brazilians) from the airline came over and got it working for us. It was such a relief that our booking had gone through and we would shortly be on our way to Belem. Of course first we had 5 hours to wait, which was filled with Shelley reading and me doing Soduko puzzles….call me the king of Soduko now. Used to hate waiting in airports but after spending so much time

Vultures at the Old Port
in Brazilian bus terminals, I now just lllloooovvvveeee airports. Enjoyed the air con, and picked up a reasonable feed before boarding our plane at 6. Before we knew it we were landing at Fortaleza for a quick drop off and pick up, and then onto Belem. Landed at 10.10, making the entire trip less than 4 hours as compared to about 24 hours on buses…..god bless the Wright brothers.

Our bags turned up okay except mine had the top pulled off, but that seems to be a regular “handling” problem with our backpacks. Our taxi options came down to standing in a long unproductive line out the front hoping for a passing taxi or paying a stupid 45 reias ($22) for a fixed price taxi that was waiting to take us. If it had been early in the day we would have stood in line but as it was late at night we blew the budget and took the expensive option. As we drove through the town our taxi driver wouldn’t stop at any of the red lights other than the ones where there was a police car. If there was a red light he would slow down and

Mercado Ver-o-Peso
look but never stopped and we sort of guessed that this may have been due to carjackings. The police controlled ones to our mind were the busier ones and they were there to stop carjackings and to make sure people did stop and so avoid accidents. The strange thing was that in some of the more horrid looking places we would see young women walking alone as if they were on the way home from the office. I probably wouldn’t walk these areas unless I was heavily armed (perhaps two AK47’s would do the trick) but the girls walked with purpose and gave you the impression the risks just weren’t there…and perhaps they weren’t. First appearances of Belem at night was that it was perhaps one of the more dodgier towns we have stayed in and it didn’t help when we discovered our hotel was located in some dark back alley that you would expect to be filled with crack houses. Our hotel is actually an old apartment building/hotel with a fabulous marble foyer that the Hilton would be proud of. Straight away we were worried as we know that the better the foyer the worse the room will be…an

Sunday Markets
old travellers gauge. Sure enough our room was rubbish, a very old sad apartment in dire need of a make over. Our “kitchen” ended up being just a sink and a microwave, and every piece of furniture looked like it had been dragged off the tip…oh well I guess it was cheap.

Didn’t have WiFi, but we got a cable for the internet, but of course the cable was busted…lucky we carry our own. At least the air con worked and there was a bed so we just crashed.

Day 411 Sunday 25th November

Woke up looked out our window and decided that in the light of day and from 7 floors up our neighbourhood looks a bit better. Also discovered that the only thing worse than our room was the hotel breakfast. What should have been hot was cold and what should have been cold was hot, everything including the fruit was bland and tasteless…..how did they find tasteless fruit to go with the other food, is that skill or luck? Being Sunday had expected the whole town to be a ghost town so it came as a complete surprise to see the main

Basilica Santuario de Nazare interior
plaza filled with markets and a buzz with people shopping.

This was a great market full of lots of locally made products so we spent the morning looking over and buying yet more stuff. From the markets we took a long walk down to Estacao das Docas, which used to be the old port area but has been rebuilt as an upmarket restaurant/touristy area. Belem was founded way back in 1616 and is Portuguese for Bethlehem, and its original full name was something like “the blessed Mary of Bethlehem”….glad they shortened that one to Belem, although I still called Bulladelah “that horrid s#%t hole of a town called Bulladelah”. Because Belem sits at the mouth of the Amazon River it became an important port through which Slaves flowed in and agriculture flowed out. When the rubber boom hit in 1875 the town exploded in size, and today more than 800,000 tonnes of cargo pass through here including timber, soy, fish, nuts and allegedly large quantities of drugs.

The Estacao das Docas is a lovely flashy looking place full of overpriced restaurants that were way beyond our budget so we walked onwards to the local market area near the

Basilica Santuario de Nazare exterior
historical centre. The old market called “Mercado Ver-o-Peso”, which is Portuguese for “market check the weight”. Sort of guess that it means if you buy anything here you should check the weight to ensure you are not being ripped off….we have been to lots of “restaurants check the bill”. When we got down to the Mercado Ver-o-Peso we discovered it was closed and being rebuilt but the area leading up to it was filled with lots of market stalls selling plastic crap, veggies, fish and meat. We have got used to how local markets are an assault on the senses but these markets really stank BBBAAADDD. Scamped past quickly and found ourselves at the old port which was perhaps ground zero for the stink. There must have been about a hundred vultures on the footpath, buildings and shoreline fighting over scraps from the nearby fishing fleet, it was quite a sight. With our senses bruised and battered we headed back to our hotel.

We hadn’t spotted any cheap eateries on our long walk and knew being Sunday there would be even less at night so we opted to go a late lunch. Around the corner from our hotel was

This building may look abandoned but this is a occupied apartment building
a place called ”K-delicious”, which was a buffet arrangement where you pay by weight. “Por kilo” (by kilo) places are popular all over South America and up until now we have avoided them, generally because we are not big on buffets, but also because there is something frightening about knowing the weight of the food you are eating. I had this sort of worry that I would load up my plate like Homer Simpson and discover I was about to consume 3 kilos of meat and veggies. To my shock my plate only came to 0.3 of a kilo, which then had me thinking, maybe I should have got more. As it was the meal was really good and what we got was plenty and with drinks only cost us about $20.

Not long after getting back to our room a storm came rolling through and before we knew it the sun was back out. Today had been a great day and helped partially restore my liking for Brazil.

Day 412 Monday 26th November

Breakfast today was even worse than yesterday and I have resolved to avoid the food and just stick with the bad

coffee. Because I am keen to leave Brazil and it also because we always make it a priority when arriving in towns, todays first priority was to get tickets out of town, (would have done it yesterday except everything was closed). First stop was 4 blocks away at a travel agent who couldn’t help us so we took the long walk down to the port. The streets of Belem aren’t the most attractive avenues to wander, especially as we got closer to the port but there was traffic and a few other people around so it seemed fairly safe…wouldn’t walk them after dark though. Got to the docks where we needed to buy our boat tickets for Wednesday, and discovered all the ticket booths closed but a bunch of guys in uniforms were running around selling tickets outside. Ended up buying tickets for a cabin on the Wednesday boat to Macapa for 450reias ($220), and got a ticket, a business card and a thumbs up that it was all kosha. Couldn’t imagine handing over $220 for a ticket to a guy standing around a booking office, back home but that is how it works over here.

With (hopefully) a ticket in our hand for a boat on Wednesday we headed off to do some shopping. After a long walk we found ourselves in the “well healed” part of town and at the Boulevard Shopping, a large modern shopping centre. After travelling for so long we both really enjoy stepping into the large polish granite and glass shopping centres full of shops we just cannot afford. Shelley enjoys the window shopping whilst I just love the air conditioning. Ended up spotting cinemas and that “Skyfall” was about to begin and after finding out that it was in English we grabbed tickets. We both loved the film and for a chance to escape from our escape, followed by another walk around the shops. Shelley got some more clothes but we avoided eating at the food court because it looked like the usual food courts in Malls.

On the walk home we kept looking out for some where to eat but this town has next to no night time restaurants….perhaps no one wants to be out at night. By 5 we were close to home with our only option being “Giraffes” a chain burger place where to our complete surprise picked up a fairly decent burger…Brazil still surprises us.

Day 413 Tuesday 27th November

Another day and another long walk after dropping off our laundry we stopped at Basilica Santuario de Nazare which is a grand church built in 1856 and is involved in Brazil’s largest religious festival “Cirio de Nazare in October every year. The main star of the festival is a little statue of Nossa Senhora de Nazare (Our Lady of Nazareth) which is believed to be sculpted in Galilee by St Joseph when Jesus was a baby then went to Portugal and is attributed to miracles there before being lost in Brazil; the little lady gets around more than us. She was found again in 1700 on the site of the present day Basilica by a cattleman.

A further walk down the road is Museu Emilio Goeldi & Parque Zoobotanico which is a large park in the city containing a zoo. We avoid zoos when travelling as the conditions are not always the best but we decided this is our only chance to see jaguars it is definitely not going to happen in the wild. Once you enter the park there is thick vegetation (well, for the middle of a city) and macaws in the open. Some of the enclosures are run down but there is a lot of work going on and in fact the aquarium is presently closed for renovation so it is nice to see things are improving. We saw a huge black caiman about 3 metres (10 feet). There is an unverified report that they grow to 6 metres (20 feet) OMG this one was big and scary enough. We also saw monkeys who were doing their best to entertain us and when we went to walk away upped the ante – look at me. Near them were tapirs which were just laying around saying let the monkeys entertain you it is too hot we are just going to stay put. Then it was the main attraction two jaguars which it is sad that the only chance we are getting to see them is behind bars especially when here we are in South America. Everyone we have spoken to that have done jungle tours or Pantanal have not seen one but the guides insist they have just missed one, wonder what their numbers are in the wild? They are
Belem - ZooBelem - ZooBelem - Zoo

Black Caiman
smaller in height and more solid than we expected but absolutely beautiful and I have decided I would not like to run into them in the jungle in the middle of the night, the size of those paws and teeth are a bit frightening.

After the peaceful sanctuary of the park it was back onto the hard streets of Belem well the broken footpaths and rubbish. Most of Brazil has been very clean with people actually putting rubbish in bins but it started to change the further north we headed and here there is rubbish everywhere.

Last night in Belem it is an unusual town, quite grungy and dirty yet flashy apartment buildings and a big shopping centre to rival Sydney’s are starting to appear who knows what it will look like in another 5 years probably very modern if the economy stays stable. This is definitely not the place you are going to see jungle even though you are on the Amazon River. Tomorrow we are once again heading off on a river boat on the Amazon as our first step of escaping Brazil.

Additional photos below
Photos: 33, Displayed: 33


Belem - ZooBelem - Zoo
Belem - Zoo

Red bird?
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Belem - Zoo

Giant lilypads
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Belem - Zoo

Look at me
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Belem - Zoo

These little guys were running around wild maybe they are fed to the caiman
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Belem - Zoo

Who's a pretty girl
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I'm friendly
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Nice white teeth

27th November 2012

Being Brazilian myself, born and raised, having lived abroad and traveled to places considered less "developed" and "educated", I can vouch for the difficulties of traveling in Brazil - even for the Portuguese speaker. I compare the lack of organization and preparedness of the tourism and hospitality industry to what is seen in India, but at ten times the cost, twenty times the risk, and infinitely harder for independent traveler.
28th November 2012

Would rather Brazil to India
Thanks Andre, Having travelled to India, we are often left comparing Brazil to India, (good points and bad points), but Brazil isn't that bad. We have really loved the places we have been to and met some truly great people, but as independent travellers it is difficult. Brazil seems more organised/accepting for the package tourist, which is a shame because it has so much to offer for the independent traveller. Thanks for your comment it makes me feel better about getting frustrated whilst caffeine deprived. Scott
1st December 2012
Belem - Zoo

Great shot
Like this critter. What is it? Glad you show a map with each of your blogs as it is exciting to follow your progress and seeing your next destination. How far ahead do you plan the route...planned or spontaneous?
1st December 2012
Belem - Zoo

planned spontaneity
The little critter is an Agouti....we think. It is a bit like an oversized guinea pig, so they wouldnt do too well in Peru. As for a planned trip, from October last year till march this year was on a time frame because of the Rio carnival and flights for the Inca trail and Galapagos. From there we followed a rough plan but we strayed quite a bit, such as Paraguay wasnt on our plan. At the moment we are heading up into the Guianas, which is spontaneous. Looking forward to heading somewhere that the lonely planet has put a full guide books out on (only in the shoestring). You must be about to head out to Vietnam for Xmas? Hope you have a great trip and look forward to your blogs.
10th December 2012

They are very beautiful, I\'ve never seen a live jaguar either. I can only hope the enclosure wasn\'t too bad? Hey scotty, I dont think I\'ve ever heard you so mad before, I can understand your frustration, i probably would have blown up well before you given some of the situation you have both found yourselves in, hmmmm......traveling for that long and where litle english is spoken has to be tough, I admire you both for how well you manage it all. Hi chilled Shelly x. Glad you got to see the Bond flick, I\'m hoping to see in big screen also. Smile and take care and get the f%^k out of Brazil! xx

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