Belem, Brazil



“Belem” means “Bethlehem” in Portuguese (in Spanish I think it’s “Belen”). Having been to both the biblical Bethlehem and its Brazilian namesake, believe me that about all they share is a name.

Belem is located just below the mouth of the Amazon where the Amazon runs into the Atlantic Ocean.  We had visited last year on a weekday, when the rain was pouring, streets were flooded (we actually saw some people using canoes to navigate around) and where our shuttle bus dropped us off last year, we felt that every native was looking at us, trying to figure out how to mug us and get away with it. In fact, the totality of the situation was so uncomfortable last year that we got off the shuttle, walked around in the general area for about 15 minutes, and got right back on the shuttle and back to the ship.

So we had a little trepidation this time going back to Belem. 

But this time we visited on a Sunday, when many fewer people were out and about in the downtown area, and our shuttle bus dropped us off at a much more convenient – and I believe, safe –spot.  So this visit began – and remained – with a much different and far more positive vibe.

Here’s the drill when you visit Belem:  ships must anchor outside the small harbor about 20 miles from the center of the city, because the waters around the dock, being close to the mouth of the Amazon and  therefore subject to the rising and falling river tides, are too shallow for all but small vessels of the kind that ply the River.  So the ship hired two 200-passenger ferries to serve as our tender vessels into the port area.  These are the same kinds of ferries that are the mainstay of Amazon River transportation – going up and down the river, stopping at cities, villages and small river communities; where passengers may be on a vessel for one day or as many as 5 days; where you bring your own sleeping accommodations on board and hang it up yourself – your hammock; where if you travel alone overnight on these ferries you have a good chance of getting robbed; where you bring your own food in a cooler or buy chicken, rice and beans + beer or a soft drink – morning noon and night; where there is nothing to do all day but lie in your hammock and watch the river go by; where there are no showers; where…….and so on……

Our Shuttle to the Pier (2) (800x600)

Once we get to the tender port, we are in the small town of Iquarace, which has a main street inhabited mainly by fish, food and fruit vendors, a public library and not too much else.

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The area around the small fishing vessels was brimming with vultures looking for a free meal

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From here we board a shuttle bus that takes us about 20 miles into the center of the city of Belem.  Last year there was weekday traffic and rain, so the trip seemed to go on for ever; this year, it being a Sunday, it seemed like the bus driver was flying low…..Here’s Nina trying to “khop a dremel” (literally, “grab a dream” i.e., take a quick nap) on the ride into town:

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We passed many of the places this year that I had remembered from last year, particularly some places that had been flooded or at least really water-soaked.  This year they looked a lot better.

Last year the water at this place was overflowing this canal and running into the streets

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Last year people were canoeing down these streets.

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When we finally arrived in the city center we were dropped off at a development that I think had just opened in the intervening year since our last visit – a kind of shopping area built along the old docks of Belem’s old port, now cleaned up, modernized and repurposed for an area of shops and restaurants that run along one of the Amazon tributaries that goes through Belem and empties into the Atlantic.

This dock area was filled with numerous fabulous Brazilian sit-down buffets for families enjoying Sunday lunch together

Eating out on Sunday (800x600)

and even an Amazon microbrewery, Amazon Beer of Belem:

Amazon Micro Brewery (800x600)

Amazon Beer (800x600) 

We picked up a couple of beer mugs here and continued through the docks and out into the open air market, known as Vero Peso, which was clearly not operating to capacity on this Sunday. The name Vero  Peso comes from an earlier period in the city’s history when everything was weighed and verified before payment was tendered, because nobody trusted anybody……it doesn’t seem that much has changed…..

Under huge rain-protective tents

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we found a nearly endless number of more popular Brazilian buffets, most of which were closed on Sunday but where many were still operating.

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Fried fish is a big item at these simple “people’s market buffets”

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and everything is fresh fresh fresh….

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From the restaurant area of the open-air market we went into the market itself.  There we saw some items we had never seen elsewhere or, if we had seen similar things elsewhere, these were significantly and sufficiently different so as to warrant our attention.

For example, does this look like a pea pod  or a bean pod to you?

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How about THIS ?

Fava Beans- where's my Chanti (800x600)

At first we thought that maybe these fruit clusters might be a variety of date,

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but a closer examination proved this to be incorrect.  The orange ones looked for a distance like loquats, but up close they were the wrong shape……We think they are called Pupunha, but we were never able to identify what they really were….

The packaged red fruit in this photo looked from a distance like cherry tomatoes, but up close they turned out to be berries – berries of the type that are very bitter uncooked.  Apparently these need to be cooked before they are eaten. They are called Acerola in Portuguese – but what are they ????

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These mangoes are ugly as sin, but mmmmm….are they sweet………..

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These hairy, spikey fruits, labeled as Ranbutan, are actually fresh leechee nuts – just peel and eat.

Lycees (600x800)

See these round, brown “things”?  They are Brazil nuts.  Actually, they are Brazil nut pods which you open and then remove from inside the pods, the individual nuts in their shells (see bottom of photo).  Of course then the edible nut seed needs to be removed from the shell, which with Brazil nuts can be a project……

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And bless their little yellow skins – aren’t these “finger bananas” just the cutest stubby li’l critters you’ve ever seen? And  are they ever sweet…..

Finger Bananas (2) (800x600)

There are all kinds of ways of selling dried meats, including sausages and pig’s feet (UGH!)

Meat in the Market (800x600)

or, if you’d prefer vegetable soup, how about all the fresh makings in a bag?

Soup ready to go (800x600)

Or if you want to turn it into chicken soup…

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Still, a lot of the stalls were closed today, it being Sunday

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Did I mention that this open-air market is on the river?  Here are the tents to protect against the rains, which come every day (this is the start of the Amazon Rain Forest, folks)

The Outdoor Market (800x600)

In a small part of the market there are tourist tschochkes for sale

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Pottery (800x600)

By late afternoon things in the Vero Peso market started to slow down

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and a number of the vendors who were open earlier in the day have locked shop and take a snooze on the spot.

Sleeping on the job 2 (800x600).

Sleeping on the Job (800x600)

With things winding down in the Vero Peso Market, and a light drizzle, it was time for us to take our leave, walk past the plastic flamingo decorations dressing up the parking lot,

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go back to the shuttle bus and head back to the ship.


2 responses »

  1. You can make a delicious juice with acerola, lots of C vitamin as well! Too bad you haven’t had a chance to see the Theatro da Paz, the traditional theater of Belem, on the Republic Square, which is, by the way, a very nice place to be on Sunday mornings.


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