As I’ve mentioned a few times, most of the wonderful people I’m lucky enough to call my friends here in Brazil are from a not-so-small Amazonian town called Belém do Pará. I’ll level with you guys: when I came to Brazil for the first time in February and people told me they were from a city in the Amazon, I pictured the same thing any American with average geographical knowledge would picture.
So, yeah, when I found out that there were skyscrapers in the jungle, you can imagine my excitement. Not to mention, as a self-proclaimed concrete jungle warrior, my immediate desire to visit.
Belém is quite an interesting place. It’s the 10th most dangerous city in the world (according to Business Insider’s 2012 list), but it is also home to some of the warmest (and smartest!) people I’ve met.
The entire time we were there, it was hot and humid (so, by my standards, perfect), but the weather in Belém is almost a joke. Paraenses like to say that in Belém they have two seasons: one where it rains every day, and one where it rains all day. But the funniest part for me is that, during the former, it rains at the same time every single day. Which means people actually make plans around this.
Here’s a list of my favorite things about the trip, in no particular order:
I lied. This was far and away my favorite part of Belém, and deserves to be right there at #1.
Cairu is a sorveteria with flavors like açaí, bacuri, cupuaçu, uxi, taperebá, and dozens of other fruits you’ve never heard of and are unlikely to find outside the Amazon. (Except for açaí, of course. That shit is at any and every smoothie place in Southern California.) The options of ice cream flavors are so overwhelming that I did what any completely rational person would do: I went to almost every location in the city, and tried as many flavors as I possibly could without exploding or pissing off the people behind the counter.
If you find yourself in Belém and don’t hit up Cairu, you better have a damn good excuse, like an allergy to deliciousness. I recommend the paraense, a combo of tapioca and açaí.
2. Ilha do Combú
Alright, I’ll admit that even as a diehard city girl, I was slightly disappointed at the prospect of flying all the way to the Amazon and not experiencing any jungle. To be completely honest, I really just wanted to see a monkey. Happily, I found my way to Ilha do Combú, a small island in the river next to Belém. To get there, you have to take a terrifying little boat across the river, leaving the skyscrapers behind. Upon arrival, you find a restaurant overlooking the river, halfway blended into the jungle beyond.
We spent the afternoon here, eating delicious fish called pescada amarela (probably caught by someone in our boat on the way there), drinking beer and exploring the jungle.
And luckily enough, we were able to miss the “daily rain” across the river.
3. Parque Mangal das Garças
I had to look up the translation of “garça” when I got home, because I’ve never seen these before. For the record, they are called egrets and all I can tell you is that they look a bit like white flamingos.
Anyway, I loved this place not because of the birds (in fact, I’m not the biggest fan of birds in general) but because of the tower in the middle of the park that allows you to see all of Belém.
4. Mercado Ver-o-peso
This market is probably one of the best places to go if you like cheap produce, are open-minded about trying weird fruits/plants, don’t mind things that are really dirty and want to see animals you might eat later that night in cages.
My favorite part of this market, though, was the ladies selling bottles of some sort of spiritual… well, I guess, magic… to help people achieve their goals, make more money, seem less ugly, or “win at everything.”
My least favorite part of this place was experiencing a plant that is, according to Wikipedia, normally meant for medicinal purposes. It is called jambú, not to be confused with Jambu, the whale from that episode of South Park, and when you chew it, it makes your entire mouth go numb. While incredibly entertaining for my boyfriend, it was not a pleasurable experience.
5. Estação das Docas.
A riverfront warehouse converted into a beautiful shopping/entertainment center.
This place is full of shops selling over-priced goods you can get at the market next door for 10% of the price, and restaurants with traditional paraense food like pato no tucupi (delicious), vatapá (delicious), maniçoba (not delicious), and the best farofa you’ve ever had in your life. But unlike most shopping centers I’ve been to, this one happens to have a brewery right smack in the middle of it.
The Forest Bacuri is a personal favorite, because where else in the world can you have Bacuri-flavored beer?