égua maninho

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.

Literally the first image I found on a google image search of the word "Amazon" that wasn't an amazon.com logo

Literally the first image I found on a google image search of the word “Amazon” that wasn’t an amazon.com logo.

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.

And you better believe that I painted my nails in the style of the Paraense flag just for the trip.

And you better believe that I painted my nails like the paraense flag just for the trip.

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.

"Alright, let's meet tomorrow after the rain."

“Alright, let’s meet tomorrow after the rain.” – Actual Conversation in Belém.

Here’s a list of my favorite things about the trip, in no particular order:

1. Cairu

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.

Yes, that's "queijo" as in "cheese." Yes, cheese-flavored ice cream.

Yes, that’s “queijo” as in “cheese.” Yes, cheese-flavored ice cream.

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.

Of course by "overlooking" the river, I actually mean "pretty much inside" the river.

Of course by “overlooking” the river, I actually mean “pretty much inside” the river.

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.

About 10 feet from the restaurant. Sadly, no monkeys.

About 10 feet from the restaurant. Sadly, no monkeys.

And luckily enough, we were able to miss the “daily rain” across the river.

Also, I enjoyed knowing that city life wasn't too far away.

Also, I enjoyed knowing that city life wasn’t too far away.

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.

You have to remember that this is their park.

You have to remember that this is their park. Not yours.

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.

Unless, of course, there are couples being touristy blocking your view.

Unless, of course, there are couples being touristy blocking your view.

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.

Or out of cages. I guess it doesn't really matter.

Or out of cages. I guess it doesn’t really matter.

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.”

I'll take one "vence tudo." Just kidding, I already win at everything.

I’ll take one “vence tudo.” Just kidding, I already 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.

Jambú. Not even once.

Jambú. Not even once.

 

5. Estação das Docas.

A riverfront warehouse converted into a beautiful shopping/entertainment center.

Don't worry, I wasn't swimming with my camera. I stole this photo from Google.

Don’t worry, I wasn’t swimming with my camera. I stole this photo from Google.

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.

Amazon Beer. (I swear, that's actually what it's called.)

Amazon Beer. (I swear, that’s actually what it’s called.)

The Forest Bacuri is a personal favorite, because where else in the world can you have Bacuri-flavored beer?

Oh, and did I mention they have a Cairu?

Oh, and did I mention they have a Cairu?