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?

the paraense paradigm

I have to dedicate an entire post to the people I’ve been spending my time with here. I owe them my every happiness right now, but the best I can do for now is a shoutout on this blog.

The people from Belém are the warmest people you’ll ever meet. Which makes sense, because Belém is a city in the northeastern part of Brazil in the state of Para, right smack in the Amazon. Where it’s always warm. It looks like this:

Yes, there are skyscrapers in the Amazon. I was surprised too.

Anyway, my friends here are all paraense, which means they are from the state of Para. Since they are so far from home, they tend to stick together in a big group, so between the ones I met during Carnaval in Rio and here, and the ones I’ve met since I’ve been here, I’ve got a LOT of friends.

When I say friends, I don’t just mean people I like to go out and have a drink with (although we do a lot of that too). I mean the kind of friends that will drive an hour and a half to the airport to pick me up and then spend 40 minutes looking for me after I give them the wrong terminal number, who will let me unpack my 3 giant suitcases in their bedroom, who will tell their boss at MTV about me (without me asking) so that I might one day get a job there, and who will lend me their CPF (a Brazilian identification card) in order to get a phone chip. These are, without a doubt, the nicest people I’ve ever met.

There’s a big list of things I love about being here, but here’s a few that are top of mind:

1. They feel immense pride at any ability I show in speaking Portuguese.

Immense. The typical reaction to any phrase I use correctly is laughter, followed by applause. Most of the time, I feel a bit like their adopted 5 year old being praised for stacking legos or getting the square peg through the square hole. But I love this feeling. Whenever I’m introduced to a new friend, they inform them that I am a gringa and that I don’t speak Portuguese, but they follow this quickly with “but she’s almost fluent.” (I’m not.) I have to argue that one of the most important steps to learning a new language is confidence, and I’m certainly getting that here.

A tip for anyone who comes across a paraense: say “éguaaaa” to them any time you would normally use “oh my god” – they’ll love you forever.

2. They love to share food.

I’m pretty sure this is true of all Brazilians, and probably a lot of other Latin cultures, but it’s going on the list because it’s one of my favorite things here.

A typical meal here: Saturday feijoada plus meat, rice, farofa, vinagrete, fries, and bread. In other words, I’m getting plenty of carbohydrates.

All meals are typically eaten “family style” (as we know it in America). I think there’s something profound about this – you feel so much more like a family when you share a meal this way.

But even if you actually are somewhere that you order separate things, everyone will pass their plates and drinks around so that everyone else can have a taste. And this is so common that when I asked my friend Caio yesterday if he wanted to try a bite of my quiche, he politely declined, and added, “I don’t mean to be rude.”

I finally live in a place where eating off other’s people plates is expected. #heaven

3. They hang out in big groups, all the time.

Back in New York, I always felt a weird sense of success every time I managed to get a large group of people to show up at the same place at the same time. Here, it seems decidedly less complicated. Granted I haven’t had to do the work myself of getting in touch with everyone, but I feel like every time I leave the house to go for dinner or go to a bar with one or two people, we end up having 8 or 10 or 12 people meet us. And if we’re not out, everyone will show up at someone’s house. This may not seem like a big thing to notice, but as a self-proclaimed social butterfly, I love this.

One-third of our dinner table at Si Señor (a Mexican restaurant) the other night. From left to right, Carol (my lovely host), me, Mariana, and Caio

4. They’re really freaking snuggly.

Seriously, if you go an hour without hugging someone or touching someone in some way, you’re doing it wrong. It’s not necessarily a sexual or even a flirty thing, everyone here just likes to touch people. Kissing on the cheek is not just a greeting at the beginning or end of the night, but whenever you feel like it, which for me is usually all the time. This does, however, blur the lines between being friendly and flirting. Either way, it’s quite fun.

5. They have cool pets.

Okay, so while I’m pretty sure that Mariana’s cat, Chica, is the most awesome cat I’ve ever met, the best pet award has to go to Roque (pronounced like “Rocky”) the hedgehog:

For the record, Roque is NOT snuggly.

It took me up until this moment to even believe my friend Mateus when he told me his roommate had a pet ouriço pigmeu.

Anyway, I want to thank all of these people (and my Rodrigo for introducing me to them all!) for how incredible they’ve made my first week here in Brazil.

Eu amo todos vocês já. 

bem-vinda!

So here I am, in Brasil. It’s been 5 days and I still can’t believe it. Ever since my first night, I’ve been running around screaming, moro aqui!!! (I live here!!!) to replace my Carnaval catchphrase of não quero ir embora! (I don’t want to leave!). And it’s only been 5 days, but I’m pretty certain I still never want to leave.

I want to blog about every crazy experience I have here, but I don’t even know where to begin. Life here is everything I could have imagined it to be and more. My paraense friends have adopted me into their group with no question, and as one of them tells me, I’m this close to being fluent in Portuguese. This is, of course, a bold-faced mentira (lie) but I’m definitely getting better each day. I’ve already been to a bar that works like a stock market, an international electronic language festival, taken the subway by myself and met a hedgehog.

But I still don’t have a phone.

Regardless, so far, I can easily say this was the best decision I’ve ever made. I’ll leave you with my exact sentiments via Kaskade:

Stay tuned for stories.

Beijos!