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krisek Belem - A travel report by Krys
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Belem,  Brazil - flag Brazil -  ParĂ¡
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krisek's travel reports

At the delta of the Amazon. Belem (Para).

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Situated at one of the Amazon's legs at the delta, Belem is a modern, lively city with a bustling riverfront and a few examples of remarkable colonial architecture. It is one of Brazil's springboards for organising a trip to the Amazonia.


The main market at the Para river.
The main market at the Para river.
The fascinating city of Belem might have been the dirtiest and the smelliest city of Brazil that I visited. Its very attractive colonial architecture was awfully overwhelmed with chaotic, ad-hoc structures erected to support petty trade. The incomprehensible levels of traffic did not help either. The stunning colonial buildings and structures did not suffer the same level of mismanagement, carelessness and neglect like many did in Sao Luis in Mananhao. Yet, the it seemed somewhat that the authorities did not do enough to exhibit the gems of architecture in this part of the country, almost as if they did not exist. Surely, the great river provided enough interest to compensate for almost anything anywhere else in the city in terms of tourism. But it did seem to me like a lack of respect to the heritage. Not always a perfect heritage, yet still part of the fabric of the city, part of the fascinating history of this remarkable country and wonderful society. The exception was the Estacao dos Docas (see below) but beyond that the old town seemed neglected.

From Sao Luis, the flight to Belem took only about 45 minutes. There was no public transport from the very modern airport to the city, so taxi seemed the only sensible option. The pre-paid cooper-taxi was BRL35 and could be paid by a credit or debit card. Very convenient and safe. The hair-rising ride through empty streets at 23:00 with an occasional crazy driver entering the traffic without looking and pedestrians risking their lives by crossing whenever at whatever traffic light, took about 15 minutes to reach the centre. (It took about 25 minutes during the day.)

Finally, in Belem, I could relax at a Hilton Hotel, a familiar feat, although this one was very dated. I could not believe I had the courage to step into the lifts... Yet, full five star service otherwise.

Favourite spots:
The fishing port.
The fishing port.
As far as the favourite spots go, in Belem it was probably the fishing port with the blue building with four corner spire towers, despite the phenomenal odour! I guess it was the animated scenery of boats coming back from the river trips, some small trading of the catch, cleaning and preparing of the boats and chatter of the fishermen. All flanked by very colourful strings of colonial houses painted brightly! This part of this large city actually felt like a much smaller fishing town, that would normally be typical for a coast, and not a river bank.

The end opposite to the river bank was opening to a piazza with a small clock tower, or a large clock monument, and very pleasant park complete with large green trees and benches underneath them. Very cool indeed.

What's really great:
Old warehouses at the riverfront, Estacao das Docas.
Old warehouses at the riverfront, Estacao das Docas.
I liked that the authorities decided to save the string of old warehouses at the riverfront and convert them into funky and almost posh boulevard-come-shopping mall with cafes, mini brewery, restaurants... Indoor and outdoor in a small park or the riverfront promenade called Estacao dos Docas. It effectively became one of the most attractive part of the city, where the giant river played its role reminding everyone what Belem was about. The small palmtrees contrasted beautifully with the large, now disused it seemed, yellow cranes that were left in situ. The outside sitting, and there was plenty of it, was placed on a very long terrace running parallel to the warehouses and the river, but it was shaded and therefore it was very pleasant to sit there and watch the action on the river.

Hopefully more places around Belem will meet the same fate as the Estacao dos Docas, since it seemed that a lot still had to be done to revitilise this great city.

Sights:
The fort at the Praca de Se.
The fort at the Praca de Se.
Although it did not feel like that at the first sight, Belem did have a number of interesting sights. The most prominent ones included the Theatro da Paz in the Republica Square and Park build during the times of the rubber boom; Catedral da Se and the Museum of Sacral Art at the Praca da Se, which also led to the fort; Palacio Lauro Sodre housing the Para State Museum; Palacio Antonio Lemos housing Belem Art Museum; Porto do Sal; Basilica Santuario; the Fatima Sanctuary.

The old part of the town was a little run down, although it boasted a few very attractive mansions, houses and churches, names of which I never learnt. Some of them were located at the Praca da Bandeira and the area between the Avenida Presidente Varga, Avenida Portugal and Avenida Tamandare - with the Para river on the other end.

The riverbank was obviously a sight in its own right, where the fishing market located in an incredible blue building was the most focal point, of course, a very colourful and animated spot!

Accommodations:
Standard double room at Hilton Belem.
Standard double room at Hilton Belem.
In Belem, I stayed at Brazil's only Hilton hotel. Definitely not the cheapest option in town. But I thought I should finish my Brazil tour just like I started. With a nice splurge. Hilton Belem, located in the centre of city, and probably in the greenest part of it, was predictable with regard to the amenities and levels of comfort. It had almost everything a four star hotel should have. It was spotless and the personnel was friendly and professional.

And yet, there were deficiencies, which Hilton should not allow. Many of the staff did not speak any English. Now, that is hardly acceptable within the Hilton family! Also, the wifi was terribly slow. On the 15th floor, it was almost inexistent and so intermittent that it hardly made any sense to try to browse there. The only sensisble option was the lobby, where the signal was stronger.

The Amazon bar in the lobby was permanently closed. And the pool bar was closiong early.

The entire hotel was dated and cried for refurbishment.

Nightlife:
Praca de Se
Praca de Se
Belem's nightlife had a number of pockets of activity. Many of them were rather hard to find for someone new in the city and without a map or a guide (human guide, that is). The easiest and seemingly the safest was the Estacao dos Docas, which boasted a number of drinking holes, but no clubs. It was pleasant however, since one could party outside and the river's vicinity made it very special. The best one was the minibrewery serving freshly brewed lagers, ales and beers. All venues were spacious, which could easily accommodate over a thousand people, so when the party started, it created a considerable bustle.

Hangouts:
In the park opposite the city theatre.
In the park opposite the city theatre.
In terms of hangouts, I liked the fort because it was like terrace overlooking the fishing port and the banks of the Para river, where locals hang out, too. Some jumped into the water to cool down, some even took a proper bath. They did not undress completely but stayed in their pants. Yet, they put a lot of soap all over, head and face included, and put their hands way deep inside they pants to clean themselves well. Often rubbing themselves much too well for a passer-by to witness. Hey, but obviously they did not care. So, I pretended not to either.

The fort was a fascinating feat in its own right, however. It had a number of cannons installed on the semicircular ramparts, which offered uninterrupted views of the mighty river, the fishing market and the fishing port as well as a number of colonial edifices nearby.

Restaurants:
The flamboyant city theatre.
The flamboyant city theatre.
The Marujos at the river terminal had a comprehensive menu, featuring mainly fish, riverfood and seafood. Their prawns started from BRL29 but the star meal was the world famous fish of the Amazon, the Pirarucu, the largest fresh water fish on our planet growing to 180kgs. A portion of it went for BRL24. Seafood soup was BRL7, they even did paella for BRL52. On average, main meal, whether fish, poultry or meat, cost BRL25. The most curious meal on the menu was a position under 'Marujos Kids'. The kids could eat Nemo the fish, as from the animated film. For real?!, I thought to myself. Would they would really want to? Their draft lager from Belem, Nova Schin, went for BRL4.50 for 280ml, but they also did 2.5l of it for BRL35.

Other recommendations:
Clock tower by the fishing port.
Clock tower by the fishing port.
Belem, not far from the Equator, has no dry season, although for years, September and October gave the least amount of rain on average. That said, Belem is known for its afternoon downpours. At about 3pm everyday, there is an impossible to describe torrential shower that lasts a few minutes. It is recommended not to get caught in it. As a visitor, one should plan to be indoors around this time, and clouds gathering in the sky would clearly indicate when one should prepare to take cover. It is interesting to observe the bucketing, as that's what it is exactly, from a cafe or a restaurant. I recommend the refurbished warehouses, as one can sit outside yet still under the roof and observe how the great Para river gets a boost from heavens above. As if there was still not enough water for it to carry.

Belem was well connected by air with the rest of the country and a few neighbouring countries, and by the river with the Amazonia. Road transport was limited and slow.

Published on Thursday September 22th, 2011


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Sat, Sep 24 2011 - 12:24 PM rating by jorgesanchez

Lovely report, as usual in you.

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