Monday, April 12, 2010

Soaking up Belem, Brasil

Alex, his wife Fabiani (as I call her) little Jolli and myself posed by my bike while out visiting Alex's friends place by a small river good for swimming. Alex owns Moto Mania here in Belem a motorcycle repair shop and parts dealer. He greets all motorcyclists traveling overland and is a tremendous help for us southern riders. Alex is also a huge supporter of his community with his biker group the "Expedicionarios Do Para" who bring medical aid, tools, health education and food to communities in the amazon.
A beach outside of Belem up the Amazon river. Notice that the tide affects the river by many feet each day as displayed by the seaweed like deposit at the high tide line. The river is so wide that you can't see the other side and I was very suprized to see giant freighters sailing up and down the river the same size as the ones docked in the Saint John Harbor.

Old colonial buildings dot the city of Belem making for great city touring. I am going to regret not staying longer here I know it.

Down at the historical port a man cleans fish and tosses the guts down into the water where black vultures await a slimy meal.

Low tide down at the port, its really quite scenic and I would have liked to take more pictures but, I was scared to continually pull out my camera while touring the narrow alley ways solo down at the docks as I was unfamiliar with the area.
I have been in Belem for 5 days now and I have managed to get virtually nothing done on my to do list besides tour around with Alex and his friends. Brazillians in general have been great people as far as friendship and hospitality. I emailed Alex to let him know that I arrived in Belem Thursday afternoon and the next thing I knew he showed up in the pouring rain in his Honda Civic with his wife Flaviani and puppy Jolli at my hotel to take me out for dinner. Alex said that each year roughly 100 motorcyclists pass through Belem and he greets everyone of them with open arms and hospitality.
The next morning, Friday, I decided that I'd hit the city streets and try and book my own boat and passage up the Amazon River to Manaus. I grabbed a city map and with my minds eye focused on the direction to the waters edge I took off without orienting myself as to the proper direction for me to walk in. Alas, I walked in the opposite direction that I needed to head in. Belem being a semi-sort of penninsula jutting out into the river like a finger, I ended up walking to the northern side of the docks and had to make my way out to the east and then continue walking around the shoreline to the south. To me I was walking in a stright line but no, I was walking in a huge semi-circle that took me 3.5 hours to walk.
Not all was a loss however, I managed to walk through some pretty tough looking slums and see first hand some direstraights living conditions with people calling derelict beached boats their home. People were swinging in hammocks for beds as the boat was resting on its side in the sand. The locals really didn't take anynotice of the sunburnt dude wearing oakleys staring in at them. At one point I had to ask directions and chose my victim carefully. On the corner was a kid, maybe 17 with braces and a draftsmen square in his bag. I asked how far the "Terminal Hidrovaria" was from there. He replied in broken engilish that it was very far and that I needed to get on a bus or take a Taxi because I was in alot of danger. I looked around and arrogantly laughed and asked him exactly what was going to happen to me. He simply shrugged. I continued walking now worrying about my camera which was stuffed into my pocket. I had my fake wallet and expired cards on me so that part was taken care of but my camera was a bigger concern.
At about 3 hours I managed to walk right past where I was trying to find and ended up talking to a port security official who directed me back towards a dodgy looking corrigated sheet metal building. I walked inside and was immediately greeted by a dude claiming to be a representative of the ships that take passengers up river. Eventually after about 45minutes I handed over the cash and purchased my ticket. I was totally exhausted and needed to find a cab because there wasn't any way I was going to make it back in my flipflops. I barganed with the cabbie and got what I thought was an incredible deal. Within two minutes I was at the hotel, puzzled I was. I clued in that I walked the wrong way and I was virtually only a 15 minute walk from the dock side....Doh.
The next day, Saturday, Alex arranged for his friend and fellow motorcycle club member, Ivan, to take me on a little tour to the outskirts of Belem to a river beach town called Mosqueiro. It was a scenic place with beautiful soft sandy beaches which were all public and very clean. All along the beaches were little restaurants with plastic chairs and tables where people could wander up to, have a snack, drink, and relax under the shady trees which secured the shoreline. I jumped in for a swim and I was suprised at how warm the water was. The water looked very muddy from far but while in the water it was somewhat clear for about 1 meter before going opague. Ivan brought me to a place for fish that served a very tasty dish with token beans and rice. I have been loving the Brazillian food since I have arived. After eating, Ivan and I arrived back at Moto-Mania and I hung out until Alex closed up shop. Together we motorcycled over to Alex's friends place which was located in the heart of the city. His friend ran a tattoo shop and the two of them tried talking me into a tattoo to signify my trip. Unfortunately, I had my motorcycle and thus I had to limit my alcohol consumption or else I may have awoke the next morning freshly inked.
Sunday rolled around and I was informed that I'd be accompanying Alex, his wife and Jolli (the Pug puppy) out to one of Alex's friends and club members house to hang out and go swimming. For the better part of the day we swam and just chilled out by a small river in the heat of the day. It was necessary to keep dunking yourself into the river to cool off even while in the shade of the banana, and other fruit trees growing in the area. Just as it was time to head out the thunder began rumbling and the rain began to pour down in buckets. I got completely soaked on the ride back into Belem. I headed back to my hotel and Alex yelled over to me that he would come and pick me up in about an hour. I hopped in the shower and watched the white tile floor flood with red silt that had dried to my skin from the river water, now slowly make its way to the drain.
Alex showed up and away we took off in his car to see a reggae band. It was only 7pm and when we arrived it was dark and cars filled the streets. We found parking and headed into the nightclub which was essentially a giant warf built out into the river with a roof over top and surrounded by barbed wire to keep people from swimming out and climbing in to avoid paying cover. To enter one had to obtain a ticket (free) walk over to a hole on the wall, shove money in, out came tickets and change, from there you went to a person who accepted the tickets and forwarded you to a person that patted you down and did a through frisk to ensure no-one got in with weapons. Then off to get drinks, it was nearly the same procedure. The bathrooms were essentially a giant wall that you just let loose on with a drainage basin to collect all the urine.
The band was very interactive with the crowd and there were all kinds of group dances where all strangers simply held hands danced in lines, circles, people formed human arm archways that eveyone huddled under and shuffled through etc. It was actually a heck of alot of fun. Everyone was dancing and having a really great time. I sort of bobbed to the music as the 3rd wheel to Alex and Flaviani which did not go unnoticed and I was continually whisked into dancing, twirrling and stepping on Brazillian women's feet. I was a pretty good dancer at the end of it all but very tired.

Moday, Alex asked me what boat I managed to book on my own and when I showed him the reciept for "Cliva" he looked at me with concern and told me that this was a terrible boat. I laughed at his comment because I totally thought that he was joking, but he was not. He opened his cellular and a friend of his came to meet me and to bring me to the docks in order change boats. While with Alex's friend it was very confusing because he had no idea how to talk slow and rifled off all kinds of jargon which I began to get frustrated with. We were just kind of standing around and talking to people who showed me all sorts of numbers, prices and dates. All I needed to know was how much, what time? This was very difficult to have answered because they were trying to explain fees and all kinds of other crap and I was getting tired. Finally I got what I needed and figured out that 14 meant April 14, 13 meant 1pm, 18 meant 6pm, 300 meant my passenger fee, 300 was my old bike fee, 500 was my new bike fee and 800 was my new total and 500 was my old total. All these numbers were scribbled all over my hands and the other guys hands and the sales persons hands and with everyone waiving their hands while talking I was near to having a epileptic seisure.
Alas all was worked out in the end and I figured that I would make the most out of my extra day and get down to some bike maintenence. I washed the bike, changed the oil, fixed my mudflap and put my 7th new rear tire on. Tomorrow I must find a hammock, bed sheets, sunscreen, camera memory card and a few other odds and ends including a tourist entry card from the Venezulean Consulate in preparation for the 6 day and 6 night sail aboard The "Amazon Star" for 1400km up river to Manaus.

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