We’re doing a 21-day Dragoman tour of French Guiana, Suriname and Guyana, the three countries in South American that we haven’t visited. By the time we worked out how to get to Cayenne in French Guiana, and added a couple of other places we’d missed on previous trips, we suddenly had a 7-week trip.
We’re flying into Rio, then flying to Cayenne via Belem, which was a good opportunity to stop and have a look at Belem, at the mouth of the Amazon.
We then fly to Cayenne and do the 21-day Dragoman tour, despite swearing we’d never do another Dragoman tour after spending 6 weeks with them travelling from Istanbul to Tashkent in 2008. We’d expected to be camping because the places were picturesque, but we soon learnt the camping was purely to save money, and we’d be free-camping in very non-picturesque places (e.g. dustbowls) in the middle of nowhere, spending a lot of time preparing and cooking meals, when we could have been in nearby towns exploring, and trying local foods, instead of eating spaghetti bolognaise etc. However this tour only has 2-3 nights camping, and these appear to be in interesting places, and it doesn’t appear to have any cooking, so hopefully we won’t have any surprises.
After the tour we’re spending a couple of nights in Manaus (we’ve been there before) and then flying via Sao Paulo and Santiago to Arica, on the coast in the far north of Chile. We then have a couple of weeks with no definite plans, where we’re hoping to go to Arequipa and Colca Canyon in Peru, two places we’ve missed on previous trips.
We spent a month in Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador in 1997, and in 1999 we allotted three months to see the rest of South America, but we hadn’t counted on just how big, and wonderful, Brazil was, and we ended up spending 10 weeks there, and two weeks in Venezuela.
In 2003 we spent six weeks in Chile, Bolivia and Argentina, and in 2005 returned for a couple of weeks to go the Galapagos Islands. In 2011 we returned for a month for a great trip to the Falklands, South Georgia and Antarctica, and a quick look at Uruguay. In 2013 we spent a day in Cartagena, Colombia when on a cruise from New York to Los Angeles via the Panama Canal. By the time we finish this trip we will have been in South America seven times, and spent nine months.
Tuesday 13th March 2018 Sydney-Santiago (Chile) – Rio de Janeiro (Brazil)
We weren’t planning any home exchanges, but couldn’t resist when we offered a week in Berlin (we’ll take it next year), so have had to spend the last week doing a major spring clean. After a final cleanup, we go downstairs to deploy our umbrellas before doing the walk to the ferry in a light drizzle of rain, with heavier rain in the east obscuring the Harbour Bridge and almost hiding Rose Bay. At Circular Quay it was raining more heavily, and the No 2 wharf doesn’t have a covered connection to the railway station (it never rains in Sydney?) but we manage to remain reasonably dry for the uneventful trip to the International Airport.
We have been unable to check in for our 12.50pm flight from home because we booked with Latam Airlines, but it is code-shared with Qantas, who are operating the flight. Tried to go straight to the check-in desk but staff made us try the on-line machine, which wouldn’t read the passport at first, then wouldn’t read the Brasilian visas, which were printed too big to fit into the machine. Eventually a staff woman recognised our plight and took us back through the queue checkers to the line-up at the check-in. We were able to book our bags right through to Rio de Janiero, then killed a bit of time before passing easily through immigration with Murray’s new passport (unlike the old one, which the machines wouldn’t read). Had trouble at the full body scan, which picked up Murray’s “bra” (used to hold the neck money belt) and it took a surprising amount of explaining that it was just a different form of money belt. For the umpteenth time, Murray was selected for the gunshot and explosive residue check -obviously a serious security risk in the over-75 male demographic!
The plane was an aging Jumbo, Longreach by name, refitted with new seating with seat-back touch screens, and a good supply of new and classic movies. However, the touch screens were quite difficult at first, and the “instructions” forgot to mention you needed to tap on the screen to bring up the program controls. Murray also managed to snap off one of the prongs on the plug, and spent the twelve and a half hour flight listening with one ear only.
The cabin staff included the usual okker style Australians, who were pleasant enough, but the standard of service, the meal quality and the attention to rubbish removal were pretty ordinary. Dessert was Weiss bar ice cream, unusually over-sweet strawberry. Being down the back, we were subject to the normal amount of Jumbo tail wagging, and a fair bit of turbulence, but not enough to prompt seat-belt warnings, so they must have the bar set pretty high. Managed to tick off a couple of must-see new movies, although The Shape of Water was pretty strange, even surreal, while Three Billboards was interesting, even though the end was a bit open-ended. The time passed fairly quickly, in spite of Dianne getting crowded by the seat in front of her coming a long way back, and very fast, with almost no damping in the mechanism.
Transit at Santiago proceeded fairly quickly, as it does when you have a lot of time to kill, then Murray settled down in the savagely air-conditioned boarding lounge to get a little uneasy sleep with a timer set, while Dianne used the charging station and wi-fi. Later we changed over, both getting a bit of broken sleep during the four and a half hour wait.
The boarding setup was unusual in having a pathway around the outside of the lounge for the cattle class, and a straight line in the main passageway for the upper classes. With no boarding by rows, we sat out most of the boarding process, joining the line late but still managing to get storage for our gear, probably because we were well down the back.
Left at 3.30pm Santiago time for the four hour flight to Rio, with the first half of the flight over the mountains, with clear air and views of the rugged and sometimes highly mineralised landscape, bare of any sort of vegetation . In a really colourful area, we saw a large mining operation. Later, presumably over the Altiplano, the terrain levelled out and we saw a large salt lake just before the weather closed in.
The flight was fairly turbulent, but the seat belt sign was only occasionally turned on, once when cabin service was suspended. The meal was a semi-flat bread ham sandwich, not particularly impressive, but by this time we had been fed a few times. We had cloud cover all the way then to Rio, and a fairly bumpy descent, with little to see until the last moments.
At Rio, the large terminal was pretty deserted at 7.30pm when we did the long walk to Immigration, but we just beat another flight coming in from a side corridor. Immigration was orderly, and pretty perfunctory, with our paper visas acceptable. With only two flights in, baggage collection was quick, and Customs almost invisible. At arrivals, we found acceptable taxi booking agencies, but had to walk a long way and ask to find the ATM’s, which all had a 24 Real (about $A10) charge on top of customer bank fees, so we maxed out the withdrawal at 1000 real. It will be interesting how our preferred ATM account, ING, who say they have no overseas ATM charges, handle this one (they did refund it!).
A$1 = approx. 2.5 Brazilian reals
1 real = approx. 40c Australian
We’ve decided to go a bit upmarket in Rio, and have booked a hotel which was slightly jaded, but right on the beach in Ipanema. When we were here in 1999 we stayed in Copacabana, so want to see a different area this time. The taxi was a fairly new van, air conditioned and smooth, giving us a quick trip to Ipanema on a very lightly trafficked expressway and main roads through the city, including a couple of tunnels, one very long. Arriving at the street address given in very fine print on the booking confirmation, we seemed to be in the wrong place, as the web site showed a hotel right on the beach, with great beach and water views from the dining area, and Dianne had located it on the map as being further east, along the beach at Arpoador. The address we pulled up at looked more like a restaurant than a hotel, but it had a discreet Ipanema Inn sign, and Dianne went in to sort it out. It turned out we were in the right place in terms of our booking, but when we booked the website had taken us to its sister hotel, without advising us that the original hotel, Arpoador Hotel, on the beach of the same name, further east, had been subject to structural problems and was being rebuilt. We were not particularly happy, but managed to remain civil, saying we would take the first night, and sort it out from there. We’ve paid in advance for five nights, discounted for booking early, so don’t like our chances of getting a refund. Luckily, the hotel was quiet, the room quite OK, and the location was not as bad as we first thought, being only one block from the beach and in a fairly active commercial area, pretty central to everything including the metro. In fact, we later decide that it was probably a better position than our first choice.
Wednesday 14 March 2018 Rio de Janiero, Brazil- Copacabana & Ipanema walking tour
Dianne slept for three hours, but was awake for the day by 2am local time, while Murray managed a bit more. Were up and down looking at the beach by 8.14 AM. With an excellent Brazilian breakfast under our belt (included in the room rate) we were ready to accept our fate and continue with our booking.
We organized to go on a free walking tour of Copacabana and Ipanema for the afternoon, then walked up two blocks to the local Metro, Nossa Senhora da Paz to look at the transport pass situation. Lonely Planet has told us the machines don’t do change, and the first two vacant machines told us just that, and there were no manned ticket windows, so we knew we had to get change for our R$50 notes.
Back to hotel about 10am for another three hours sleep, setting alarm for 1pm, then out to meet up with the tour, outside the Cantagalo metro station in Copacabana. We tried at a local kiosk to buy a small water to get change, but the trader was not interested. We walked up one of the commercial cross streets, looking for a supermarket, but couldn’t find one, so tried another kiosk, where a helpful local used his translation app to sort out that we needed small change, not Exchange, and talked the kiosk holder into giving us change for a bottle of water.
Back at the Metro, we found that the two machines which were busy when we were first there do actually provide change, but by now we had two R$10 notes to buy MetroRIO Pre-Pago cards with enough credit on them for two Metro rides. Got to Cantagalo metro station, a third of the way up Copacabana Beach, early for our meetup. To kill time, we did a short walk around the area, but by now it was pretty hot, and we didn’t want to waste our energy, so returned to the Metro. Our guide turned up, a blonde, slim 26 year-old Finnish woman a long way from home, who has been in Brazil for about 2 1/2 years. Next a 37 year-old South Korean woman, and then, just as we were about to go, two men and a woman, Mexicans, late 20’s, turned up. The route of the tour was through the streets of Copacabana to the beach, along the famous wavy-cobbled promenade to the south end, to the entrance of the fort. In this section we were given history indicating how new the area is, with only the odd mansion rotting away from the early days, the history of the forts at each end of the beach, the advent of the tunnel from Centro. We stopped for photos – posing with bronze statues of literary and musical figures; the wall commemorating their historic defeat in the semi-final by Germany in the home 2014 World Cup, with the consolation that their arch-rival Argentina didn’t win in the final; the origin of the beach name, from a small chapel in honour of Nossa Senhora da Copacabana in Copacabana, Bolivia.
We cut out the path at the end of the peninsular, walking on streets to cut through to the eastern end of the beach, named Arpoador here, Ipanema further west. The crowds here are increasing, while Copa was winding down. From here you get good views west to the Two Brothers peaks and the sunset. This end of the beach is mainly for surf boarding, as it faces south, and the waves are quite large, while the south end of Copa has no surf to speak of. There are a few hardy souls out body surfing, but Murray feels no urge to join them.
We pass the location of our intended hotel without noticing, but are well pleased to be where we are. We walk west as far as Posto 8, one of the Service and meeting points spaced out along the beaches, then cut inland to the big park at Ipanema/General Osorio Metro, where there is a big “hippie market” every Sunday. We stop at a bar which has Bossa-Nova history, reputed to be where two musos, who were ignored by this amazing looking girl, wrote “The girl from Ipanema”. The “girl” knocked back a couple of marriage proposals from the muso, and is apparently still alive, lives in the area, and still looks good.
From here we walk through to the Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas, and walk a short way around the lake to picnic on the grass beside the water, eating a strange mini-donut called Globo, with a texture like a less than crisp prawn crisp, slightly fatty, made from polvilho, a tasteless manioc starch. They are a favourite local snack, for reasons not fully explained. We washed them down with a small plastic cup of Guarana drink, which we sort-of remember from our previous visit. Although the tours are free, you are expected to give a tip, and we weren’t sure of the expected amount, so ended up giving R$100 for the two of us (later others tell us that the going rate is half that, or less if you can’t afford it).
After the picnic we walk back towards Ipanema, but split off from the main group to walk around the lake. It is dark and pretty deserted in spite of plenty of traffic on the main road, so we cut inland to more populated streets, almost walking past our street.
Back at hotel Murray has a bit more sleep, then we dined at the hotel restaurant, Quiteria, reputedly pretty good. Dianne had a Capiroska and the Pork Rib, Murray had a Heineken and the Beef Stew. Both mains were OK, but a lot more than we needed, and at R53 a main, quite reasonably priced compared with OZ. Later read that restaurant was rated 47 out of 12,996 on Trip Advisor. We certainly didn’t rate it that highly. Menu was very limited, and we thought food was nothing special, and not worth a repeat visit. To bed for three hours sleep for Dianne before she’s wide awake at 1am, so takes a sleeping tablet and gets 10 hours sleep, which definitely helps the jetlag and lack of sleep.
Thursday 15th March Rio de Janiero- Sugarloaf Mountain trip
Today we’re attempting to use the bus system to get to Urca, the suburb where the Sugarloaf Mountain (Pão de Açúcar) cable car starts. Have a quick look at the beach about 11am, then set off.
Our information gives us a number of possibilities, especially the 513 bus, but at the hotel reception we are told to get the 581 from the street which passes the local Metro, and the 582 back. We see a lot of buses on the notices at the bus stand, but no 581. A girl at the bus stand has a clip board and is marking off buses as they pass, and she tells us, in broken mixed language, to get a 415 to Pasteur and change to a 107, which sort-of works, except the 107 does not connect where we get off, and we have to walk down Pasteur looking for a bus stop. By the time we get to the bus stop, we can see the cable car wires just ahead, so continue to walk in very hot and sweaty conditions.
At the cable car station there are lines of bollards to handle large crowds, but there is a very short queue, and after getting our R$80 tickets reduced to R$40 each by showing the printout of our passports (over 60’s) we are able to get on the first available car. Like most cable cars, the windows are dirty, and the curved glass corners are clean, but distorted, so we don’t get to see or photograph a lot on the way up, but do get great views back to the cable car station, down to the small Praia Vermelha (red) beach, out to sea, and up to the Pao de Acucar top cable station. Arriving at the top of the first peak, Morro de Urca, we get good views back over the city and all its landmarks, and north to the long bridge and industrial area.
There are a lot of black birds with white wing-tip feathers soaring around the peaks. They look like condors, but smaller, definitely not frigate birds, which we have seen over Copacabana. There are good views down to the small suburb of Urca, clinging to the north side of the peak. We walk around the mirador, watch a short video on construction of the cable cars, and reach the second cable car station, which has good views of the Pao de Acucar and the heavily forested area between the two peaks. Near the cable car station there is an interesting exhibit of a sophisticated small, gas-fired still for making cachaca liquor from sugarcane. This is quite an elegant design, but similar in function to the rough and ready stills we visited in the north on our first Brazilian visit.
We are pleased to note our seniors ticket does cover the second cable car, and we carry on to Pao de Acucar, leaving the photos till we get clear views at the top, where we get excellent views back over the city, Copacabana, Christ the Redeemer (Cristo Redentor), the Two Brothers Hill beyond the now hidden Ipanema Beach, and the fort at the eastern end of Urca. The eastern end of the peak is covered in jungle, which extends a long way down before the start of the bare rock face. We walk down paths and stairways to get a view to the east, across to more beaches and peaks, with a massive fort at the north side of the harbour entrance, and a small, but probably impregnable fort looking like a limpet on a rock bar in the middle of the entrance.
On one of the jungle paths, we see two men who have found something interesting, which turns out to be one of the “micros” or tiny marmoset monkeys, which are an introduced species here, but heavily protected. Per usual, we find them, not in the thick jungle, but sitting on a handrail post, and get some close-up photos, with reasonable focus. Like small birds in the jungle, small monkeys are difficult to focus on among the leaves, but we manage some clear shots of the eyes and tiny face. There is a second one in the trees above the path, possibly female or immature, as it doesn’t have the white whiskers, but it is difficult to photograph against the sky.
Through gaps in the trees we manage photos to the east of beaches as wide and sandy as Copacabana, then climb back to the top on a ramp with plastic covered wire ropes to pull yourself up. We stopped for a well-earned long drink of Coke, ice and lime at a bar with views down onto Praia Vermelho and the length of Copacabana, and out to the offshore islands. From the walkway leading back to the cable car we were able to take telephoto shots of Copacabana details.
Back down at ground level, we took more cable car photos, and, given information at a kiosk, decided to walk all the way around the shoreline of Urca as far as the famous Bar Urca. It was a very hot and sweaty walk along a fairly ordinary shoreline, the bar was pretty ordinary and we were not in the mood to relax when there was what looked like a promising bus ready to leave.
At the bus, we had difficulty sorting out if it was the right bus, as we had seen similar buses with Leblon signs, which should have got us home, but decided to take it anyway as the sign saying Botofogo, which we knew, and a hint of Rio Sul (south) would do us. As Urca is only about three kms from Botafogo, we were surprised how long and contorted the route was, and how many people were getting on as we passed a few schools at about 3PM. At least one of the schools was for the intellectually disabled, and Dianne was hassled by a large, good looking boy wanting to touch her head. He was yelling and squealing right in her face, so it was pretty confronting, even with his mother or minder right beside him. At Botafogo Metro, it was obviously the end of the line, so we settled for a Metro ride home. Dianne got through the turnstile OK, but Murray couldn’t or didn’t see a green light to proceed, and on his second attempt, got a definite red cross, as he had now used up all his credit. Dianne advised him to just jump the turnstile as the card would show he’d already paid, but Murray, who doesn’t like being arrested, took the purse and went back to recharge the card. The machines were all occupied, but fortunately one of the booths was free, and Murray managed to put R$10 on the card, and we were able to carry on, after returning from the platforms to find a map which told us which end-of-line station we wanted. The carriages were pretty full, so we spent most of the return journey standing up.
Back at Ipanema, Murray caught up on some sleep, then later we ventured out to take some night photos of the beach and lights of the favela at the west end before going looking for a meal. The waterfront street to the west seemed to be mostly residential, so we cut back in toward the commercial streets, and found a cafeteria style restaurant, a bit like a per kilo, but without the weighing station. We selected salads and a serve of filet Mignon each, with a can of Coke split, and the bill still came up to not much less than our hotel meal. However, it was an interesting local experience.
We are still jet lagged, and both are awake after three hours sleep. Murray manages to get a bit more, but not Dianne, and we both get up at 8am
Friday 16th March Rio de Janeiro- City Centre Free Walking Tour
We catch the Metro to Carioca for the 10.30am tour, and find a group of red-shirted Free Walking guides already there, so we check in. Ask where the nearest public toilet is, and are pointed towards the CitiBank building. We assume the toilets must be near the bank, but look all around, and on the way back to ask again, Dianne decides to ask at the desk in the bank, and we are directed to a quite flash unisex toilet in a passageway off the reception area, beyond the coffee facilities.
Back at the meeting point, in the Carioca square, we are sorted into language groups, and led to a park where we are introduced. We have Dutch, English, Australian, USA, Canadian and Polish in the group, and are led by a Brazilian girl with brown skin and a mix of indigenous, African and Portuguese blood.
Our first stop was in a tunnel off the park in an old building with photos and impressions on the wall of Rio, viewed from the same point as development proceeded. Above the park was an ultra-modern building made up of cubes and voids, like a Jenga stack with gardens in the voids. This was the Petrobras Headquarters, a nice Eco Virtue Signal from an oil company.
Back in the Carioca Plaza, there was a lot of security, possibly because the City Government had set up an information centre where locals could air their problems. We later learn that there had been a lot of violence around the city since the Olympics, and the government had recently appointed an army general to oversee security in the city, and more than 3,000 soldiers and military police officers have moved into four favelas to try and control the gang violence. However to us the city feels safer than it was in 1999 when we last here. The Plaza was surrounded with a lot of high rise Office buildings, dating from the height of curtain-wall architecture, pretty dated by today’s standards, and some screaming out for redevelopment.
From here we walked to Confeitaria Colombo an ornate, large and historic coffee shop with wonderful pastries, where we were given time to buy some sweets and take photos. We were told Queen Elizabeth II had tea here on the second floor. From here we walked the streets, past a really tall, skinny building, through canyons, generally ignoring some old churches and buildings till we got to what was the bond-store area when Britain and Portugal had a free trade agreement in the early 1800’s. An example was a shipment of ice skates -very handy in Brazil, but converted into knives and shoes by the locals. There were churches here, and a warehouse with a dwelling above where Carmen Miranda lived.
Most of the lower floor structure was stone, some sort of very coarse, fibrous granite or rhyolite, which is featured all over the old parts of the city. We carried on to the large 15th November Square beside the early Government House and temporary Royal Palace which featured an equestrian statue of General Osorio, notable for him wearing shoes rather than boots because of a war injury.
The palace is now an art gallery and history centre, preserved by decree, but not all that exciting. Across the square are two churches, both to the same Saint, St Joseph. When the Royal family arrived, they commandeered the existing church, so the locals built another right next to it.
The next stop was the steps in front of a major building with high columns in front, statues on the pediment, and a white painted church on the right. We walk across the street to look at and take photos of the impressive cannon ball tree, which has a large, hard inedible spherical fruit, and pretty bright red perfumed flowers growing right out of the trunk, like a jackfruit or durian.
We press onward through a street market in a Plaza with a lot of tropical trees, quite close to where we started, as we can see the colonial church and the very large curtain-walled office building. From close to here we can look down a major avenue to see the Cristo Redentor looking down on the city. On this avenue is the National Library, and the nearby square has the very fancy Municipal theatre, styled like the Paris Opera. It also has a government building which is currently covered with signs and graffiti protesting the murder of councilwoman and activist Marielle Franco on Tuesday this week. She was a local black, gay, feminist activist politician, and many believed she had been assassinated by the military police because she had been very critical of them and their actions in the favelas.
We walk past a row of buildings which used to be cinemas in the heyday of public cinema, but now only has the Odeon active. We are right beside the Cinelandia Metro which we will use to go home, but carry on past another cinema turned into a theatre, and stop at a vendor who is selling local delicacies, and buy some coconut, peanut and chocolate sweets, all full of sugar, as is the Brazilian wont. We skirt around a park and stop at the open door of another theatre to bask in the outflow of air conditioning and look at the arches of the aqueduct at Arcos de Lapa, and the large cone which is the Aztec inspired Catholic Cathedral. Also see a prettier white-painted local church which has only one spire, because two spires mean it is finished and is then taxed. Behind the cathedral are twin towers with voids at the top which look like a cross from the right angle, built, reportedly by a card-carrying atheist.
The buildings in the street beside us are heavily covered with sanctioned graffiti which has achieved the status of art, and is quite interesting. This street leads to the famous Escadaria Selaron, a stairway decorated with over 2,000 brightly colored tiles in the colors of the Brazilian flag. The Selarón Staircase (Escadaria Selarón) is one of Rio’s most vibrant and striking landmarks, marking the boundary between the Lapa and Santa Teresa neighbourhoods. The brainchild of Chilean artist Jorge Selarón, the iconic steps have become one of the world’s most famous pieces of street art, drawing millions of visitors and gaining exposure in international commercials, pop music videos and magazines all around the globe. Selarón started work on the staircase in 1990 as a tribute to the Brazilian people and his beloved adopted city, covering the 250 steps with an elaborate mosaic of tiles and updating the artwork over the years to include newly inspired tiles donated by visiting artists. All the steps and the walls at the side are covered with ceramic tiles, some plain, others with illustrations, particularly of black woman caricatures and messages, such as “Kazakhstan”. He was found dead on his steps in 2013.
We finish our tour here, provide a more reasonable R$50 tip, considering the size of the group, and climb the steps right to the top alone. On the road at the top we can see an older car full of young men, and decide to descend a way until they drive on. It turns out they were harmless, but one cannot be too careful in Rio. On the way back down, we have to negotiate groups doing selfies on the stairs.
At the bottom, we walk back to the main road, then along to get a closer look at the Aqueduct and Cathedral, but the area isn’t all that savoury, with lots of graffiti and deserted buildings, so we take photos and make our way back to Cinelandia Metro. Not wanting to repeat yesterday’s fiasco, we decide to put more money on Dianne’s card, but can only find two two-dollar bills, and the machine doesn’t like one of them. Additionally, the minimum spend is R$5, so we have to go to the kiosk, get our R$2 refunded and add another R$10, which all works. We pick the right platform, but the train which turns up is a bit mysterious, with no destination on the front or the sides, but we take it anyway, Murray standing up all the way, Dianne for most of it. After more than 3 hours walking around in the 30+ heat, with almost 100% humidity, we are once again exhausted, and soaked in sweat.
There is an interesting market at the Nossa Senora da Paz metro which has been there all day, but we really can’t use the stuff available, so head back to the hotel for an afternoon sleep for Murray, and paddling on the computer for Dianne. She has been working on her family tree almost full-time for the last 6 months. We have both had our DNA done, and Hazel, her 96-year old aunt also agreed to test to help the research, and Dianne has been trying to prove all family lines with DNA. One of the brickwalls has been her Swedish great grandfather, as he changed his name when he came to Australia in the 1880’s, and he changed his age every time it was recorded, so we only know he was born between 1855 and 1861. He did say he came from the village of Orkelljunga in Sweden, and lots of DNA matches seem to confirm this. We believe that if he just anglicized his name, it would probably have been Carl Bengtsson, so have been checking out all the families of all the Carl Bengtsson’s (and there are a LOT of them, as back then Swedish people did not have surnames, just a Christian name and the fact that they were the son or daughter of their father – e.g. Bengtsson means the son of Bengt, and if a daughter it would have been Bengtsdotter.). Have discounted a lot of them, and have been working on one in particular, but just can’t match up the DNA matches with him. Decided coming on this trip would be a good time to give it a break as just going around in circles, but couldn’t help myself, and checked yesterday to see if there were any new matches. There was one which was the fourth-highest match so far, so sent off a letter. When I opened my emails this afternoon, there was a reply, saying she thought she knew who he was, and asking me to confirm if his date of death was the date she had. IT WAS! So, just like that, after six months and hundreds of hours of work, the mystery was solved. My great grandfather (and Hazel’s grandfather) was Christian Bengtsson, born 4th July 1855 in Orkelljunga, Sweden. There was a great flurry of letters back and forth all night as we swapped information. Suddenly the top eight or so DNA matches could all be placed on the tree, which was even further confirmation we had the correct person. Apparently the Swedish Consulate and the Australian Foreign affairs department had notified the family when he died in 1937, and it was written up in the church records at the time.
After all the excitement has calmed down, we head out to look at the beach, and check out the bars in our street, but don’t see anything we like, so head down the commercial street to look for hamburgers, and find a Bobs (burgers) chain, the Brazilian equivalent of McDonalds. It has photos of acceptable burgers, and we manage to negotiate the whole deal in sign language, get the single deck version of a burger which comes in p, m and l sizes for one, two or three patties, fries and Coke. The maracujá (passionfruit) shake has run out, so Dianne settles for Coke. The hamburgers were only just OK, with lots of a strange, fairly tasteless, messy white sauce on them. The bill is less than R$50, or $A20 for two burgers, not all that cheap, but this is a pretty flash neighbourhood by Brazilian standards. The night is not all that good for sleep, with Dianne once again awake after 3 hrs. Ends up taking another sleeping pill – we have a long way to go with jet lag.
Saturday 17th March Rio de Janiero -Ipanema/Leblon beach walk
It’s our last day in Rio, and we plan on having an easy day, and not doing any large expeditions, so have another great breakfast after 8am, look at the beach then back to the room for photo, diary and family tree work. Get organised and out on the beach by 1.30PM. We had discussed taking swimmers, but with the security situation, it’s too complicated. As it turns out the weather is pretty overcast, still warm, but cool compared with yesterday, and the surf is pretty big, with the king waves up to 3 metres, and dumping viciously. We take photos of the beach east, south and west, but can’t stop long enough to get one of the big waves. There is less sea mist than usual, and no bright sunshine, so the views to the peaks and favelas to the west are clearer than we have seen them. The islands offshore stand out more and look closer. There are a lot more people on the beach today, presumably for the weekend, and it is not all that clear just where you would put the chair and towel that the hotel can supply for “free”.
There is an almost continuous line of beach volleyball courts set up, most of them occupied. The games of choice are conventional team volleyball, volleyball using feet and heads, football style, and tennis with both small bats and tennis-like racquets. There doesn’t seem to be any soccer played on the beach.
We get an interesting photo of a vendor pulling a food cart, complete with smoke and steam across a hundred metres of deep, dry sand. We stop at the canal which connects the Lagos Rodrigo de Freitas to the sea via the Jardim de Allah Park. The flood gate across the canal is open and waves are washing over the sand at the edge of the surf and running down through the canal towards the lake. Hopeful fishermen (any other type?) line the canal near the road, with nets, rods and reels. We see some small fish in nets, but it is unclear if the fish are going into the lake, or making their way out to sea. A couple of kids are running around in the canal near where the surf comes in, but they seem in no danger. Inland, the canal widens through the park, disappearing in the general direction of the Redentor.
Near the bridge, Murray takes a photo of a group of hire-tricycles, designed for operation standing up, a bit like a scooter, but with electric front wheel drive and two smaller wheels spread 60 cm wide, with a wheel base of over a metre. We see them in action, and they seem to get along OK. They would store OK, nested like airport trolleys, but would need to fold to get into a car.
Walking west towards Leblon beach, we check out the residential apartment blocks lining the malecon. Most of them are pretty dated, some in poor condition. Maintenance is never easy in a waterfront block, as we know only too well. At the west end of the beach there is a second canal, this one smelling pretty strongly of sewage, and having no hopeful fishermen. The headland is sloping granite, and the large waves down this end are breaking in showers of spray on the rocks. A large bunch of hardy surfers are trying their luck on the three to four metre waves, but not many are getting long rides without coming unstuck.
We cross the canal and walk up to a belvedere overlooking the headland for photos of the surf, the Sheraton Hotel with a favela right behind it, and along the beach towards Ipanema. Dianne decides she is hungry, and organises a table with one kiosk holder, only to find the meal she liked the look of was provided by the next kiosk, so we had an embarrassing change of table, ordered sardines, a capiroska, Pepsi and chips, only to find the sardines we’d seen were finished, and we would have to settle for battered fish.While we waited we watched a black fisherman hurl a big sinker and three baited hooks out and down about 40 metres into the surf. His wife sat by, apparently unperturbed by the hooks whizzing past her ear as he cast.
When our meal arrived, it was a lot bigger than we wanted or needed, and we struggled to finish it, although it was really good. We were considering offering it to the fisherman, but weren’t sure of the protocol, so decided to ask for a doggy bag. Paying for the meal, we had to scrape to find R$121 as we had not replenished our working funds after Bob’s burgers last night, but managed, with a R$4 tip, keeping back R$5 in case we needed a bus home.
We walked back through the commercial main street of Leblon, where the beautiful people spend their weekend evenings. It was a long way back (two subway stops), to Nossa Senhora da Paz and home. Dianne did some clothes shopping on the way, but didn’t find anything suitable. We were glad to get to familiar territory and turn down Maria Quiteria street to home. On the way through reception, we checked for taxis and traffic on Sunday morning, but left the final booking till later.
We didn’t bother with an evening meal, still cruising on the massive fish and chips late lunch. Put the doggie bag in the fridge for ‘ron, finished packing all except the charging electronics. Neither had a lot of sleep, and we were up before the alarm to quickly finish packing and head down to reception at about 5.45am.
Sunday 18th March Rio de Janiero, Brazil to Belem, Brazil
We’re flying to Belem today. It’s not easy to get to Cayenne, French Guiana. The easiest way is via Paris and a Caribbean island, which doesn’t suit coming from Australia. You can also fly via USA and Trinidad, and we considered doing this combined with a cruise until we found that all the cruise boats leave for Europe about this time. The alternative was to go via Rio and Belem, and seeing we hadn’t been to Belem before, it was a good opportunity to stop and have a look.
The night staff didn’t seem to have much information on our taxi booking. They checked the log and computer, rang around to taxi companies, and eventually a Renault van taxi turned up, with an older man driver. We made good time through the sparse early Sunday morning traffic, and were on the Malecon past Copacabana for some passing photos of the sunrise and groups of people watching it by 5.58, and through the tunnel to take photos of Pao de Acucar against the sunrise by 6.05am, in good time for our 8.35am flight to Belem with GOL airlines.
The route to the airport is surprisingly long, with new and old parallel roads, and different from our impression on the way in, which seemed to indicate a single, new expressway. Maybe Sunday morning allowed our driver to use non-toll roads and still make good time. The route crosses a lot of waterways, and in a particularly jungly section our driver rolled the windows down, enabling us to savour the savage sewage smell from the mangrove swamps, giving us an idea of what the Olympic sailors were complaining about.
The trip was on the taxi-meter, possibly a Zone 2 fare, and added up to nearly R$100, more than we were expecting, but the meter doesn’t lie. We were dropped outside the Gol entrance, found the check-in close by, but, as we couldn’t check in electronically last night, we noted that people checking in at machines were paying substantial amounts for luggage, so enquired at a service desk, were transferred to another, and when it got too hard, were sent to the queue to check in in the normal manner. The man checking us in was having trouble getting through the system, and after much checking with various people he found that if you come from an International flight you don’t have to pay for baggage, but only if that flight is a Gol flight. As we had come in on a Latam flight we did have to pay, and at double the normal rate as we hadn’t paid in advance. Dianne has to go with him to the main service desk to put R$120 on the card so we could continue with booking in. All of this took time, but fortunately our early start meant we were in good shape.
After checking in, we found a seat where we could eat the surprisingly large amount of tasty cold fried fish in our doggie bag, but leave the cold chips, finish our Coke and drinking water and check through security without any problems, although we noted it would be easy to get the money belt, loose in a plastic tray, taken by a light-fingered fellow passenger.
We followed the well-worn path through the commercial area during the 9-minute walk to Gate 33. We didn’t have long to wait before we noticed passengers lining up in three lines, premium, front of plane, back of plane. The way the arrows were pointed to queues, it appeared the far line was for us, down the back, but not so, and we tacked onto the right line just before the last passenger passed through. This should have made boarding easy, but there were still a lot of front end passengers blocking the aisle.
When we get to our seats, second-last row, we find the lockers above were assigned to crew, so we had to find room under the seat, as all the other overhead lockers were chockablock. One of the consequences of charging for checked luggage.
Not having window seats, we spent the time with Dianne’s SMH magazine collection, with occasional glances out the window at large rivers as we got close to Belem. The trip was pretty bumpy at times, passing through large tropical clouds, but not too bad.
Domestic flight is a pleasure after International, and we were out to baggage pretty quickly, and our bags, labelled priority, were already on the carousel. With no customs, and no need for money, we were out quickly, grabbed a bit of tourist info, and were in an Airport Co-op cab and away before we noticed there was no meter, and our Portuguese is not good enough to negotiate, so copped it sweet. Got to our hotel after a surprisingly long ride through a mixture of skinny new architectural high rise and older buildings suffering badly from tropical decay. The city is pretty big, with a large port area along the main river, and a lot of narrow old residential streets.
Belém lies approximately 100 km upriver from the Atlantic Ocean, on the Pará River, which is part of the greater Amazon River system, separated from the larger part of the Amazon delta by Marajo Island. The greater metropolitan area has a population of 2.2 million. Belém was the first European colony on the Amazon but did not become part of Brazil until 1775. The sugar trade in the Belém region was important up to the end of the 17th century. Thereafter the city’s economic importance alternately rose and fell. Cattle ranching supplanted sugar until the 18th century, when cultivation of rice, cotton and coffee became profitable. With the settlement of southern Brazil, where such crops could be produced more efficiently, Belém declined again. The city subsequently became the main exporting centre of the Amazon rubber industry, and by 1866 its position was further enhanced by the opening of the Amazon, Tocantins and Tapajós rivers to navigation. The rubber era ended after the boom of 1910–12, but Belém continued to be the main commercial centre of northern Brazil.
We’ve booked the Tulip Inn Nazare using 12,084 United frequent flyer points for each night. It is a fairly flash, newish high rise, but looks fairly empty, just us and a couple who arrived at the same time booking in (we later find out at breakfast that there are in fact plenty of people staying at the hotel – mostly business people).The room is small, all-white and modern, with twin beds and only thin bed covers, so use of the AC at night could be interesting.
Murray has a sleep, Dianne works the Internet, later we go down to look at the prospects of a meal and a look around. At the front desk, there is a young bloke who thinks he can speak English, but his German is much better. We ask where we can go for a meal, and the two at the front desk confer, and decide that the streets are deserted because it is Sunday, and it would be unwise to go anywhere, but further discussion and some telephone work revealed that there could possibly be some action down at Estacao Das Docas, a waterfront store and dock area which has been turned into a bar and restaurant precinct, but we would need a taxi to get there. We already knew about this place from our Lonely Planet, but our first conferee didn’t seem to know where the action was in the town. The conversation foundered on the rock of how much a taxi would cost, with various estimates, but as it had cost us R$50 to get in from the airport, the cost would be bearable, so we walked outside to where a taxi was waiting and tried to find the words for “how much” without luck, and decided to give it a go. When we got in, we found the taxi had a small, electronic taxi-meter at the top of the windscreen, with a flag fall of R$5.90, so we settled in for a trip through narrow back streets to the docks, about 2km as the crow, or black vulture flies. We were definitely glad we hadn’t walked. The streets were indeed deserted, and looked pretty confronting with lots of graffiti and run-down housing. We’d chosen our hotel because it was in a very safe area (Nazare) but was close to the main sights of the town which were down in the Old Town and dock area, but to reach the dock area you had to go through Centro, which was busy during the week days, but not safe at night or weekends.
When we are dropped off a Estacao Das Docas, we find it is roaring with Sunday patrons, bars, and restaurants, with long refurbished wharf storage sheds , savagely air conditioned, with hundreds of chairs and tables, separate restaurant kitchens, and a large mini- brewery making the whole place smell of hops. Outside a long, modern space frame awning covers about 6 metres of the terrace which has more tables and seating in separate blocks of about a hundred seats plus the original cargo cranes painted bright yellow, crane tracks and an old steam traction engine. The balustraded edge of the docks has a row of tables, chairs and umbrellas. Can’t believe the difference in atmosphere between our hotel and surrounding area and here. Extremely glad we didn’t chose to eat in the hotel restaurant which was completely empty.
Most people seem to be drinking rather than eating, and some of the bars which have happy hours are full. It is clear the place to be is outdoors, as the AC indoors is savage, so we settle for Marujos Grill, a bar/restaurant down the south (Upriver) end with outdoor tables and live music. The menu takes some sorting, as we don’t want to over-order. Settle for snack size meals, hamburger and chips for Murray at R$33, and fried fish with farofa and vinaigrette for Dianne for only R$24, plus a chop (draught beer) for Murray and a Coke and capiroska for Dianne. Murray’s meal was pretty straightforward, with well-grilled meat patties and lots of chips, but Dianne’s fried fish snack turned out to be an incredible dish of five very tasty, well-done deep fried fish, about 20 to 25 cm long, with the sawdust-like farofa, and a salsa which Dianne found very tasty. Farofa is coarse manioc (cassava) flour, fried or grilled crisp, with very little flavour, but a sawdust-like consistency. The hamburger was quite good, and Dianne was thrilled with her selection, even though three of the fish were enough, and Murray had the other two.
It was very pleasant by the river, with a light cooling breeze coming from the north (downriver), with a grassy park adjacent, and the sun setting behind massive tropical clouds to the west across the massive river (or bay). It has a strong tidal current running through it, it looks more like a river than a Bay, and the muddy water is obviously fresh, but not exactly drinkable.
After the meal, we decide to call it a night, pick up the first cab off the rank outside, and show our driver the hotel card. He needs to put on his reading glasses to read it, but works out where we need to go, and gets us home in a few minutes, through mainly dark and deserted back streets.
Back in the room, we come to grips with covers too thin to handle the AC, but the room too hot not to have the AC. Finally we settle on no AC, and naked sleeping. We are still a long way from de-jet lagged, and have a broken night’s sleep.
Monday 19th March Belem, Brazil
By 5AM we are awake for the day. Spend some time reading up on the possibilities of the city, but can’t locate the Zoo, so decide to walk toward the Theatro da Paz and the Praca da Republica, but do some washing and go down for another good Brazilian breakfast first. We haven’t seen a lot of people in the hotel, but the restaurant is pretty full when we arrive. After filling up with a large but not indecently large breakfast, we go back to the room to get our gear together, arrange our clotheslines, take awkward photos of the surroundings from under the hopper window. The building across the street has a massive chemist shop at ground level, and a white-tiled apartment complex above. The building is pretty dated for style, and shows well-developed tropical decay, with plants growing in cracks in the facade, empty window AC frames, missing tiles. The building looks deserted, although there is a washing line on one balcony with some washing.
Down in the street, the atmosphere is completely different to yesterday, with lots of people and traffic. Maps.me on Dianne’s IPhone is still getting its bearings, so we use the sun to walk east on Ave Nazare, the main road past the side of our hotel, left on Generalissimo Deodoro, and left again on Ave Gov Jose, which bring s us back across Rui Barbosa, the street which runs past the hotel front door, having gone a long way out of our way. Murray is feeling the heat and/or the effects of the new blood pressure pills and the anti-malaria, so we take it pretty easy, so when we reach Praca da Republica we sit and assess our position. The park is quite impressive with a statue of a woman in armour, carrying a sword placed high on a marble column, and platforms and stairways and other formal installations, and a wide, tree lined promenade along Ave Pres Vargas.
We walk all around the Teatro da Paz building, but it is closed up -are told by a man entering a side door that it is always closed on Monday, so take photos and return to Ave Pres Vargas, a main shopping street, looking for a very elusive supermarket to buy a decent sized bottle of water. We don’t find one, but Dianne does find a dress shop, and buys what she hopes will be a cool tropical dress. The street takes us down to the waterfront, past some impressive buildings, and we find ourselves back at the Estacao Das Docas, where tree doctors (or butchers) are lopping branches from a very large mango tree (Belem is known for its many magnificent mango trees).There is safety tape stopping us from walking to the waterfront here, so we have to walk along the outside of the sheds to find an open door to take us through the air conditioned area to the waterfront front. It is still pretty early, and the place is deserted.
From here we walk toward the market area, taking photos of ferries on the river, and the waterfront, as our previous photos of the area were with the IPhone. There are tourist ferries run by Valverde, so we take a photo of their schedules, but have no idea what is being offered, and their office is unmanned. We also take a photo of the sign for Rodofluvio Barcarena, who may have a web site. Having been warned about pickpockets at the markets, we keep to the higher riverside walkway above the markets, get some photos of the edges, take photos of a native food vendors kiosk, which has photos and names of the products offered, some of which look ok, others “interesting”.
The covered market building is interesting, a prefabricated steel structure, not as pretty as the Eiffel designed one at Guayaquil in Ecuador, but a lot larger, with strange conical towers at the four corners. This market is devoted to fish, and smells like it. We take photos, including the head of a massive catfish type.
Further along the waterfront, we come to the fishing boat harbour, a notch in the sea-wall, just before the historic Forte do Presepio e Casa Das Onze Janelas (like everything else, closed because it is Monday). The boat harbour contains large and small fishing boats, of a distinctive high sided style, also passenger and freight ferries. We take photos of a large snow-white heron type bird, and get a close-up of one of the vulture type birds we have seen soaring in Rio, now identified as a black vulture, a not-so-pretty specimen with a head and neck covered in grey, wrinkled skin, and surprisingly long legs with bicycle shorts.
We are now in the Cidade Velha, the old city, and the buildings are colourful, historic, run-down and grotty, but make for good photos. Most are also closed on Mondays! At the end of the boat harbour, we walk through what looks like a dodgy area with some teenage layabouts, but emerge at the historic fort, which has green lawns, cannons, large trees and a waterfront park. Dianne takes it easy on a stone bench while Murray takes photos of the fort and the large Church of St John the Baptist (Igreja Sao Joao Batista) across the plaza from the fort. We are able to walk the waterfront between a wharf with a navy ship and what is a Navy office, and back to the Plaza. Off the plaza is a historic street full of old buildings which leads to a lighthouse, but we decide we have had enough, check out the large church, but it is closed for renovations, and we get just a glimpse of the high vaulted interior.
We’ve been walking for over three hours in 30C+ with almost 100% humidity, and we’re dripping with perspiration, and ready for a rest. We pick up a taxi nearby, can’t find the hotel card, but explain where we need to go, and our taxi gets us home.
After a mid-day rest, we decide to go and find the Shopping Mall three blocks down Rui Barbosa toward the water, and two blocks north, on Ave Visconde de Souza. The shopping mall is an enormous multi-storey building with blank white walls approached from our direction, but looks much like a luxury shopping centre from the main entrance, boasting the name Boulevard Shopping in large silver letters above a large glass awning over the entrance steps, and below what looks like a glass facade restaurant area.The Mall is very up-market, could be anywhere in Australia, Europe or the US, with all the luxury name shops, but no supermarket or even convenience store. Using experience, we headed for the basement, as the lowest rent area to find a massive shop which looked like a supermarket outside, but was found to be an electrical and electronic retail shop of epic proportions. After taking photos of the multi-level atrium and main concourse, we went back outside to take photos of the facade, and across the wide street to another commercial area, backed by flash, tall, skinny architectural high rise apartment blocks. We could still see no sign of a supermarket, so walked down the Avenue toward the dock area, looking for the cruise terminal with all the boats that take people up the Amazon to Manaus.
The waterfront was buttoned up pretty tight, so we turned right on the last street and walked past dock areas and a large flour mill, or similar, with conveyors and tall silos, with a walled yard inland with left-over floats from their famous religious carnival or Carnivale, to find a nice small beach and park area with water access, a river beach and a small lake with a bridge and boardwalk, with enough people about for us not to feel too exposed. Just beyond here we could see what looked like an old
waterfront bar/restaurant with two storey open terraces, deserted this time of day.
We were at a dead-end, so turned back past what looked like a Disneyland castle, with stone towers and turrets, and a very high ivy (or similar local plant) covered blank walls. We took a photo of a local bloke who wanted us to take his photo, and seemed pleased when we did so, particularly when Murray showed him his photo on the screen, then walked around to where an opening in the wall led to a curving tunnel, with lots of greenery on either side, and with a boom gate and ticket booth. The woman in the booth was letting a taxi through the boom gate, and seemed surprised to see us, and indicated in Portuguese and sign language that this place was a motel and wasn’t for us. About now we twigged that it was some sort of pay-by-the-hour motel called Centauros, featuring a naked lady on a naked centaur, with a price list for various times, accommodations and fantasy possibilities, including a top-of-the-line Cinderella experience.
Back outside we remembered that in countries with extended families living close together, motels were a way of a couple getting some privacy.
Walking back past more tall, skinny and architectural high-rise, we came to a wire gate at the front of the yard housing the carnival floats, took photos over the fence, carried on past Avenue Visconde de Souza to find the Terminal Hidroviario de Belem, with a long, newish building of waiting rooms, and ticket booths alongside the wharf. There were some people waiting, but no ferries alongside, so we took a photo of the Belem to Manaus pricelist, and carried on south toward the Estacao Das Dorcas, being warned by a passing man on the long, deserted footpath about having a flash camera on view.
We got to our last-night restaurant about 18.30, a bit late for sunset on the river, but took a riverside table and ordered the same fish meal as before, but without the extra serve of chips. The five fish were up to the hoped-for but not expected standard, and the beer and Capiroska fine at any time of year. We took night photos of the restaurant and park, and another beer-tower photo, but are still waiting for a definitive shot. We are getting quite used to taxis, and took another from the rank back to the hotel, arriving about 8pm.
Tuesday 20th March Belem
After our usual good breakfast, and fiddling with washing in the room, we headed east along Nazare, looking for the Basilica, and, hopefully, a supermarket. We took photos of the basilica from across the street and in front before entering and walking the left aisle to the front. The interior was impressive, light-filled, very high flat ceiling in panelled wood, and a very brightly lit half-domed recess behind the altar.
Further along Nazare we passed a pink palace behind a high steel picket fence, much after the style of the Casa Rosada in Buenos Aires, then we arrived at the zoo, otherwise known as the Museu Paraense Emilio Goeldi, only to find a sign saying it is being renovate. We walked along the frontage and around the corner to a gate which was open, to find a guard who explained it would be open mañana at 9AM. (It’s supposed to be closed on Mondays, not Tuesdays!). As by now, we were close enough to the Mercado de Sao Braz to keep going, past the ruins of a fabulously decorated colonial mansion, now hidden behind a high temporary timber fence. It is hard to say if it is being restored, or just hidden for a while so it can be knocked down without protest. Across the road is the Parque da Residencia (Estacao Gasometro) whatever that is, but featuring a wide, low metal framed building with central roof skylight panels and a sunken area with seating and a stage. The building had been moved from somewhere else, but certainly didn’t seem to have much in common with gasometers. The Parque has large rain-forest trees and a lavender coloured steel and glass bandstand near the street, and a good display of orchids in a curved display area near the front fence. Dianne noticed a man carrying a cold 2-litre bottle of Coke, asked him where he got it, and he pointed across the road to a sort-of patisserie where we were able to buy Coke and Guarana Antarctica and have a rest to cool off.
The mercado is located across an intersection of very large roads, which take some negotiating. We take photos of the long, low colonial building, with a smaller building for the fish market off to the right side, and not just for aesthetic reasons. We took photos of a modern sculpture on a high column and some sort of stairway to nowhere before putting the camera away and braving the market. The market itself was not particularly special, particularly after the one down on the docks yesterday, but we took some photos with the IPhone of some points of interest.
On the return journey, we took a leg to the north before turning into Ave Jose Malcher, a one-way street running parallel to Nazare, and finding it hot, and relatively treeless. We had noticed a lot of umbrellas deployed against the heat, and did likewise, Murray struggling with the faulty umbrella he thought he had left at home. About halfway home we passed a large parking area, surrounded on three sides by shops, in a typically suburban arrangement, which included the supermarket we had been searching for, but by now we were too hot and too close to home to bother, and carried on, past a very flash-looking colonial brick building with towers, the derelict remains of a once-beautiful small residence, and a group of well-maintained colonial terraces.
By the time we get back to the hotel we have been walking for more than three hours, doing quite a few kilometres, and we’re very hot and tired. We rest through a heavy rain shower, then Dianne goes for a swim and meets Emma, an Australian woman scientist doing work on reclamation in the iron mines (Vale) for the Uni of Qld. She is from a small rural town in Qld, but her father now lives in Wagga. She is familiar with The Rock, and has climbed it. She gives Dianne a well-drawn diagram of the local streets and nearby eating possibilities.
Later, we went out to follow our map, found Casa Mia restaurant, which Dianne chose because she didn’t want to eat Italian. We ended up having very good steak, Murray having the Regional selection, with a large helping of farofa, which he managed to get through, Dianne having the healthier version, with vegetables. After the meal we were joined for dessert by the scientist, Emma, for a discussion on living and working with men in tropical Brazil, handling malaria, zika virus and chickengunya by heavy use of repellent rather than medication. After the meal, we walked back to the hotel together, a smart move, even though this area is relatively safe. We have another night of fiddling with AC and thin bed covers to get an acceptable compromise.
Wednesday 21st March Belem
Following advice from Emma, we plan an assault on the Zoos in Belem, getting a taxi from outside the hotel to Emelio Goeldi we tried to visit yesterday, and finding it open for business. It costs us R$3 each to get in (could have got in for half if we had pulled the over 60 card). Proceed to the visitor centre for a quite well-done exposition on the problems of rain forest clearing in the Amazon Basin, then walk around the extensive grounds on smooth sandy paths between clumps of rainforest trees and plants –incredible jungle-like atmosphere in the middle of the city. Like most Zoos, it is pretty run-down, but we manage to see quite a few new animals, birds and reptiles, including tapirs, very frisky and noisy giant otters, quite a few varieties of tortoise, large Caiman (up to 7 metres for big ones), some small brown rat-like agouti running loose in the gardens, a very large and dangerous looking jaguar, as big as a leopard, very noisy monkeys with prehensile tails, a variety of birds, including macaws, harpy eagles, very large king vultures, scarlet ibis, whistling ducks, and toucans fairly obscured by the bars on the cage.
There was also an excellent aquarium, with clean, well-lit tanks and small, flat screen presentation of the facts on each species. Of particular interest to those who might find themselves paddling in rivers were the colourful black stingrays with white dots, with wicked multiple spines near the end of the tail. The big catfish we saw in the market (shown with Dianne’s hand for size comparison) also featured as one of the most-fished species. Nearby were examples of three types of constrictor, including our friend, the Sucuri (the anaconda –we learnt its name last time we were in Brazil when we were snorkelling down the river at Bonito, and someone just in front of us called out “sucuri”. It was only when we got out of the water that we found what sucuri meant!). Wild in the trees we saw green Iguanas, and a tiny, iridescent green humming bird which was chased away by a medium sized brown bird.
In another part of the gardens was the remains of a pavilion made in a rustic stone style as a grotto, but originally a water tank stand, pretty kitsch, but in the jungle setting, a bit Indiana Jones.
After a rest in the gardens, we took a taxi from outside to the Mangal Das Garcas, another lovely, modern, well-kept park with wildlife at the south west corner of the island where the Rio Guama comes in from the east to join the main river/ bay. Our choice of cab was a bit hasty, as this one had no AC, and no seat belt buckle on Dianne’s side, but we managed to survive the trip down the road parallel to Nazare, but to the south a few blocks. The taxi took us into the grounds without our needing to pay, and we walked to the large but native-style Navigation Museum, with a log-bound-with-rope construction with a large buffet restaurant above. We climbed up to the long wooden walkway out over strange tall plants with large flowers growing in the shallows of the river to a pavilion overlooking the river for a rest and a drink. Took a few photos of the shoreline, including an over-water bar/restaurant, described as a “pub” on the map, then walked back to check out the buffet, not bad value at R$76 for those with a big appetite, then back down to the Navigation Museum for an interesting look at boat building to suit the Amazon, and Navy artefacts. On our way into the exhibit, we were instructed not to touch the navigation equipment or the engine telegraph system.
Outside in the heat, we found big iguanas roaming free and eating papaya from dishes, a very green lake with pale pink flamingos, plovers, whistling ducks, and scarlet ibis. We stopped for an “interesting” strawberry ice cream, then checked out the butterfly enclosure, which had some interesting preserved specimens, and some live ones, including moths with owl-eyes eating papaya. Back outside, we saw a couple of marabou-stork types, a long- legged brown, skinny fowl type, an extremely bright yellow/green small iguana, and some low-growing trees with large spherical, rock-like fruits on the grounds under them, and green fruit hanging from them.
Having gathered enough courage for an eight storey climb to the top of the lighthouse, we approached the ticket booth to find, firstly, that over 60’s were free, and that there was a lift available for the public. We were escorted to the top, and got good views over the main river and the Guama to the east, all over the city, and down to the intricately laid out gardens, canals and ponds of the Parque.
By this stage, we decided we were ready to go home, after a very successful morning, aided by getting taxis rather than walking. Tried unsuccessfully to find the driver of a taxi in the car park. Ended up out in the street, walking toward the main road to flag one down, when we spot a taxi turning into our street. He sees us, and stops. He asks us (we think) if it was us who called for a taxi, and we said, no, we didn’t call, but he decides we are too good to let go, and takes us. We hear him talking to dispatch about someone “Casado”, married, and suspect he was picking up someone from the wedding party we had seen in the grounds. The taxi was air conditioned, but this time Murray’s seatbelt didn’t work, but we proceeded slowly but safely in heavy traffic to our hotel.
By this time Dianne was starving, so we walked a block down Barbosa to where we had seen a panifico, which was open, and had everything we had been wanting from a supermarket, including salami, Coke, and fresh baguettes hot out of the oven after waiting for a timer to count down a few minutes. Back in the room, we had Coke and Salami baguettes while Dianne waited for the afternoon rain to clear before going for a swim. The rest of the night was spent preparing for our early morning flight to Cayenne in French Guiana.
We have been surprised just how much there has been to see in Belem, confirmed when we have a look at our photos. However the photos don’t show the other side of the story so much – the run-down areas that are not very safe. However, we’re very happy we had this stopover.