Belem, Bus Through South America
Backpacking Eight Months On the Road
By David Rice
Belem, Page Fifteen
Belem, Backpacking by Bus In South America
Eight Months On the Road
By David Rice
Belem on the Amazon
Neat streets in a colonial grid pattern had me soon near the
center of Belem and now the wide shady streets brought me
Belem revealed itself as I approached the center of town as a
people-friendly place, the first place in Central or South America,
it turns out, to have pedestrian lights with a timing indicator. That
is beyond fortuitous for the walker because on Belem’s wide
streets you need time and a warning when crossing.
In sophisticated Belem, senior citizens ride buses free with a
card and although I did not have one, I usually ducked the fare.
Mango trees line the streets of Belem and are beautiful most of
the year but when the fruit ripens, it drops constantly and you
must take care. Luckily, they are not the huge type but they still
hurt when one comes down on your head.
Belem also pioneered the style of restaurant that charges your
meal by the weight of the food on your pate. An innovation that
Belem offered a stark contrast to the many undeveloped cities
and villages that I had passed through in Central and South
America and I enjoyed the one-time center of rubber production.
Great fish markets selling salt water and fresh or brackish water
fish and a farmers market made the downtown interesting.
Women in the market were gathered around huge sacks of Brazil
nuts where they had the job of chipping off the shell of the nut with
Incredibly, they still had all their fingers. With a machete and
some quick strokes, they were able to shell the nuts without
damage to the meat within or to their fingers.
Colorful colonial buildings of Spanish design and an old fort on
the river kept me busy between trips to Belem’s great coffee
Belem had the best coffee shops and pastry shops that I had found in
all of my travels through Mexico, Central America, or South America.
The pastry cakes were sweeter and more delicate than anywhere else
on my trip. Mexico may have great breads but Belem has the finest
pastries and also has lots of other good street food and some great
markets on many of the streets: lots of prostitutes on the street as well.
In Belem I met many travelers who pass through this river crossroads
including three backpackers from England who were looking for weed
or any consumable herb.
The British invented independent travel and I met the intrepid Brits all
along the way.
Colonial buildings in many colors throughout Belem's downtown
attracted me and I stayed in the city for five days. Especially ragged
and interesting were the fish markets and the docks where colorful
boats were jammed into the small bay. Only about 100 yards on three
sides, the fishing port was chock full of boats that were so closely
packed that on ebb of the nine-foot tide they would lean against each
other as they lay in the mud. When the fishermen on board were
working their boats and cleaning their catch, they would dispose of the
viscera right over the side and onto the water and eventually onto the
mud. This smorgasbord of gory fish parts brewed a heck of a stink but
it was sweet perfume to the vultures and scavenging wildlife that
would swoop in to clean up.
The old section of Belem with its narrow cobble streets and decaying
buildings, markets and its crowded sidewalks attracts tourists who
walk to the old squares and to the old churches near the river.
I enjoyed this antique ambiance while watching the buses go in every
direction. I was trying to get a handle on the long distance bus system
that would take me to my next stop, Fortaleza. This turned out to be
not an easy trip. I wanted to head south along the coast to see the
beaches on the Atlantic north of Rio but getting there took some doing.
I had to get a bus first to an intermediate city, then another bus, and
then get a collective cab, or Combi as shared taxis are called in
Brazil. I finally made Fortaleza, an ocean-side city located on the
Atlantic and my first beach on the way to Rio.
It would not be a quick trip to Rio, however, I would walk the sands of
many a beach on the way.