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Belem, Brazil Trip Journal

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March 8, Belem, Brazil

We were quite amazed this morning as we neared Belem at the number of high rises and skyscrapers in the distance. Belem is a large city with over 2 million residents and it is the chief port for the Amazon River. Although it has recently seen a building boom, parts of the city still retain the charm of the Portuguese colonial architecture.

Belem is the Portuguese name for Bethlehem, the city where Jesus Christ was born. It was the first European colony on the Amazon, founded in 1616. Its nickname is Cidade das Mangueiras (city of mango trees), as they’re in great abundance.

When we opened the drapes this morning, we could tell instantly we were nearing the Equator. Heat virtually billowed into the room, even with the sliding doors shut. So, for the next few days, we’ll keep the drapes closed as much as possible to keep the heat out.

In talking to a few fellow passengers this morning at breakfast, they said they changed their minds about going ashore. They didn’t want to deal with the heat, plus the transport was a bit more time-consuming than most ports. Due to the shallowness of the water, we had to anchor quite a way off-shore. Instead of using the ship’s tenders, they hired two large local tenders, holding 190 and 250 passengers.

The local officials cleared the ship quite early, so by 9:15, we were boarding the tender for the ride to the pier. It only took about 15 minutes, where we then caught a shuttle bus to the city center. The bus ride was anticipated to take approximately 50 minutes, however, with road construction delays, it took about an hour and 20 minutes. No big deal, as we didn’t have a set schedule – but the bus was not air conditioned and the temperature outside was around 90? F, so it was a bit of warm ride. The windows were open, so as long as we were moving, there was a breeze, so it wasn’t suffocating.

We were dropped at the Hilton Hotel in the city center, where we then made our way to the local waterfront market. The market is known for its fresh fish and vegetables. On the way to the market, we passed through blocks of vendors set up in the streets selling all kinds of goods – ranging from clothing to sandals to rabbit ears for televisions, lots of moth balls, toys, bedding, and on and on. It was visually confusing as the stalls were set in the streets in front of retail stores. The sidewalks had a couple feet of room to walk, the center of the street had a couple feet. And, it was packed with people.

We were happy we arrived at the market when we did, as promptly at Noon, they began shutting down. It’s too hot to stay open, plus it’s siesta time. Even the food court area closed, which really surprised us as it was lunch time.

If I had to come up with five adjectives to describe Belem, they would be: bumpy (roads), congested (traffic), crowded (city center), chaotic and dirty.

After taking photos and wandering around the market, we decided to head back to the Hilton and take the next shuttle back to the pier. When we arrived, we had plenty of time, so opted to grab a quick lunch. And, much to our delight and surprise, our friends Patsy and Ed were in the restaurant. They had just ordered, so we sat down and joined them.

After lunch was finished, we checked to see when the shuttle was leaving, but the line was so long, we knew we wouldn’t make the next one. Ed found a taxi and negotiated the fare for the four of us back to the pier. The taxi had air conditioning, so made for a much more comfortable ride.

It began pouring down rain as we were driving back, and Ed was the only one with an umbrella. Patsy, the optimist, said she thought we’d drive out of the rain by the time we got to the pier. She was 90% right. It started to sprinkle on us just as we got out of the taxi and started down the ramp to the tenders. We got a bit damp, but since we were headed back to the ship and already had “bad hair”, a little sprinkle didn’t matter.

There is a couple whose table at dinner is near ours. They have been collecting flags from various stops on our journey and each evening, bring one and drape it on their table. It’s now something to look forward to each evening to see which flag will adorn their table. I asked them what they would do with them when they returned home and they told me they have a pool area and entertain a lot and will use the flags to decorate.

We had, before the start of the cruise, purchased a couple shore excursion tickets. In reviewing the description of the tour, we decided it was very similar to another day we have planned, and thought we would enjoy our day in the city more. So, we gave the tickets to another couple, who were very appreciative and had a great time.

However, we didn’t notify the shore desk that we had given the tickets away and the tour was late in returning to the ship. Security called our cabin to see if we were back and if we had gone on the excursion. John answered the phone and told them we did not go. The ship had been scheduled to depart at 6pm. The excursion ran quite late – not retuning until nearly 7pm, so we left about an hour late.

The best thing about booking through the shore desk for trips is the ship won’t leave without the group. If we book through another company or take off on our own, we are solely responsible for our timely return. We have been on cruises in the past, where passengers have been left and must find their own transport to the next stop.

The worst part for anyone who is on this trip is that the ship retained our passports when we boarded. All we have to carry with us are photocopies. So, trying to travel or even check into a hotel could be quite a challenge. The ship’s reason for keeping the passports is that local officials in many of the ports must review the passports prior to clearing the ship for disembarkation. There would be a huge delay (and mass confusions) if each passenger had to go through passport control at all these stops.

We are on the Amazon all day tomorrow heading for Santarem, Brazil. We will cross the Equator at some point during the day.

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About the Author

John Moen is a cartographer who along with his wife are the orignal founders of worldatlas.com. He and his wife, Chris Woolwine-Moen, produced thousands of award-winning maps that are used all over the world and content that aids students, teachers, travelers and parents with their geography and map questions. Today, it's one of the most popular educational sites on the web.

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This page was last updated on June 16, 2020.