February 5, 2007
Before I left Macapa, Eduardo gave me his friend's contact information in Belem, and today we met up for a tour of the city. Juscelino, also from couchsurfing, was friends with Eduardo for many years before Eduardo moved to Macapa. Juscelino somehow managed to get away from his job at a bank for a few hours to meet up with me.
We started out by walkingpast many Catholic cathedrals, which are ubiquitous in Latin America. Juscelino was thirsty, so we got coconuts from a street vendor (you can buy them for twenty-five cents here; not as fun as chopping them down yourself, but refreshing nevertheless). Next we went to an old fort protecting the Amazon River, but it was closed. We also went to an art museum that was closed. Despite being a Monday, none of the tourist attractions seemed to be open. I guess Brazilians have four-day weekends as a rule.
We also walked through a lot of nice parks. "Never walk through here at night," Juscelino said to me as we strolled through one of them. Apparently, the friendly police officer who kept vigil all day went home at sunset, making the place quite dangerous. However, I was assured that the park one block away would be perfectly safe at night. "Lots of people come here all the time," I was explained. This all was terribly confusing to me. Safe and dangerous places are right next to each other. The locals all know this because they've lived there their entire lives, but the tourists don't know because they just got here. Apparently all of Brazil is like this, which explains the high amount of crimes committed against tourists here.
To end our meeting, Juscelino and I went out to lunch at a pay-by-the-kilo restaurant. The food was plentiful and delicious. It was great eating freshly grilled meat again. I had been living far too long on vegetables and rice alone. Similar restaurants are common in Brazil, but I'll have to be careful because they're not the same as American buffets. If you want that extra helping of mashed potatoes, you'll have to pay for it.
After lunch, Juscelino had to go back to work. It was once again great meeting up with a local who could show me around town and discuss his culture. Belem seemed dirty and dangerous at first, but now it's starting to grow on me.