Monthly Archives: February 2007

The Sao Luis Slave Market

February 13, 2007
Day 503

Picture of statue.

A statue at the slave museum.

I was finally able to look at the slave museum I had heard so much about. Located in the UNESCO heritage area, I walked past it yesterday, but it was closed. The museum had a few interesting statues from Africa, but it was really small and not worth waiting around a day to visit. The most interesting thing about it was that it was located in the same building where slaves used to wait to be sold. It only had a couple windows, which were really just slits in the walls, so the conditions must have been miserable.

After my short visit, I decided I might as well go to the visual arts museum as well. The main exhibits there were the tiles which can be seen on many of the buildings in the area. They provide an effective means of protecting buildings from the heat and humidity of Sao Luis, so they were a standard since the old days when France ruled the area. The museum also had lot of interesting paintings by artists from the area. It gave me an idea of what life must have been like in the city hundreds of years ago.

Slave Museum Photos
Art Museum Photos

A Walk Around the Old Town

February 12, 2007
Day 502

Picture of street.

The streets of old Sao Luis.

I spent much of today walking around the old part of town. Sao Luis is the only city in Brazil that was founded by France, but overseas support from the motherland was low and the French had to flee from the Portuguese after only one generation. The city was used as a slave market with blacks and Indians being traded openly in the streets until the 19th century. The city didn't have much industry after slavery was abolished, and the entire place slowly went into decay, but the culture of freed slaves remained. What is now the old part of the city was declared a UNESCO heritage site in the late 1980's, and since then, over 200 buildings have been restored.

Wandering the streets was a great experience. Their narrowness was a throwback to the days before cars, and they still maintained their old colonial charm. The people in the area were mainly descendants of the slaves who used to be traded there. The area was poor but safe to walk through with a friendly atmosphere. Unfortunately, the main tourist sites were still closed because it was a Monday, so I'll have to stay in the area for another day.

The photo album for this entry is here.

A Day at the Beach

February 11, 2007
Day 501

I arrived in Sao Luis, a city of nearly one million, early this morning. I took a city bus to the historical center, where supposedly all of the backpackers would be, and started looking for somewhere to stay. I ended up at a place owned by a guy named Simiao, yet another friendly Brazilian who doesn't speak a word of English. I got a bed in the dorm room, but I was the only occupant. That was a good thing because of the extra space and privacy, but I also didn't get to meet anyone other than the handful of Brazilian men who were also guests at the hotel. Every town I go to seems to be devoid of tourists.

Being a Sunday, all of the shops were closed and the streets were deserted. That being the case, I decided to do as the Romans do when in Brazil and head for the beach. Simiao told me which bus to take to get to Calhau, the best beach in town. The bus took me over a big bridge to the Sao Francisco district, the affluent part of town with all the high rises.

The bus passed the Ponta d'Areia, the closest and most polluted beach, and eventually arrived at Calhau, a huge expanse of sand at over 4 KM long. It was scorching hot with a blazing sun and not a cloud in the sky all afternoon. My pale skin couldn't handle much of the sun, but the entire beach was packed with locals who were used to the heat.

The rumors of Brazilian beachwear proved to be true for the most part. Most people wore skimpy swimsuits, and a lot of them had no business doing so. The worst thing was seeing the overweight men in Speedos who at first glance looked naked because of their huge guts. People have no shame here.

Riding the Bus to Sao Luis

February 10, 2007
Day 500

I cooked up one last lunch in my suite today and attempted to say goodbye to the owner, but it didn't quite work out. He was a very nice man, but, like almost every Brazilian I've ever met, he only speaks Portuguese. It's getting frustrating not being able to converse with anyone. This is quite different from countries like Chile and Argentina where everyone seems to know at least a little English.

I was hoping to go directly from Salinopolis to Sao Luis, but there were no direct buses, so first I had to ride back to Belem. From there, I boarded my second overnight bus in Brazil, with many more to come. This country is really big!

In the middle of the night, I woke up and was pleasantly surprised to see that the lady sitting next to me had left, leaving two seats for me. I started contorting myself to get as comfortable as possible and started thinking: "This is the perfect position. Legs curled up so not blocking the hallway, body stretched over both seats, arm under head to act as a pillow, jacket draped over torso to neutralize horrible bus air conditioning, earplugs and eye mask to block out all senses." Then I started thinking: "If this is the perfect sleeping position, then why am I thinking and not sleeping?"

Invitation: Brazil Anyone?

Well I reached Brazil and am planning on traveling down the coast for the next three months (through April, 2007). If anyone wants to join me and hang out for awhile, I'd be happy to meet up. Brazil won't be quite the adventure that the Guianas were, but it's one of the hottest cultures to visit, in more ways than one. Rio, Salvador, maybe another visit to Iguazu, beaches, parties, national parks, and a hundred other fun things are possibilities. Email me or leave a comment on this post if you are interested, but let me know sooner rather than later because if you are American, you'll need a passport and a visa to visit Brazil, which I can help you with.

Recovering in Empty Salinopolis

February 7-9, 2007
Day 497-499

One day after my illness, I was already starting to feel better with the help of antibiotics, but I still wasn't 100%. A few people recommended Salinopolis to me as a fun place to visit, and it was only four hours away by bus, which is a tiny distance considering that Brazil is as big as the continental US. Supposedly, the place is packed with tourists and is full of beautiful beaches. I successfully made it to the bus station, despite being able to eat anything for breakfast.

When I got to Salinopolis, I walked down the main street in search of somewhere to stay. The first three hotels I passed were all closed, which I thought was curious. I saw almost nobody on the streets and began to wonder if I'd gotten off at the wrong spot. Wasn't this supposed to be a major tourist resort destination?

I was already running low on energy after walking for twenty minutes, so when I found a hotel that was open, I jumped at the opportunity. I asked for the dorm room, and was led to a completely empty area with two bedrooms, a stove, a refrigerator, my own bathroom, and even a television set. I agreed to stay there and figured I'd find out where the action was later.

Later I walked around town, and indeed there were lots of restaurants, hotels, and bars everywhere like you'd expect in any tourist town, but surprisingly, nearly all of them were closed. The only tourist I saw was a guy from Belem who, upon learning that I was American, only wanted to talk about Utah and Mormonism. I guess I came during the low season.

I knew I'd have to return to Belem before going anywhere else, and I was still unable to eat much, so I decided to relax in Salinopolis for a few days. It rained a lot, but I still managed to squeeze in enough time to see most of the empty city. At first I regretted coming here, but now I feel refreshed and ready to head to my next destination.

I'm Taking a Sick Day

February 6, 2007
Day 496

I woke up with a bad stomach illness today. I wanted to leave Belem, but I just couldn't. I tried walking down the street without me backpack, but I had to turn back after a few blocks because I was too tired. Besides that, there was no way I was going to survive a bus journey of any length without a bathroom.

Craig headed out to Fortaleza this morning. We were planning on splitting up anyway because he wanted to get back into surfing but I wanted to go to a resort town nearby. We even had our last game of Scrabble last night (he won, as usual). Although we traveled together for a long time and had many adventures, I think the main theme of our travels was boats. I started thinking about how many boat trips we took together and remembered forty-eight offhand:

1. Antarctic cruise aboard the Marco Polo.
2. Zodiac to/from shore at Halfmoon Island, Antarctica.
3. Zodiac to/from Port Lockroy in the LeMaire Channel, Antarctica.
4. Zodiac to/from Paradise Harbor, Antarctica.
5. Tender to/from Westpoint Island, Faulkland Islands.
6. Tender to/from Stanley, Faulkland Islands.
7. Boat up Rio Paraguay.
8. Canoe around Florida, Bolivia.
9. Hand-pulled ferry entering Noel Kempff Mercado National Park, Bolivia.
10. Rowboat exiting Noel Kempff Mercado National Park, Bolivia.
11. Paki-Paki up Rio Itenez from Cafetal to Remanso, Bolivia.
12. Canoe from Remanso, Bolivia to Versalles, Bolivia.
13. Riverboat from Versalles, Bolivia to Guajara Merin, Brazil.
14. Paki Paki across the Rio Itenez from Guajara Merin, Brazil to Guayaramarin, Bolivia.
15. Bus ferry across the Yata River, Bolivia.
16. Crossing the Beni River from Rurrenabaque, Bolivia to Buena Aventura, Bolivia.
17. Crossing the Beni River from Buena Aventura, Bolivia to Rurrenabaque, Bolivia.
18. Ferry crossings near Trinidad, Bolivia (can't remember all of them individually).
19. Canoe down Mamore River, Bolivia.
20. Private boat on the Mamore River to Santa Ana de Yacuma, Bolivia.
21. Iquitos to Santa Rosa Amazon boat, Peru.
22. Crossing the Amazon, Santa Rosa, Peru to Leticia, Colombia.
23. Tabatinga to Manaus Amazon boat, Brazil.
24. Crossing the Takatu River from Bon Fim, Brazil to Lethem, Guyana.
25. Power boat up the Essequibo River to Iwokrama Reserve, Guyana.
26. Power boat down the Essequibo River from Iwokrama Reserve, Guyana.
27. New wooden boat up the Potaro River toward White Man's Camp, Guyana.
28. Small aluminum boat up the Essequibo River toward White Man's Camp, Guyana.
29. Aluminum boat down the Essequibo River toward Chinese Camp, Guyana.
30. Bus ferry on the way to Mahdia, Guyana.
31. Power boat up the Potaro River from Pamela to Amatok, Guyana.
32. Backwards rowboat up the Potaro River to porkknocking camp, Guyana.
33. Tourist boat down the Potaro River to Amatok, Guyana.
34. Power boat from Amatok to Pamela, Guyana.
35. Bus ferry on the way to Mabura, Guyana.
36. Ferry across the Corentine River, Guyana/Suriname.
37. Boat up the Corentine River from Nickerie to Apoera, Suriname.
38. Bamboo raft down the Corentine River from Apoera, Suriname to near Siparuta, Guyana.
39. Dutch tourist boat down the Corentine River from near Siparuta to Siparuta, Guyana.
40. Rocky boat up the Corentine River from Siparuta, Guyana to Apoera, Suriname.
41. Washabo boat down the Corentine River from Apoera to Nickerie, Suriname.
42. Crazy boat taxi across the Maroni River from Albina, Suriname to San Laurent, FrenchGuiana.
43. Power boat up the Maroni River from San Laurent to Maripasoula, French Guiana.
44. Power boat down the Maroni River from Maripasoula to San Laurent, French Guiana.
45. Catamaran on Atlantic Ocean from Kourou to Iles du Salut, French Guiana.
46. Catamaran between Islands, French Guiana.
47. Zodiac to St Joseph's Island, French Guiana.
48. Boat across the Oiapoque River from St George's, French Guiana to Oiapoque, Brazil.

We have parted ways for now but still could meet up further down the coast of Brazil...
Somehow I got out of bed for an hour to meet up with Juscelino for lunch again. All I could eat was some fruit and a bit of salad, but even this later proved to be too much for me as it came right back up. I couldn't accept that the delectable meal I had yesterday could have made me this sick, so I decided to blame it on the water instead. Just thinking about eating made me nauseous.

I spent the rest of the day moving between my bed and the toilet, with no energy to do anything other than sleep and stare at the ceiling. Luckily I still had an ample supply of antibiotics on hand.

The Grand Tour of Belem

February 5, 2007
Day 495

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.

The Belem Botanical Gardens

February 4, 2007
Day 494

Picture of ibis.

A scarlet ibis.

It was completely quiet last night with the only guests in the entire hostel being Craig, myself, and a Brazilian rasta guy who slept in a hammock. That all changed this morning when at least two dozen young backpackers came in all at once. Before long, the hostel was full and turning people away. I found out that nearly all of them had just arrived in town this morning from a boat trip down the Amazon. When Craig and I were in Manaus, we could have jumped on a similar boat to Belem that would have taken about five days. Instead, we went with the alternative route through the Guianas and took three months.

Craig and I decided to check out the zoo/botanical gardens today. They were located in a large enclosed area in the middle of the city. Walking around was a lot like walking through the jungle, only with larger paths and a much larger density of animals lurking everywhere. The highlight was seeing a manatee, which neither of us have seen in the wild.

It poked its head out of the water just as I started to look at it, then went back under for half an hour. We also saw a jaguar that couldn't eat us even if it wanted to, some yellow parrots, and lots of other species of the jungle. When we were ready to leave, a tour group from a cruise ship, complete with its own security guard and a guy holding up a sign saying "group 4" so nobody would get lost, showed up. They've been attracted to me lately.

We heard about some sort of Carnaval celebration tonight and walked to it, but instead of seeing a parade, there were just a bunch of uncostumed people standing around and drinking. We heard the city can be dangerous at night (a different type of jungle), so we headed back to the hostel early rather than push our luck.

The photo album for this entry is here

Flight to Belem

February 3, 2007
Day 493

Picture of flight.

Flying over the Amazon.

Craig and I went to Macapa's small airport today four our forty-five minute flight to Belem. After the plane circled around Macapa and pointed southeast, we began flying over the Ilha de Marajo, which appears small on a map of Brazil, but is actually bigger than Switzerland. The island was populated with only a few dots of houses, and seemed much like the rest of the Amazon rain forest I've spent half a year exploring. Suddenly, there was a huge contrast in scenery as soon as we passed the island and flew over Belem, which has a population of over 1.5 million, more than all three of the Guianas combined.

We took a city bus into the center of town and found a hostel recommended by the guidebooks as popular place among backpackers. We were surprised to see, however, that the place was almost empty. I wanted to meet some other travelers after being way off the beaten path for so long, but the empty hostel didn't upset me too much. After all, I got to sleep in a bed for the first time in a month.

With the few hours of daylight remaining, Craig and I walked around town a bit. The streets were packed with people and smelly trash. The market by the river offered some good, cheap food, but it seemed to be at the expense of our personal safety as dodgy characters always seemed to loom nearby. I was not at all enthusiastic about being back in a big city.