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Mouth of The Amazon

Wednesday, July 27th, 2005

26 July 2005 (Tuesday) – Belém, Brazil

My first impression of Belém em was not quite good. It is very hot, very humid, the streets are full of trash, the roads had many pot-holes that collected stagnant water and more rubbish, some of the buildings are of very intricate colonial architecture but most of them are badly defaced by atrocious graffiti and there are lots and lots of crappy things being sold everywhere. The people are also more unsmiley, curt and sometimes, even rude. Well, I guess the weather has a lot to do with how one treats other people.

I wanted to organise a riverboat to Manaus today. The guidebook advised us to check the conditions of the boat, speak to the captain, inquire about everything, etc… But gosh, it was way too hot and way too uncomfortable to do any of these tasks! I learnt from Javier and Cristian that they arrived by Amazon Star and that they found it OK, so I would take Amazon Star as well. It would leave Belém on Wednesday evening, that’s tomorrow. The host in Hotel Fortaleza had informed me I could get the ticket from her later.

Then, the next thing I wanted to organise was my anti-malarial tablets. I was so unprepared for this trip that I totally forgot about getting anti-malarial tablets for my trip! Only when I was already in Argentina, did Pablo ask me about this that I realised my mistake. He told me it was very expensive to buy anti-malarial tablets in Argentina. So, we agreed that I would try and get them in Brazil.

However, I had made inquiries in Rio de Janeiro at the pharmacies and the pharmacists informed us that they did not dispense this. Perhaps, we could get them further up north.

Then, I had had a conversation with the British couple – Ahmed and Anita – in Olinda. They told me that they had had a talk with a Brazilian doctor and learnt that in Brazil, they DO NOT dispense anti-malarial tablets because they do not recognise that this is a problem in Brazil. Also, the tablets are not 100% fool-proof either. However, if you come down with malaria, they would treat you for it.

Yet, when I asked my hosts from Recife to Fortaleza, and they asked their families and friends, everyone of them insisted that I would be able to obtain vaccine for malaria at a Posto de Saude (Health Post) somewhere up north. Some of them even told me, I would get it for free.

OK, here I am in Belem. My first try was a pharmacy. They directed me to a Posto de Saude along Av. Presidente Vargas opposite to the Post Office. I walked there and made more inquiries at the security guards in front of some buildings with a sign saying something about ‘Saude’ (health). But each of them just kept directing me to yet another office and yet another ministry. One guy then directed me to Farmacia Popular do Brasil. Here, they did not dispense it either.

But the nice guy in there wrote down an address for me and later, accompanied me to the main road, whistled at a bus and asked me to hop on. I showed the fare-collector the address and soon, he told me to alight and waved me towards some building. Now, at this place, finally, they said that they dispense tablets for malaria. Oh, at last!

The security guard asked me if I had fever. Fever? Nonono… I wanted to get ANTI-malarial tablets, not treatment for malaria. Now, he shook his head. Nope, so, after all this wild-goose chase, Ahmed had been right! It was not possible for me to buy anti-malarial tablets. Sheesh, now I have to be very careful not to get bitten while in the Amazons.

Despite the hectic activities in this melting weather and having had nothing to eat since dinner last night, I was not hungry at all. It was so difficult to imagine facing a plate of rice and chicken or beef, or worse, their local dishes of shrimps in some coconut sauces… no way! I could barely force a sandwich down my throat just to fill up the stomach.

I meandered along the docks to Mercado Ver-O-Peso which is the main market here in Belem with the amusing name – See The Weight. Here, there was a whole wide section of stalls selling pastries and drinks, meat and vegetable market, a section selling perfumes and essences of the fruits and flowers of the Amazon and other Indian handicraft souvenirs.

I walked out to the edge and stood facing the Amazon River. This is where the Amazon Basin after meandering through nearly the entire surface area of Brazil dispenses its water – Mouth of the Amazon. Wow, this river would be where my home would sit over the next 5 days or so. But the sun was too glaring for me to linger so I had to flee.

I meandered on and happened upon the ice-cream parlour – Cairu. I think this is the famous ice-cream parlour that Gisele in Natal had told me about. She even recommended me to try a few flavours of ice-cream, especially those unique to the Amazons. I tried – castanha do para. Yum. Maybe tomorrow, I would try another flavour.

Beyond the fort, there was a House of Eleven Windows which, seeing no one rushing over to stop me, I entered. Ah, there was a little garden where one could sit under a tree and admire the Amazon River. The sun was obscured by the tree and finally, I could sit and stare happily. I was once again overwhelmed at where I was located geographically. Wow. I had pointed out to this spot on the map for a while now. I had learnt about the Amazon River as a teenager, and had heard stories about the Amazon, and experiences about the riverboat trips and now, I am RIGHT HERE about to make the trip myself! Wow.

I noticed streaks of brown ribbons of water alternating with the darker brown water of the river and found it odd. I had heard about the Amazon River and the Black River not mixing together even for some distance despite meeting at the confluence. But that happened way back near Manaus. So, what was this? Maybe just reflections and shadows from the sun.

Anyway, I felt a little apprehensive now. On the one hand, I could not wait to get away from Belem. The hotel was… well, I saw a huge rat in the kitchen, and several cockroaches and a lizard in my room. So, I did not quite fancy staying another night and get bitten all over by mosquitoes again. Yet, to spend 5 days in a crowded riverboat would truly be a… ahem… ‘very interesting’ and not to mention, very uncomfortable experience. I wonder what would happen. The days ahead are a complete mystery to me.

Let’s see how the river flows.

32 hours

Tuesday, July 26th, 2005

24 July 2005 (Sunday) – 25 July 2005 (Monday) – Fortaleza to Belém, Brazil

Yesterday, Isabelle had told me she had seen advertisements for air-tickets from Fortaleza to Belém for around R180 – R190. That was just merely R40 – R50 more than the price of the bus-ticket. We made enquiries but found that the flights were booked all the way til August. So, forget it.

She then asked me why don’t I take a flight straight to Manaus. Hmmm… I think this is the part that is difficult to explain. I WANT to take the riverboat up the Amazon River. The point is the journey, not the destination. She nodded in understanding, never going to understand what these foreigners are thinking, coming all the way here to the Amazon, torturing themselves for 5 days in a riverboat with horrendously close contacts with hundreds of people who hang hammocks on top of one another, eating shitty food.

Well, character-building, rites of passage, whatever… I cannot explain it. I mean, if I buy an air-ticket to Manaus, I might as well buy an air-ticket to Buenos Aires and say that I have completed my South America trip.

The guys from the bus company told me it would take 30 hours. OK, this would be the longest bus-ride I had ever taken. Isa and I bid fond farewells to each other at 9am Sunday and I hopped onto the bus. Here we go…

The ride took more than 32 hours! But I had seen another bus in one of the stops – ‘Belém – Rio de Janeiro’. I made some mental calculations based on what I know – Rio to Salvador (26 hours), Salvador to Recife (12 hours), Recife to Natal (4 hours), Natal to Fortaleza (8 hours) and Fortaleza to Belem (30 hours). So, t-h-a-t bus ride would have lasted more than 80 hours!! What a torture!!

I spent the time updating my journal and reading my guidebook and Mario Vargas Llosa‘s ‘The War of the End of the World’. Brazilians are not fond of reading. They do not have the same culture of literature like the Argentines. There were other passengers on the same 32-hour ride who had brought on NOTHING to read or do in the entire ride. They just stared into space and slept. I could not live like this.

Anyway, I was mighty happy to arrive in Belém finally at around 4pm Monday. But, gosh… it was very hot and humid, much worse than Singapore. Yucky! I grabbed a taxi to my hotel – Hotel Fortaleza – which was downright crappy but as it costs only R8, I should not complain at all.

I walked around buying something to cook tonight and before long, by 6pm, all the shops had began to shut and the streets were slowly emptying of people. OK, that gave me the hint that it was not so safe to hang around here at night. So, I returned to the hotel. Anyway, I was exhausted and turned in at around 9pm.

And Then, There Was Samba

Tuesday, July 26th, 2005
23 July 2005 (Saturday) - Fortaleza, Brazil I would be taking the riverboat up the Amazon River once I get to Belem. To travel hammock class, I would need to purchase a hammock. OK, I could do this in Belem, but ... [Continue reading this entry]

Full Moon Party

Tuesday, July 26th, 2005
21 July 2005 (Thursday) - 22 July 2005 (Friday) - Canoa Quebrada, Brazil We packed up and drove to Canoa Quebrada in the late morning. Marilia and Marcelo decided not to join us, oh well. Canoa Quebrada is another beach, but ... [Continue reading this entry]

Que Sufrimento!

Tuesday, July 26th, 2005

20 July 2005 (Wednesday) - Icapui, Brazil

Cristian and Javier had been travelling for 4.5 months now around South America. They started in the opposite direction from where I did. So, they were now at the tail-end of their trip, heading ... [Continue reading this entry]

Bus to Beach

Friday, July 22nd, 2005
19 July 2005 (Tuesday) - Natal to Fortaleza to Icapui, Brazil Gisele, my amazingly giving host, woke up at 3:50am together with me in order to drive me to the rodoviaria. Gosh, and the poor dear had to return to the ... [Continue reading this entry]

A Day In The Life…

Friday, July 22nd, 2005
18 July 2005 (Monday) - Natal, Brazil Gisele is trained as an architect, but she now works as an interior designer. After her lunch break today, Gisele took me to one of her clients' houses (sneakily) to check out the works ... [Continue reading this entry]


Monday, July 18th, 2005
16 July 2005 (Saturday) - 17 July 2005 (Sunday) - Genipabu, Brazil Gisele has a beach house in Genipabu, about 20km north of Natal, near the sand-dunes. A beach house, imagine that! After she returned from work on Saturday afternoon, we took ... [Continue reading this entry]


Monday, July 18th, 2005
15 July 2005 (Friday) - Recife to Natal, Brazil Upon reaching Natal, my host, Gisele, was very kind to come to the rodoviaria to pick me up and very soon, I was brought to her house in the centre of ... [Continue reading this entry]

Boa Viagem!

Friday, July 15th, 2005
14 July 2005 (Thursday) - Recife, Brazil I spent the day today accompanying Katharina to run all her usual errands, having her hair cut, visiting her aunts, going to the gym and her bolero dancing classes. Along the way, I met ... [Continue reading this entry]