Friday, February 25, 2022

[BELÉM] Where the River Meets the Sea


I could have easily flown out of either Galeão or Guarulhos back to the US (‘MERICA!) but where’s the fun in that? Since I had a few days to spare anyway, I thought hey, why not transit in a northern Brazilian state? And then Suriname suddenly opened up post-Omicron surge, and then there are several direct flights linking Paramaribo and Belém twice or thrice a week. It was settled then. And that’s how I ended up in Belém on my way out. My only reason for being here was to get a negative Antigen result. But I got guilty, okay? So, I spent an hour or two walking around the historic city center. Not bad, I’d say.


As you might already know, the northern Brazilian states are often considered as too far from the popular tourist circuits of the East. Most people would go Northeast to enjoy the beaches and biggest Carnivals in February, while many would head Southeast to experience Brazil’s biggest and most crowded cities. The north and northwest? Why go there? You want Yellow Fever or something? While the region constitutes almost half of the country’s overall land area, it is sparsely populated compared to its eastern and southern counterparts.


Since I was pressed for time, I asked Google what the most touristy place would be to visit, and we ended up agreeing upon the Feliz Lusitânia area, a tourist complex with a fort, a church or two as well as a house with eleven windows. Guess what the church is called? Nah, don’t. Churches here always tend to be a Sé or a Carmo cathedral. Those Catholics from way back defo ran out of creativity as far as naming conventions were concerned.


Igreja da Sé is also known as the Metropolitan Cathedral of Belém. It was open when I was there, but I did not enter anymore. I mean, I was already scorched with sunburn because the sun was angry. Would I really risk getting burned alive for the heretic that I am? The cathedral is all white on the outside with some traces of red brick roofing on the side. It faces a large green square called Praça Dom Frei Caetano where your chances of ending up comatose in an ICU somewhere after getting hit by a skater boy or a skater girl rises to 75%. I made that number up. Sue me.


There is another white building with the same motif on the other side of the street. It used to be a church if my intel is correct but has since been converted into a museum. It now houses the Museu de Arte Sacra do Pará. Adjacent to this building facing the riverbanks is a fort called Presépio. The entrance fee is BRL4 (~PHP40) which is cheap. I can’t decide whether it was worth it because the place is so small. It does provide a high vantage point of the river, though, and there are three or four canons on the walls where camwhores will have a very jolly time. The market is also slightly visible from there.


The palace with eleven windows is an exhibit venue and also plays host to a restaurant. It has a terrace overlooking the river if that is your thing. The water is not really the main attraction here in Belém’s old town. Unlike its neighbors to the east that have gorgeous beaches to brag about, Belém’s location where the sea snakes into the river estuaries that flow farther inland means all you’ll see is brown. If you want to be adventurous, you can always find a tour agency for a river/jungle cruise. Feel free to invite The Rock and Emily Blunt.


As for me, apparently, I am not heretic enough to burn inside a church, as I sought refuge inside the other church called Carmo a bit farther away from the plaza. This one, I actually enjoyed because of the aesthetics of the interior. The ceilings are adorned with paintings bathed in sky blue while the walls are full of religious sculptures. What grandeur this church lacks outside, it defo makes up for inside. And that was Belém for me.


Remember, the northern Brazilian state of Pará is not Belém alone. In fact, look at a map and you’ll be surprised how big the state actually is. If you want to explore South America’s Amazon region, Belém is probably one of the better places to establish a base prior to venturing deeper into those verdant jungles.

[BELÉM] Where the River Meets the Sea

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