The Lost Children of Pará Head East: Belém Funtimes

Here is a little map of my nine-day eastern Pará adventure…

Eastward bound!

Oh hello Belém! Given the fact that I’ve been to over 12 cities and seen every region of Brazil, I feel somewhat embarrassed that it took me until October to finally visit the capital of my home state. Nonetheless, I couldn’t be more stoked about the nine days I have planned in eastern Pará.  Together with SEVEN other Fulbrighters, Donovan and I have put together a splendiferously fantastic itinerary that’ll give us a nice taste of the OTHER Pará.  Here’s a quick overview of where we’ve been and where we’re headed in the days ahead…

  • Belém Part Um October 6th – 8th: We flew into the capital on Saturday and have spent the last couple of days taking in the sights, sounds, and tastes around town.  Belém has three Fulbrighters in it and they’ve graciously offered to show us around town a bit.  In light of the madness that will ensue next weekend, we figured actually seeing “normal” Belém might be a wise choice for a few days.
  • Bragtown October 9th – 11th: Eastern Pará is home to not only three Fulbrighters in Belém, but also two more in the quiet little sea-side town of Bragança.  Located about 4 hours by car from the capital, Bragança has been described to me as a “little Santarem.”  Between the slow internet, unpaved streets, and toasty weather, it should be interesting to see how the girls are fairing out there.  We’re planning on spending the three days enjoying some beautiful beaches and drinking caiparinhas…I can deal…I guess…
  • Belém Part Dois October 12th – 15th: Círio, Círio, Círio. This part needs little introduction and even less explanation. Two million people in the streets…the largest religious festival in Brazil…should be craziness. MORE next Monday…

You may be asking yourself…why the title? Well, Donovan and I like to think of ourselves as the “Lost Children of Pará.” While the five Fulbrighters out east have gotten to hang out with each other on a fairly regular basis (spending weekends in one another’s cities) and formed a little Pará family, Donovan and I have been…chilling (would baking be the more appropriate word?)…isolated…in the ‘Rém.

The Capital:

Belém reminds me of Manaus…a lot. Much like “The Jungle City”, Belém mixes the rainforest, colonial architecture, and urbanity in an unmistakable and distinctive way.  Located on the Pará River (which is the southern arm of the mouth of the Amazon River), Belém is often considered the eastern gateway to the Amazon region and serves as a major export hub for the Brazilian north.  Since the first Amazonian rubber boom years of the 1860’s the city has gone through extreme periods of opulence and relative destitution that are very much reflected in the city’s makeup. Next to a gorgeous piece of colonial architecture you might find a totally dilapidated building.  Nonetheless, the city’s ever-expanding skyline has definitely given me a sense that Belém is a place that matters and has a bright future ahead. Here are a few observations, thoughts, and reflections (plus pictures of course) from my first three days in the capital…

  • Might as well be a different state…or country: Since Saturday it has never ceased to amaze me that Belém and Santarém are the two largest cities in Pará.  Culturally, economically, and even linguistically the two cities feel like different worlds and it is hard to imagine that they call the same state home.  The east versus west divide is more apparent to me than ever before. The 500 miles between Santarém and Belém don’t big to do justice to the cultural ocean that separates them.  Whether or not that is a good enough reason for western Pará to split off and form the state of Tapajós…is a different issue entirely…
  • Greenery: Parks, tree-lined streets…yes please. I’ve been in need of some greenery (as Santarém is totally devoid…ironically) in my life and Belém has delivered. The city is full of nicely maintained parks and pleasant tree-lined streets…glorious.

  • Rainiest city in the whole wide world: Well…that’s probably hyperbolic. But Belém is considered one of the western Hemisphere’s rainiest cities and one of the rainiest “major” cities in the world. There is literally no dry season. Just wet…and wetter (kind of like Santarém being hot and hotter). It rains in the afternoon everyday and…I’m loving every minute of it. The cooling rains make night pleasant and the temperature never gets to the point of being unbearable.
  • Architecture: Colonial to the max. Many of the city’s architectural landmarks look like they were cut straight out of 17th century Lisbon (which was apparently the inspiration for the early development of Belém). As you wind your way around the narrow streets of the “Cidade Velha” (or “Old City) you are transported to a different time and a VERY different place. Pretty cool.

  • Colors: I. LOVE. THE. COLORS. OF. THE. BUILDINGS. HERE.

  • Smelly: The city has more than a few stinky spots. Makes Santarém almost smell good by comparison. That takes some effort…
  • Donovan and I hit up the “Restaurante Popular” at UFPA (where two of the Fulbrigthers are working) earlier today…$1 dollar meal…of course we did.

  • Good internet: No explanation required.

Other happenings:

  • An Andy’s Bookclub Recommendation: Go out and buy (or Kindle download if that’s your estilo) yourself a copy of “Thinking: Fast and Slow” by psychologist (and co-founder of Prospect Theory) Daniel Kahneman.  If you have interest in understanding how we make decisions and try to navigate and make sense of the maddeningly unpredictable world, this is the book for you. Readable, informative, and thought-provoking, it constantly challenged me to apply its concepts to my own biases, assumptions, and judgments.  This is one of the two (along with Nick Kristoff’s “The Other Half of the Sky”) best books I’ve had the pleasure of reading this year…period. Get it…you’ll be glad you did.
  • Our Thursday/Friday English conversation section is really really really great. This week we focused on literature. The students wrote their own poetry and read/analyzed a Nathaniel Hawthorne short story…two absolutely successful classes. Just a joy to work with such a good group.
  • The Classico was bloody fantastic yesterday. Barca vs. Madrid turned into Messi vs. Ronaldo.  Let the “best in the world” polemics continue. Messi is the more unstoppable force…Ronaldo has had the better year. I’d vote for Ronaldo for the Balon d’Or…if my opinion mattered at all…
  • The idea of my imminent return to the states is starting to become a tangible reality…scary how time flies.

That’s about all I have for now. I’d like to once again pat myself on the back for another blog bost. Get ready to hear ALL about the madness of Círio next Monday. Until then, have a good week!

NotSantarémly,

Andy

P.S If you get lucky…you might actually get new Andyinhat.tumblr.com photos at some point soon!

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