Eastern Pará Part Deux: Of Amazonian Oktoberfests, Círio, Apple Crisp and More

Bragtown, PA:

After spending a few days chillaxing (that’s a combination of chilling and relaxing…in case you’re wondering) in Belém, we headed out to visit the two Fulbrighters in Bragança (or Bragtown, PA as it’s affectionately known). The city of 100,000 people is located three hours southeast of Belém and is known for its fishing industry and laid-back small town feel.

After arriving safely and without incident (which considering the driving habits in Pará is something of a blessing) in Bragtown, we made a quick turnaround and six of us headed to a beach located on the Atlantic about an hour outside of the city.  I have no trouble saying that the small town has one of the finest (and most unique) beach vibes I’ve encountered in Brazil to date.  We spent the night celebrating Oktoberfest on what felt like our own beach (it was midweek so it was deserted) and had a generally splendiferous time. Between the massive windswept beach, uber-cool shipwreck, and insanely low prices, I have to give the excursion two thumbs WAY up.  On Wednesday afternoon we packed up our things and headed back to Bragança for another day of eating and good conversation. A pretty darn fine three days if I don’t say so myself…

…I’d also note that we saw the famous “Jesus Fish” at the beach…it literally walks on water…

The cab ride:

Um what was that? 160 KMs/hour…passing on blind curves…laughing as he was doing it…?…?…? The cab driver we hired to bring us back to Belém from Bragtown was quite possibly the craziest “bleeper” I’ve ever had the misfortune of being driven by.  Nothing more Paraense than operating a motor vehicle with complete disregard for the lives of the people in your car and other’s on the road.  The three of us arrived back in Belém a little confused and in serious need of a stiff alcoholic beverage. Welcome to Pará.

Círio de Nazaré:

What a weekend. Círio de Nazaré is the largest religious gathering in the western hemisphere (and considered by some scholars the largest religious event in the world) and more important that Christmas to the average Paraense. In case you’re wondering…it’s a pretty big deal around these parts. Here’s a bit of background on and facts about the holiday for starters…

According to popular understanding, in 1700 a farmer and lumberman named Placido found an image of the Virgin Mary at the margin of a small creek in Belém. He decided to take the image home and according to legend the small statue miraculously returned to the place where it was found.  Gradually, word of the event spread throughout the Amazon region and believers from all over the Brazilian north began traveling to Belém to see the image.  Over time, the tradition of Círio developed and today millions of people flock to Belém on the second weekend in October (culminating with Círio on Sunday) to partake in the long procession of faith that follows the image through the streets of Belém.  The event is characterized by extreme religious devotion, emotion, and sacrifice and many people make a multi-day pilgrimage on foot from the Amazonian interior to participate.

I now offer you a few thoughts and reflections from a few Círio’d out days…

  • Three million people participated on Sunday…that’s what you call a “multidão de gente.”
  • On Saturday afternoon I finally tried the famous Paraense food known as “Maniçoba” at the UFPA Fulbright coordinator’s swanky Círio house party. The dish is made from manioc leaves, sausage, bacon, and…looks like the most disgusting thing in the world. They have to stew the manioc leaves for seven days to remove the extremely poisonous hydrogen cyanide in order to make the food safe for consumption. All told, I’d have to give one and a half thumbs up to eastern Pará’s most famous dish…delicious…but kind of weird.

  • Seeing hundreds of people walking in sandals along the highway to Belém (a few hours out by car mind you) was a sight I won’t soon forget. Apparently, when the travelers arrive in the capital they are offered food, water, showers and…foot messages…free of charge.
  • On Saturday night we all headed into the streets to watch the “Transladação” (or “Transfer” in English). Madness to the max. Surrounded by one million onlookers, people in the procession were fainting left and right from the incredible heat.  The combination of choral music, packed streets, and pain-stricken participants (who were carrying the 700 KG “chord” through the streets…in bare feet) made for quite the spectacle.

  • People crying as the image passed them by…pretty intense.
  • Círio T-shirts: Everybody and their uncle has them…and they’re kinda sorta hilariously awesome.

  • Drag show: As a form of political protest and plain-old-fun, Belém’s gay community set up a massive drag show right by the Transladação procession on Saturday night.  Considering both the Catholic Church’s official stance on and general Brazilian public attitude towards homosexuality, check plus plus plus to all involved in the event.

Trip conclusion:

Slam dunk. Great time. The end.

Other happenings:

  • I’m planning on heading into the jungle one last time at some point in the next few weeks to help the Fishguy out with his research. Should be fun..
  • Went to a movie theater for the first time in some eight months on Friday. Sitting in dark room with comfy chairs, air-conditioning, and a movie playing…glorious. Nothing like a good ol’ slice of America in the Amazon. Love it. Love it. Love it.
  • One of the Fulbrighters in Bragança is a baker extraordinaire and she whipped together chocolate chip cookies and apple crisp when we were there…again…a slice of America in the Amazon…yes please.

  • The Fulbright coordinator that graciously opened up her home to us for Círio has a pair of Dachshunds…I’m definitely going to miss falling asleep on the couch with one of them snoozing by my head.

That’s about all I have for now. Headed back to the ‘Rem in a few hours for the final stretch. Until next Monday, have a good week!

Amazonically,

Andy

P.S A full picture album of the trip will be up on Facebook at some point later this week…brace yourselves for that people!

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