Belem is the capital of Para, an Equatorial Brazilian State, with a population of almost two million in its metropolitan area. I have been there on a trip from Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, where I joined a ship bound to Belem for teak and mahogany, bought by a French contractor. Numerous strikes made us stay for almost three months. I liked it even if I know that the guy who chartered our ship wasn’t that happy. One rents the ship with a daily fare which varies according to its capacity. Ours was a 17,000 DWT, general cargo vessel, definitely not suited for lumber, which eventually filled all the decks beside the inner storage spaces.
Being for the second time in Brazil, I was impressed by the changes. They had a monetary reform in a successful attempt to stop a major crisis. First time, I was there during Fernando Collor de Mello‘s term. Almost unknown, but good looking and enough populist in speech, also lucky, he won. He was impeached though, after just two years, when the inflation reaching 1,100% seemed unstoppable. A $100 bill could get you far :). Collor’s Vice President, Itamar Franco, became President and stayed in office until January 1st, 1995 when he was succeeded by Fernando Henrique Cardoso. It’s funny that I got both Franco and Cardoso on the same trip. About the changes I mentioned, the most important one was the replacing of the inflationary Cruzeiro with Reals. One Real beat the American Dollar, because it was $1.20 worth in 1995.
The Air in Belem Was Breathable in the Night
Try to imagine how can your body handle the climate changing from the 45 degree Parallel to Equator in just less than two weeks. I think that it was the maximum period the ship traveled from Las Palmas to Belem.
Note: This is not a touristic post about how Belem is the best destination or where exactly can you waste your time in the city. This is something autobiographic.
I was working until 5 PM, and after a quick shower and a quick dinner, I wanted to feel again the dry land under my feet. One problem, though: They didn’t accept Dollars anymore, and I haven’t figured a black market for that, either. Guess what? The exchange offices closed at 5 PM! So, my next move was to find a hotel where I could trade some of my money. I found a Lojas Americanas Hypermarket very close to the nearest harbor gate; Someone told me that each branch has an exchange office somewhere. Unfortunately the hours didn’t match my schedule, actually, the ship’s schedule. On Av. Presidente Vargas I found a Hilton Hotel, where normally one can’t change dollars unless he is a client there. So, I had to use a little bit of personal charm and cunning to make the receptionist (a naturalized Lebanese immigrant) to accept my first $100 bill. I told him that R70 would be more than enough. He offered me R80, but I said that I’ll accept them on my next transaction. He seemed pleased and recommended me a sort of a bar. I was reluctant but I haven’t showed it. I know that in every port must exist these kind of bars specialized in exploiting sailors.
What I needed was a beer, on a “normal” terrace, to check new prices on my own. On the way back to the ship, I noticed a beautiful spot. It was huge and it was exclusively outdoor. I felt as outside was 40 Celsius Degrees, especially when I left ship and after Hilton, obviously. I had Reals, so I sit and had my first Antarctica of the day. I didn’t need a toilet, I think I did instantly exuded it through all my pores. Beer was R1.5 for a 0.7 litter bottle, served in a Styrofoam cover to increase the coolness sensation.
I asked someone for a Mall or a Cinema Hall. The closest was a little bit far from there, but the hope for an air conditioned space, at least until sundown, was very inviting. I watched Interview with the Vampire, from the transformation of Louis on. I waited the next screening and I watched the beginning, sipping from the second Antarctica and smoking a cigar.
When I went out, the air was breathable again. A little girl came and stick on my chest a small holy icon of the Virgin with child, and invited me to the Cathedral, where a ceremony was celebrating. Christmas was approaching. It was strange. When I left home it was snowing. It also was my first Christmas in a long line of them to come, who was completely different.
On the way back, I had another beer on that outdoor terrace, a couple of hundred meters to the gate. A group of percussionists, like the ones in the video below, beat the drums to the visitors delight.
Belem is a very friendly city. You have to adapt to its high temperatures during the day and to people warmness during the night.
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