How I love discovering and visiting new places, especially when it involves South America, a region of the world filled with culture, beauty, vast natural interests and a blend of languages and cultures.
This recent excursion would send us to Belém, Brazil for several days of eating and exploring around the entrance to the Amazon. My South American experiences have always centered around Argentina and Uruguay, so checking out Brazil had me exhilarated and giddy, not to mention that I’d be traveling with Aida and Gaby, two of my closest friends.
As guests of TAM Airlines, I was excited to learn more about their destinations, check out their fleet, and experience their business class cabin. But first, I must thank Blacklane Limousine for getting me to LAX in style, and with their app it made booking so effortless. Thanks, guys!
Belém is the largest city in the state of Pará, located in the north of Brazil. It’s referred to as sitting at the entry gate to the Amazon River. Speaking with tour guides and locals, it became clear that we weren’t near Amazon territory — we were actually in Amazon Territory, a fact that many visitors to the area often ask about. But I could see how you’d reach that conclusion as it’s easy to overlook thanks to Belém’s sprawling urban center and population. However, just a quick drive out of the city quickly puts you amidst fields of low-lying trees that slowly become the jungle before you even notice. And just like that you are in the Amazon, left with the feeling that you are far away from anything.
Contrasting the city-meets-jungle experience can be a wee bit hard for this photographer to grasp. One second you’re among skyscrapers, the next minute you are in a forest so dense, so thick that is seems downright impenetrable. To truly experience it, we boarded a ferry for a 3-hour ride to the large island of Marajo, known as Ilha De Marajo. Rustic and rich of texture in a way that only sun, sea and river air can affect, it felt as if we were in the middle of nowhere. One noticeable fact about Marajo: BUFFALO! They wander freely and also do double duty as transportation. They also supply milk for the local regional cheese called Marajoara. Lean and tangy, it so closely resembles a fresh cheese made from cow’s milk than what you might be inclined to think. It’s definitely Latin and Central American in taste and freshness, something I certainly love. Having visited water buffalo in Italy, these Brazilian cousins have a docility and ease I have never experienced. Approachable, friendly, and with distinct personalities, you still have to be careful when approaching, especially anything with horns this big!
We even took a ride! I chose the buffalo who was doing his own thing prior to saddling up, a mistake I later learned as he was more interested in exploring the thick brush for snacks than follow the rest of our group to the destination.
A quick riverboat tour allowed for some miraculous selfies on our way to lunch and to visit a local chocolate maker. This house business did it all: they grew the cocoa plant, nurtured it, harvested it, ground it and processed it, delivering a hunk of raw chocolate to chefs and restaurants in the area. All done by hand without the trappings of modern equipment, I imagined I was going to back in time and visiting my ancestors as they made chocolate.
Back in Belém, our tour was organized by Paratur, the government-run tourism office for the state of Para. I was looking forward to trying local dishes and various offerings at Ver-o-peso, the largest outdoor market in the region. As much as I love to travel, I have to say that Amazonian ingredients and flavors did make me feel like I was visiting another planet: new, unique, and different to me. In fact, we all struggled a bit with how to share the flavors of Belém with you via a blog post as many things are unique to the area and grown nowhere else. Chalk this one up as a win for true locality and anti-globalization!
Let’s look at some photos!