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Manaus - Belem, Brazil 14 - 16 May

We had originally intended to make 2-night stopovers in Santarém (two hours east of Manaus on the Amazon River ) and São Luis (capital of Maranhão state on the coast).  But, thanks to Jeppesen messing up the shipment of aviation charts to Tobago, we were running one day late.  Several people told us Belém was more interesting than Santarém and we had already visited São Luis on our last visit to Brazil in 1997, so we decided on making just one stopover of 3 nights in Belém.

The nice young lad who met us on arrival in Manaus was waiting for us at the airport to help with the departure as well.  He took us to the office to pay the landing fee of US$ 110 and called the fuel company.  At US$ 1.30 a litre, the fuel was around 4 times the price in Venezuela, but it still doesn't beat the record for the most expensive fuel we've bought on the trip (Greece and Kuching, Borneo).

About an hour later we were ready to take off.   The weather was fine apart from a 20 knot headwind which increased the flight time by about half an hour to 5 hours 46 minutes.  Our flight path took us over the Amazon practically the whole way.  This was reassuring because, in case of engine failure,  it would be better to ditch in the river than tackle the treetops of the rain forest.  On the other hand, we would have to get the life raft out quickly to avoid a close encounter with an alligator or a piranha!

We began to see the first nasty cumulus nimbus clouds of the day as we approached Belém. But we were in luck. They were beyond the airport so we didn't have to fly through them.  It started bucketing down as we drove into town in a taxi.   The friendly driver recited a little rhyme 'Chuva no ceu, piloto no hotel' (rain in the sky, pilot [safely] at the hotel). We went to the Sagres Hotel, recommended by a man at the air taxi desk. I was able to negotiate a 15% discount on the already reasonable rate. Apart from the landing fees for foreign aircraft, we are finding Brazil much cheaper than 5 years ago.  Then, one Real equalled one dollar.  Now there are about 2.5 Reais to the dollar, and the prices in Reais don't seem to have increased much.

At Margi Moss's recommendation, we took a taxi to 'As Docas' for dinner.  These are the newly renovated docks of Belém near the 'Ver o peso' market and the restaurants there are the finest in town.  We chose to eat at Lá Em Casa which serves local specialities.  We started with casquinhas de caranguejo (stuffed crabs) washed down with excellent caipirinhas, followed by fish in coconut sauce and pato no tucupí (duck in a tangy yellow sauce made of manioc).   One of the best meals I've ever eaten in Brazil and I lived in Rio for 8 years! And while we ate, there was live bossa  nova music playing from an overhead crane that had been modified to provide a mobile platform for a band.

We had a lot of e-mail and web duties while in Belém and our spacious hotel room was a great place to work.  During our two days there we also found time to wander around the 'Ver o peso' market (meaning 'Watch the weight') and visit the excellent Museu Emilio Goeldi with its aquarium and zoo of Brazilian animals and birds. We also visited the Museo do Cirio which contains offerings made to Nossa Senhora de Nazaré by grateful believers who reckoned that she helped them through some crisis or other in their lives. The intriguing offerings varied from babies' clothes from a woman who had given birth with the saint's help, to crutches from a man who had suffered a bad accident, to a model boat from a guy who was saved from a bad storm at sea.

Our second evening was spent at the Cosanostra bar where there was a live band and we could have a meal.  It is supposedly frequented by bohemians, artists and intellectuals.  Unfortunately most of the 'bohemians' smoked so we went upstairs where we could watch the scene below and breathe cleaner air.  The band wasn't all that brilliant.  While they played, they seemed to be more interested in watching the football match on TV!

We went on a sunset riverboat cruise on our last evening and were delighted to find we were the only non-Brazilians on board.  Our fellow passengers were apparently tourists from other parts of the huge country. There was a super little band that played local music and a couple of professional dancers to liven up the scene.  And towards the end, we even persuaded Flemming to join in the dancing!

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Along the Amazon from Manaus to Belém

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View of Belém on the approach
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Outside 'As Docas', the restored docks of Belém, with the best restaurants in town
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Talking parrot fashion!
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Fishermen's boats near the 'Ver o peso' market
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One of the many creatures we saw in the park of the Museo Emilio Goeldi
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The huge 'baking tin' water lilies are Vitoria Regia
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Dancing on  board the sunset cruise boat
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