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Bienvenue à "My Travel Diary"
Peek into Larissa's travel journal and follow her adventures around the world.
Langue: English
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Gradés : Larissa (Administrator) et samantha

Etes-vous sûr(e) de vouloir quitter ce groupe ?

 Around the size of Switzerland, Marajo is the largest island to be completely surrounded by freshwater in the world. Although its northeast coastline faces the Atlantic Ocean, the outflow from the Amazon is so great that the sea at the mouth is quite unsalty for some distance from shore.


We’d decided to limit our trip to the microregion of Arari (the area closest to Belem!), which included Joanes, Salvaterra, and Soure – in that order – and spend about a week there.  The large boat took about four hours to arrive, and we boarded it with all our luggage.


It was a relaxing trip, and we enjoyed watching the forested islands go by as we drifted down the river.  On arrival it was already starting to get dark, and we took a small bus at the port to Joanes, which was the closest of the three towns.  We’d heard about a Belgian-run hostel with a good book exchange, and asked the bus driver to drop us there.


The hostel was beautiful, set on top of the hill above the beach, with lovely breezes, a comfortable outside social area, and really nice rooms with comfortable beds.  Unfortunately – as is often the way with hostels that achieve first listing in the Lonely Planet –it cost twice as much as we’d expected!  We were both on pretty tight budgets and really weren’t able to afford what they were asking. 


It was already dark and we were still homeless.

 After leaving the boat and hugging the girls goodbye, we caught a cab to the centre of town and found an internet café.  I sent an email to Ricardo to let him know we’d arrived, and luckily, he replied almost instantly.


Not so luckily, he’d forgotten we were coming and wasn’t in Belem!  He apologized profusely, but I realised it was partly my fault since I hadn’t sent a reminder email in the past few weeks.


Carlos and I posted a message in the Belem community group explaining our situation, and quickly received several replies from people offering to host us.  Ah, how did I travel before I knew Couchsurfing?  ;)  We accepted the offer of a girl named Karla, who explained that her husband was travelling for business over the weekend, and she didn’t like being at home on her own.  We organized a place to meet her, and she came to pick us up in the car.


Karla lived in a very small apartment in the centre of Belem with a small dog who was so jumpy she wouldn’t let anyone go near her, and who mostly stayed in the corner eyeing us suspiciously.  We would share the sofabed in the living room.


Karla wasn’t really one for going out much, although she did take us to see some of the sights of Belem including the Teatro da Paz – a beautiful theatre built during the rubber boom some 100 years ago.  We went to a quiet bar in the evening to eat fish, and had a couple of beers each before going home for a quiet night.


Realising that we probably wouldn’t see much excitement in the house of Karla, I suggested we go straight to Ilha Marajo the next day, and Carlos agreed.


Next adventure!


 We call it the Rizla game because Rizla is a brand of cigarette paper in the UK.  You write the name of a celebrity on a Rizla, lick it, and stick it on the forehead of the person next to you so that everyone can see it except them.


Unfortunately, given that none of us were smokers, we didn’t have any Rizlas, so we had to employ a variety of methods including twisting paper into each other’s hair and using chewing gum!

Once everyone has their celebrities stuck to their heads, it’s a game of 20 yes/no questions.  Am I a man?  Am I an actor?  Am I Asian? Etc.  If the answer is yes, you get another question.  If it’s no, the game moves on to the next person.  The first person to guess who they are wins the game.


I was terrible, and didn’t win a single game, but it was all good fun anyway!  Elvis, Monica Lewinsky, Shakira… the British girl continually guessed correctly and won nearly all the games, clearly having played this game many times before.


After the cachaça was finished, we went up to the upper deck and danced to the terrible forro music they were playing. We didn’t know how but it didn’t seem that important!


We slept well that night, and after 2 days of this, finally landed in Belem.


I’d organized for Carlos and I to stay at a couchsurfer’s place named Ricardo, and planned to contact him as  soon as we found an internet café.


Unfortunately… things didn’t go quite as planned.

 This time I was a bit wiser about the boat experience, and we arrived early to hang our hammocks up high.  We also made a trip to the supermarket beforehand, to buy bread, crackers, vegetables, tinned tuna, and a large bottle of cachaça.  I wasn’t into the boat food at ALL and I didn’t intend to eat it this time!  We even learned that there was a small hotplate on board, so I bought some noodles and powdered soup mix as well.


On board we met two German girls and a British girl who were also part of the Couchsurfing network, and I was relieved to have the chance to speak some English for a while.  I know I should have been learning and practicing Portuguese, but…. You know…


We spent a lot of time on the top of the boat, tanning our legs and chatting about our Couchsurfing experiences, reading books, and making macramé bracelets.  During the night we opened the cachaça and some juice, and decided to play some games to pass the time.


We played a couple of different card games, but found that there was no place to sit on the boat where the wind didn’t continue blowing the cards off the table!  We moved onto a few rounds of “I have never” (an evil drinking game) but decided we didn’t really want to get that drunk on the boat. Eventually moved onto ‘The Rizla Game’, which proved to be the winner!



 In the evening we went back to the square to have another caipirinha.  The area was full of ‘hippies’ , which is the common name given to artisans – travellers who make jewelry from macramé or wire, often with dreadlocks, and usually smoking their funny-smelling cigarettes.  But these hippies weren’t smoking, they were running  a clown skills workshop for children!  It was a lot of fun to watch – there must have been 40 or 50 people in the square, and they were learning to juggle, climb rope, climb on top of each other, and twirl batons.  The children were having a great time, laughing and trying to better each other.


The nightlife was pretty much non-existent after sundown in Alter do Chao, so we generally slept quite early and woke up early to appreciate the beaches.

After a couple of days, Juan had to leave to continue his journey, but Carlos and I decided to stay on a bit longer.  We found a man renting out paddleboats, which I confess to loving, but the best thing was an enormous swan boat that awoke the child inside me.   Carlos was too embarrassed to translate for me, so I went over the guy and asked him in portunhol how much it would cost to rent the swan boat.


After I’d closed the transaction I of course forced Carlos to join me in the swan, which he did without too much complaining.  In fact, the boat was heavy, difficult to turn, and kind of a pain, but we did get some excellent photos from the experience.

After a week of this – fish, beer, caipirinhas, beaches – it was time to get moving again.


Back on the boat!

 The next day we hired kayaks and went out to explore the area. 


Alter do Chao is at the junction of two rivers, Tapajós and Amazonas, which don’t mix.  Because of this, one side of the island has brown water, and the other side is bright blue.  You can see from my pictures the huge difference in the water.


The size and shape of Alter do Chao differs hugely at different times of year, as the rivers rise and fall.  In our kayak trip we came across the roofs of bars and restaurants.  When we were there, only the thatched tops were visible, and as we got closer we found that refrigerators and other appliances had been secured to the ceiling with rope!  Later in the year, there would be a stretch of beach here, and the these bars would be full of tourists sipping caipirinhas and eating fish.


In Alter do Chao I also discovered the key to the mystery of blonde leg hair.  You see, ever since I’d arrived in Manaus, I’d noticed a lot of women in this region had dark colouring, but blonde arm and leg hairs.  I’d found this odd, but of course – it’s not something you can ask a stranger about.  In Alter do Chao we came across numerous women on the beach covering themselves with a kind of white cream  and laying in the sun for a while, before washing it off in the water.


Seemed more complicated than waxing or shaving to me, but oh well… each to their own…



 Carlos was the kind of guy who laughed at you when you make a mistake, and this drives me crazy.  Don’t patronize me you jerk… it’s your freaking language, of COURSE you speak it better than me!  Arrgghh!  I stopped trying altogether because of the supreme irritation I felt every time he chuckled at my errors.  And of course, with Carlos around, I didn’t HAVE to speak Portuguese.  I make him translate for me everywhere, sending him to buy beers or speak to the staff when necessary.  My Portuguese was not coming along at all, and I hadn’t even started looking at the book Suelem had lent me.


It was ok; I still had plenty of time…


The next day we pulled into Santarem, and the 3 of us caught a bus to Alter do Chao, which is only about an hour away.  We found ourselves a cheap hotel where we all shared a room, and changed immediately into beach gear.

Alter do Chao was beautiful!  In fact, in 2009 it was chosen by English newspaper The Guardian as the most beautiful freshwater beach in the world.  The town was tiny, and the beaches were lovely.  It was already afternoon so we didn’t do much on the first day, just ate a fish lunch on the beach (yep… I had already decided that I was going to at least start eating fish), and then had some caipirinhas in the square.  Actually, this was my first ever caipirinha – a typical Brazilian cocktail made from cachaça, lime, and sugar. 


Delicious.  I saw more of these caipirinhas in my future.


 The food was all about the red meat.  We were served a kind of stew with meat and vegetables, and the best I could do was pick the meat out and put it on Carlos’s plate.  Of course, the liquid was all meaty, and the vegetable were cooked in the juice of the meat, but as they say – beggars can’t be choosers.  So mostly I ate bread, rice and some meat-soaked vegetables.


Yes, my vegetarianism was looking precarious here in Brazil.  This was not a veggie-friendly country right here.


The second day on the boat was a little quieter than the second, the novelty having worn off somewhat.  I did a bit of reading, and drank considerably less.  We saw a couple of dolphins that day, and Carlos explained the differences to me between the pink and grey dolphins.  The pink dolphin’s dorsal fin is shaped like a hump rather than wave, and they tend to be less playful than grey dolphins.  In fact, we saw a number of times in the journey that grey dolphins often jump right out of the water, whereas pink dolphins barely show their fin as they leave and reenter the river.


We met a friendly Spanish guy named Juan on the boat who started hanging out with us.  This didn’t help my Portuguese, of course, since Carlos started speaking Spanish too.  But actually, Carlos was not proving particularly useful to the development of my Portuguese.  In fact, he was positively detrimental.

 I wanted to go upstairs and sleep on the top deck, but I had no mattress, sleeping bag, pillow or ANYTHING, and apart from that they’d washed the floors and it was all wet up there.


I looked for another place to hang my hammock but the place was packed – there was nowhere else.


I eventually tried to curl up on the floor on top of my backpack but it was the most uncomfortable thing EVER.  Carlos awoke to the sound of me whining and crying in frustration, swapped hammocks with me, and went back to sleep.  The woman in his face didn’t seem to bother him at all!


The next morning when I awoke, the woman on top of me had either left the boat or moved her hammock.  Not surprising really, given my incessant complaining and the elbows to her back!


The boat food was pretty bad.  It was around this time that I’d started rethinking my vegetarianism.  Several times in Manaus I’d found myself with nothing to eat but fish, rice, beans and salad.  I know, rice beans and salad sounds like reasonable vegetarian food, but know this… beans in Brazil are cooked with big chunks of fatty red meat, and the ‘salad’ in and around Manaus consisted of slices of raw tomato and onion.  I don’t even like raw tomato that much, and let’s face it… who loves big chunks of raw onion??


And now, on the boat, the only meal that was vegetarian was the breakfast.  Bread and coffee.  I guess I’d been prepared to eat fish, but how stupid I had been, imagining there would be fish on the boat!