Walking out of the port of Belem is a bit like going to a loud and lively disco in the middle of the morning. There is music everywhere, not the insipid piped music we have got used to in the UK, but an insistent, vibrant beat that carries you along with it whether you want to or not.
The assault on the senses stays with you wherever you go in Belem. It is not just the noise, although the music is often challenged by megaphones booming out sales pitches and individuals singing just for the fun of it, but the colour, the activity levels and, of course, the heat. Walking along the main road (sticking to the shady side) we stopped to buy a lurid pink umbrella from a display that had been opportunely placed in anticipation of the forecast rain later in the day. Many of the shops are gearing up for Carnival which starts in a few weeks’ time, with fabrics, feathers and every conceivable accessory you might want for the all-important costume.
Chopping cassava in the market
We walked past the massive open air market, where there was a frenzy of chopping – herbs, cassava, brazil nuts, fish, and lots of stuff we did not recognise. By the harbour black vultures were circling, swooping occasionally to catch bits of cast off fish. The town has obviously seen better days: there are holes in the roads and the pavements, and the grand colonial buildings now have a rather neglected appearance. But the Cathedral is well kept, as was the interior of a small side street church where we stopped for some respite from the midday sun and found a lunchtime mass (complete with guitars and singing) in full flow.
Old colonial buildings in Belem
We wanted to try some local food so stopped at a tiny café with rickety tables and chairs where food was being cooked on a makeshift barrow. My few words of Portuguese met with blank looks so I took pot luck and resorted to sign language to indicate that we wanted something to eat and drink. We were served with a cheap and delicious plate of rice, noodles, manioc, black beans, chicken and stewed vegetables. I later learnt that this is a classic Brazilian dish.
The cafe where we had our lunch. You have to imagine the noise and the heat!