Condemn or a Gem? Belem in Brazil - Day 582
In the late 1800s, Belém, a small city on the shores of the Amazon blossomed. The boom of the Rubber Industry turned the gateway to the Amazon into a hive of activity, bringing more Europeans and wealth to the area. Wide grand roads edged with opulent European style houses were constructed with beautiful fountains to circumnavigate. For entertainment, the glorious neoclassical Teatro da Paz with its columns, busts and Italian designed theatrical interior was built. The city was even nicknamed 'the tropical Paris'. Our first stop was Mangal das Garças Park, created in 2005. It's a pretty park with neat borders of tropical plants enjoyed by couples holding hands, wearing their Sunday best, Iguanas basking in the sun and turtles taking a dip in the lakes. There were an amazing array of birds; the flamingoes were so comical, strutting around with a haughty expression. Perhaps they were jealous of the Scarlet Ibis's incredible colour?
We stopped to have fresh coconut. Crikey, there must have been a litre of the refreshingly healthy liquid; we sat for ages getting through it and pleased to be given a paper straw.
Next on the agenda was the Ver-o-Peso Market, a pleasant 20 walk through the old part of the city, renowned for being rather seedy at night. Sadly, after the rubber industry declined, provoking a bloody civil war in Belém, many grand buildings have been left to decay. They remind me of Miss Havisham's Satis House in Great Expectations. At least the fabulous street art brightens up the area.
We popped into the Catedral da Sé. Lonely Planet describes the exterior as gleaming a brilliant white. I am not sure when the book was written, but it certainly doesn't gleam now. Tim and I are not fans of grand Cathedrals. The extravagant spending and ostentatious decor irk us. We didn't spend long in there. At last, we reached the Market lining the Guajará River. Despite being mid-afternoon, it was still buzzing with street sellers calling out their bargains for the day and loud cheers resounding amongst the bars when the Brazilian women's football team scored a goal. We bought some fruit — no need to bargain here. At 50p for pineapple and 20p for a bunch of bananas, we already had some excellent deals.
Just up the riverside was Estação das Docas, a renovation project converting dilapidated warehouses into trendy restaurants, bars and shops. We stopped and watched a group of older people having fun, dancing and singing, and later saw an out of place large Iguana scurrying along the dock edge. What was it doing there? It was great to see this renovation from 2000, however, perhaps the money could have been better spent? Repairing pavements and roads would be a start.