You’ve already had a chance to read about my ferias traveling around the nordeste with Michell. But after a not-so-relaxing four days at home, I packed up my suitcase again and headed off to Belém, Pará for a week! The main purpose of my trip was to attend COPENE 2014, a conference on race and affirmative action in Brazil, but I planned my week so I would have about 3 and half days of touring before the conference started! It was a great plan.
I got it around midnight on July 25th, met up with fellow Fulbrighter and friend Amy, and headed over to our hostel where we went right to sleep! Saturday, we decided to hit up some of the museums and the famous Mercado Ver-o-Peso. One of the things that stood out to us right away way, despite the fact that we were in the Amazon, there were European neoclassical buildings all over. A theater here, a mansion there. It was really odd!
When we made it to our first stop, the Art Museum of Belém, we asked about the architecture, and the man’s response was just as ridiculous as we had hoped: “Well, they wanted to make the Europeans feel at home in such a foreign environment…” I’m pretty sure the Europeans were fine at making themselves at home in foreign countries, but that’s a separate issue. As a result, ,you see these spectacular, ornately decorated buildings throughout the Cidade Velha (or old part of the city).
After visiting the art museum and the City Museum of Belém (also housed in a neoclassical mansion), we decided to eat some typical paraense food. Being in the Amazon, the comida típica food from Pará is totally different from the other Brazilian food I’ve eaten. And I therefore made it my mission to try at least one new thing everyday. First up, maniçoba. Maniçoba is similar to feijoada, a traditional Brazilian bean stew made by slow cooking black beans with various animal parts until you have this nice thick stew. However, maniçoba uses the leaves of the mandioc root instead of beans. These leaves have to be cooked for 7-10 days before they become palatable and only then do they become maniçoba.
It wasn’t my favorite food (I found it really salty), but I was happy that my mission was off to a good start. After our lunch, Amy and I decided to wander to the Mercado Ver-o-Peso, an incredible centuries-old food market that has everything you can possibly imagine and more! I’ve never seen so many varieties of fruit in my life! We hopped over to the juice stands, since everyone talks about the delicious fruits that only exist in this region, and were immediately taken aback by a list of fruits that were mostly unfamiliar.
Without any idea of what it actualy was, we decided to try Bacurí. It was delicious! We stayed in the area of the market and the Estação das Docas (old shipping docks converted into a chique restaurant/shopping space) before realizing we needed a break at our hostel.
While Amy and I had been alone in the dorm Friday night, we got back Saturday afternoon to discover we had our first roommate, Selma. On Sunday, we decided to go together to the Feira de Artesenato a local artisan craft fair that happens every Sunday! Once again, we decided to eat comida típica for lunch and today’s selection was Tacacá, a soup known for using jambu leaves, which I had been dying to try. Selma and I walked up to the food cart and immediately ordered tacacá without thinking twice.
The verdict: odd. There was one ingredient, goma, that I really didn’t like, but otherwise it was pretty good. The jambu leaves have a really tart flavor and leave your whole mouth/tongue tingling. It was cool! Goma, on the other hand, is this weird mucus-like goop that’s put into the soup.
Had I known you could order Tacacá without goma, I’m sure I would have loved it, but both Selma and I had trouble getting the goma down.
After lunch, we decided to check out the Museu Emilio Goeldi, a historic museum and zoo! We saw so many cool animals, including these beautiful jaguars and stunning macaws, but we were a little disappointed that the advertised anaconda and manatee were nowhere to be found. But, for R$2, it was a great deal. The park was also filled with this incredible plant life, as well as cool animals, and it was a great way to spend our afternoon.
Saturday was also when our friends Amber and Michelle arrived from their small city in Rio Grande do Sul. They literally traveled the entire country to get to the conference, and I was so great to spend the week with them! For dinner, we decided to try another typical food: açaí. You may be thinking “wait, I though açaí was all over Brazil…” and you’d be right. I eat açaí all the time. But the açaí I eat is mixed with sugar, guaraná powder, and other sweet things and we eat it with fruit. In Pará, the home of the açaí berry, they eat it all natural. Not only do they eat it plain, but they eat it with their regular food like fish, rice, and beans! But I’ll get to that a little later. Our açaí was served in a big bowl with a side of sugar and tapioca flour (for texture).
It was so weird to eat açaí this way! It wasn’t sweet at all (and I subsequently added more sugar to mine in order to finish it), and it was kind of bitter, but the actual taste of açaí was the same! It was so cool! I definitely think I prefer my açaí with granola and banana, but I’m glad I ate it!
On Monday, two more friends, Kate and Abby, arrived from Natal! We went back to ver-o-peso and drank more delicious juice, and enjoyed a relaxing afternoon indoors (since all the touristy things are closed on Mondays). In the evening, we headed over to Estação das Docas to drink some Amazon Beer, a brand of beer from Pará made with local ingredients like açaí and bacurí! I’m not a huge beer drinker (or drinker in general), but these were so good! It was a great way to end out day together.
The conference began on Tuesday, but not until 7pm, so Amy and I decided to tour around with other women from our hostel. They were so cool! Everyone at the hostel was there for COPENE and they were a great group of people! We had so much with them throughout the week, but Tuesday was definitely a highlight.
We started off by checking out the famous fort, the first structure built by the Portuguese in Belém.
It was tons of fun. Then we split up and half of the girls went on a boat tour, while Selma, Amy and I, plus our other friend Kelly, decided to continue visiting museums. But first, we went for our comidia típica of the day: fried fish with açaí! I was hesitant at first, but it was actually delicious! Now I understand why/how the parenses eat açaí with everything! Yum!!!
After stopping by the cathedral and a few museums, we headed back to the hotel for cold showers (have I mentioned just how hot and humid it was in Belém) and then headed off to UFPA for the conference!
Tuesday night was just registration and an opening ceremony, so we mostly just hung out. Wednesday, the conference also didn’t have much going on until the evening, so Amy and I decided to continue touring. We finally made it to the Teatro da Paz, or opera house, which was as spectacular on the inside as we imagined.
The opera house is all original, despite a few fix-ups over the years, and is still home to an annual opera festival every august! The Amazon is the last place you would expect to find a stunning opera house, but it’s there! I’m glad we finally got to check out the inside because it was stunning. Eventually, we may our way to the conference, where we heard a professor from UC-Davis talk about race, class, and youth through hip-hop. It wasn’t the most interesting talk of the whole conference, but it was cool. I’m glad we went.
Thursday and Friday were totally full of conference activities, including different mini-courses in the morning, thematic symposia where a variety of people presented their academic work, and round-table discussions in the evening. Thursday was kind of a hot mess, to put it nicely, because all the rooms were different from the guide we were given and no one knew where they were going. I also ended up in a thematic symposium that wasn’t too interesting, but oh well! It’s all a learning experience. Friday, on the other hand, was phenomenal. My mini-course focused a lot on the teaching of Afro-Brazilian history (and participation in history) in schools and, while felt a little out of place at first, it was a great opportunity. It’s a little too complicated to explain in this blog, but it was awesome. Thanks to so much to the great professors in charge!
After the mini-course, I decided to go to a different thematic symposium than the day before, this time on Youth and Identity. It was a complete 180 from Thursday. The variety of works presented was really interesting and the presenters, including our friend Zizele from our hostel, all did I great job. I only wish we would have the opportunity to read their finished works!
The evening concluded with a band playing carimbó music, a traditional paraense rhythm, and then we headed over to one of the Belem ETA’s house to hang out. It was so much fun seeing two of the Belem ETAs (Sarah Sanderson and Sarah Slater) as well as just enjoying a relaxing night out. Sarah Sanderson baked us cookies, which I cannot emphasize enough how delicious they were, and ended up all staying and chatting until about 3am! It was so fun!
Saturday was the beginning of the end, with Kate and Abby leavning that evening and Amy leaving on Sunday at 5am. Amber and Michelle decided to check out some museums that Amy and I had already visited, so we went with Kate and Abby to Mangal das Garças, this kind of odd park in the city. One of the best features of the park was the lighthouse. At first, we were kind of put off about having to pay to go up, but it was totally worth it! The view of the city, and the not-Amazon river, was incredible.
After enjoying our view, we decided to treat ourselves to one last lunch of comida típica, but this time at one of the chique restaurants in Estação das Docas. We ordered the “Menu Paraense,” which was a tasting menu of different typical foods. I don’t even remember what all the things were, but they were absolutely delicious.
One favorite was “pato no tucupi,” or duck cooked in tucupi broth (the base of tacacá) with jambu leaves on top. I wish we had gotten bigger bowl!
We ended our meal by meeting up with Stevie and Anna, two of the other Belém ETAs (there are six in Belém) for amazing ice cream and once last wander through ver-o-peso.
We said good bye to Kate and Abby, and then Amy and I decided to take a break at the hostel (and give Stevie and Anna some time to work!). We ended up meeting up with Stevie again for dinner that night and then ended up back at their apartment just hanging out. It’s always fun to be with other Fulbrighters, but this trip was particularly great. I got to meet three new ETAs from the São Paulo orientation group, hang out with friends from the opposite end of the country, and enjoy an almost-amazonian adventure.
If you’re considering traveling to Belém, I would say do it. It may be far from where you are, and it may be hot, but it’s one of my favorite trips I’ve taken this time around in Brazil and I was lucky to spend a full week there!
After getting back, I jumped right into my work (which will be a separate post) and now I’m just biding my time until I go to São Paulo on Tuesday for our Fulbright seminar. It’s hard to believe it’s mid-August already and sometimes I have to pinch myself as reminder that this isn’t a dream. I can’t wait to see what the next few months have in store!