Current Date: Saturday, May 3 4:30 p.m. (Pouso Alegre)

Current Itinerary: Same...going to SP on Tuesday probably and then back to BH to settle into a semblance of a normal life.

Tuesday, April 1, 2003

Arrived in Belem on overnight bus from Sao Luis around 8. None of us had slept really well due to the VERY bumpy ride. As you travel north in Brazil, the roads get progressively worse...a word of advice if you are up here and going by bus...sit as close to the front as possible! At the bus station, I needed to get some cash and I happened to spot a B do B just 100 meters away. I really think I am getting a sixth sense for location of the nearest B do B...although Brazil has gotten much better than last year. You can now use an international card at several different banks so it is easier.

All five of us crammed into a Taxi and we were on our way. We arrived at the hotel just after 9 and we found Stefan there waiting for us. The place was really a nut house. We waited for about 20 minutes for Gilda, the owner, to appear and help us to get rooms. It was a spectacle that you really had to witness. Her and several others who work there sort of arguing amounst themselves to decide what rooms to put us in. Eventually we got it all straightened out and we were all ready for some grub. Gilda directed us towards a good place to grab breakfast, but first, she gaves us plenty of info on a boat that was headed out of Belem on Thursday. We decided we would take it to Santerem, stop for a few days, and then move on to Manaus from there to do a jungle tour. Sweet. One hour after getting to Belem, we already had a plan!

Gilda was right. It was a phenomenal place for breakfast. I had a great banana shake, a fruit salad, and some delicious cinnamon rolls...all for the low low price of a $1.50. What a great country. After breakfast we went back to the hostel to rest for awhile and shower and then we headed for the harbor to check out the market and the boats. We also needed to get hammocks for our boat trip.

The harbor area of Belem was a lively market with people selling literally anything and everything you could think of. There were not too many gringos around so we got quite a few stares...especially the girls. I really thought there would be more travelers around who were sort of going the same way but I guess not. I picked up a hammock for the boat ride while we were down there. After that, Andy/Germany and I split up from the group and headed back towards the hostel. We listened to music and had a few beers and waited for the others. When they arrived, Gilda took us down to the tourist agency of her cousin to show us the boat we would be on and give us our tickets. While in there, we saw this great picture of this beach in Santerem where we would be making our first stop. I could not believe that it was in the middle of the looked more like a beach off the coast. Anyway, we were all set. The only question mark was Stefan who was thinking of heading for Rio and skipping the Amazon. We all did our best to convince him to go with us atleast to Santerem. That day actually marked the 3 week point that he and I had traveled together. That is a long time in the backpakcer world. I certainly did not want to see him go. Sort of like breaking up a good team...but of course I knew it was inevitable.

Back at the Hotel Fortaleza we hung out and ate fruit for a couple hours. A few other people in the hotel joined us. I guy from France and another from Liverpool. It was a great "hang out at the hostel" moment...listening to music and talking. Kristie (who is becoming cooler and cooler by the second) had a great quote that night that she taught me. I think I will never forget it and it is a good one for any traveler...but more important for those who don't make much effort to get out and see the world...FAR too often of an occurence in the USA:

"While a tree can grow while standing still, a person cannot."

I won't say more about it...just think about it people.

We all went out to the movies that night to see "Chicago". Unfortunately for me, the super long day had taken it's toll and I fell asleep through most of it. Maybe I'll give it another shot at some other point.

Back to the hotel, worked on journals, and hit the sack.

Wednesday, April 2, 2003

We got up around 9 and the others headed out for breakfast. I wanted to get some internet work done because I knew I did not have much time before I would be computerless for a couple weeks.

I went to search for the internet place that Gilda had told me about but was unsuccessful in finding it. I got some food, and headed for the mall where I knew I would be all set. Got some computer time in and met the others at the hostel at 1. (On the way back I stopped to try to find Janet/England at her hotel that she had told me she was in...she had left, which made me a bit sad...sorry Janet)

When I got back to the hotel I got some unwitting news from Gilda...the boat that we were to take on Thursday was now not going to leave until Friday. Bit of a bummer...Anton and Mareika are pressed for time and none of us really wanted to spend another day in Belem. Oh well really have to learn to expect these types of things in Brazil.

Me and the guys (Andy and Anton) decided to go to the Bosque Rodrigues Alves...a native forest preserve and zoo in the center of the city. It was about a 45 minute walk so we went for it...might as well check out some of the city.

The zoo was pretty cool and the girls ended up meeting us there. There was a pretty lame aquarium that had a basically nothing except this strange looking ancient turtle. Aside from that we saw several exotic birds, some giant turtles and some jaguars. By far the coolest thing there were the monkeys...I am not sure what species they were but they were beautiful animals. It was amazing how human they seemed. They swund around their cage and played a almost seemed as if a couple of them were showing off for us. I could have watched them for hours. I hope I actually get the chance to see some in their natural habitat when I get to the rainforest.

We headed directly back to the mall to do internet quickly after the zoo...and I made a very nice discovery. There was an ice cream shop just near the internet place that served BANANA SPLITS!!!! This happens to be one of my absolute favorite desserts and it is a true rarity that I get one. I was not going to pass up the oppurtunity though so I happily slapped down my 6 reals and had an absolute taste bud orgy. It was sooooo scrumptious!! I absolutely love them and to find one here in Brazil made it EVEN better. By the way, I always think it is a bonus if I can work the word "orgy" into anything that I am writing...for some reason, the word always grabs your attention.

ANYWAY, after stuffing my face with a banana split, we walked back to the hostel to chill for awhile. Stefan and I went to check on plane tickets for him to fly out of Santerem but they were too expensive...he decided he would move on that night and head towards Rio. boooo.

We ended up spending that entire night in the hostel, talking and having a few beers. We took some cool pictures and it really was a lot of fun. I don't think I really knew any Germans besides Ollie (who is an AWESOME GUY!!) before I came on my trip...I have really grown to like them even more. Anton, Andy, and Mareike are GREAT people and fun to hang out with. I really was looking forward to spending the next several days together on the Amazon. I truly believe that traveling is as much the places you visit as it is the people you meet along the way. I have been lucky to be in the prescence of so many other cool travelers.

Anyway, towards the end of the night, we had no beer so Me, Anton, Andy, Stefan, and Chris/Switzerland all headed out in search of some. The centro of Belem is a ghost town at night and can be quite dangerous but we were a big group of guys and not too worried. It took some walking, but we found a bar that was open. We decided to sit for a beer...the place was slightly over the line for what I would call shady. I think this sums it up: I was propositioned by a pregnant prostitute! Need I say more? There was also this shady guy who claimed to be from Holland that sat at our table with us. He bought a couple beers though and provided us with some comedy so I guess he was worth it. Finally we bought some cans of beer to take back with us from the vendor across the street and headed back to the hostel around 1.

Kristie was there in our room (it was her, Andy and I in a room) and was about to go to bed...unfortunately we had just arrived with several beers and we needed to walk Stefan to a cab at 2 so he could get to the airport. I felt a bit bad but she played it very cool and stayed up with us until it was time for Stefan to go. It was a very good example of how great of a girl she is...I mean, I just don't think many would put up with that...5 guys piling into the room and drinking/talking for an hour, just as she was laying down for a peaceful rest. She really impressed me more and more as each day passed.

Finally it was time for us to walk Stefan to a cab so he could head to the airport. It was a sad goodbye for me. We had pretty much traveled together since Recife, a full 3 weeks. As I stated before, that is an enternity in the backpacking kidding. We seriously had some great times together and he had been a staple figure for me in the second phase of my trip. It is tough to find people you click so well with. I constantly say it, but one of the tough parts about being on the road are moments like that. He was a great guy and we were a very good example of what I call same planet, different worlds. We both came from different backgrounds and cultures...and really different worlds...but in the end, we were both just a couple of travelers...slowly moving on our way, following our passion. I learned a LOT about myself from him and also about Germans. We had so many great discussions and laughs I could not count them all. Stefan, it was great meeting you and a pleasure to be a team with you for 3 weeks...despite my American passions, despite you and your warm beers, we were a hell of a dou and I will miss you dearly. See you in Germany my friend!

Back to the hostel and crashed.

Thursday, April 3, 2003

Got up early and finally cut my hair, which had pretty much grown to an afro at that point since so much time had passed since I cut it. I was sort of toying with the idea of letting it grow and putting in short dreads but I decided against it...not my style. Afterwards the guys and I headed for the mall to meet up with the girls who had gone to do some shopping. We found them in the food court. Did internet for a bit and then killed the next several hours in the music and bookstores in the mall. I was searching for some porteguese language books...very difficult to find since everybody here already speaks porteguese! Here was something funny...well atleast for H-town folks. While in one of the bookstores, I came across this travel book called "Gay USA"...basically a travel guide for homosexuals. Of course I knew Houston would be in there so I checked it out. It was surprisingly even mentioned La Strada Sunday brunches!!!!! Pretty cool (by the way, missing that grand reopening is probably going to be one of the most painful days of my trip) It was actually a pretty fun day actually, even if we did spend most of it indoors.

Back at the hostel we lounged for a bit and decided to go out to the nice area of Belem, Doca, and have a good dinner. We had some sangria (wohoo), good pizza and chatted for a couple hours while listening to live music. The atmosphere sort of reminded me of Sao Luis and quietly laughed to myself thinking of that Hilda story. We headed back to the hostel pretty early as there was not too much happening and we wanted to get up early the next day to get our hammocks on the boat and assure a good spot.

Friday, April 4, 2003

Painfully awoke at 7 and caught a bus to the dock where our boat would be leaving from. It was a pretty shady port but we were able to get there, get on board and hang our hammocks without incident. The boat looked great and we were the first ones to hang our hammocks! We were all excited to see what would be our home for the next few days.

Back at the hostel, Lisa/Australia showed up. I had met Lisa back at the Lua Cheia in Natal. At some point prior to that, she had met Kristie and they had said they would do the Amazon together so we had been expecting Lisa to arrive that morning. She made it with another Aussie girl, Athena. They got boat tickets, hammocks, and hung them all in the same afternoon!

As for us that morning, we needed to take care of a few last minute preparations. I repacked my bag...a key move before getting on the boats. It gives you a chance to bury valuables that you won't need for several days deep in your pack, and also makes it so you minimize times you must get iinto you big pack. After that, Andy and I made a final trip to the mall for internet. We went and got water for the journey and met the others back at the hostel. We went down to the market and got fruit and snacks as we were certain the boat would only be serving rice and beans for every meal.

We finally got back to the docks and we were able to reboard and lock our bags with no trouble. The excitement of the whole thing was REALLY brewing. We were only a couple hours away. Surprisingly, the boat still seemed relatively empty and we were due to depart at 6...and it was about 4:30. We went down to the bar at the end of the pier and had some food and a few beers. Slowly, more and more people showed up, including several people from our hostel. We all sat together at the bar...and we got an extra hour,..we were told the boat would not leave until 7. Fine with us, even though we were all anxious. Everyone was in great spirits and we really enjoyed sitting at the end of the pier.

Finally 7:00 rolled around and we headed for the boat...ready to begin what promised to be a great adventure...



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