Santarém, Brazil

This morning we were due to set foot on terra firma; this time in the town of Santarém.  We were excited to be in Brazil again; we had first toured around this country 10 years ago and it is so vibrant, colourful and interesting we were glad to be back.  The sky was overcast, but it was (obviously!) still very warm.

We decided to eat our breakfast al fresco again, so we went to the Palms Café and sat outside at the Lido Bar.  The decks appeared to be mostly clear of the flying bugs of the night before, but Trevor spotted something black next to a coffee cup on a nearby table and we went over to investigate.  It was the most enormous armoured beetle imaginable!  A guy moved the coffee cup and put a cigarette lighter on the table next to the beetle for perspective, and it was absolutely HUGE!  Including its legs and feelers, it must have been about four inches long and over an inch and a half wide!  A monster.  I took a photo of it with my phone, as no-one would believe this back home.

We had booked to spend the morning on the “Santarém Highlights” tour so we disembarked the Braemar at around 9.00am and got on a fairly primitive ex-service bus for our journey into the town.  We passed through the docks where there were a great many small boats being loaded with bananas, melons and people!  The boats had the supplies loaded onto the lower decks and the passengers, who were taking the six-day boat-trip to Manaus, were hanging up their hammocks and loading their bags onto the upper deck.  The hammocks hung there, very close together, and if there was any space in between it was taken up with bags and bodies.  It certainly didn’t look a comfortable way to spend six days on the river, but our guide told us that they get three meals a day and some of them don’t sleep, preferring to spend the time partying!  Still, you’d have to get on very well with your ‘neighbour’ considering the hammocks were so close together.  Give me a ship like the Braemar any time!  🙂

We passed through the town and looked at the ramshackle shops and buildings.  Every other shop seemed to be an auto repair shop or tyre place, and there were a lot of marine and boating shops.  Occasionally we saw restaurants or bars, and we passed a Post Office.  Good – that means we would be able to buy and send some postcards home.  🙂

The rattly bus pulled up and we all got off to visit the Cathedral.  The vast majority of Brazilians are Catholic and this church was no exception.  It was quite sparsely furnished although there were one or two fairly ornate statues of Our Lady.  We didn’t really spend all that long in the church before heading off to the museum.

Like the church, in the museum there wasn’t really all that much to see.  There was a skeleton of a whale that had once washed up on the shore; apparently this was a rare event as you don’t see many humpback whales in the Amazon!  There was also a skeleton of a manatee, as well as various others bones, bits of pottery, ancient arrow-heads and other archaeolgical finds.  It wasn’t much help that the explanatory cards were all in Portuguese and our guide’s English was lacking somewhat.

After the museum we spent a brief stop at the fish market.  We could walk onto a small boardwalk and look into the river; we saw some bright yellow birds flying about, as well as some fish jumping.  The sun was out by now and it was extremely hot.

Our next stop was to see a manioc flour processing place.  We walked across some rough ground and entered into the relative coolness of the forest.  Our guide pointed out some rubber trees to us and the local rubber tapper showed how it was done.  It reminded me very much of Singapore and Malaysia in the 1960’s – the rows of rubber trees with the diagonal cuts on them, and the latex dripping down into a cup attached with wire to the trees.

We arrived at a primitive flour-processing setup.  The guide explained how manioc (also known as cassava) is harvested from the tuberous roots of the plant.  It is first peeled and then grated to remove as much of the juice as possible, which is poisonous at this stage (as it contains a fairly high dose of cyanide).  The grated flesh is strained and then heated over a wood-burning stove in large trays.  It is then further ground to produce a ‘flour’ which is high in starchy carbohydrate.

Manioc flour can then be used to make both sweet and savoury food items such as bread, cakes, pancakes or eaten as it is with meat and fish.  We probably know it best as tapioca pudding.  It provides the staple diet in Amazonia.    We had the opportunity to try various items; I had a taste of some bread, some sweet treats and a bit of pancake.  To be honest, it doesn’t really taste of much and I can’t see it adding a lot to your meal, except perhaps to pad it out a bit.  Each to their own, however.

The manioc flour place was our last stop before heading back to the ship.  Before going back on board, we bought some postcards to write out whilst eating lunch.  We sat outside at the stern and I wrote out the cards while enjoying an ice-cold beer.  We’d already bought the stamps with them, so all we needed to do was find a post-box.

After disembarking the Braemar once more, we got the free shuttle bus into town, passing the Post Office en route.  The bus stopped a fair way past it, so we would have quite a bit to walk in the hot sun unless we found a post box.  We had plenty of time though; our first stop was to find a bar and indulge in a caipirinha.

Caipirinha is the national drink of Brazil, and we first discovered it 10 years ago on our previous visit to the country.  It is made with locally-produced sugar cane rum (as opposed to rum made with sugar molasses) called cachaça.  They are very refreshing and easy to drink, but they pack a hell of a punch!  😉  The recipe for caipirinha is as follows:

CAIPIRINHA
1 large lime, washed and cut into 8 pieces
2 heaped teaspoons of sugar (or sweeten to taste)
2 x 35ml measures of cachaça
Crushed ice

Put the sugar and the lime into a glass and use a pestle to crush the lime and extract as much juice as possible.  Leave the lime pieces in the glass.  Fill the glass with crushed ice and pour over the cachaça.  Stir well, and drink through a straw.  ENJOY!  🙂

Realistically, a lot of the bars will give you a much larger measure of cachaça than that given in the recipe above, so don’t underestimate its potency.  😉

We found a bar/café and each ordered a caipirinha, and, as expected, it was very refreshing and very strong.  We then walked around looking for a post-box, but we had to go right back to the post office before we found one, and deposited the postcards.  By this time, we had to make sure we got the last shuttle bus back to the ship.

The show later that night was a magician called Andrew Green.  I thought he was a bit drippy at first but he actually grew on me as the show went on, and he did do some pretty good tricks/illusions.

Then it was up to the Skylark Club to join Colin and Liz for this evening’s quiz.  It was all about rock ‘n’ roll and that’s not really our era (in fact I don’t even like rock ‘n’ roll) so we didn’t think we’d win.  However, we still did better than we thought we would, scoring 15/20.  Not good enough for a free bottle of wine this time, however.

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