We both knew that the first month of our travels would be rough. Perhaps the roughest of our South American leg. After we left Colombia and ventured into Venezuela and the Amazon, we were far off the typical gringo trail. I’ve been looking forward to getting to the East Coast of Brazil – home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. But after a 30-hour boat trip, we were thrilled to find a little bit of heaven right in the middle of the Amazon – the small town of Alter do Chão. I have to continually remind myself that I’m on the Amazon River, not in the Caribbean. It’s beautiful here – powdery white-sand beaches, tropical breezes, clear, warm waters, and a charming, clean town.
Although nothing strange or ridiculous happened here (which is unusual for us), I couldn’t leave this little gem of a town off our blog. For those traveling through the Amazon region, Alter do Chão is a must! The residents here actually take pride in their hometown – and it shows. All day you see them sweeping, raking, cleaning, and maintaining the place. Over the last few days, they have totally redone their main church, inside and out. But the hard-working residents of Alter do Chão know how to have fun, too. The center of town, overlooking the breathtaking beaches, comes alive in the evening until the early morning hours. The town is especially lively after Christmas, with the 12-day festival honoring the Mother Mary. Music and fireworks blast as early as 6 a.m. And when you hear fireworks and church bells clanging, you know someone has rolled out the statue of Mary holding Baby Jesus (covered with flowers).
Before we set foot on Brazilian soil, we knew Brazilians are geniuses when it comes to handling children. In November, Bryan went to the Brazilian Embassy in Washington, D.C. to apply for our Visas (you need a Visa for any length of travel in Brazil). In the center of the embassy’s waiting area, there is a glass, sound-proof room where all the children play while their parents wait. Bryan could tell they were yelling, screaming, and crying – but with the sound-proof walls no one could hear a thing! I have no doubt that my engineer husband will attempt to make one of these for our home when we have children. We witnessed another intelligent idea for children here in Alter do Chão. In the town center, there are several large, screened-in trampolines with big colorful bouncy balls. In the evenings, during the church services and dinners, the children all wear themselves out playing together on the trampolines. The parents have a nice, peaceful night together and the children go home happy and tired. Brilliant!
As the Amazon waters recede, a large island called Ihla do Amor appears across from the town of Alter do Chão. To get to the island, you can take a 1 minute boat ride for about $1.50 USD. Or you can do it the fun and free way – wade across on your tippy toes with your valuables on your head, shuffling your feet to scare off the stingrays. At the water’s edge, there are locals offering boat tours for reasonable prices. Another great thing about this town is that no one haggles you to buy things! The boat captains just politely offer their services. We enjoyed a sunset tour with our new American friend Bridget to see the dolphins and the Lago Verde (lagoon with bright green water). There were tons of Amazon River dolphins. They are funky looking – humped backs and narrow snouts. Some are bright pink (Pepto-Bismol color) but unfortunately I didn’t see a pink one. Bryan said he did though.
On the island, there is a long row of palm-roofed huts with mouth-watering aromas of freshly cooked food for sale, along with refreshing beers and caipirihnas (Brazil’s national cocktail). To the right of the island there are tables and chairs at the water’s edge. To the left there are a few boats along the sand and a few families swimming. In the center, there are usually locals playing soccer in speedos, using coconuts as goal-markers. Don’t worry, Bryan refrained from joining in the speedo soccer games. We preferred to walk to the more deserted section and tie-up our hammocks in the trees’ gnarled branches. I kept forgetting when I was cooling off in the water that I was in the Amazon River. Where were all the man-eating piranhas? I don’t want to know.
We have no doubt that Alter do Chão is the next big thing for international travelers coming through Brazil. In a few minutes we are headed to the airport in Santarem to fly to Belem. Wishing you and yours a 2012 filled with many blessings and adventures!