Yes, I’m serious – that clothesline was hanging in the restaurant where we ate lunch today. But first of all, I’ll fill you in on our last few days of adventures from Belem to Parnaíba.
I think we had our tamest New Years’ Eve ever, which was not intentional. We did our best to be in a city where we could find things to do and people (preferably that spoke English or Spanish) to hang out with. No such luck. There was a big party on the waterfront of Belem but everyone spoke Portuguese and had reservations for the restaurants and bars. Portuguese is a beautiful language but I only know a few words so far such as “thank you” and “chicken.” Any conversations with the other party-goers would have been a little awkward. I was homesick that night :-(, seeing everyone with their friends and family and remembering the big party we had last New Years’. But, on the positive side, we were bright-eyed and bushy-tailed the next morning and caught the 6:30 a.m. bus to São Luís.
We prefer to take night buses, but the route from Belem to São Luís has the highest number of bus hijackings in all of Brazil. Strangely enough, all of the hijackings occur at night in the same town. The armed robbers board the bus and make all the men get off and hand over their belongings. There are suspicions that the bus driver is in on it – possibly getting a kick-back off the profits the hijackers make. Anyways, we played it safe and took a day bus. It seemed like we were on the bus for days. No exaggeration – every mile or so the bus driver would stop. People got on the bus to hug him and chat. He would stop at a store and send someone to get him a drink or a snack. People got on and off more than the city buses. The bus driver had a guy sitting beside him peeling bananas for him to eat. We were so bored that we watched him eat at least 6 bananas in a row, then get off the bus shortly after and buy a bag of oranges and eat the entire bag. I was fascinated by this. But then again, after 13 hours on a bus, anything was fascinating.
Our first night in São Luís, we learned a valuable lesson – Don’t always trust your guidebook’s recommendations! After one rough night in a dumpy pousada, we found a very nice hostel the next morning and met some awesome traveling buddies. We spent a day exploring the charmingly rustic town of São Luís. They don’t tear down old buildings or try to totally remodel them there, they embrace their authentic, crumbling charm. The cobblestone streets are lined with buildings made of colorful tiles – like old-school kitchen or bathroom tiles. The markets are filled with some interesting items. Our favorite were the liquor bottles filled with crabs and fruit. How did they get the big apples and crabs through the narrow top of the bottle? Or maybe the better question is why you would want to stick a big crab in your liquor. Supposedly it’s for flavor and appearance. I’ll pass on those shots, obrigada!
About a week ago, Bryan heard about a National Park called Lençóis Maranhenses. Looking at photos from google images, this park looked like another world. There are miles and miles of white-sand dunes with crystal clear blue pools of water in between. So we took a bus to the park with our new traveling friends that we’d been hanging out with from the hostel (an American girl, a Brazilian-American girl, and a German guy). From the town outside of the park, everyone takes 4WD vehicles (they look like safari trucks) to the edge of the dunes. It was an intense ride! It brought back memories of muddin’ in Bryan’s old Jeep. We bounced around for 45 minutes, clutching the bar and ducking to avoid the branches and barbed-wire fences along the way. The park was breathtaking and worth the crazy ride. There were enormous white powdery sand dunes as far as you could see. It felt like we were walking through a computer screen saver or on another planet. The park seems like a desert but with the amount of yearly rainfall it technically isn’t. Unfortunately, we were there during the dry season so there was only one small lagoon. The girls and I rolled down the steep dunes into the water like little kids. The Brazilians watched and laughed at the crazy gringas, but a few minutes later they were doing the exact same thing. Bryan did a face-plant in the sand (on purpose). That probably wasn’t the brightest idea but the pictures are priceless.
We didn’t want to have to backtrack 4 hours north to São Luís to continue our trek south to Fortaleza. So the other option was the scenic, bouncy 4WD ride through the sand which took several hours and a few vehicle changes. We went through farms surrounded by the desert-like dunes and tiny villages. We stopped several times to help the truck behind us with its overheating problems. At one point, our driver was talking to the driver of the truck behind us while continuing to drive with his entire body out the door and only his foot and hand in our truck. We stopped to get drinks and saw a Brazilian “cowboy” on a horse carrying a baby calf and guiding the mother cow on a rope. Bryan got closer to take a photo. The cow’s protective mother instincts kicked in and the mad mama cow (with horns) charged Bryan. No thanks to his sloth-like reflexes, Bryan managed to get out of her way. We stopped to make a delivery at a dried mud and wood house with a large family holding a few naked, sandy babies. There were children laying in the sand surrounded by ducks, pigs, dogs, and tiny ducklings and piglets. Every year around the holidays, the people in our truck brought loads of rice, beans, books, and other items to this family.
In the first larger village, our driver dropped everyone off at a little restaurant and told us the next vehicle would come pick us up in a few hours. I went to the restaurant’s courtyard to go to the bathroom and was nearly slapped across the face with a slab of raw beef hanging from a clothesline. I looked around and the whole courtyard was filled with clotheslines of laundry and beef, hanging together in the sun – including thongs and other underwear. To make things even less appetizing, there were tons of tropical birds living in the courtyard as well. And of course there were flies on the meat. I definitely was not going to be ordering the popular Brazilian dish Carne de Sol (sun-dried beef). There was a French lady in our group that did order it and said it was delicious. After lunch, we took another 4WD truck and then a big, hot bus to Parnaíba. Through the whole trip today there was a Brazilian guy videotaping and conducting interviews. He’s currently producing a TV show to promote travel in Brazil because a lot of Brazilians choose not to travel through their country (many think it’s too expensive). He showed us his video during lunch and it was very impressive – similar to a Brazilian version of a Travel Channel show. www.mochileirotv.com
When we got to Parnaíba we received quite a greeting. In the city center, there was a man on a bike who saw us and started cheering about the “Turistas” and waving and smiling. As we walked, he kept circling around the center singing some song in Portuguese about tourists. Other people were watching and laughing. At the hotel, instead of writing our names the woman at the front just wrote “Gringos” in the record book with our room number. Apparently they don’t get many gringo tourists in this city. 🙂 We are just spending one night in Parnaíba as a layover. Tomorrow we head to Salvador where the partying shall begin!