Carolyn Broadwell - Travel Tidbits - Dec 2003 - Jun 2004

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Manaus, Brazil

Hi to all,

So much to tell! I'm not sure how complete I've been on the past updates, and I don't want to make this too long, but it has been very interesting to leave Cayenne, and then to enter Brazil.

The last weekend in French Guyana, Roelof took me to the mountains - I didn't realize there were any mountains in this part of South America, and they weren't exactly my idea of real mountains - to a Hmong village. The forest, or bush, or jungle, whichever you want to call it, was incredible. It is so dense it doesn't look like it could ever be penetrated, but the Hmongs have cleared areas for raising produce, and provide almost all of the fresh produce for Fr. Guyana that is not imported. Almost no one was in the village, as they were in the market in Cayenne, but the architecture was quite different than elsewhere, and there was even a spirit house, sort front of one house. The village is on a river, which looked pretty big to me, but Roelof said it was just a small one...size is sure relative! We also went to a small town populated mostly by blacks, and it also appeared very distinctive; different ethnic groups each bring their own identity to their living situations.

Saturday night was the opening of Carnival season in French Guyana, and we went to a place called Chez Polina to watch the people entering. I was told the women dress up and cover their faces so they can't be identified, and go to dance. The men line up around the dance area (we didn't see this); then the women can go to any man and he MUST dance with her - cannot say no. What we saw were lots of men waiting to go in, and the women arriving alone or in groups - but not accompanied by men. (I think they are called Lou Lou's) It was raining slightly, and we were lucky to get to park right in front of the entrance, and saw several women arrive; I even got a photo of three. Their dress is very interesting - rather old fashioned colonial-style long dresses, with flounces and ruffles galore. Their faces were covered with a square cloth with holes so they could see.

Sunday we attended a parade to start carnival around the main square in Cayenne. It was composed of groups in makeshift costumes, some very clever (for the Trinis who get this, it was not unlike Ole Mas), but some weren't as clear to me. That might be because I don't understand French. There were also lots of drummers (assorted forms of percussion-some home-made) and a few other instruments. One group was called "Crazy Hats" and everyone had concocted something different.

At the square, we also met a Surinamese friend of Roelof's - a very, very fat woman and her small Fr. Guianese husband - who make and sell juices made of local fruits. Well, local in a way. They get the fruit from Suriname, and do the juice in Cayenne. We had visited them earlier, and watched the process. Very labor intensive, but absolutely delicious!! And to be hugged by Bianca was quite an experience. She was a delight. Obviously well educated, has taught handicapped children, as well as other teaching jobs. She and Roland have been together for years (she' much younger than he is), and a year ago were married in a civil ceremony, then just a few weeks ago were married in the church, in Paramaribo. She was quite "Angry" with Roelof because he didn't attend the wedding. He'd planned to, but had a stand-by call to fly to Caracas, where his sister and son live. Bianca described the wedding very emotionally; it was a big family affair. Visiting her, and then seeing her again at the square was really special. I left Cayenne on Monday evening. I was taken to the airport by Roelof and also accompanied by a young Norwegian man Roelof has also been very generous and kind to (he'd just arrived 2 days before, and Roelof helped him find a cheaper hotel, and also to look for friends he was expecting). I felt very sad when I left - which I certainly hadn't expected when I planned this trip. French Guyana had been pretty low on my prioity list.

I always comment on the wonderful people I meet traveling. I have to say, Roelof made French Guyana for me! Among other things, we met friends of his (I think he knows everyone in Cayenne - and those from Paramaribo, too, as he has lived there), he had me as his house guest (on his sofa), he made sure I knew where everything was in town, gave excellent directions, and just getting to know him was a great treat! Besides, he was very elegant to be seen with - of course I couldn't begin to keep up with him on clothes - my travel wardrobe does not include such items! (Not that my home wardrobe has lately, either. "I past that age" is the way I think Trinis would say it.)

Now, getting into Brazil. I entered by air in Belem. When I got to the immigration desk, I had a surprise! I had my visa, and had read of no other needs, but the man, who did not speak ANY English, indicated, after consulting a collegue about an Aamerican passport, that I needed to be photographed and fingerprinted. When I repeated that I didn't understand, he finally gave a sort of exasperated look, took up his keys and indicated I should follow him. (No concern for anyone else waiting in line!) I was taken to the police! (Door was labeled.) He unlocked it and directed me to a seat by a computer. There I sat, while he laboriously typed, one finger at a time, information about me from my passport, my entry form, and who knows what else! I could see there was a small camera aimed at me, and he seems to have clicked it many times. Fingerprints were messy, and after he had finished, he asked me if I wanted to wash my hands (all mimed, of course). I indicated I had another flight, and he then seemed to understand, rushed me back to his desk, stamped my passport and entry form, and I was sent on my way. Whew! I made the tranfer to another airline - not without some confusion, and lots of offers for help, which were more of a hindrance than a help - and landed in Manaus late at night. I was immediately approached by what I thought was a taxi tout, who turned out to be a help, as he called the hotel I had emailed and not gotten a response from, and they said no problem, so he took me to the taxi desk (official) and helped me pay and get into the taxi. Hotel is about $20.00, and air conditioned, with private bath. But bath is VERY small; the shower has no enclosure, and is almost right above the toilet. Toilet is old fashioned, with high tank on wall. Shower has a tin can style hot water heater attached to shower head; it looks like it heats about a cup of water at a time. But is quite adequate, if a bit messy. Breakfast is fantastic! Four different local juices, about five different fruits, coffee or tea and milk, cereal if one wants it, hard boiled eggs, yogurt, lots of different breads, cakes, and heaven only knows what else - all served buffet style, and included in the price of the hotel! I only scratched the surface trying everything!

Then a man who speaks English (he had been put on the phone for me last night to tell me when breakfast was served, etc., but it was too noisy to hear him) came to me, and I am now booked on a boat tomorrow night to go downriver to Belem. I've been to the bank (ALL ATMs) and paid, and will get collected at 1 pm tomorrow at the hotel - if all is legit, which I'll know by tomorrow. Whew!

Still more details, but this is too long now.

Best to all, (Love to my offspring, who need to write to me soon!)


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