We had spent the day at Calhau Beach. A wide, but deserted beacht, with a calm sea, and warm seawater. That day, it was sunny and warm. I would recommend Calhau Beach for (European) tourists. We returned to downtown São Luís at three pm, because hadn’t lunched yet. It took some time before the bus arrived, but at four om, we were in the center of the capital of Maranhão. We took our time to walk in the center, through cozy, narrow alleys, that gave us the idea to have returned some centuries ago. At present, the historical center is cultural heritage, and is included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. Since the economic activity was very low in the 20th century, many buildings have escaped demolition. It doesn’t mean that the center is totally authentic and restored. On the contrary: many historical houses and buildings are in a terrible condition. Some of these houses were undergoing restoration at the time of our visit. The restoration is coordinated by the IPHAN, the Brazilian Heritage Institute. Hopefully, more historical houses will be restored in the near future, and tourists may experience the same impression as we had there: to be back in history, in colonial Brazil.
By chance, we encountered a buffet restaurant in the center, which was still open late in the afternoon. To be more clear: Brazilians have their warm meal at the time of the European and American lunch: between noon and two pm. Buffet restaurants open their doors at eleven am and will clear the buffets at two, three pm. Which means that virtually no restaurant will offer a buffet late in the afternoon. Fortunately, this restaurant was a rare exception. We negotiated the price to a value of 4 reais (1,5 euros) for a simple warm meal. We were allowed to compose our own meal: rice, beans, vegetables, some Brazilian vegetables, cooked meat, shrimps, fried fish. Since we were in a coastal city, we opted for fish or shrimps. We shared a one-liter bottle of Coke, what is common in Brazil. The warm meal was very welcome and had a surprisingly good taste. The two friends that accompanied me that day, added a significant amount of hot pepper; something that I really try to avoid.
We then returned to our hotel where we refreshed ourselves for another night out in the center. We took a shower with water that was heated by the sun in a natural way. In a tropical city like São Luís, it is not necessary to have a temperature regulator for the shower. However, I really prefer to shower with warmer water. Some of the travel companions took the opportunity to take a nap. The ladies maintained their reputation, that they needed more than two hours to take a shower and do the make-up. Meanwhile, the men, me included, waited in the lobby and watched sports fragments of the Pan American Games that were held in Rio de Janeiro. Hoosting these Games provided a huge advantage for the Brazilians: they managed to win dozens of gold medals. Brazilians can be very chauvinistic and may cheer enthusiastically when another Brazilian medal was won. They may boo and curse when a judge made a wrong decision, or when an opponent had used some trick. Commentators love to use loads of cliche-like superlatives, and we often heard the jingle ‘Brasil, Brasil!’. Everyone already knows that the sound of this jingle is associated with another good performance by Brazilian athletes.
We had to walk about thirty minutes from our hotel “Casa Grande” in Rua Isac Martins to Convento das Mercês. From Rua Isac Martins, we entered the larger Rua da Palma. Along this street, there are many restaurants and and bars, and a small mercado (market) where you can buy your fresh groceries and local artesanato (handicraft). It was still warm late in the afternoon, the sun was about to set. The white clouds had turned into pink shades. It was already six pm. It was quiet in the streets. There was not a crowd, but only a few groups, like us. When we neared the Convento, we met a denser crowd. There were many stalls, where hungry and thirsty visitors might find their food and drinks. There were many stalls with large stocks of ice-cold beer and soda cans. Stalls with cachorro quente, the Brazilian hotdog. And to my big surprise, a stall where you could order fresh French fries, for one real (40 eurocents). Some friends couldn’t resist that offer and bought a bag of fries. They also added mayonnaise and ketchup. But not as much as I was used to in The Netherlands. I tried such a fried potato stick, the taste was excellent. I didn’t buy these fries, I bought a portion of feijão tropeiro: rice with a mix of beans, bacon, manioc flour, peppers, and eggs. For me this is a delicious snack.
Convento das Mercês
We had to round a corner before we arrived at the main entrance of the Convento. Two friendly-looking, muscular bodyguards glanced at you before you were allowed to enter. There was no visitation, everything appeared to happen in a relaxed atmosphere. A large board was located next to the entrance: with a poster of a dancing couple. People could stick their head through two holes. As Brazilians love pictures, there was even a queue next to this board. Because of my reputation of photographer (at least within this group), I was asked to take pictures of them. Soon I had no less than five cameras around my wrist. Five different brands. I aimed, yelled the traditional ‘X’ (cheese!) and my victims were digitally immortalized. My work was not done yet, because there was a GIANT bull waiting for more photo shoots. It was a huge ‘boi’, a multicolored creation that strongly resembled a bull. An example of local culture. On its flank, it was written: ‘Vale Festejar!’, freely translated as ‘Worth partying’, or: Let’s Party!
By Adriano Antoine Robbesom
- Travel in Brazil: MARANHÃO (14). Beach at Atins III (insiderbrazil.wordpress.com)
- Travel in Brazil: MARANHÃO (16). Calhau Beach, São Luís (insiderbrazil.wordpress.com)
- Travel in Brazil: MARANHÃO (13). More Images of Atins (insiderbrazil.wordpress.com)
- Travel in Brazil: FORTALEZA (04). Forte Nossa Senhora da Assunção, Former Fort Schoonenborch (insiderbrazil.wordpress.com)