Good Surprises in a Boring Place: Boa Vista
Surprise! Not everywhere you go when you’re traveling turns out to be incredibly interesting, especially if you’re not a meticulous planner or researcher (I am neither). Phyllis and I were stopping in Boa Vista, the capital of Brazil’s forgotten, northernmost state Roraima because it was the last decent population center before hitting Venezuela. Sure the state is named after that epic and spectacular mountain, but Boa Vista was a rather lackluster place in itself. HOWEVER…Phyllis and I managed to have fun — mostly by laughing at how little there was to do or see there — with our Couchsurfing host, Pedro, who became our partner in several days of silly adventures (reminding us that travel is often more about the people than the places themselves)…
Pedro is from Minas Gerais, a state with a bazillion bars in the capital, places to eat, things to do, and much better things than Boa Vista (as he told us over and over and over again. lol). He had only relocated there for work about two months before and admitted he didn’t know much about the place. His house had just the bare necessities – fridge (no stove/oven), bed, bathroom, AC (if you enjoy baking in 105 degree heat everyday, Boa Vista is for you) — and a flock of unwelcome pigeons living in the roof. When we got there he actually went and bought 2 plates, 2 forks, 2 spoons, 2 cups sand 2 knives so we wouldn’t have to share the only one he had. Worst of all: slow internet. P.S. He did warn us before we came.
The situation in itself became hilarious and even funnier was Pedro’s indignation about being cut off from the world, “surviving, not living.” But we did find some activities to do (other than hanging out on his bed with the AC blasting and listening to music) after Phyllis and I came to the same conclusion as Pedro about Boa Vista.
First experiment was eating tacacá, a soup native to the northern part of Brazil. Huge surprise! Brazil is a pretty rice/beans/meat/fruit juice heavy place, but tacacá had none of those things or any of those flavors. I doubt even most Brazilians outside of the region have ever heard of it — Pedro hadn’t. It looks kind of disgusting to be honest, but was absolutely delicious and reminded me more of Southeast Asian flavors (my favorite) than anything I’d tasted anywhere in South America. Relatively simple and served up by street vendors this shrimp infused in gummy-looking manioca (yucca) paste, garlic, salt, and some herbs specific to the region. I’ve been craving it all night… Turns out it’s such an important regional food that artist Antonieta Santos Feio made a painting that’s hanging in a museum in Belém (our next destination).
Then there was the lake, Lagoa Azul, we drove about an hour out of town to reach. Though it is on a private farm, it’s normally packed with people attempting to find some relief from the scorching heat, but the day had started rainy and we found ourselves entirely alone. Being there gave Phyllis and I the first glimpse of the lost world we were trying to get to — Mt. Roraima. It made sense that the mountain would be part of the landscape there, a place that served as part of the inspiration for Jurassic Park.
We became such great friends that Pedro came with us to Venezuela so we could get set up for the trek… then he got stuck because of the border checks (Brazilians are taking advantage of the absurdly cheap black market prices just like Phyllis and I did) and had to come back and hang out with us all night.
And he was nice enough to let us hang out for a few more days and scold me about taking my antibiotics after the mysterious stomach illness (which I assume was a parasite or something).
P.S. Now that I’m starting to blog for the Huffington Post maybe I’ll actually be able to challenge Stephen Colbert to LOTR trivia…