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)…

praça das aguas, boa vista, roraima, brazil

The ‘Plaza of Waters’ in Boa Vista. I dubbed it ‘the water park’ even though none of the fountains were ever on…ever. But guess what? Free (faster than Pedro’s house) internet!

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.

palm tree seed

Boa Vista was so boring this was the most interesting thing I found. Looks like a little bird.

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).

tacacá, vendedora de tacaca

Here’s the “Vendedora de Tacacá” painting by Antonieta Santos Feio, 1937 paired with this surprisingly delicious dish.

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.  

blue lake, reflective lake, lagoa azul boa vista, roraima, brazil

Lagoa Azul… a glassy blue surface mirrored the sky. A bit warm, but perfect for a swim.

forest, tree trunks, leaves

We took a stroll in the surrounding trees…

blue lake, roraima brazil

Then we got back in the water to enjoy the stillness, sinking into the muddy bottom and watching the little fishes and minuscule water bugs hopping across the water.

roraima nature, savanna, grasslands

While the wind rippled softly through the long, savanna like grass… I almost thought a lion or giraffe might walk by.

palm trees by lake

The longer we stayed the more saturated and still the place felt. It was a perfect prelude for the trek we were about to undertake.

lake outing, people at the lake, lagoa azul boa vista roraima brazil

Phyllis and Pedro kicking it down by our private lake. The eerie other worldliness would have disappeared pretty quickly with a crowd and their bad, bad, bad music.

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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.

canon camera, girl with a camera, rear view mirror

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…

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