The white sandy beaches of Alter do Chao
Where the river Tapajos meets the Amazon, another meeting of the waters sees the confluence slowly merge the milky Amazon with the clear Tapajos.
Just before Santarém, where the rivers actually meet, the little oasis of Alter do Chao sits on the edge of the Green Lagoon, a cute and pretty lake surrounded by white beaches and almost neon green grass and trees. Families sit in chairs around tables, all partially submerged in the waters, drinking the province's favorite beer, Cerpa, while feasting on a variety of seafood.
Popular with Paulistas, people from São Paulo, as well as the 'locals' from nearby Santarem, the town is at its busiest for the new year, many thousands flocking to the party on the little town square, followed by surprisingly extensive fireworks.
We hadn't planned for our arrival on the 31st, and nearly failed to secure accommodation, even with the hammocks we had for our boat ride and were willing to put up almost anywhere. Plenty of people sleep on the beach for the new year, bringing their tents and hammocks, but we were looking for something a little bit more secure. After knocking on doors and calling around for over an hour, based at the town's little bus station, the two Americans we had met on the boat to Santarém also showed up, also in need of accommodation.
Then, things started moving faster. A taxi driver told us that a nearby pousada, where he had just dropped off a couple, still could put up some people. But, that was when we were still two.
True to Brazilian form, when we showed up to ask about the possibilities, some creative thinking allowed them to come up with the plan of putting the two girls with the girlfriend of the owner, with the two men putting up their hammocks outside.
Yet, then, a worker at the little snack bar at the bus terminal, whom Natalia had been talking with for a while, came through as well. After him calling around for a few alternatives, his own old landlord was willing to come down by bus from Santarém, an hour away, to rent us snack bar man's old little house on the edge of town. We were saved.
For new year's, Alter do Chau almost feels like what you would expect Santos, the beach town close to São Paulo, to be on the weekend. During our five day stay, Natalia bumped in to half a dozen friends and acquaintances, including one that had moved to Santarém some 15 years ago.
For the Paulistas, the journey is a tough one. It's possible to fly directly to Santarém, some 2500km away, but, besides Alter do Chau, there is little to see or do in the area. Unless you are interested to float down the Amazon for a few days on one of the long distance boat trips to either Manaus or Belém. Also interesting to some is the nearby FLONA, the Floresta National, a nature reserve with primeval forest, including some big ass Samaúma trees.
And, the area is supposedly good for spotting pink river dolphins. Eventually, I spotted two. Or rather, I spotted their shining backs, just lifting themselves up from the river.
To commemorate, Natalia and I compose a song; "Let me be your boto tonight."
'Boto' is the Portuguese for 'dolphin'. There's a local urban (forest?) legend detailing that young women sometimes, typically, in a bar, meet a handsome light-skinned stranger, always wearing a hat, who ends up having sex with the women. The handsome stranger is, in fact, the boto, wearing a hat to hide the blowhole in its head, disappearing into the river afterwards.
In fact, one of Natalia's friends, who had been living in Santarém for some 15 years, told us of a baptism, where three family members of the mother swore that the father of the child was a boto. Recently.
For the urbanist die-hards, there is also the fairly nearby, on an Amazonian scale, Fordlândia.