Welcome to the largest coastal island on the planet, a place out of time and this world, which has changed little since Father António Vieira was here in the 17th century.
The exotic Ilha de Marajó, west of the mouth of the River Amazonas, on the banks of the River Pará and at the edge of the Atlantic, preserves an air of authenticity. It’s something unique and quite unlike any other place in Brazil. Perhaps, because it’s a relatively unknown and little publicised destination, where just getting there is quite an adventure. It involves over three hours in a boat between Belém do Pará and the port of Salvaterra, gazing at the banks swallowed up by the jungle that seem to have been there since time immemorial. Then, we need to catch a bus that, an hour and a half later, drops us off on the banks of the River Paracauri. On the other side is Soure, the unofficial capital of the island. The reward for such a long trip is the hospitality of the population of this small and sleepy town, who immediately make us feel welcome, while never forgetting the pride in their origins (with roots in Pre-Colombian civilisations) and maintaining local traditions.
As soon as I set foot on the island, I felt I was somewhere away from the real world, particularly for someone who lives in the big city. Peace and tranquillity are words that spring to mind. Whether it’s the simple, rustic life of the farmers and cattle hands, or the calm of the buffalo that wander the fields and roads of the villages that seem that something out of the mid-20th century, or the thriving fauna and flora that can be discovered on foot, by buffalo or on Marajoara horses, the trails, the river beaches and the deserted sands dotted with streams, palm trees, mango trees and virgin forest.
In total, there are 40,000 square kilometres of the purest nature, the size of Switzerland. Civilisation, even though it means travelling in time, is found in Soure, where the island’s only tarmac road can be found. With its one-storey houses and wide dirt roads, it’s no surprise that the preferred mode of transport are buffalo-drawn carts. These bovines (around 700 thousand of them), which have become an icon of Marajó, have acclimatised perfectly and constitute an important economic resource for the majority of the 25 thousand Marajoenses on the island. Apart from transporting people, goods, rubbish and even policemen, they are also a tourist attraction and buffalo milk is used in a local and much-appreciated speciality, a cheese that is slightly reminiscent of Greek feta, both in texture and taste.
Soure is the busiest town on the island and where the majority of tourist arrive, although the accommodation options are rather dated, which fits perfectly with the atmosphere. Festivities? There are plenty. From buffalo rodeos to rodas de carimbó (traditional Paraense dance), or the lundu marajoara, the sensual local dance. However, most important of all is the Círio de Nazaré festivity, a pilgrimage that sets off from Belém and, between October and November, which mobilises the entire population of the island.
by Antonella Kann
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