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Bikes in Belem

One of the oddities of my visit to Belem was first encountering predictably chaotic streets with little room for pedestrians or bikes, but then hearing that Belem was considered one of the more bike-friendly places in Brazil. Turns out both are true. There is a huge population of daily cyclists, often two to a bike, who are using it as their main means of transportation. My friend Thiago was commuting to the World Social Forum every morning around 7 a.m. and told me I should get there to see the streets full of bikes “like China!”

This couple passed our bus in Icoaraci, a suburb of Belem.

This couple passed our bus in Icoaraci, a suburb of Belem.

There are also dedicated bikeways in the center median of many major boulevards and they are heavily used for commuting and daily errands. The bikeways are one way in each direction, separated by a grassy and tree-filled median, and usually enclosed by orange metal barriers for the full distance between intersections, making it impossible to enter or exit in mid-block (seems sensible in light of the heavy traffic on the six-lane roads that surround the bikeways).

Can you spot the three bicyclists in the bike lanes in the midst of this mess?

Can you spot the three bicyclists in the bike lanes in the midst of this mess?

A clearer shot of the mid-boulevard bike lanes in Belem.

A clearer shot of the mid-boulevard bike lanes in Belem.

I had the pleasure of getting to know Raoni, Marcelo, Fabio, and Sergio, all local cycle activists–it was thanks to them the inspiring “bicycle museum” was installed at the World Social Forum. They have a local club and go on regular treks into the countryside. Marcelo was indefatigable at the WSF; when he picked me up (in a happy coincidence) with his bike taxi at the UFRA gate and rode me across the whole campus, he told me he’d been going nonstop for 25 hours! He was very patient explaining things to me in Portuguese, and I hung in there trying to understand, probably getting about 30% or so. As another local bike stalwart who had no English got across to me, the bike itself is a universal language (well… sort of!).

Me and Marcelo in his Bike Taxi at the Universidade Federal Rural do Para.

Me and Marcelo in his Bike Taxi at the Universidade Federal Rural do Para.

The view from inside.

The view from inside.

Space opens in the pedestrian-crowded road while a dark storm approaches.

Space opens in the pedestrian-crowded road while a dark storm approaches.

Raoni threw himself into organized bikes and cyclists and made some excellent edits/improvements to the text I whipped up. Playing on the World Social Forum slogan “Another World Is Possible,” I called it “Another Traffic Jam is Possible,” and we had the “pleasure” of waiting on stage for 2.5 hours, enduring 20-odd speeches (mostly of the barking left variety, usually going WAY beyond the 5 minute limit) before finally Joao Paolo and Raoni delivered the 1.5 minute speech in Portuguese while I was the potted plant at their side, holding Ze’s reflective sign saying “Respect: One Less Car.” Here is the final version after some last-minute on-stage additions from Raoni:

Another Traffic Jam is Possible!

Did you hear the frogs along the roads in Belem as you were waiting for traffic to clear (so you could reach UFPA or UFRA)? Could you turn arouund and talk to the people behind you? It’s a shame that a gathering of 100,000 people seeking to create another world continues to depend on the same transit technology that is destroying the planet. Some of us have experienced a different kind of “traffic jam” and we want you to know it is a great improvement! We hear the frogs and talk to strangers, and experience the city and traffic in an entirely new way.

There were some glimmers of hope at the Belem World Social Forum. At the UFRA campus a system of bicycle taxis was introduced, hinting at much greater possibilities. Those possibilities, in turn, were asserted in a defiant celebration on Friday, January 30 in the Amazon’s first-ever Critical Mass (or Bicicletada). One hundred cyclists seized the streets, shrugging off a steady rain, and rode all over Belem, invading a gas station, crashing a ban on bikes at a restricted public park, exchanging cheers and waves with Belem’s citizens everywhere, and with WSF delegates at luxury hotels. “Mais adrenalina, menos gasolina!” and “Mais Bicicletas, menos carros” echoed through the streets, altering forever the imaginations of countless people, who now have at least a small taste of that other transit world that is not only possible, but already here.

We invite you to fight for the human right to breathe clean air, to come and go safely and comfortably, and above all, to leave a healthy planet for future generations. We are making a quiet statement against oil wars when we ride our bikes and to further this statement we demand that the World Social Forum ban cars from its future sites and instead, provide a fleet of “library bicycles” for the use of delegates (plus a fast and frequent system of electric shuttles for those who can’t or won’t bicycle). Other worlds ARE possible, but they are ALREADY HERE if we only have the vision and the will to start changing now. Isn’t it time to break with private cars and the gasoline-powered engine NOW, not after some unknown future revolution? The planet depends on it, and bicyclists demand it!

Look for cycle activism in your city, and if there isn’t any, start it!

signed,
Critical Mass cyclists from San Francisco, Sao Paolo, Brasilia and beyond…
Belem, Para, February 1, 2009

In the darkness of the stage, adding our cyclist sensibilities to a long afternoon of speechifying.

In the darkness of the stage, Raoni adds our cyclist sensibilities to a long afternoon of speechifying.

Joao Paolo lets it fly.

Joao Paolo lets it fly.

The text was given to the big WSF final process as a resolution from our “assembly of cyclist activists” so we’ll see if it moves the process forward or not.

A long shot of the crowd from the stage, two hours before we finally got to give our speech.

A long shot of the crowd from the stage, two hours before we finally got to give our speech.

A gallery of crowd close-ups so you can see the faces of the WSF.

A gallery of crowd close-ups so you can see the faces of the WSF.

"I am a woman who loves women" says the sign--a nice addition.

"I am a woman who loves women" says the sign--a nice addition.

Who is that guy with his finger in his nose?

Who is that guy with his finger in his nose?

Early on they hung in there while rains fell, but the crowd diminished a lot by the time we got to talk.

Early on they hung in there while rains fell, but the crowd diminished a lot by the time we got to talk.

The spirited Critical Mass last Friday was seen by a lot of people I talked to (including, in a taxi ride  in Rio two nights ago, David Stang, brother of Sister Dorothy Stang, murdered by “The Consortium” of right-wing ranchers who want to stop her sustainable agriculture experiments and decades-long fight on behalf of the landless poor in Brazil’s north), but was not much integrated with the thousands of daily cyclists in Belem and surroundings. On my last day I went with new friends to a beautiful river beach with big waves on the island of Cotijuba. To get there we bused from the center to the end of the line at the northern edge of the metropolitan area in a town called Icoaraci. It was even more bike-centric than Belem, so I took this gallery of shots:

Bikes turn the corner in front of street vendor in Icoaraci.

Bikes turn the corner in front of street vendor in Icoaraci.

A fisherman commutes home for lunch?

A fisherman commutes home for lunch?

Bike walks Man...

Bike walks Man...

Dropping off his girlfriend.

Dropping off his girlfriend.

A man and his bike.

A man and his bike.

two-doubled-up-bikes-in-icoaraci_7019

Is it hers?

Is it hers?

The everyday bike in Belem.

The everyday bike in Belem.

pink-bike-and-rider-standing_7054

Fishmonger frieght bike, Icoaraci.

Fishmonger frieght bike, Icoaraci.

Here’s JP with Carina and Gabriella, with whom I spent a lovely day going to the beach:

Carina, Gabriella and Joao Paolo, all from Ecologia Urbana.

Carina, Gabriella and Joao Paolo, all from Ecologia Urbana.

Ruins as usual were quite picturesque. The first is in Icoaraci facing the waterfront, the second is on Cotijuba in front of the dock area:

A building crumbles into the wet green ruling order in Icoaraci.

A building crumbles into the wet green ruling order in Icoaraci.

An elegant ruin at the dock in Cotijuba, horsedrawn taxis in front.

An elegant ruin at the dock in Cotijuba, horsedrawn taxis in front.

As we travelled to the island, some river dwellers disembarked to homes like this. Fantastic mangroves and other air-root trees along the shore too.

Life on the river.

Life on the river.

River dwellers at home.

River dwellers at home.

Mangrove art...

Mangrove art...

Air roots better than air guitar!

Air roots better than air guitar!

Your ornithological quiz for today.

Your ornithological quiz for today.

Once on Cotijuba, we took this tractor-drawn “bus” to the nothern shore to Praia do Vai-Quem-Quer (” ‘Go Who Wants To’ Beach”):

Tractor bus on Cotijuba.

Tractor bus on Cotijuba.

Praia do Vai-Quem-Quer

Praia do Vai-Quem-Quer

Joao Paolo asleep in background, as usual!

Joao Paolo asleep in background, as usual!

After romping in the weird freshwater surf for 30-40 minutes (SO refreshing!) we all fell asleep on the beach and I foolishly got very sunburned. When we returned to the mainland, we stopped for a special dinner “Fish on a Tile” (Peixe Na Telha), which came with rice and farofa, plus a local fare pirao, a thick gooey dish made from manioc roots and fish sauce. It was the best dinner I had in Belem but I have to admit I am not very impressed by Brazilian cuisine. This fish was excellent, but the thick creamy sauce was too heavy, especially when combined with pirao and farofa (a Swede I met in Brazil 20 years ago called farofa “sawdust”–it apparently has no nutritional value, but is great to make your meal more filling, and when well toasted can taste great).

Fish on a tile, and rice and pirao.

Fish on a tile, and rice and pirao.

On my way out of town I had fun shopping at the famous riverside market Ver-o-Peso (“See the Weight”), especially enjoying a quick loop through the fish market, which I remembered being amazing from when I was here 20 years ago. Didn’t have my camera, but saw a lot of fish like this guy’s in Icoaraci:

Fresh fish in Icoaraci.

Fresh fish in Icoaraci.

The last memorable cuisine story in Belem is ice cream! I ate a lot of exotic fruit ice creams–Acai, Mangaba, Teperiba, Araca, Castanha do Para, and my old favorite Marajuca (passion fruit). They really have great flavors, great ice creams. JP helped me sample raw acai beans (eh) and fresh unsweetened cupuacu (like sour bubble gum around a pit) too.

Free range chickens along the river.

Free range chickens along the river.

At dinner we had a lovely sunset to stimulate our appetites…

sky-blue_7079sky-towards-sunset_7087

I just couldn't get enough of the clouds and skies in Belem.

I just couldn't get enough of the clouds and skies in Belem.

Leaving turned out to be a mess–TAM Airlines was unprepared in the small airport to handle such a crush of people. So I was a half day delayed getting back, spent the night in a fancy hotel in Rio unexpectedly, but made it home late last night and am writing now in the Santa Monica public library after an enjoyable lunchtime book presentation at Google a block away. The cool thing was going through Sao Paolo in super clear morning air and getting these mindboggling shots from my airplane window:

This isn't even the whole of the view, thousands upon thousands of skyscrapers spanning the horizon in every direction in this megacity called Sao Paolo.

This isn't even the whole of the view, thousands upon thousands of skyscrapers spanning the horizon in every direction in this megacity called Sao Paolo.

This is zoomed in a bit to get a better sense of the scale.

This is zoomed in a bit to get a better sense of the scale.

I’ll be posting a longer article on the World Social Forum in a few days. Lots of scattered thoughts and notes, and still digesting a lot of reading and thinking, but hope to have a reasonably interesting overview/summary, and analysis/reportage, by the end of my stay here in Los Angeles. I’ll be at FarmLab at noon Friday, LA Ecovillage Friday evening, Booksoup in West Hollywood Saturday night, and CalArts in Valencia Monday morning. Come say hello!

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2 Responses to “Bikes in Belem”

  1. 1
    Mary Colwell:

    http://marycolwell.blogspot.co.....calls.html
    I used your picture on my post – hope that is ok!

  2. 2
    tony:

    muinto bom legal uma delicia very good I loved

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