To Belém & Back

the northeast’s ceará

Ceará is a state full of surprises, not all pleasant. From the bone dry caatinga (or semi-desert) interior to the altitude swamp of Ubajara’s high perch to the fleshpots of the coastal capital, Fortaleza (greatly expanded by the Yanks during WWII), the state marvels. My first encounters, after the trials […]

nomads of the sands

The staging point for the majestic Sheets of Maranhão Nat’l Park is the tiny, dune-invaded town of Barreirinhas, itself an enigmatic gem. If the most rewarding and accessible parts of Brazil are at the end of long dirt roads, that dissuade most drivers from visiting, this also holds true for […]

the brazilian sahara

Brazil is full of surprises, beyond the memes of beach, jungle, and soccer. One of the country’s greater natural wonders (among many) is the Sheets of Maranhão, in the far northern state of the same name. The national park encompasses one of the world’s rarest and most perplexing ecosystems. The […]

alcãntara, maranhão

Alcântara – which Atlas and I toured one day, after a 90 minute catamaran sail from São Luis – is one of the most curious enigmas (of many) in Brazil.  Like the country, it contains both the very old and the very (even overly) new. “Alcântara, built with the sugar […]

são luis, maranhão

São Luis, MA (Maranhão), is located on Brazil’s remote northern coast.  The roads are so poor for most of the northern coast that tourists never drive there, only fly. After the slow and rocky ferry crossing, Atlas and I arrived past nine o’clock and still found ourselves eighteen kilometers from […]

afro-brazilian candomblé

Chapter 19 of To Belém & Back describes a fascinating encounter one night in a remote part of the Amazon. While no batuque was currently planned, Dona Fatima implied that it was for lack of “materials,” the righting of which could motivate a gathering that very night. So I immediately […]

marajó island 2

“It was high time to take Atlas on another adventure, something on the order of Bananal Island, and it didn’t take long to settle on just such an opportunity, another isle no less.  Belém sits across from Isla de Marajó, the largest delta island in the world, bigger than Switzerland. […]


As I tease the reader at book’s start: “Belém, a decaying colonial city at the mouth of the monstrous Amazon River, the capital of Pará, and one of Brazil’s oldest ports. I like places that time has passed by, for no better reason than I identify with them.” [To Belém […]

NYC talk on How lost can a gringo get?

  You’re cordially invited to a talk that Brazilianist Ben Batchelder is giving in mid-town Manhattan on Thursday, April 25th, starting at 6pm. It will be a multimedia presentation on how lost a gringo can get in Brazil’s vast and remote interiors. You don’t have to be a confirmed Brazil […]

são paulo reading of “To Belém & Back”

You are cordially invited, if in São Paulo, Brazil, to attend a book reading of To Belém & Back this Sunday, January 20th. This will be the first book reading in Brazil after the book’s launch and since it won a coveted * Star review from the industry leader Publishers […]