On the mouth of the river Mearim lie two cities: São Luiz and Alcântara. São Luiz is famous for being the only Brasilian city founded by the French while Alcântara was completely unknown to me till we were advised to go and visit it for a day.
Easier said then done because the ferry times depend on the tides which nobody could really tell us. Nothing you could expect in a coastal city… Anyway, we took what turned out to be a fair guess and got our place on the ferry. Once in Alcântara, you quickly realize that the nomination ‘city’ is a bit stretched. Wikipedia says it has a population of over 20.000 people. That
may be is probably true but our impression of the place was that of a tranquil little village with pretty houses, pretty ruins and a very few inhabitants.
Next to this tranquil village however is the launch site of the Brazilian Space Agency. While you can’t visit the site itself, it is possible to stroll through a small museum and having the challenges of launching a rocket into space explained to you by a young soldier; if your Portuguese allows. So far, the Brazilian space program hasn’t been characterized by its successfulness. Quite on the contrary.
After an accident in 2003 that killed over 20 people, the launching of Brazilian rockets was suspended. The site has been used ever since by the European, the Ukrainians and even the Chinese to get satellites into space. You can almost imagine the Brazilian engineers peering over the shoulders of their international colleagues, learning as much as they can. And indeed, the Brazilians are planning to take up their program again with a new test launch at the end of this year. Lets wish them luck!