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Monthly Archives: November 2011

One of the things Brazilians seem to be known for is dancing. As a culture they are known to be sensual, full of grace and rhythm.  I’m mostly full of tone deafness, a fear of metronomes, and two left feet.  I do have a penchant for wanting to learn new things and not caring how I look doing so.  I can always hope that the culture here rubs off on me.

The three necessary instruments of Forro: a drum, accordion, and metal triangle. All of these can be rather annoying on their own in the wrong hands.

I have heard samba music and known it is performed during Carnival.  I know there is also a form of samba that is done in the capoeira roda, as none of us knew how to do this when it came up earlier this year. I’ve taken a few lessons with a woman who also happens to teach capoeira.  So far, I’ve learned that I cannot move my feet nearly fast enough to do this.  Samba involves moving your feet three times to every beat or two.  There are also many forms of samba and my teacher has decided I should try these other forms as well, as it is more fitting for women to dance these more sensual forms.  Has she seen me dance yet?!  So now I have learned some afro-axé and reggae (pronounced heg-gay here).  These look like hip hop dancing to me.  That is not necessarily something I would’ve signed up to learn but it has been fun to learn all these different steps.  Now if I could only get my feet to move faster.

The other dance, forro, is much slower.  I had never even heard of forro before arriving in this particular state.  It is a popular regional couples dance that is a basic two steps to one direction and two steps to the other side.  I feel a little bit like I’m dancing a half baked electric slide to an accordion and triangle when you are in a group class and everyone does it together in rows.  After learning the basic step there is also a salsa-like step that involves moving forward and backward and an opening up that seems to lead to fancier moves.  It is certainly easier to learn and do, and more relaxed than samba.  I’m glad I tried both so I know that Brazilian dancing does not just involve moving your feet like lightning for hours.  They are both fun in their own ways.

A standard night out in Jericoacoara involves a late-ish dinner at around 8 or 9.  Then nothing seems to occur for hours until about midnight when people start congregating around the barracas, two rows of drink carts forming a path to the beach.  There, individuals mix fresh fruits and your choice of alcohols, which mostly consist of cachaca and vodka into caiparinhas and caiparoskas respectively.  Then around two or three the dancing establishments, one of them a restaurant during the day, finally start filling up.  People dance til sunrise and then go to one of the bakeries open at this late hour.  There are a few open 24 hours, but more confusingly there is one bakery only open 3-8 am.  I guess this crowd is enough of a customer base for them.  The nights are longer than I’d prefer but I can’t complain too much about ending my nights with rolls filled with melted chocolate and cheese.

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I have managed to spend every Thanksgiving with my family.  So this year was a shock, to not be near my family or to even be in the right country.  I tried asking my couch surfing host if people here eat turkey.  She looked at me in slight horror, no, people here only look at them because they are pretty.  Well, maybe we aren’t communicating correctly, because I can’t say i think of turkeys as beautiful creatures.  Maybe pavo means peacock as well?

Just out of the picture is a wonderful from-scratch pumpkin pie.

There are whole chickens here.  I bought two and invited the two Americans I had met to lunch/dinner.  There are not many Americans here in general, although there are many Europeans.  A few of them joined us for our celebration.  On the day of, I learned the hard way that my oven is ornamental and does not actually work.  Regardless, we managed to get a fairly close approximation to a traditional dinner with our one roasted chicken, gravy, dressing, mac and cheese, green beans, and pumpkin pie.  The iced riesling, tank top, shorts and salad are our more tropical additions.  We then went around the table to say what we were grateful for.  We even explained to our European friends the fine tradition of needing to unbutton your pants and taking a nap afterwards.  One American happily noted that she wore a stretchy skirt so that she wouldn’t have to worry about that.  I’m glad we could bring a little bit of our culture and share it with some new friends as our hours long meal stretched into the night.

Before I left for my trip, a few friends told me I might want to look into couch surfing.  It’s a website where people who can host an extra person in their house can meet people who need a place to crash or just for travelers to meet.  I signed up, got verified, and was all ready to surf couches all over the world.  There was just one problem.  When you sign up you have zero friends and zero references, making you look like a possible shady serial killer.  A couch surfing using friend recommended meeting some couch surfers for coffee or hosting a few before I moved.  I wasn’t fond of having a stranger sleep two feet from my head in my shoebox of a studio nor did I have much time to even hang out with the friends I would be leaving soon.  So I set off for the world, hoping I didn’t appear too terrifying to be invited into houses.

After my unexpected delay in Fortaleza, I frantically contacted couch surfers when I received my bag.  I’m arriving tomorrow, could I please have a place to crash?  Luckily a girl who had grown up in Jericoacoara, my next destination, was kind enough to take me on such short notice.  Simone speaks only Portuguese, so we were communicating only by internet translator.  This could only end well.  The last message I saw when I arrived in town was:

“okay, more need to know what time you will get, because apart from 3p.m notrabalho I’ll be up to 11p.m. I’ll be waiting”

I do not speak Portuguese, but I understand a little bit of Spanish.  So I took this to mean that 3 would not work, but she’d be awake till 11.  How wrong I could be.  Turns out she works from 3-11 most days.  So I wandered around town haplessly with a huge backpack looking tired, sweaty, and lost.  I ignored the random people asking me “Pousada?” (Inn), as I checked a few places and they were not very affordable.  Luckily for me I ran into a capoeira roda where the teacher had been alerted by the teacher in Fortaleza that an American was arriving that wanted to train and needed help finding a place to stay.  I stayed at what turned out to be a capoeira focused pousada for the night, wondering what had happened to my Couch Surfing friend that I had not heard from again.

The next morning, slightly less tired but still sweaty in the constant 90 degree heat, I received another message.  Directions to a house!  How exciting.  After two hours of running around town looking for the world’s smallest bakery that turned out to be a doorway with a woman with a sack of bread, I finally found my new friend.

Her house was of a decent size and really clean, I’m not sure what I was expecting to find.  Her profile had said she wanted to practice English but she seemed gun shy once I had arrived.  We spoke with my broken Spanish, internet translators, and lots of pointing and drawing.  She was my age and had grown up in the town of Jericoacoara all her life.  This is particularly extraordinary because 20 years ago this city was but a fishing village with no electricity.  It has since been transformed first into a hippie mecca and now into a kite and windsurfing tourism spot.  I cant imagine what it must be like to live through change that fast.  She told me about her adorable daughter, the long hours she works at the luxury inn, that her parents had to move to the next town over because it was more affordable.

The inns here are all run by foreigners and the locals all work for the tourism industry.  It makes me sad to see the locals employed but not being able to be the owners of their own town.  Simone works six days a week and makes soap for the inn during her off time.  She tells me she hosts couch surfers because she cannot afford to travel but wants to meet people from all over the world.  My heart breaks thinking about how we could have lived the same amount of time but have such different lives.  I cannot fathom having a child now or working for the sudden influx of foreign tourism, and she is such a happy and friendly person. I wish I spoke more Portuguese so I could understand more of her life, but I am grateful for what I have seen and for her openness on accepting a new couch surfer.  I hope all couch surfing hosts are this friendly and willing to share their lives.

 

 

So I left Ecuador.  I had to argue a bit with LAN to get them to change my flight, there was only a two hour gap for me in Brazil for me to run through customs and board a domestic flight.  The LAN attendant didn’t seem to get that I had more than one flight and insisted there wasn’t a problem. Luckily the ticket office both spoke better English and happily changed my ticket.  I inquired whether it would be hard to catch my checked bag to change the tags, and they insisted they would do so.  I tried to quiet the dread I had in my stomach.  Everything would be alright.

I moved on to the boarding area.  I was amazed at the security, I got to leave my laptop and liquids in my bag.  I pointed at my shoes to ask if I had to take them off, the security guard inspected them and nodded as if to tell me I had nice shoes.  Thanks, I like them too.   Then I waited three hours for my flight, reading, checking out the various candy stalls, realizing there were all sorts of fancy edibles I did not see because i had stayed in the more rural coast.  I’m not sure I was going to bring a dry ice pack of shrimp with me, but I appreciate that there’s a sign to explain the different sizing.  I enjoyed answering some woman’s survey about tourism in the Guayaquil airport.  Dear lady, I’m pretty sure you had a mild heart attack when I had to tell you to take a zero off the amount of money you think I spent here.  Sorry, I like your country a lot, I just have no money.

And then, the travel snafus started happening.  Apparently LAN and Ecuador thinks it’s a good idea to let you sit in the airport for a really long time and wait for you to board before pulling you off the flight.  You are then told to sprint through half the airport to another floor.  The entire boarded plane had to wait as another girl and I stood in a slow moving long line to have a police officer check your checked bag.  He ripped opens all my zippers, pulled out all my packed bags within bags, sniffed my camping towel, and zipped close only the outer duffel.  Then, as if standing in the long line was your reprieve, you are told to sprint back upstairs, through a security check, and onto the plane.  And then I didn’t see my bag again for 6 days.  Good security check guys.

After 36 hours of flying and four airports, I landed in Fortaleza.  By observation, every airport I’ve been to has charging stations for your stuff except Santiago.  I then waited forlornly by the baggage carousel cursing the security check I knew had caused my bag to never make my first plane, much less the other two.  I was stuck in Fortaleza, my next stop was 7 hour buggy or 4×4 ride away and I’d never see my bags again if I had gone.

Fortaleza is a beach city that needs a little love.  It reminded me of Miami, an endless spring break in a town that was no longer being taken care of.  The markets were full of cheap, shoddy clothing and tacky sexual beach joke tchotchkes.  The highlight of my trip was a hostel owner and some new friends at the hostel who were extremely helpful in helping me hound the airlines in my broken Spanish (they speak Portuguese here).  These people were humorous and helped me keep my head on when all I wanted to do was punch LAN.  We visited a beach with water so brown and frothy, it made Los Angeles post-storm water look clear and beautiful in comparison.  I was a little terrified for the people swimming in it, particularly when a helicopter did a few fly-by runs looking for someone.  You couldn’t see one inch into that water.  I enjoyed eating some grilled cheese on a stick and bags of shrimp from vendors wandering the beach before we headed into the town cultural center.  This was the one area in town more updated and patrolled by what looked like army soldiers.  There were not any shows going on at the time, but we caught a samba group practicing for Carnival that was fun to watch.  Dinner was had in a cafe that looked like the ten other cafes in the complex, except this one was labeled organic.  We had tapiocas, crepes made from tapioca (cassava) flour that come in both sweet and savory.  They seem to be typical of the area and are rather dry for my tastes.  I passed a few days like this, wandering around town not particularly amazed and nervously calling the airport every few hours, to be told incorrect information.  They would tell me to call back at a certain time or that they would call me, they would never call back or have any information.  I passed on the expensive pirate party with the others in the hostel, I had enough of this town full of what appeared to mostly be old men with illegally aged or paid girls.  Finally, my bags arrived at night two days after I had arrived and I wanted out on the first bus out of Fortaleza the next morning.  I had spent three times as many nights as I would have liked in Fortaleza and I was happy to be gone.  I will only stop long enough to get on a plane on my way back.

Let’s talk about the form of culture dearest to my heart, the food of a country.  Before I leave Ecuador I want to cover what I’ve seen as typical food here.  I stayed on the coast, so this does not cover the varied foods of the Andes or the Amazon areas of Ecuador.  I did eat one dish I am told is of the Andes region, cazuela de camarone.  It was a clay pot of shrimp cooked in a mix of mashed plantains and peanuts in a thick stew that is cooked then baked in the oven before being eaten with rice.  It was delicious but rather heavy.  I could easily see how it is more fitting in a cooler mountain climate than the balmy coast.

What in the world is a suck of fish?

On the coast a day begins with encebollado, an orange stew of chunks of fish and onion.  You top the soup with lime and hot sauce to taste.  It is commonly thought to be a hangover cure.  For lunch it is possible to find almuerzos, or lunch plates.  This consists of a soup, a plate of rice with a small bit of meat, and a juice.  I am finding almuerzos for a buck or two in this region.  Ecuador uses the US dollar as their currency, which is rather convenient. Most plates here come with two forms of starch, rice and plantains or rice and beans.  Plantains come in two forms, ripe and unripe.  The ones on the plate I believe are unripe ones cooked, smashed and then fried.  There are also a few juice stands that let you pick whatever fruits you like to be made into a smoothie.  The most interesting fruits I drank were the juicing tomato and the mora, an Andean blackberry.  Everything else is rather common in most countries, grilled or fried fish and other meats on pasta or rice.  I did have one that was strips of steak covered in a fried egg placed on rice.  It reminded me deliciously of loco moco.  I also enjoyed a sweet corn tamale off of some guy’s motorcycle.  Good to know that tamales are sold out of trunks in other countries too.

A delicious bowl of mixed ceviche. I couldn't get the picture to include the beautiful beach I was on.

My favorite dish of the region has to be ceviche.  Raw fish “cooked” by being soaked in acidic lime juice.  You can get ceviches of fish, octopus, shrimp and conch here.  They are also accompanied by the two types of starch.  I most often had them in cabanas next to ocean, sitting under palm fronds with my feet in the sand.

Sadly I’m leaving the country a few weeks before Carlos is slaughtering a pig.  One day I’ll be in a small village somewhere to experience this.  Good bye Ecuador, thanks for the tasty food.  I’ll see you again in a year when I finish my trip in Quito.

I’m currently staying in a small studio that is attached to the back of a larger two bedroom house.  I’ve had wonderful neighbors during my stay here.  The current neighbors, Janie and Marsha, of the pacific northwest were getting ready for an adventure to Quito.  We had a nice bonfire under a suspiciously dry palm tree.  I spend all day staring at the ocean, marveling at nature’s great power.  I might as well balance that out with watching a fire, man’s great harnessing of nature.  Most of the bonfires I’ve been to have been at Californian beaches, so that means no open drinking.  It was nice to hang out next to a fire with a few beers.  Granted I wish they had something besides a tasteless pilsner, creatively named Pilsner.

The next day my neighbors set off but let me use their bigger house while they were gone.  I settled in for the fun task of doing my laundry by hand.  I found this travel blog rather useful for how to do so: http://fullcoursetravel.com/general/scrub-a-dub-dub/  She’s right, I do feel like a pioneer woman.  This isn’t a skill I had to learn as I spent all my time before griping about how I had to go to a laundromat and didn’t have an in-building or in unit washer/dryer.

Access to the bigger house meant i also had a small library and television.  I took this opportunity to catch up on movies I hadn’t seen, like the newer Karate Kid, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Henry Poole is here.  I was amused I watched so many movies, I really only watch a few movies a year even with a television.  And two of these movies were just bad.  I’m glad I caught Benjamin Button though, I’d been meaning to watch it.  I also tore through a posthumously published Michael Crichton novel.  I have had only a phone, luckily with 3G, and my kindle to keep me connected.  It was nice to have a dumb day of catching up on American culture.  Besides, I had to do something while waiting for those clothes to dry.

Tomorrow I embark on two days of travel to reach my next destination: Brazil.

I am, of course, being facetious.  Traveling is always fun but there are always those weird incidents.  The ones you are just don’t encounter as often in your normal life.

In an effort to enjoy the sudden, uncharacteristic sunny days I had last week I sunbathed a good bit and took a surf class.  Combined with the multiple dinners I had over the holiday, I managed to give myself some form of heat stroke or dehydration.  I was lightheaded for a few days and it finally culminated in me barely being able to stand.  A preventable problem that I prepared for poorly.  I was not fond of lugging 5 liter jugs of water with me through town, but it would certainly be preferable to being sick. This is one time when I wish I was staying in a village that at least had a proper market or even a restaurant.

I took the weekend to recover only to have a second problem smack right into me.  What happened to relaxing in a hammock reading all day?  I had a toilet that would have a water level that rises and falls with the level of the tide from the ocean 50 feet from the house.  I noted this to the building manager only to be told this was normal for Ecuadorian built houses so close to the ocean.  No, it turns out the septic tank had not been cleared in a while and I got to deal with the unfortunate circumstances.  The building manager had left for America a few days before and could not help.  Nothing says fun travel like mopping out a bathroom with an overflowing toilet at 3 am for the third time in a day.  I don’t think I’ve ever used so much bleach before.  The strong scent of chemical is my only defense against this scourge of sanitation in my current living situation.  I have learned many words in Spanish that I had not set out to learn.  I am also learning to deal with “Oh, the plumber might show up today, or not.  That’s just how Ecuador is”.  I have the feeling that is how many countries will be.  Luckily the guy I rented the apartment from is helpful, but I am not excited to see my phone bill this month.

I am still excited to explore the rich cultures of all the countries that I visit.  I hope that I do not have to learn about the efficiency of problem solving and the difficulties of not speaking the native language in all of them.