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Monthly Archives: December 2011

Happy Holidays.  I’ve come back to America for the holidays to spend time with my family.  I am here for a few weeks, which seems to be how long I’m spending at every location.  It’s funny explaining to people that I’m from Los Angeles, I’ve been living in San Francisco all of a year, and now home is wherever I’m standing.  Before I left, I was telling people home was wherever my backpack was.  However I foresaw the lost luggage problem and changed it to “wherever my shoes are”.  Then I got to Jericoacoara, Brazil, where people go barefoot all day on the sand.  I guess I should stop trying to define where home is based on anything on or around me.

I celebrated our family tradition for Christmas of eating a nice, big prime rib on Christmas Eve and opening presents.  It’s a Los Angeles tradition to be a beautiful mid 70’s the entire week of Christmas.  The 90 degree temperature of Brazil might have been a bit much for me for the holidays, but I grew up with this room temperature and love it.

I’ve taken this time at back in America to think about what I’ve missed the last two months. Some I expected and others I didn’t know until I ran into them.  I knew I’d miss my kitchen and being able to just look at recipes all day, drooling before I went to the store to get whatever I needed to make a meal.  I knew I would be missing some comforts, like washing machines.  I did not realize I’d be leaving hot showers.  I know that expecting things to get done when you ask for them or to think things will be done efficiently was a rather American mindset.  I did not expect to run into so much difficulty being able to joke with new found foreign friends due to languages barriers.  I knew the language barrier would be hard, but I miss being able to make a snarky sarcastic joke when a shared smile is not enough.  I was also surprised by the lack of personal space in Brazil.  I would lay out on a relatively empty beach and often another person, or even whole families, would park it a mere few feet away from me.  At an airport, a woman even sat on the seat with my bag on it.  I gingerly moved my bag as she didn’t seem to mind.  I really hope that was a Brazilian thing, but I suspect Asia has a similar problem.

There are certainly things I miss from the places I’ve traveled as well.  I miss how cheap food was at restaurants in the rural areas I went to.  I enjoyed saying “I need to get across town!” and being there in ten minutes of walking.  In a more vacation like way, I enjoyed the lack of a schedule and the traffic and rush of urban life.  I also miss running into friends on the road because town is only so big.  I think I ran into someone I knew almost every time I left the house in Brazil.

I wonder what I’ll miss from America as I venture onto other continents.  I am also excited to find new things to enjoy and cherish as I travel.  Happy New Years!  I’ll be back with more adventures next year.

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Working out has never been a particular interest of mine.  I enjoy sports but could never understand the thought of going to the gym daily, walking or running endlessly, while I stood in one place.  My usual exercise of choice involves water sports of a bicycle, however San Francisco’s cold, cold water and steep hills weren’t the best for a casual interest in these activities.  I decided instead to try some new things and capoeira ended up being one of them.  As far as I understood, it is a martial art that involved sparring against others to music.  The verb used is “play”, one plays capoeira.  I figured that sounded much more fun than repeating the same punch every class while secretly screaming “Hi-yah!” in my head.  As I started learning, I realized it was a sport that involved rhythm, balance, coordination, and singing.  All things I have negative quantities of and could stand to improve.  My lack of any of these skills did not seem to be a hindrance and it was a fun after work thing to do a few times a week.  The friendly people in the group just helped make it an activity I wanted to spend more time learning.

I don’t really have much of a plan for where I want to go while I travel, so the slightest inkling in the wind can make up my mind.  This is how I ended up in Brazil.  While perusing volunteer sites I noted that one town in Brazil seemed to be filled with calm, sandy beaches and capoeira.  This is how I ended up in Jericoacoara, practicing capoeira 6 times a week, and later samba for capoeira 3 times a week.

Here's Mestre (Master) Sere sweeping the concrete circle where capoeira classes occur. You can't quite see the beach view that's glaring from the back.

The beach view from the capoeira area. I didn't realize it was there for the first week because I only practiced at night.

I noticed that the attitude of capoeira was very different in Brazil.  Instead of being surrounded by working professionals who needed a hobby, I was suddenly playing with people who had played all their life.  Sometimes capoeira is used to escape a hard life of gangs and drugs.  I was glad it was still playful and no one was out to injure each other.  There is still a wonderful community based around capoeira that helped me as I landed in each place.  The classes in Jericoacoara were more drill based, with the only emphasis on fundamentals of fighting and less emphasis on the music or history.  Playing with others mostly occurred at the daily sunset roda (pronounced hoe-dah) on the beach.  It took me a week or two to get into this, as I thought it was more of a exhibition for tourists than an actual exercise in playing capoeira.

I couldn't get a good picture of the sunset roda. Here's everyone playing on the beach, and one kid looking back pretending to be coy.

I can’t say the constant drills and practicing against a chair are my preferred methods of working out, but doing so many times in a week was certainly wonderful.  I noticed the things I missed from classes back in America: more students of varying levels, variety of activities within the class, professionalism, and my most missed thing, the other students I had been training with at the same level.  I did not realize how much we were pushing each other to learn more.  It took me a while to find a group I liked when I started, and I suspect I should have done more looking in Brazil.  Most of the people I met recommended going to Salvador de Bahia, where there is more history and a livelier culture of dance and capoeira.  My travels are far from over, so I suspect I will see what everyone is talking about.

One of the reasons I enjoy traveling is the smaller cultural differences that you discover.  Those things that you don’t realize until you’re in the country and experiencing them, that aren’t worth mentioning as huge things to someone going to that country.  In Brazil, where I speak just enough broken Spanish to kind of convey what I need in Portuguese, a lot of these moments turned out to be language driven. I mean this in a way beyond the obvious differences in pronunciation that confound me greatly, although letters are read rather differently here.

We drove by many truck stops and corner markets.  They all advertised “Gelo Cristal”.  Did these people of small towns secretly all down luxury champagne like rap videos?  Were there so many loaded tourists stopping at these middle of nowhere truck stops on a dusty road?  No, they were just advertising that they sell clear ice, as opposed to some other form of cloudy, muddy ice.

My favorite language confusion moment came when I was having dinner with a woman from Manaus, the largest city in the Amazonas region.  She is a court reporter, language teacher, and had fantastic English and I’m told, French as well.  Her interest in the nuance of language was high.  She asked me the difference between the words salary and income, they were not described to be different in books.  Then she told me about her work, and as a funny story mentioned that in Brazil you can be sued for being cursed.  My mind raced, were shamans and witches running around in squabbles that ended in courts and jails?  It took a few moments on blank looks on the rest of the English speakers at the table for us to realize what had happened.  No, you can be sued in Brazil is someone swears at you and you get offended at the curse words.

It’s funny little incidents like this that made me wish I spoke the language of each country I am in more.  So that I can converse with the locals and laugh at the unexpected and untranslatable things. That story does make me wonder though.  It’s good to know I won’t be random assailed by black magic in the Amazon, but how do Brazilian soccer matches not just end in a million lawsuits?

Jericoacoara is usually called Jeri which is lucky for me.  I always think it’s weird when people pronounce it (Jerry-qwah-qwah, where did the last -ra go?!)  I came from cities where people give you too much information, you check in to restaurants, homes, and workplaces.  Every location has 500+ reviews on what exact thing you should do or order with substitutions.  While that much data is overwhelming, it is quite the opposite extreme when I get to a place like Jeri and can barely find a map of the five roads.  I have never felt the need to add a review to a place with hundreds, but I certainly would have appreciated a map in a town where I don’t speak the language.  So in a delayed giving back of my Yelp usage, here is a hastily drawn map of some restaurants and stuff in Jeri.  This is not drawn to scale in any way and probably has an inaccurate number of locations.  I’ve included some of the places I found interesting below.

Where to eat and do stuff at night.I consider anywhere you can grab a meal for less than R$10 to be a cheap restaurant.  You can usually snag a dish at the nicer restaurants for anywhere from R$10 – R40.  At many of the nicer restaurants, entrees are meant to be shared by two.  I poked my head in one restaurant who saw that I was alone and they offered to cut the price in half for my un-coupled eating experience.  Drinks at the barracas (carts) can be had for R$3 – $R6 depending on whether you want cachaca (cheaper) or vodka and just lime or other fruits.  The cheapest place to buy the same two or three types of watery lager is in the supermarkets.  You’re allowed to wander the streets with your drinks, so you may as well grab it half a block down at the market.  It really only takes about 10 – 15 minutes to walk across all of town.

1 – Ah  my priorities.  This is the best ice cream shop in town.  They are also a reasonably priced cafe and serve tapiocas, the dry manioc/yucca flour crepe that is a specialty of northeastern Brazil and the native people.  I found them, and the carne de sol (sun dried beef) that often comes in them, to be a tad dry even with the olive oil that often accompanies them.  I am not usually a fan of crepes in general.

2 – What I’d consider the second best ice cream shop in town.  They do have the best acai in town.  Acai here does not mean the magical superfruit we hear about in America as juice.  Here it is a specific dish of cold blended acai puree that is just a smidge warmer than a sorbet that is often topped with granola and banana.  Of all the ice cream shops, this place has the coldest one without being icy.  I’d recommend getting it with all the toppings but be forewarned it’s a filling high calorie food, so the large may be too much.

3. The juice stand and the most sanitary/crowded local cheap restaurant are definitely gems.  Grab a tasty pineapple with mint juice (abacaxi com hortelã) for R$1.5 if you can find the store owner who is usually too busy lounging near the truck drivers.  The restaurant is tasty but can get rather busy as they only have four tables.  One of the local specialties to try is moqueca, a thick seafood stew food in many regions of Brazil.  In this region, it is thick and yellow, like the consistency of a curry without the curry flavor.  It can come with different types of seafood, but the specialty here seems to be arraia (stingray),  a bony but tasty fish.  Or you can do what I did, point at a random thing on the menu (figado de boi), and then grimace slightly when the liver and onions arrive.  The cheaper restaurants will typically serve your food with rice, spaghetti with a garlic or oil sauce, beans, a small salad or few vegetables, and manioc or yucca flour.  The restaurant will also serve you a glass of juice for R$1.5 with the added benefit of pure juice without the added sugar of the juice stand next door.  Truth be told, the juices were really quite tart or bitter and needed sugar, it’s just terrifying to think how much.

4. Dona Amélia is a restaurant I never ate at and the open air location for forro dancing on Wednesday and Saturday nights.  I found this to be the most interesting late night activity as you get to watch tourists and locals meet to dance this popular local dance.  I appreciate that it does not get overly crowded like some of the other venues in town but dislike that like all the other venues, the club does not really get going til two or three A.M.  Consequently, the place doesn’t really shut down til past sunrise. I’m not sure if I like live accordion and triangle music to do that all the time.

5. Restaurante Carcara is a nicer restaurant (R$25-R40 for entrees) that serves some of the dishes of Brazil otherwise not really found in town.  Most of the pousadas (inns) and restaurants are run by foreigners, so it was nice to find a place that served Brazilian food.  I can go elsewhere to find Italian food thanks.  I tried the feijoada (a pork, beef, and black bean stew with many accoutrements) that is only served on Saturdays and moqueca carcara (a tomato based variation of moqeuca stew).  Of the nicer meals I had in Jeri, this was my favorite place.

6. The Fretcar (pronounced freshcar, just to confound my pronunciation understanding) stop where the cheapest option to get into town from Fortaleza arrives and leaves.  It is next to a travel agency/internet cafe where you can buy tickets.  There is usually a bus in the morning and afternoon that will take you into Fortaleza beach areas, the bus stop and the airport.  The late night bus which occasionally leaves will take you to the Fortaleza bus stop.

So there you go, that’s the Jeri I saw and ate.  I’m sure that map is missing all sorts of important things but I am doing it from memory.  I hope it helps someone more than the few pages Jericoacoara seems to get in guide books.  I have not even covered the hundreds of pousadas that dot the landscape.  I had heard before I got here that Jericoacoara is a place many people stay longer than they intended.  For most travelers, I would recommend only staying a few days if you need your days filled with activities and you are not a kite or windsurfer.  For me, I think I’ve stayed just the right amount of time.  I enjoyed my month long stay and I am ready to leave, thanks for the fun times Brazil.  I’ll be back to check out the rest of you sometime.

I’ve been here for 2 weeks and will be here for two more.  So where is here?  I’m on the northeastern side of Brazil in Jericoacoara.  This is a fishing village turned hippie mecca turned kite and wind surfer town.  It’s quite out of the way and took a flight and a 7 hour bus ride through sand dunes and lagoons from Sao Paulo to get here.  It’s a small town of about 3,000 people with streets paved in soft white sand.  The transport of choice appears to be dune buggy or horse.  Wild donkeys roam the streets and the nearby dunes and lagoons.

Baby donkeys are really adorable.

There are only about 5 main streets in town and it takes me 10 minutes or so to walk across the entire town.  People come here from nearby city Fortaleza to relax and get away from the urban life.  The restaurants and stores here are a weird mix of luxury tourist places and significantly cheaper local things.  Activities around town mostly revolve around the windy beach, the beautiful sand dune, and the peaceful lagoons.  I attempted a second surf lesson, but the smaller waves and shoddier equipment meant I couldn’t even stand this time.

The locals say you can tell how many tourists are in town by looking at how many people gather on the nearest tall dune to watch the sunset.  This is one of the few places in Brazil that has a west facing beach.

Everything looks like a postcard here.

There's never a cloudy sunset, only a few lingering puffy clouds to make a pretty sky.

I’m here for a little bit as I’m not fond of traveling all that quickly.  Every week tends to be rather different here.  This week, there happens to be a Choro Jazz festival in town.  I’m not sure what Choro Jazz means but the music is mostly acoustic and slower than what I am accustomed to for jazz.  They’re also here to teach free workshops to musicians from all over the world.  My favorite show happened to be the visiting samba band from Rio.  They were so lively, like an extra energetic version of a church choir with a full percussion section and back up singers.

Epic moustache man on the left is hiding an amazing belt buckle. The guy on the right is in traditional gaucho wear with parachute pants.

This is a beautiful place to relax in a hammock and meet some nice people from all over.  Every day brings something new, we’ll see what my next two weeks here bring.