Archive

Brazil

I’m a wordy person.  If you read this blog, you already realize that. If you’ve ever had an actual conversation with me, you’d realize it’s the same long winded kind of storytelling.  A few friends have asked if I put up all my pictures that don’t appear here with snarky captions, so here we go.  As I travel, I have already seen people losing pictures and files when physical items get misplaced so I’ve decided to back up all my pictures on Flickr.

I’m joining Fiickr like it’s the mid 2000’s: Travel Photos.

Advertisements

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.

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.

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.