After two weeks of straight travel through the state of Bahia, I am back in my friend Rodrigo’s house in Niteroi, and am enjoying the comforts of my Brazilian home. I think I can only travel (site see) for so long before I want a break in the action. I’m planning on taking it easy for a few weeks here, before heading back to Salvador for Carnaval. This trip is about more than sightseeing, and I plan on doing some thinking about my life when I return to the United States. I’m also looking into volunteering at a cancer hospital for children in Rio.
Meanwhile, the last few days haven’t been without excitement. Port Seguro was neat in its own way, but after the tranquil style of Icaraiva, it was a bit too busy and touristy for me. I met another North American on my way there, a guy from Vancouver, and he was quite eager to talk in English, as he didn’t speak Portuguese. I obliged, of course, but after a few moments I immediately felt out of place. It was as if the Brazilian veil I hide under was taken off and I could feel people looking at me as I carried on in my foreign tongue. Now, I’m the first to admit that people know I’m American with my heavy accent in Portuguese, but without speaking, I pass as Brazilian very easily, and it’s been a fantastic help when trying to blend in. Speaking in English immediately took me out of it and I really felt more like a foreigner.
The bus ride home was my first time alone in a while, as my friends had booked a flight earlier. I was happy to meet some other Brazilians who I could understand, more or less, and I made friends quickly. However, after paying extra for the bus with air conditioning, I woke up at 6am (it was an overnight trip) to find myself alot hotter and stickier than one might expect with air conditioning. I soon learned that the air conditioner had broken, and to make matters worse, on buses with air conditioning, only the small windows in the front and back of the bus open. So the next few hours were highly uncomfortable, as the sun came up and turned our vehicle into a nice little oven. It was over 90 degrees when I arrived in Niteroi, and as you could guess, even hotter on the bus. Oof.
Anyhow, yesterday night I was happy to be back in an air conditioned room for the first time in a few weeks… It’s a good thing I arrived in the morning, because without much warning, there was a torrential downpour for an hour or so, and by 10pm last night, the city of Niteroi (and Rio too, I presume) had flooded with about 3 ft of water. The photo above is from Rodrigo’s 10th floor apartment, for your amusement. Thankfully, Niteroi is on the beach, so it drained after a few hours, but we had our own little Katrina situation, as cars and belongings were floating down the street. The excitement never ends… 🙂
I’ve noticed that people treat strangers differently over here. It’s not so much in the people you walk past on the street (although if you catch eyes with another guy, a thumbs up is always exchanged), but more with people you interact with for a few moments. I’ve seen the difference with waiters, hotel owners, taxi cab drivers, even ferry boat drivers.
The friends I am traveling with are extremely friendly, and always ready to talk, so they may be an extreme example of this, but on a milder scale I think there is a difference here in general.
It’s evident in what they say, and the tone of voice. They treat these new entrants in their lives like old friends.
One of my friend was sick yesterday, and a local nurse came to the hotel room to help out with an IV. Patricia greeted the nurse by name, and said “Oh, Joanna, can you believe this situation?” The response and following conversation was so casual and informal. It was as if the nurse was immediately part of a community, or family.
I’ve already bought some souvenirs to take home with me from my trip, but above all things, I hope I can take home this culture of familiarity.
I’ve been very go-with-the-flow during my travels in the last few weeks. I’ve found that having less expectations of what I want to see and do, makes traveling with my friends so much easier. If it’s time to eat, then it’s time to eat… and I don’t put in as much input into what or where. It helps be less intrusive, as I’ve piggy-backed on a trip with a group of friends. It also lets me experience life their way, instead of trying to mold it to become more familiar to me. I think this ‘letting go’ is good for me, and a healthy break from my usual mentality.
Last night was my first night in Icaraíva, which is a small village on the east coast of Brasil, north of Rio. It is set between a river and the ocean, and has a some Pousadas (accomodations), a lot of mosquitos, dancing and no electricity.
When the sun set, and the only lights were from a few places with generators, a small band set up on the river bank, and I went to listen to them play. It was a ‘Pagote’ band, made up of 5 guys, and candlelight. The music was similar to Samba, but a local version. As far as I could tell, it was all locals, most of whom were drinking beer and dancing. I sat back and was watching one little girl in particular. The younger kids were up near the ‘stage,’ and this girl was dancing up a storm. Her feet moved much faster than I could count the beat, and while watching her move instinctively, my American brain immediately started wondering about her life here. What is life like, when a night like this one is normal? What would happen if she was picked up and given my life when I was 9? Elementary schools with large gymnasiums glossy floors. Where would she dance? Her enthusiasm and spirit that she had in the moment couldn’t be contained in a dance class. My western life would probably scare her. The change would be too much, and she would long for nights of dancing barefoot in the sand, to candlelight.
How lucky am I to be able to see and appreciate both worlds?
I continued to imagine her life switched with mine. Her days of jumping in the river and laying at the beach would be replaced by clean, chlorinated neighborhood pools, and metal playgrounds at the park. Sand covered feet would be scrubbed clean, and covered in white sneakers.
I am lucky. But my life is not for everyone.
-Some of these posts are transcribed from my written journal as many places don’t have internet access.
So we seem to be in search of the perfect beach. I don´t really understand it, but my friends want to see every beach, and aren´t satisfied until we´ve visited them all. We spend a lot of time hiking and walking between them, and talking about which one was better than the other. It’s like the distinction between fine wines. They all seem pretty perfect to me, although some are less inhabited, which I like. I also like ones with shade. I’m bordering on black lately.
Anyhow, today someone attempted to rob me. I got home to our campsite to find the lock on my tent had been forced and broken, but the stupid thief was lazy or something and didn’t actually get it to open. I guess he didn’t want to hurt the tent either, because he could have just cut it open. Luckily, I keep all my valuables with me, so no worries. Everyone thinks it’s because someone noticed I was a gringo, and saw dollar signs.
I uploaded loads of photos today, only a fraction of what was taken, but they have captions on most. Thanks much to Fil Fortes, for sponsoring my Flickr account.
Yes, I realize that I don´t have a shirt on in most of the photos… it’s hot as hell over here, and I’m half naked or 95% of the day. Besides, the Brazilians are far from conservative.
- Wild Animals – I had my first viewing of a wild animal during one of my runs here. I had just returned from a day trip, and it was dusk… I was staying with friends on a remote peninsula on the east coast of Brazil, south of Salvador (Barre Grande). I went for a quick run, and was on a dirt road with foliage on both sides, and heard a rustling to my left. Now, I would love to make up something about it being a big jungle cat or something, but its possible it was just a dog. It was getting dark, and I didn´t have my glasses on. It was about the size of a medium size dog, and it looked at me for a second, then dove back into the thick brush. From my viewpoint, it didn´t move like a dog, and I hadn´t seen any other stray dogs that ran away from humans. Anyhow, it didn´t have to be anything scary… I was in the middle of Brazil, running alone on a dirt “road” without much light. Anything larger than a rat would have scared the daylights out of me. For a second, the macho side of me came out , and I tried to not be notice my flight or fight response, but then I thought “What the hell am I trying to prove?” and I turned around and ran home faster than I came. God bless legspeed.
- The View of America – I was comparing cuisines with my brazilian friends yesterday, and they were convinced that Americans were fat because of all the bacon and eggs that we eat every morning. I can´t remember the last time I ate bacon and eggs for breakfast, but they don´t take my word because I´m a “fake” American… in their words: I look Brazilian, have “dos Santos” for a last name, am nice (Americans seem standoff-ish in this physical culture), and am skinny. Anyhow, the point is that they think everyone eats bacon, everyday. Why? Because that what is shown in all the movies. As warped as this might be, its scary to think of what the world´s view of the US consists of. After all, who doesn´t think of lions, zebras and giraffes when I say Africa? If the rest of the world is getting their view of the US from pop culture,… no wonder Americans aren´t looked fondly upon. Imagine what other misconceptions they must have? Our pop culture (sometimes in its worst form) is so pervasive.
- Luiz – My friends and I were staying at a simple “pousada” which is basically a room, and breakfast in the morning. I had a single bed underneath a window. I kept the window open (it wasn´t so much a window, as a part of the wall on hinges) because I wanted the breeze during the night (no air conditioning, but we were on the beach, so the breeze was plentiful). The room was standalone, so at ground level, and I knew anyone could easily hop in through the window if they wanted, but we were in a remote area, so I had gone to sleep without worries. Anyhow, at first, I woke up because my friend Priscilla was up. I sat up to attention when I saw a silhouette in the window near the sink, and was about to leap out of bed when I noticed it was her. I calmed my thumping heart, and went back to bed. When I woke again, a large hand had reached in the window and was about a foot from my head. I looked up and saw a large black man looking back at me. Again I leapt to attention, this time fully up in my bed. I scared him a bit, because he backed of and said “It´s going to rain, it´s going to rain.” It was Luiz, the general manager of sorts, who was trying to close my window before I got wet. After deciphering his portuguese, I raised my hand in understanding, closed the window, and tried to get a few more winks in. Sigh.
- The Showers – So anyhow, besides Luiz, views of America or wild animals, the thing that scares me the most in Brazil is the showers. Depending on where you are, sometimes there is hot water and sometimes there is not. Even in the nicest places, I have not found central hot water, but instead there is an electric apparatus that is part of your showerhead that heats the water. There are three settings for heat and a switch to choose. The first time I tried to change the temperature, I didn´t understand the words, so I was trying all the settings. Every time I switched it, I could see a flash of charge behind the plastic of the showerhead. A bit alarming, but hey, no harm, no foul. Recently, in one of the pousadas, I tried the same endeavor, as I like cold showers in this hot climate. This time I got a slight buzzing sensation, which turned into a stronger sensation, then pain. I got quite a shock before I realized what was happening. I looked at the shower head, and there were all kinds of wires hanging out (no plastic sheath on some of them). Holy smokes! I talked with my friends today, who laughed heartily at my stupid gringo ways. Apparently every brazilian knows not to touch the shower head after you are wet. I didn´t see any such directions, and at the normal 240V that they have here, wet or not, I´ll be letting the person in front of me decide my water temperature from now on.
I love this country. Pictures to come.
- Latin cultures seem to mix well. We met Italians and Spaniards on a boat trip today, and everyone understood each other, mostly, and got along really well.
- We were taking off from one stop, and there was a fishing boat with 4 small boys in it. The boat was essentially a carved out log, that sat really low in the water. The boys were paddling with a plank of wood. In front of me a huge speed boat pulled up, probably 35 ft or so… The contrast struck me so suddenly. The speedboat seemed so out of place in this huge river, amongst the fisherman and the small boys. Interesting though… the boys didn´t seem to be having any less fun than the kids in the boat. They were a lot more lively, in fact.
- If woman wears a bikini that covers more than a third of your butt, you are immedietely noticed as an outsider. And your suit? “Very ugly”
- Places to visit seem to be judged by the number of beaches.