Category Archives: Brazilianaire Vol. 2

The 2011 travel adventures of The Brazilianaire

Towering over all in Olinda

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It’s bumper to bumper as we slowly crawl our way towards the historic centre of Olinda, just a few kms away from Recife. We’re moving at the rate of a car length every 5 minutes, so we bid farewell to our taxi driver, and leave him stranded in a one-way gridlock. (He did make a good amount of money though, so we don’t feel too bad)

Then we’re on to the streets, picking up a few drinks and nibbles along the way as we make our way up the cobblestone streets for the awesome Carnival street party that is Olinda. It never seems to end!

Frevo is the order of the day – all other music styles have been banned by order of the historians and traditionalists, in order to preserve the cultural heritage of the area. No one seems to mind, they are too busy going crazy on the streets, dancing, drinking and having an absolute ball…

And of course it would be remiss of me not to mention the Bonecas of Olinda. Those giant oversized dolls that are worn by individual dancers. This is their home. And they roam the streets towering above all else throughout the Carnival period, bringing a few smiles and raising cheers from the crowds. 

Apparently the idea with the giant dolls is that with them towering above over the top of you, it makes you feel that they are the adults of the carnival, and you are just a child again, and can feel free to have fun and muck around like you did when you were a child. 

I must have been taller than most in Olinda, because I distinctly recall hearing at least two times, someone commenting to look at the ‘Boneca of Olinda’ passing in front of them… hehehe   Of course, I often used that height to my advantage, to spot people from afar, act as a mobile point for friends to meet at, and yes, even use the height to strike up a conversation or two with a playful and cheeky local. 🙂

Each street has a different vibe and feel, and there’s bound to be an atmosphere in Olinda to match every person that comes to celebrate. Anything goes on the streets of Olinda and for a utopian moment, love, peace and joy abound regardless of race, gender, religion or sexuality.

Think you’ve got what it takes to dance Frevo? Check out these dancers and see how you compare…

 

Beseiged in Bezerros

Our merry band of revelers decided to see what the countryside had to offer for Carnival, so we made our way on Sunday to Bezerros, an hour and a half outside of Recife. It was Robson’s hometown, so we were welcomed by family and friends and invited to stay for the food and festivities. 

There in the heart of Bezerros, the traditional ‘Papangu’ festival was already getting underway. In this parade, costumes are key, particularly masks, and the locals have clearly spent a lot of time preparing for this annual event. 

Picture small cobblestone streets filled to the brim with colour and sound of every description. There are no giant floats, just lots of people hitting the street and in a total festive mood.

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Watch on Posterous

I was apparently the only foreigner in town, beseiged by Brazilians in full party-mode. I ended up feeling the sun a bit too much halfway through the afternoon, so took a quick nap (and lots of water) at one of Robson’s relatives houses. It was kind of difficult grabbing some shut eye while the bass of a thousand drums are beating just out on the streets.

 

After I woke up, I really wasn’t feeling all that hungry, but you know hometown hospitality. Robson’s brother wouldn’t let me stop eating. The fact that he was a little tipsy and wouldn’t take no for an answer didn’t help the situation. I eventually begged him to stop feeding me after three plates of food, and I think the family decided that I’d had enough.

The sun was setting, and the party looked like it wasn’t going to be ending anytime soon, so I headed back out onto the streets to find Ricardo, Robson and the gang. It was fun walking through the the crowds of happy drinkers. There was no violence, just happiness, as everyone put aside their worries and concerns and just enjoyed the moment. 

A twenty-something Brazilian slowly pulled up a car on the side of the road, popped open the trunk and got some seriously funky tunes pumping out of the speakers. Within minutes there were flocks of people dancing to the tunes, that quite clearly, they’d grown up with all their lives.

I felt somewhat disconnected, yet happy to be the observer. I couldn’t relate to the music that clearly had evoked some rapturous high inside them – but I could relate to their sole goal of enjoying the moment. After all, what more do we have?  

I found Ricardo and Robson and the rest of our merry bunch dancing their way through the side streets. Realising that I had some major catching up to do to get into the same state they were in, I grabbed a few drinks and tried my best to dance alongside them. 🙂 

At the end of a long day of dancing, drinking and absolute mayhem – we found ourselves sitting outside in the balmy breeze, in a small square in front of an aging church. We talked about Robson growing up in Bezerros, and about some of the town’s traditions.

And then, just as we were enjoying the quiet of the moment, another of the town’s traditions sped past us. All the guys from town were on motorbikes, dressed in womens clothing, racing past at high speed, screaming and having fun. 

Ah Carnival in Brazil. Joy comes only at the cost of sensibility. 

 

Galo de Madrugada – Carnival Saturday Morning

One of Brazil’s biggest street parties (blocos) is Recife’s Galo de Madrugada (the early rooster) on Saturday morning. In fact it’s considered by the Guiness Book of World Records as the world’s largest Carnival parade. This year, almost 1.7 million people took part in this year’s parade as participants.

It’s the biggest drawcard on a very packed calendar of events on Recife’s Carnival calendar.

The Galo began in 1978, and focuses around a set path in Recife’s Historic Centre. The locals are pretty proud of their musical heritage, so usually the style of music revolves around the locally created ‘frevo’ style.

Brazilian Paulo Montezuma wrote some thoughts down about this carnival parade which makes complete sense once you’ve been part of it – it translates roughly to…

The Galo da Madrugada invades the city center so that it becomes unclear who is the Galo, who sees the Galo, who is not of the Galo, which is the Galo. The Galo is the people. It is the people dreaming, singing, playing, without prejudice or restriction, under sun or rain, with money or without money. “

It’s not called the early rooster for nothing, an early start is definitely required to beat the crowds and get to your vantage point. (Well an early start considering the night before… so let’s say around 9-10am). The best way to view the Galo is in a VIP area or ‘camarote’. Each VIP area has its own style, services and pricetag to match. What all of them pretty much guarantee is security, and somewhere to base yourself for a very full day’s worth of dancing , drinking and general debauchery.

The action slowly winds its way around a set path, and the giant carnival trucks or ‘trio eletricos’ take their time ambling by with performers on top singing down to the crowds below. The giant dolls, or ‘Bonecas of Olinda’ also make an appearance or two throughout the parade. 

It gets a little messy towards the end of the day when the drink kicks in a few fights break out over who’s looking at whose girlfriend, but largely with a cautious eye, you can let your hair down and party up – if you’ve got hair that is.

Check out this link for some awesome photos of past parades from over the years.

Marco Zero – Carnival 1st Night

The bus station in Recife is 17km south west outside the city limits for some insane reason, so unless you plan on paying a bucketload of cash on cabs, then I recommend jumping out earlier if you are coming down from the north. Picking up my backpack, I hunted for a cab that was free and could take me quickly where I wanted to be. After all, this was Recife, a city with one of the highest murder rates per capita in Brazil. 

Nothing to worry about though as everyone was in a fine mood preparing for the first night of Carnival! I found the hotel, and checked myself in, freshened up and headed out to grab a pre-Carnival haircut and pick up a few much-needed sleeveless tees for the remainder of the celebrations.

I gave my mates Robson and Eliseu a call to see where they were at and around 8 or 9pm we headed into Recife Antigo (or the older historical centre of the city). This is where it all happens in Recife for Carnival. On the way in, we pass a giant statue of a rooster – the Galo da Magrugada (the early rooster). It’s the city’s symbol for Carnival and celebration and clearly it had crowed already. Hordes of revellers made their way into the historic centre in time for Marco Zero, the opening show – with a whole host of great singers. 

My personal favourite was Maria Gadu, who was sporting some very fetching pink hair and a yellow feather. Everyone was wearing some kind of ‘fantasia’ or costume and drinking and having a good time. The vibe in the city was fun and the crowds were fresh with anticipation for the next five days partying for Carnival. There were numerous zones around the city and areas where performances were happening. Plenty of space to become part of this huge party in the streets and get up close and personal with the maracatu – or the drumming beat!

Check out some of these clips from Youtube which give you a good dose of what the nightlife was like. Also there’s an ad from the Recife government which paints a fairly toned down but comprehensive version of the Carnaval celebrations… 

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MARIA GADU

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AD FOR CARNIVAL

The only downside to this amazingly vibrant street festival – not enough toilets… so of course some streets ended up smelling like you just didn’t want to go down them… while others seemed to be overflowing with beer that just wanted to get out of the body as quick as it could. All in all thought, well worth braving the ‘xixi na rua’.

 

And at 8.32 we have spontaneous scheduling…

I have to say that I really find it odd when I see people plan their travel to the n’th degree. You probably know the type, (or possibly even are one) that 

Nothing depresses me more than seeing a jam-packed schedule that accounts for every 15 minutes of my time. It sounds more like my typical work day, where time is money, and it’s just not the ‘baggage’ I like to travel with! Now not everyone is the same, and some will find immense comfort in schedules and planning, but for me, that spontaneity is one of the best parts.

Adventure is out there. You’ll never know it if you don’t go and give things a try, meet new people or be open to a change of plans. After my previous trip to Brazil where I had a few crazy adventures (namely Drugged and Mugged…) many friends and family suggested I come home after only a few months into my year-long adventure. How glad I am now that I chose not to listen to them… I am a far richer person for the travel experiences I’ve had. The financial cost, but a minor inconvenience when compared to the feeling of being really alive – in control, in the moment and truly free.

The hardest thing after a really bad travel experience, is to learn to trust again. And not just to trust in others, like locals, businesses or other travellers – but also to learn to trust in yourself again, and your judgement. If I’d cut myself off from trusting others during my past trip, I would have missed out on some of the most amazing experiences I’ve had in my life. I learnt to quickly trust my judgement again, my gut-feel about situations and interactions so that I could be ‘travel aware’.

It made me open to new experiences and willing to go outside of my comfort zone – ready to grab life and run with it whichever way it unfolded before me.

And so it came to pass that while I was in Natal, a friend I’d just met mentioned I should check out nearby Pipa, a small coastal town about an hour and a half south of Natal. 

My travel plan said stay in Natal, and I’d only recently met Anderson, so could I really trust his call to go and visit Pipa? My heart however, said, “let’s see what Pipa has to offer”. Last time I was in Brazil, some of my most favourite moments were spent in a small town in the country, which I never would have gone to if it weren’t for the kind invitation of my friend, Savio.

The bus slowly crawled its way past small village after village, until finally it reached the coast, and Pipa came into view. A bustling mix of locals, tourist and foreigners who had come to call Pipa home met my eye. It was like a more funky Jericoacoara but without all the desperate selling. The streets were mostly cobblestone, and charming avenues, restaurants, hotels and shops spun off from the main strip in all directions.

From the nearby Bay of Dolphins (yes, with actual dolphins) to the varied and beckoning beach coastline, Pipa has a small getaway for anyone, yet with all the convenience that sometimes makes life just, well, fun.

Such as the pizza rodizio. A great idea for a restaurant where they make a million and one different pizza flavours and bring them out every few minutes to share up amongst the guests who pay an ‘all you can eat’ fee. An awesome place for pizza lovers to taste a little bit of everything all at once.

I loved my time in Pipa. I felt relaxed, rejuvenated and entranced by the local vibe. And it wouldn’t have happened at all if I hadn’t have gone out on a limb, and trusted my travel ‘gut’.

Bewitched by the Beaches of Natal

After my adventure leaving Jericoacoara, and subsequent arrival in Natal, you can imagine my surprise when the taxi pulls up to my hotel and it’s a fully functional castle, complete with moat, English tavern and a witchy theme throughout.

The Lua Cheia (Full Moon) hostel is one of the best serviced hostels that I stayed at while in Brazil. All the rooms have crazy names of famous witches or dastardly doers-of-evil. My room was the “Sanitorium of Dr Ravengar” which certainly confused the heck out of the airport transfer organiser on the telephone when they asked me for my room number!

It was kitsch, but fun and it made for a great hostel experience. Staff were super friendly, and always dressed in some witchy garb. The place has plenty of spacious areas to socialise with the other guests, or find your own quiet nook for a spot of spellbook reading.

If the hostel wasn’t bewitching enough, then the true magic potion of Natal, must lie in its beaches. I was located in the suburb of Ponta Negra, which offers up a fantastic stretch of beach, all serviced by various ‘barracas’ or kiosks and freelance vendors. Want for nothing, with everything at your fingertips. Just kick back, relax and enjoy the service under the sun.

Part of Natal is set among the giant sand dunes, which makes it quite unique for a large metropolitan city and it’s a pretty backdrop to the city skyline.

The city, which name means Christmas in portuguese, has a year round giant Christmas Tree, complete with 3 wise men made out of lights.Just like the Lua Cheia, the city is one for kitsch. You’ll see many figurines of famous faces – rock musicians, local sports legends, presidents – adorning the entrances of a number of bars and restaurants, and there are definitely plenty of interesting spots to keep the occasional tourist busy.

I must admit that I don’t feel like spent enough time in Natal, and would really like to go back there to see what else the city has to offer.

An outpouring of wet, wet Jeri love

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Leaving Jericoacoara was quite an experience…

I woke up very early for any traveler (6am), packed my things and left the pousada (hotel) to make my way down to the one bus stop in Jeri where you can catch the bus back to Fortaleza.

It had been raining a little the evening before, but suffice to say, it had turned into a torrential early morning riser as well… The sandy streets of Jeri had become surging rivers of water racing back to the neighbouring sea. Armed with only a plastic bag around my backpack, I stripped off to just my shorts, and trudged through the rain for 7 minutes until I reached the bus stop, thinking of the warmth of the bus that would soon be my shelter.

I was soaked to the bone, but luckily, my backpack had largely escaped unscathed by the elements. Upon spying the bus, I soon realised that I would not be as lucky, as the 4WD dune buggy-bus had open windows, no flaps, and just enough seats to fit most of us in…

The leaky roof didn’t really help either. We soon became best buddies with our shivering travel companions as we put on a brave face for the next hour or so until we would get to the ‘proper bus’.

I wrested my towel from my backpack, and managed to dry myself off, but it too soon joined the rest of us and was drenched. When we got to the proper bus, there was no time to get dry clothes out of our bags, it was straight under the bus for our bags, and we jumped on board to try and dry off as best we could.

Lucky for me I had packed a spare pair of shorts/shirt in my daypack, so was largely able to get dry enough again over the next 4 hours to Fortaleza, then prepare myself for the next bus to Natal…   

A crazy, crazy, yet adventurous day was had by all.

It is oddly amusing that this trip was one of the more friendlier trips, as the cold and rain brought all the travelers together in one spirit.

Apologies for the delay!

UPDATE: Yes, it has been a while since I have been able to update these travel blogs. I arrived back in Sydney, and had to wait almost 3 months for internet access at home. So I will now upload the rest of the travel blog entries, photos and video over the next few days. After all, we still have to get through Carnival!

Thanks for reading! (And your comments…)

Love, the Brazilianaire

On Overselling…

Whilst Jericoacoara is undeniably beautiful, it can also be a lonely place for someone travelling on their own. It’s also a place which has seen so many tourists, that now its inhabitants only live to sell and find new ways of removing as much money from your wallets as possible.

Here’s a few tips for some of the vendors…(which I did give feedback to)

I’m a tourist. I’m going to buy things, it’s only natural… I’m going to take a tour or two. I’m going to eat out at restaurants. I’ll hire a chair and an umbrella to sit under at the beach. 

BUT when you incessantly and aggressively approach me to buy things, I tend to react by not buying anything at all, out of spite. 

I know that I have to catch a buggy to go anywhere outside the town. I’m not blind, or stupid… But you probably need to sell the destinations a little more, and not the ride itself. I loved the places that the buggies took me to, but no one told me about these in town. It was too much ‘Get your buggy here… buy a buggy ride’…

I had some pretty poor service at some of the restaurants, the kind of service where you want to just go out the back and get it yourself… 

I think I stayed in Jericoacoara two days more than I should have as the non-stop selling wore me down after a while. I spent some great time here alone in nature, with my thoughts , amazed by the dunes and the beaches, with pen and paper in hand. 

If i had the chance to go back to Jeri again, I would do it, as the beauty of it is amazing. But it would be for a different style of holiday…

Passeio de Paulinho

When in Jeri, a town of sandy streets, you’re faced with a few limited options for transport – on foot, horse or mule, quad bikes and the dune buggy. 

Needless to say, many take the buggy option. I bumped into Paulinho on my way down to the beach and he offered to take me round (a ‘passeio’) at a discounted price (as I was by myself and normally the buggy’s seat 3 plus the driver)

While you’re no longer allowed to go onto the dunes themselves as it’s a National Park Reserve, it’s a great experience to drive where permitted. There’s plenty to see around Jeri, but it takes a bit of driving to get there…

We arrived at Lagoa Azul (there’s always a Blue Lagoon everywhere!) and I had to swim across a channel of water to get to an island where they have set up a cute array of restaurants. 

Tables are set in the water, so you can eat and drink while fish sim about your ankles and nibble at your toes. You can also jump in a hammock, submerged in the water and relax as people wait on you, serving you with whatever you’d like to eat and drink. 

(My kind of paradise!)

Nearby Lagoa Paraiso (Paradise Lagoon) is a similar experience with a few more lunch items to choose from at their larger bar.