Courage for Acaraje

If there’s one reason and one reason alone to go to Salvador, particualarly if you like traveling with your stomach as your guide – then acaraje has to be it!

Made from ground feijao, (black-eyed peas), this deep fried ball of goodness is then topped with spicy sauce – ask for it ‘bem quente’ (trust me!)

After the spicy sauce comes a seafood mix, some salsa and a few other variations depending on the vendor you’ve chosen. Top it off with a few prawns and you have a cheap snack that packs a punch, which I have to say isn’t common in the foods in Brazil…

I hadn’t had one in 6 years, so I asked the baiana lady if her acaraje was awesome, because after 6 years, I needed awesome. She laughed, assured me it was and then asked me if I wanted it hot or cold (spicy or mild). Very hot please was my reply. It burnt the sides of my mouth and throat, but it was truly an awesome acaraje. 

This street food is sold by vendors all throughout Brasil, often by the Baiana women, wearing their traditional costumes. For awesome acaraje in Salvador, head to the lighthouse at Farol do Barra. I think her name was Maria… Still savouring the taste!

 

Salvador and the Rain Shaman

Bidding my island adventure adieu, I was on a plane to Salvador. Having been there last time in 2005 and stayed mostly in Pelourinho the historic centre. It rained every day last time I was in Salvador and I didn’t even get to experience their beaches once. This time I planned differently… I stayed in a great location in Barra, near the lighthouse. The pousada Ambar was awesome and had spectacularly good breakfast each morning. 

I had a pretty watery connection with Salvador, and it still held strong this time. Finding myself cut off from the beach due to the rain, it was back to the Mercador in Pelourinho for some trading. Yes, it’s touristy, and there’s plenty of ‘religious’ women who want you to grease their palms for your protection and blessing… but there’s genuinely some great merchandise there as well. 

The famous Elevator connecting the high part of the city with the lower costs just 15c to use. It’s kind of a must if you’re there, and a quick and easy way to get up and down between the two parts of the city. 

At the market, I found a lady selling the most awesome necklaces made out of small tiny seashells, each one meticulously painted a different hue. She also had some amazing necklaces made out of the seeds of acai, my favourite amazon berry! (A plus was that Australian quarantine had no issue with either!)

It was a good days activities while the rain persisted.

But finally, a smidgeon of sun broke through and I was determined to see what Salvador life on the beach was all about. 

While not the crystal clear waters of Fernando de Noronha, it does have some great swimming spots. Porto da Barra is one, where on a small slice of sand, the sun worshippers flock to pray to their god.

Serviced tents provide everything you need (water, shade, and a watchful eye while you bathe) and they even water the sand under your feet so it doesn’t get too hot. (I did find that a bit too strange…)

With a calm bay in front of you, this sheltered beach faces out to a row of boats moored about 500 metres off shore. With a brisk swim, swimmers make their way out to the boats to sit on them, sunbathe and strike up a conversation with another swimmer.

Again, just like Rio, you can buy almost anything on the beach, so just bring a little money, sunscreen, sarong and a sense of fun…

 

Bugger….

Feeling somewhat adventurous, I hired a dune buggy for a day to get to some of the harder to reach spots on Fernando de Noronha. The freedom was wonderful, and I ticked a few more places off my list that I’d been meaning to see or go back to. 

First stop though was down to the petrol station to fill up. I must say it was a bit challenging trying to stay on what I consider to be the wrong side of the road. Plus I had no idea how much fuel this thing was going to need or use. With some help from the locals, I was off and running. 

And I soon found myself back at my favourite haunt, the Baia do Sancho. 

After a 300m walk to the cliffs, you then descend down two sets of rickety ladders to end up walking down onto a gorgeous stretch of beach. Giant white birds with pterodactyl-style tails were flying and circling around overhead, before sheltering in the trees that hugged the cliffs around the calm bay.  It was somewhat like a scene out of Jurassic park, but without the fences, or the maneaters…

There was a giant tree at one end of the beach providing shade and protection for the handful of tourists who had come to snorkel and bathe. At the other end, tranquility and isolation… 

I loved the freedom that the buggy brought, even though it was a bugger to drive. At night it was dangerous too, as the top of the buggy obscured most of my vision of the road… Regardless, it was all going well. That was until… it broke. The gears snapped or something <insert technical explanation here later> and left me practically immobile on a busy enough stretch of road where there no places to pull over. Directly on either side of the road were large gullies for the rain…. and no place for stopping. 

With some mild swearing from other drivers, and a bit of a panic, I managed to veer the buggy by reversing down the wrong side of the road, and snagging an impromptu parking spot out the front of one of the restuarants. Lucky for me, one of the guys hanging around out the front, knew the owner of the buggy hire company. And it got all sorted within a half hour… 

They offered me a replacement buggy, but that thing was crazy I tell you. I said, ‘maybe tomorrow…’

(Hell no!)

Postcard Photos at Every Turn

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If you truly want to be in awe of Fernando de Noronha, then I recommend starting with one of the general island tours on your first day. (Blue Marlin had some good tours!) It’s great as there are some areas of the island you are only allowed to go to with a guide, particularly where the sea turtles are hatching and their breeding grounds. Once you’ve gone around to all points of the island, heard all the local stories, seen the views and taken those tourist pose photos (see below), then you’re pretty much free to pick and choose from the type of scene you want to for the rest of your time. 

 

From the sandy stretch of Praia Baldro to the snorkeling haven of Baia dos Porcos to the enchanting Baio do Sancho, you’ll be spoilt for choice on this island. Waves? There’s a beach for that. Snorkeling, there’s a hundred bays for that. Chilled down time, there’s a beach for that too…. 

Buggies, Bikes or Hikes are the best way to get around the island – and it’s not that big a place that you can’t get to or from any one place without too many worries.

Tour operators offer boat trips around the island too. Dolphins love to play alongside the boats as you head to the bays around the island and drop anchor to snorkel. I didn’t really rate snorkeling before this trip. I’d been snorkeling up in Cairns, and it was fun, but would I be itching to do it again – probaby not. But here, the sheer volume of wildlife underneath the waters, and the absolute purity and clarity in the waters around the island make snorkeling or diving a must. 

You could see down for 40 metres through the water to the sea floor below with little difficulty. Giant sea turtles lazily swim around, as do manta rays, sharks (friendly mostly), fish of all sizes and colours. 

I didn’t make it diving, but maybe these videos might whet your appetite!

On the island, the birds slowly circle overhead above the beaches, as hordes of small lizards roam the rocks and scurry when the giant rat-like creatures come snooping around. Natural beauty is everywhere… just as you’d hope.

Party Comedown in Paradise

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What better way to comedown from the massive party that is Carnival in Brazil, than a week in paradise… with nothing better to do than pamper oneself in nature.

For me, that piece of paradise was an island off the coast of Brazil called Fernando de Noronha. It’s the result of a volcanic blip spewing forth from the ocean floor, but oh what a blip it is. Unbounded nature meets beauty on this island where tourism has been limited in order to preserve its integrity. Turtles, birds, dolphins, sharks and so many fish of all descriptions teem in the waters and around the island. 

The best place to catch the flight to Fernando de Noronha is from Natal, where it’s about an hour’s flight off the coastline. As you near the island, the pilots do a quick circuit of the island to let you drink in the views, and it’s a stiff drink to say the least! 

The island is only 18.4 square kilometres, but it fits a lot of diversity in the space. If you love snorkeling, diving, natural beaches, hiking or wildlife, then this island will suit you perfectly.

It’s not the easiest, or cheapest place to stay at in Brazil. In fact it was the most expensive of all the places on my itinerary. However planning ahead can help keep costs down. Book ahead for the cheaper bed and breakfast stays. I ended up going middle of the range, because hey, I was there to treat myself. 

I arrived at Beco de Noronha, my pousada, to find the friendly staff waiting for me with a cocktail, and a foot massage as they settled me into the island routine. (Nice routine!)

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After settling in, and having a brief walk around the island, I found myself heading into town for some dinner. I found the cutest restaurant called Cacimba, where the food was amazing. I went back a few times to this place during my stay, as they had a modern take on some Brazilian style dishes that I really got into.

While the adrenalin of Carnival was fast leaving my body, the relaxation and bliss of being here on this incredible island was taking over.

 

 

Fast-talking Friends

The real test of mastering another language is when you’re accepted into a group of friends – and they stop talking slowly in their native language for your benefit. 

The storytelling begins, the pace quickens and the vocabulary suddenly takes on rarer and unusually evocative words – all of which means that confusion reigns supreme.

It’s a slap in the face for the cocky linguist (I avoided using cunning there…), and a challenge afoot to learn more…

One such time was the trip back from Bezerros to Recife. The car was abuzz with storytelling, most of it coming from Wilton – who could only be described as the fast and the furious. It was pretty safe to say that I had no idea what on earth they were talking about for most of the conversation. Perhaps my brain had had too much and shut down, but I was processing ‘nothing’.

It made me stop and think about sometimes how I talk with my friends back home, and if I change the way I speak to make it easier for my friends from afar to understand.

The key to helping them understand is not really to speak louder. That only helps in the clubs and bars! Try these tips instead.

– Avoid using descriptive language which relies on cultural references. We love to describe things in ways that only a local will understand – but remember that not everyone may get what you mean. A work colleague had fun once by talking about the ‘elephant in the room’ and one of her teams overseas were probably wondering why the hell we had elephants at the office. Cliches can lead to plenty of confusion for foreigners.

– Don’t shorten all words – expand them out at first, and slowly introduce conjunctions. 

– Keep it simple. Shorter Sentences are best. After all communication is better when its flowing between two people, so try practicing listening and speaking. 

– Keep as much of the conversation in the present tense, or be specific when refering to past or future events. Tenses can confuse and confound at the best of times, even more so when you’re learning a language. 

Of course, not everyone wants to be understood – some prefer the challenge. Ask your friends from afar, and check in with them to see if you are going too fast (or slow) for them. After all, they are probably here to study English, and learn the unique flavour behind Australian lingo.

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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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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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’.