Ten Things to Love About Brazil

Trip Start Jan 03, 2004
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Trip End Dec 2004


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Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Feliz Natal! Is it really mid-December? With the sun shining, the beach not far away and everyone around us wearing flip-flops, it´s hard to tell. The Santa at the crowded mall looked a tad uncomfortable in his jolly red suit, but at least it was a reminder that indeed the holidays are upon us. As an early Christmas present, Brazil made the sun shine for most of our stay here and steered our feet toward great eats, meats and other treats.

We wish we could say that we´ve had the best of the best here in Brazil, but it´s too hard to say. The country is massive, and we´ve seen only a speck. Brazil is bigger than the United States if you exclude Alaska. Our trip is equivalent to a Brazilian flying to New York City for a few days (in our case Rio de Janeiro) and then traveling around Texas for three weeks (in our case the state of Bahia). We utilized every mode of transportation, sometimes in one day. Jill learned her first Portuguese word, "Calma," when she came out of the restroom at a rest stop at 4 a.m. to see that the bus we were on, and which a peacefully sleeping Andy was still on, had left. She calmed down and stopped jabbering away in English only after she heard the words "calma" and "petrol."

We´ve seen so much that a blow-by-blow account would try anyone´s patience, so we´ve decided instead to give you our Ten Things to Love About Brazil (kindly borrowed from our fellow world-traveling friends Gail and Sean who inspired us earlier with their Ten Reasons to Fall in Love with Bali travelogue):

10) Sliding down the Ribeirao waterslide- This waterslide was unlike anything you'll find at your local swim club. Our water slide was a huge slab of red rock covered in a slick layer of algae with a river to propel you down fifty feet on your butt into a large pool of water. The Ribeirao waterslide was one of the major attractions of the Chapada Diamantina, a huge national park several hundred miles inland. We stayed in the nearby town of Lencois and enjoyed the natural wonders of the park. We also rock-hopped up the river to the beautiful Sossego waterfall and climbed to the top of Pai Ignacio for a beautiful view of the tabletop mountains of the park.

9) Partying in Pelourinho- Pelourinho is the historic center and main tourist attraction of Salvador, the vibrant capital of the state of Bahia. Ornate colonial style churches line cobblestone streets. There always seemed to be something going on with Tuesday nights really drawing out the crowds. We sat outside that night and listened to live Samba music. Brazilians love to dance and on another night we went to a folklore show featuring many different types of dance from Bahia. For the show's finale, a dancer pulled Andy onto stage front and center. He must have worn his lead shoes that night, because he barely moved a muscle-- and definitely not to the beat. Jill was well positioned to snap a few incriminating pictures of Andy's futile attempt at dancing.

8) Watching capoeira in Salvador- Another form of dance we saw in Salvador is capoeira. African slaves in Brazil originally developed capoeira as a martial art form to fight their colonial masters. It was turned into an acrobatic dance form so the slaves could practice. It was banned for most of the past century until it gradually became recognized as a form of artistic expression. We saw a capoeira demonstration at a school in Pelourinho. The dancers form a semi-circle in which rotating pairs spar in a non-contact display of kicks and evasive maneuvers accompanied by a rhythmic playing of drums.

7) Getting a bowl of açai for a late-night snack -- Brazil is the mecca for cheap and delicious exotic fruit. Many fruit do not have an English name, for example acai (pronounced ah-sah-ee), which has a gritty forest berry taste and deep purple color. However, when blended frozen with guarana juice (another Amazonian fruit) and bananas, it makes an icy sweet treat. Acai is grown in the Amazon and then sent throughout Brazil. Without knowing what it was, Andy decided to try acai on one of our beach days. He had been won over by the many "Temos Acai" signs we'd seen at snack shops. After our first bowl, we were hooked. It's served cold with granola and fruit on top. It makes the perfect snack in the middle of a hot afternoon or at the end of the day for a late-night dessert.

6) Laying on the beach of Morro do Sao Paulo -- Morro do Sao Paolo is an island off the coast of Bahia. You can either take a slow boat from the town of Valenca or a fast boat from Salvador to get there. We have especially fond memories of the island because our first day there was our first day of sunshine after 10 straight days of rain. We were also there on Thanksgiving when we gave thanks the sun continued to shine upon us. Morro do Sao Paolo offers some fantastic beaches with a beautiful island setting. Although the area has become extremely popular and developed, there still aren't any cars or paved roads on the island. "Taxis" on the island were wheelbarrows skillfully driven by muscular men who would tote guests' bags from the pier to the various beachfront guesthouses.

5) Eating fresh clams at Maria´s in Boipeba- On the small island of Boipeba, near where the small boats unload their cargo, is a shack with one long table and a few plastic chairs inside and tables and chairs outside. If an American we met hadn't told us about it, it would have been another of the many shacks we would walk past and not thought twice about. But inside this shack, a woman named Maria runs a restaurant where you can order a dozen clams for 2 reals (about 60 cents). Given the price, we were expecting small clams and were surprised when she served us a dozen of the meatiest clams we had ever seen. Maria served them with a delicious broth, slices of lime and a spicy sauce. We slurped down clams and tossed the shells a few yards away into the water while watching the sun set over the coconut trees.

4) Looking forward to cafe da manha -- When it comes to breakfast (cafe da manha), Brazilians don't mess around. We don't know if they eat huge breakfasts regularly, but most of the guesthouses we stayed at had a wonderful spread of fresh fruit, cakes, coffee and juices awaiting us when we awoke. Pousada Santa Clara in Boipeba won our prize for "Best Breakfast." Each morning, they served us a different spread. We ate homemade breads, watermelon juice, pineapple, cakes, mangoes, tapioca, empanadas and other goodies. Sometimes we looked forward to falling asleep because we know we'd get to eat breakfast the next morning!

3) Attending a candomble ceremony- In the state of Bahia, it is possible to witness a candomble ceremony, a practice of an African cult brought over to Brazil by slaves. It is one example of how African culture has influenced Brazilian culture. We went to a candomble ceremony in our second night in Salvador. We wore pants and light colors as recommended. When we arrived at 8pm, the hall was almost empty except for a few elderly ladies who made sure men and women sat on opposite sides of the room. The square room was simply decorated with streamers draped across the ceiling. In the middle of the room was a wooden structure with ornate wooden chairs surrounding it facing out toward the people. The ceremony began about two hours after we had arrived. A group of men began pounding out a rhythm on drums and out walked about 20 women, mostly older, elaborately dressed in hoop skirts and white lace shirts. They danced slowly around the room for what seemed like hours until one of the women fell into a trance. She started to shake and then continued to dance with the other women with her eyes half-closed. Whenever she passed, the people would bow their heads and hold their palms up to her. Soon other women fell into trances as well. We left without seeing how the ceremony ended. We opted not to hire a guide, so many aspects of the ceremony left us confused. However, we enjoyed watching first hand an ancient practice close to the Bahian people.

2) Getting the thumbs-up from a Brazilian -- Another reason to love Brazil is the friendly and fun-loving people. We could sense their easy-going, laid-back attitude from the minute we first stepped off the plane. We also noticed that they always seem to be giving the thumbs-up sign. While in some countries the thumbs-up is an obscene gesture, in Brazil it seems to convey just about every possible message. You place an order. Thumbs-up. You see someone on the street. Thumbs-up. By the end of our month in Brazil, we too were giving everyone the thumbs up. Maybe we'll bring it home to the states and start a new trend. It sure does beat the indifferent American nod!

1) Hanggliding over the Atlantic Ocean and Rio de Janiero- All year we had been looking forward to Rio de Janeiro for the chance to see how it feels to fly. Rio is a world famous hanggliding locale, particularly off the 510 meter Pedra Bonita on Pepino Beach. Even Jill, who you would be hard pressed to describe as an adrenaline junkie, was looking forward to it. Unfortunately, rain and clouds nixed our chances of hanggliding during our four days in Rio when we arrived in Brazil. We had one more shot the morning before our flight to Miami on our way to St. Kitts. A few clouds hung over Pedra Bonita, but the sky over the beach was clear. Jill went first tandem with our pilot Chico. One moment, she was strapping on a helmet and it seemed like the next moment she was running down a short runway into the clouds. Suddenly nothing was below her feet, the clouds were behind her and down below she could see trees, beach and an endless stretch of blue ocean. The journey was smooth as we coasted over the treetops that looked like broccoli, the tall apartment buildings and then over the water. For a few seconds, Chico stopped the hangglider to experience a free fall. The stomach-in-throat feeling was similar to riding a rollercoaster, but knowing you're not attached to anything mechanical on the ground gave the thrill a new dimension. Andy flew second and enjoyed the sensation of floating and the peacefulness of gliding in air. The anticipation and thrill of takeoff were worth the wait. After our flights, Chico treated us to cold coconut water and acai. He said hanggliding was our "golden key" to end our stay in Brazil.

There are so many reasons to love Brazil, we could probably keep going. Hopefully we'll bring you another 10 reasons on our next trip to the country. We'd love to visit again and see Iguazu Falls in the south, the Amazon and the beaches in the north. But first, we need to learn some more Portuguese and meet some Brazilians who can show us around. Until then, eating churrascaria at a Brazilian rodizio in our hometown will suffice!
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