Ordem e Progresso

Okay, so…

I’M IN BRAZIL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Yep.

I would apologize for not updating more, but the truth is, this is still just a hobby for me, and I still have a regular job that was slowly sucking the life out of me until I left Bahrain in July and went on holiday in the States for a month.

I’ll write about that sometime but I haven’t gotten around to it yet, and even though I prefer to write things in the order that they happen, I really wanted to write something about Brazil, so I’m throwing my arbitrary rules out the window and writing about it now.

So anyway, Brazil. What can you say about it? It’s like a world unto itself. I realize that I have been dreaming about Brazil for a long time, even though I have never had a particular desire to come here. My reaction, upon finding out that this was my next job destination, was lukewarm at best. Brazil? Am I going to have to wear a thong? Deal with drunk carnival revelers? Listen to reggae?Then there was one day, as I was packing my things and getting ready, that I realized that Brazil is home to the one place I have always wanted to see, and which occupied countless hours of my childhood: the Amazon rainforest. While other kids were playing video games and taking ballet classes, I was making stuff out of junk (another story altogether) and thinking about the rainforest. My favorite animal was the toucan. My favorite store was The Nature Company. I bought tapes of rainforest sounds and colored in posters and wrote school reports about monkeys and tree frogs.

And even when I got older and my interests diversified, I came to love another Brazilian tradition: bossa nova and samba. Brazil is actually home to several of my favorite musicians. One of my favorite albums of all time is the collection made by Brazilian native Joao Gilberto, and includes the famous song “The Girl from Ipanema”, which was written just a few hours from where I live! Then there’s Gilberto Gil, Seu Jorge, Carlinhos Brown, Sergio Mendes…oh my! It turns out that Brazil has always been in my dreams; so how could I not love it?

Of course, Sao Paulo, where I live, is not exactly the sunny tropical paradise you might imagine, and the rainforest seems very far away from here. It’s winter, and it’s been cold and rainy and I’ve worn a jacket for the past two weeks straight. It’s not typical Brazil, but the place has its own character. I love that it has street cafes and terraces and a million different coffee shops and oh did I mention that Brazil is the largest exporter of coffee, milk, sugar, and orange juice? A veritable breakfast haven! So I have happily started my usual routine of trying different cafes for breakfast on weekend mornings, and so far, I haven’t eaten anything bad.

And about that reputation of violence that you’ve probably heard about, I have to say, I haven’t seen it. Not only has everyone been extremely friendly (even with my limited Portuguese and substitute Spanish), they returned my lost coat and regularly keep tabs for you at the cleaners, tailors, corner kiosk, and others, so that you don’t even have to pay every time you go in. That’s pretty trusting for a supposedly dangerous city. So I generally love Sao Paulo and Brazil, but I was aching to see what Brazil is famous for: beautiful beaches, strong caipirinhas, and tiny bikinis. So we went on vacation.

I am spending the weekend in Porto de Galinhas, in Pernambuco state, north of Sao Paulo. The town is awash in chicken decor, as the name is literally “Port of Chickens” but the town has a dark past: the name actually comes from the fact that this was the entry point for many African slaves, who were packed so tightly together in the slave ships that they were unceremoniously referred to as chickens. Luckily, there are no slaves here today, unless you count slaves to the sun and surf.

We arrived here on Friday night with the sole mission of relaxing and spending as much time at the beach as possible. I know I’ve said that I’m not really a beach person, which is still true, but I can still enjoy a good day at the beach, especially when it involves snorkeling and making friends with fish, or eating a coconut popsicle and excellent homemade crab soup on the sand.

The food on the beach is amazing. The Frugal Traveler recently wrote an article for the New York Times travel section where he talked about getting sick and how to avoid improper street food…but he didn’t say anything about beach food. I probably shouldn’t trust a dish involving seafood (of all things) that’s being served from a small wooden cart on the beach (and who knows where it came from or how long it’s been sitting out?)…but it was honestly delicious. After that there was corn, then a fresh coconut (for the juice), and a cocada, a sugary mass of coconut and deliciousness. (I really like coconut. A lot.) There were lots of other things to eat, too: bucketsful of pink shrimps, and red lobsters on platters with butter and lime. There were crab legs peeking out of big steel pots, and bags of fresh cashews, and carts strung with pineapples, mangoes, and abacaxi, which looks exactly like pineapple but which I am told is completely different. Silly me.

The thing I love about beaches in foreign countries is that you can buy practically anything right there, from the comfort of your lounger. Everything from sunscreen to paintings to handcrafted jewelry to souvenirs made out of coconuts is available from a cart on the seashore. The weirdest one we saw was bottles of cachaça (sugar cane liquor and main -deadly- ingredient in the national caipirinha) which had lobsters, like the worm in tequila, stuffed inside the bottle. The seller swore it was drinkable but I’d think twice before downing a lobster and tonic.

So after my feast of cart-food, I spent the next few hours sitting under an umbrella and just watching the world go by. The catamarans went out, came in; the carts went by with bells ringing; couples strolled, kids played, friends drank beers and had a laugh together.

Then we swam in the waters, which are clear and warm, and snorkled past coral reefs to small natural pools where you could sit and watch the crabs and fish and boats and people in Speedos a few sizes too small. From the sea, you could look back and see the palm trees swaying above a hundred colored umbrellas and all those couples and kids and friends and cart vendors, and think that the world is a pretty big place, even when you’re just in one tiny little corner of it.

…we still have two more days here, and one of them will probably involve a buggy (a dune buggy, pronounced “boogy” here for comic effect), so there will be more to come from the Port of Chickens…

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