A Friend Visits Brazil, We Go To Argentina

Thursday, October 19

My friend Said came to visit me during a break from school (we study together at Georgetown). He arrived in the morning and I picked him up at the airport. He brought me a new camera since mine had broken on my last trip. While he was here we did a lot of things I wouldn't normally do, so I got to enjoy some of the nicer things São Paulo has to offer.

On Avenida Paulista

We had a coffee on Avenida Paulista, then while I had class Said checked out the Museu de Arte de São Paulo, which is right by my house. Later, we had lunch at Mestiço, which is a fusion of Asian and Brazilian dishes. They had aracajé like the ones I had eaten in Bahia, but more fancier.

At Mestiço

We relaxed after lunch, and later had dinner at an Italian restaurant called L'Open in Jardins with an Italian friend, Allessandro. Later, we went to a discobar called Sogo.

At L'Open

Said and Allessandro at Sogo

On the way home

Friday, October 20

In the morning, we walked to Ibirapuera Park, and rented a two-person bicycle and rode around for a little while.

At Ibirapuera Park

Later, we took a cab to the Oscar Freire area of Jardins, and had lunch at a terrific Lebanese restaurant called Arábica. We had kibe cru (raw red meat), kibe missoui, beef stuffed with spices, thabouli, hummus and delicious deserts. Said chatted in Arabic with the owner, a Brazilian Lebanese woman.

At Arabica

Then we walked around and went shopping in the great shops of Oscar Freire.

Later that evening, we went out for few drinks in the Praça República. Afterwards, we went to an all night place popular after the bars called Estadão and had the best lomo sandwhich in the city.

On Vieira de Carvalho near Praça República

The next morning Said flew to Rio to spend a few days with a friend. That night, some friends from school had some people over.

Wednesday, October 25

Said got back on Tuesday night, and on Wednesday we had lunch at a wonderful restaurant called Figueira Rubaiyat, which is built around a garden under a giant fig tree. We shared bacalhau and a feijoada buffet, which included cow tails, pig ears and all the fixins.

That night we flew to Buenos Aires.

Thursday, October 26

Our plane was late and we got to our hotel around 3 AM. My friend Pepe from Spain was working in Buenos Aires, and got us an two-bedroom apartment hotel for a good price. In the morning we walked around and had a coffee. In Argentina, you can order a coffee for about a dollar, and as in Italy, the waiters bring you a few little cookies and a class of bubbly water to clean your mouth and avoid coffee breath. The world needs to spread this culture around a little more.

At a cafè in Recoleta

A plaza near our hotel

Then we met up with Pepe and his partner, and they gave us a full-day tour of Buenos Aires. Buenos Aires is gorgeous city, and probably one of the nicest cities I have ever visited. It looks very much like Paris, with wide avenues, elegant cafés, lots of details in the buildings and very stylish, good looking people everywhere. Porteños are very European, made up mostly Italian, Spanish and French people, with significant Armenian, Jewish, Middle Eatern populations as well. It was nice to be able to speak Spanish and to listen to the Argentinian accent, which is very nice. I enjoyed listening to them use the vos form, which is a relic of old Spanish that is still used in Argentina and some other places. The Porteños (people from Buenos Aires) also have a slang called lumfardo which, like their accent, incorporates Italian, French and other languages.

Pepe and I

The showed us some more of BA, and then we had dinner at a very nice restaurant called Sucre.

They dropped us off at a bar called Glam where we met a group of Ecuatorians. Then, we went back to the hotel.

Friday, October 27

Friday was our shopping day. One of the nicest things is that still, after the financial crisis in 2001, Argentina is extremely cheap. Cabs, food, leather goods, cashmere (not the scottish type, but still good, warm sweaters), and lots of fashion goods are all very affordable. I bought a pair of custom-made leather pants. There is a Christian Dior and Yves Saint Laurent factory in Argentina, so I also got a couple suits for a bargain.

You can take taxis to your heart's delight in BA and never break the bank

Having measurements taken at the leather shop on Calle Murillo

We had Argentinian parillada (grilled meat and sausages)for lunch

Awash in sweaters

Cleaning the wool off Said after trying on sweaters

That night, Pepe got us into a Tango show for free at the Esquina Humero Manzi, which is a landmark Tango restuarant and show. Humero Manzi was a famous poet, playwright, and lyricist who revolutionized Tango, and his Esquina is today an historic landmark. The place was mostly full of Argentinians, and the music and the dancing were mesmerizing. The accordeon, cello, piano and violin and their weeping melodies brought images of smokey cafés from days gone by (Buenos Aires is now smoke-free). And the dark, slicked back hair of the men in tuxedos and the women's red lips, endless legs and scanty dresses were stunning. The way they held each other, and then the woman would walk away in a sad, coquettish way, only to have the man chase behind her and take her back into his arms, at moments took me away.

Later, we went to a discothèque called Alsina. It was a nice place, very large, had good music and topped anything I've seen in São Paulo. There was a sign avertising a performance to be given a few days later by a Spanish group called La Terremoto de Alcorcón, which does a tacky and hystirical rendition of Madonna's Hung Up. Click on the link to see it on Google Video.

Saturday, October 28

We had lunch at a terrific place called Cabaña Las Lilas, which turned out the be owned by the same people as Figeira Rubaiyat in São Paulo.

Supporting the South American resutaurant giants

That night Pepe had gotten tickets to the opera for us as well as one for a friend of his named Gustavo. It was the last night of a sold-out performance, and he got them for us for free. We saw Boris Gudunov, a four-hour Russian Opera, at the Teatro Colón. It was something of an endurance test, as it was subtitled in Spanish, but was a wonderful experience.

The Teatro Colón

Sunday, October 29

The next day we had pizza for lunch, then went for dulce de leche ice cream. We also picked up some alfajores, delicious Spanish sweets that are popular and delicious from Havanna in Argentina, to bring home as gifts.


On our way to the airport we stopped by the Plaza de Mayo for snap a few shots.

Me in front of the Casa Rosada

Said and I in the Plaza de Mayo

We said good-bye at the airport, and I headed back to Brazil and Said to Washington. I highly recommend Buenos Aires and cannot wait to go back.


A 16-Day Journey Through Northeast Brazil

Thursday, September 28

We left early for São Luis, capital of the state of Maranhão, more than four hours by airplane to the north and 2° south of the equator. (We could see lots of fires from the airplane, presumably the eastern fringes of rainforest burning, though some could have been low-cost waste disposal). The city of São Luis was settled by the French, hence the name, during the late 1500s and early 1600s, but by 1615 the Portuguese had driven the French out.

A city map of São Luis

The French seem to have liked the name Saint Louis a lot. They founded another Saint Louis, the colonial capital of Senegal, where I lived in the Peace Corps, never mind the settlement in Missouri. Like St. Louis of Senegal, this one was also built on a small island right off the coast and the feel and architecture is similar. Sadly, the colonial buildings in the city's historic center are in a state of disrepair, and priceless structures are slowly deteriorating. The cost of restoring a building is high, so of course it's probably cheaper to build new instead of bringing the buildings back.

A beautiful and historic lost cause

A busy street in São Luis

I was struck by other similarities I found between the Senegal and this part of Brazil. Low levels of development, it seems, favor certain lifestyles and construction techniques. Excessive dependence on concrete as a building material (hot and humid weather demands this, as wood or drywall would rot) and of paint to decorate businesses and advertise the goods being sold within. The high temperatures keep people sitting out front of their homes or businesses until late in th evening, too. The result is a feel very similar to that of Senegal. Of course, the two countries are not the same. Brazil is infinitely better off and a much happier and more pleasant place.

Because of a layover in the capital, Brasilia, we did not arrive at our pousada (inn or hostel in Portuguese) until around dark. Of course, the sun sets quite early near the equator. We stayed at the Reviver Pousada for R$63 a night. That night we walked around the old town, drank an agua de coco and had dinner. Wet to bed early, as we were tired and had also booked a 5 o'clock pick-up. We were going the next day to Barreirinhas, a town located four hours east and SE of the Lençois Maranhenses National Park, the very reason we started our trip in this area.

Adrian, my travelling mate, enjoying an agua de coco (coconut water), a deal at R$1.

Friday, September 29

We arrived in Barreirinhas around 9 SM and checked into the Pousada Brisa do Mar for R$25 a night. We reserved a "Toyota" for 2PM that afternoon, which would take us into the Lençois Maranhenses. In Brazil a Toyota is used somewhat generically for a truck, though many of the trucks are actually Toyotas. Barreirinhas is a dusty town that lives off tourism from the National Park, Lençois Maranhenses. Lençois means "sheets", used to describe the appearance of the giant sand dunes that are found in the Park.

The main street in Barreirinhas

Our pousada sat right on the river that went through the town, so before leaving we swam across to a wrecked boat. Then we had lunch and walked around and bought a watermelon to eat later on at the dunes.

A meat shop in the market area of Barreirinhas

We were picked up in the Toyota, which was a large truck that was covered with three rows, each with four seats. There were two Brazilian couples, a Brazilian family, Arian and I and the staff. The father of the family was a heavy-set man with a speedo and a t-shirt that said "I may be fat, but I can lose weight. Worse is you, ugly." He was ugly, too, in my opinion, but everyone was nice. About 20 minutes into the one-hour trek to the Park, just after driving the truck onto a float to take it over a small river, our truck got stuck in the sand.

Adrian on the float crossing the river

The place where we got stuck was right next to two simple houses where a group of kids were sitting outside and cashew trees were in abundance. I never knew this, but cashews nuts are just one of the fruits of the cashew tree. The nut is attached to the bottom of a fruit, which can be yellow or red. The nut sits in a pod-like structure, and is supposedly poisonous before it is cooked. The caju has a fairly nice taste, and is fairly popular throughout Brazil, especially in juice.

The cashew fruit with the nut below

Adrian enjoying the fruit. You can see the red fruits hanging in the tree.

We waited over an hour for another truck to come, and we were cutting it close but had time to make it before sunset. The road was a mix of deep sand, windy turns, going through water and a lot of bouncing, but eventually we made it to Lençois.

Between the dunes, pools of crystal clear water form, and reflect a deep color blue from the sky. There is no vegetation at all, though somehow a species of tiny little flagellem-propelled fish lives in the lakes. Their eggs survive the dry period and the baby fish come back every year.

The landscape was amazing, like something from another world. It was beautful. We walked barefoot and swam in several of the lakes, and stayed for the sunset, which looked majestic over the dunes.

You can see the sand blowing

After sunset, we walked out and drove up a ways to a place where you could buy local cashew nuts and there were picnic tables. They had been keeping our watermelon in the truck, but when we stopped they cut up and only served about 1/4 of it, and we never saw the rest of it. Then we went back to Barreirinhas, had dinner and sleep before leaving in the morning.

Saturday, September 30

We left at 9 the next morning in a Toyota parked on the main drag of Barreirrinhas, in from of Banco do Brasil. We didn't arrive early enough to get in the nice Toyota, so we had to take on that took another 30 minutes to fill up. There was a Spanish couple, Iñigo and Ruth, on the truck, so we were chatting with them while we waited. Once the truck was full, the dumb driver drove all around the town picking up these skanky girls wearing next to nothing, and packed them in with everyone else; this delayed our departure another 30 minutes. The trip to our destination, Tutóia, took about 4.5 hours, even though it's only about 50k (30 mi). The road was very sandy and bouncy, and the truck we rode in had an unusually low roof, narrow wooden planks for seat and few places to hold on. Our rear ends hurt soon after getting started. A young boy, while his mother was holding him, spit up all over my pants at one point. It eventually got so uncomfortable that we sat on the back of the truck with our feet hanging off, and as a result for very, very dusty. We stopped in a small town called Paulino Neves, and had some fried fish with Iñigo and Ruth, then continued to Tutóia, and arrived at the intersection just in the nick of time to catch the bus to Parnaíba.

Adrian & I in Paulino Neves, very dirty from sitting on the back of the Toyota

The bus we picked up in Tutóia was an old charter bus from Europe or the United States, it seemed, and despite its age and poor condition seemed like such luxury after our last mode of transportation. We arrived in Parnaíba close to sunset, and Adrian immediately hopped onto a bus to Teresina to see a friend of his. I was going to continue on and meet up with him Monday in Fortaleza.

Because Parnaíba was so ugly when we got there, I thought I'd check out a beach town, Luis Correia, which was very closeby and had been recommended by some people we met. The Spaniards decided to go too to spend the night, however the town proved farther than we thought and less appealing, so we went back to Parnaíba straight away, checked into a pousada, ate mediocre churrasco and drank beer and chatted before going to bed.

The presidential elections would take place the next day. That night the president of the congress spoke on TV about the importance of voting and the responsibility of Brazilians to choose the right person. He said not to pick someone that you would like to be friends with or that you'd hire for a job, but someone you'd trust to stay in your house and take care of your affairs, which I thought was nice. I have found the seriousness with which Brazilians take their elections very refreshing. Every citizen is required either to vote or submit a waiver if s/he chooses not to. Also, the tallying of votes is almost instantaneous, with electronic voting machines used almost everywhere. Even in the Amazon jungle, they set up wireless booths and usually have a 99% count by the end of voting day. The incumbent, Lula, did not obtain the necessary majority in his race against Geraldo Alckmin, so there will be a run-off coming up in a week or so.

A Lula campaign office

Sunday, October 1

The Spaniards and I had bought tickets to Camouçim the previous night, and from there would continue to Jerícoacoara (Jerí for short), a beach town west of Fortaleza. We left at 7:15 from the rodoviária (bus station), and when we got there we met an Italian couple from our bus, so we shared a taxi to pick up a Toyota, which would drive us there. We drove along the beach almost the whole time, but had to cross some water first on a float.

The Italian and Spanish couples from the trip

Along the way, a Brazilian guy named Jair was waiting on the beach for a truck, so we picked him up. When we got to Jerí, I asked him where he was staying since I knew he was on a a budget and I didn't want to pay a lot. He showed me the Pousada da Juventude on the Rua do Forró, where I paid $R25 a night (I later me a German girl who told me she got the same thing I got for $R15!). I spent that afternoon and the next day hanging out with him, and had a great time. Jerí is very touristy, but small and not yet overrun. There are plenty of nice restaurants, but you can still get Brazilian food and most of the people there are Brazilians. Because of where Jerí is situated, it has a strong and constant wind, which is ideal for windsurfing in the 2m water, though the sand hurts when it blows at high speeds against your legs. The earth on the beach is shaped in a way that creates a huge area of shallow water, so throngs of windsurfers and wannabees come here year round.

Monday, Ocober 2

The next day we went to a well-known site in Jerí, the Pedra Forrada, a giant rock with a big hole in the middle right on the beach.

The Pedra Forrada of Jerícoacoara

Me inside the hole of the Pedra Forrada

Later that afternoon we also rented sandboards, which is like a snowboard but you put wax on the bottom and can go down the big down right next to the town. It was hard and I could barely stay up. Some Brazilians from SP took a video of my doing it, but I'm still waiting for them to send it to me by email.

I reserved a bus that night at 22:30 to go to Fortaleza, where I'd arranged to rendez-vous with Adrian at 5 AM in the rodoviária. We had to take an open-air bus along the beach for about 40 minutes to get to the regular bus that would take us there. The driver drove on the sand beside the beach, and it was scary because he went very fast and it was night so I couldn't see anything and there was no seatbelts or anything. The Spaniards were on the same bus and so was Jair, who was on his way back to his city, Sobral, so we said goodbye there. Night buses in Brazil can be pretty nice, and this one scored all right. Unfortunately, we arrived early in Fortaleza, so I hung out with bloodshot eyes from 4 to 5:30 AM until Adrian arrived.

Tuesday, October 3

We decided not to stay the night in Fortaleza, since there were so many more promising destinations further on in the trip and we also had to make good time to arrive in Salvador by the 14th. So we left our stuff in a guarda-volumes (luggage storage) during the day, and since it was still early we went to the Praia do Futuro, a beach area in Fortaleza. In Brazil many beaches have series of barracas (beach kiosk) which have tables, music and service food and drinks. However, all of the beaches on Brazil are public property and you can sit at any barracas and are not obligated to buy anything. At 6 AM, this didn't matter much, but we plopped down, totally cracked out and punchy from not sleeping, to rest a few more hours before the sun came up. An ambulante (walking salesman) came by and offered us a bag full of shrimp for R$6, so at Adrian's insistence we bought some. In all seriousness, they might have been the best shrimp I've ever eaten.

A seafood breakfast on a backpacker's budget

Adrian eating shrimp

After a while of reading our travel guides, we decided to spend our day in Fortaleza at Brazil's largest water park, Beach Park. They pronounce this "Beachee Parkee."

Arriving in Beach Park, I felt that I may as well have been in Orlando. Some things are very American, and waterslide parks are one of them, I think. We paid R$75 to get in, plus locker rental and some food, so not too bad. They had what they claimed to be the largest waterslide in the world there (can someone corroborate this?), but I was scared to go down it. This made me feel old. Adrian went down it about 10 times and had me film about half of them.

Too high for me

Adrian going down the largest waterslide in South America

A funny video of Beach Park I found on YouTube. - A real treat for your eyes and ears - Nao Perca!!!!

That night, we walked around the old town of Fortaleza and took some pictures. We came upon a group of GLS (In Brazil, people say GLS for GLBT, which stands for gay, lesbian and sympathizers) kids doing AIDS education and awareness. We watched a play they put on about condom use, and talked to the cutest little street kids you've ever seen. Then, we talked to them and gave a little donation and were on our way.

Adrian and I and our friends from Fortaleza

The kids loved seeing their pictures on the digital camera

Then, we had dinner and headed to the bus station where we boarded another night bus headed for Natal. Having slept very little, this overnight trip was one of the best I took, as I slept most of the time.

Natal means Christmas in Portuguese, and earned this name because it was founded on Christmas day in 1599.

Wednesday, October 4 - My Birthday

When we got to Natal, we decided to skip the city itself first and head south to a beach town called Praia da Pipa. We found out about a good hostel for only R$20 a night at the tourist information booth at the bus station. We took too long eating breakfast and missed the first bus to Pipa, but caught the next one and arrived early at the Pousada Vera My House. The owner, Vera, was a charming woman about 5 feet tall with long dreadlocks. She told us that she was married to an English guy who won the lottery and gave her the money to build the hostel. He comes twice a year to see her, and she described him as the type of guy who has two friends and goes out on Tuesday and Wednesdays. We thought that she was wacko after that. The atmosphere in the hostel was great...much more social than others we saw, as there were many travelers sitting around and talking in the common patio. For whatever reason, in Pipa there were tons of Israeli and Swiss tourists - like 10 Israelis and maybe six Swiss people, with much fewer travelers from other countries. It was weird how many of them there were, and they kept arriving. Most of them seemed to be have recently left the army and were doing enormous trips around the world.

At the Pousada Vera My House

Here we are with Tim, a Dutch guy, and two Israeli girls we met

Some other travelers

The main drag of Praia da Pipa

Pipa is known for a beach called Praia do Madeiro, where dolphins are known to swim very close to shore and within feet of swimmers. We walked down to the Praia do Centro (downtown beach) to find out about how to get there, but learned that since it was very close and free to get there we'd go without the boat tour. We made it down and ran into the Spanish couple from previous cities, chatted for a minute and ten walked along the beach. The trend of continuing to see the same travelers was a recurring one throughout the trip. We swam that day, but there were no dolphins. This might have been because of the tides at that time, during full moon. So, we went back to town, checked Internet and ate lunch, then relaxed at the pousada for a while. In the evening we joined most of the town and the travelers there on the main drag, Avenida something or other, even though it was too small to be an avenue. I was very tired and went to bed early. Two more years until 30.

Praia do Madeiro

Me in front of some colorful, swirling patterns on the rocks

Thursday, October 5

We got up early the next morning and walked back to down to the Praia do Madeiro with a Dutchman named Tim, and this time the dolphins were out and about. We were in up to our shoulders or so, about 5 or 6 meters from the shore, and the dolphins, even at that distance, swam as close as 3 meters away. Most of the time it was tough to catch a glimpse of them out of the water, and you often heard them only to turn around too late to see anything. Several times, though, we heard a splash of the water and looked to see a fish jump out of the water followed by a glimpse of the dolphin's fast moving gray, shiny back.

I had left my sunglasses on the beach the previous day, hidden under a palm leaf, so after swimming I went back and found them but stepped on a cactus. Then we saw a crab so we cornered it to take its picture, and as karma would have it, I dropped my camera in the sand and it broke.

The crab

Then we went back to the hostel where I took out the splinters with a tweezer. After that, we basically bummed around the town, ate and later had dinner with a group of Swiss, an Argentine guy and an Israeli. We went and got an açaí (Pronounced: Ah-Sa-Yee), an ice cream-like desert made from a fruit that grows in the Amazon. It is usually served with some bananas or other fruit and granola, and it absolutely delicious, non-dairy and good for you.


We had a few beers and returned early to catch the 7:40 bus the next morning to Natal and points north.

Friday, Ocotber 6

We arrived back in Natal around 9 AM, and from there we headed to Ponta Negra, which is a touristy area of the city that has a boardwalk, nightlife and beaches popular with surfers. We never went to the beach in Natal because, apparently, there are a lot of shark attacks in the area. From what we heard, there are sound waves the city uses to keep the sharks away from the shore, so the some 400+ reported attacks annually affect mostly surfers; but still, it seemed like a good idea to do without a swim.

We stayed in a hostel called Lua Cheia (Full Moon), which was done in a medieval theme, but it wasn't too accurate so it felt more like a theme park. The rooms were full of tacky artwork you'd see in a dentist's office or portrait studio in a shopping mall. The employees wore red scarfs from their heads and long, lace-trimmed dresses and the like. It was a very nice place, albeit tacky, and was right on the main street for bars. It also had the best breakfast of any place we stayed, and cost the same as most of the other places, so it was definitely the best value***

It even had a mote

Each room had a name - Ours was the Cripta dos Deuses (Crypt of the Gods)

The uniform gave it an authentic feel

Me in front of one of the many pieces of art in the hostel

That afternoon we took a bus to Santa Rita, which is right next to Genipabú beach, where we rented a dune buggy. It took up through the dunas moveis (moving sand dunes), which line the coast for several miles north. Only licensed drivers are allowed to drive the buggies, and you can ask for your ride com o sem emoção (with or without excitement). We had ours with, and went on a very exciting ride down steep slopes of sand through a series of beaches.

Our dunebuggy

Standing at the foot of a dune

Along the way we stopped at a place where they have aero bunda (literally, airbutt), which is a rapelling-type hoist that you sit in and slide town on a line that runs from the top of a hill into a lake. It cost R$5 per trip, and they bring you back up on a metal bench that rides on a track. A rigged Volkswagen beetle provided the power to pull us.

Then, we went to the world's smallest waterfall. Our drive told us it was "sem metros" (literally, without meters) which sounds the same as "cem metros" (100 meters). The water coming from the ground was very warm, so it spite of its small size we hung out in the reservoir below it for a little while, and spotted a toad hiding in a hole near the waterfall.

We drove back to Genipabú and took pictures of each other in front of camels that that were for hire. The camels are not native to the continent, and nothing more than a tourist attraction, but still I couldn't resist the urge to snap a shot.

There was a good view of Natal from atop one of the dunes on the beach at Genipabú.

Then we took the bus back to Natal. That night, we had dinner at an all-you-can-eat shrimp restaurant which had a capoeira show. Capoeira, similar in nature to some American slave songs, was a way for African slaves to express their desire fo freedom and, in capoeira's case, extreme physical strength and flexibility. Today the martial art is practiced by all types of people and has become a world sport in recent years.

Afterwards, we had a few drinks along our street and another street near our hostel. There were a lot of people out, and there was a surprisingly large presence of transvestite prostitutes, too. Sticking with our early-to-bed-early-to-rise schedule, we retired by about 10 or 11.

Saturday, October 7

After breakfast, we went to an area south of Natal called Pirangi to go on a snorkelling excursion. The boat we went on was large and full, and after about 30 minutes of sailing away from the shore we arrived at the reef, and pulled up right next to another boat of the same size. Unfortunately, the reefs there were mostly spoiled by over exploitation and also warm water termperatures, surely a symptom of global warming. In search of better fish viewing, we swam off from the boat and almost missed the boat back.

The view of the coast off Pirangi from the boat

When we got back to land, we walked a few steps away to see the world's largest cajoeiro (cashew tree). Apparently, this baby produces 100,000 cashew nuts each season. After looking at the tree for a few minutes, I bought two large bags (about 1/2 kilo each) of cashew nuts, one roasted and salted and the other chocolate covered. They cost about 6 US dollars each, and came in handy as snack food for the rest of the trip.

"Welcome to the World's Largest Cashew Tree. Take care of it."

Everything you see behind Adrian is part of this tree

Then we bought some other trinkets in the stalls nearby and headed back to Ponta Negra. At this point in the trip, we were both feeling under the weather so we took it easy that night, had a good meal but and did not go out.

Sunday, October 8

We woke up late and took a cab to the rodoviaria where we caught a bus to the town of Recife. Recife and Olinda, its twin city, are about thirty minues apart and both are full of terrific colonial architecture. It seemed to be an economically depressed area, but retains a great deal of charm because of the set-up of the city around an island and the bright colors that adorn its colonial structures. We got off in the Derby area of Recife around dark, and took a taxi to Olinda where out hostel was located. It was a nice place, though it was short on privacy. We met an English couple, Nick and Catherine, who were on a trip around the world. It sounded exciting, but at that point I was getting tired of travelling and didn't think I'd ever want to go on such a long journey. Who knows? We were still weary, so after we had dinner we hung out in a plaza that was full of young people drinking and hanging out. It was interesting to see the locals having fun among the beautiful architectural relics of the past in their city.

A view of Recife from Olinda. Recife overtook Olinda in size and importance, though Olinda was founded first, so it has more colonial buildings.

Monday, October 9

First thing the next morning we bought our tickets for the night bus to Salvador, and got two of the last four seats available. We spent the morning walking around Olinda and checking out the city.

A Church in Olinda

In the afternoon we took the Metro to the bus station to store our luggage, then took it to Recife, where we had lunch and walked around. The first Jewish community in the Western Hemisphere settled in Recife, so I wanted to check out the Rua Bom Jesus, also known as the Rua dos Judeus, where the Kahal Zur Israel Synagogue is located. Unfortunately, it was closed.

Then, we walked over to the Praça Rio Branco which had a very European feel, and from which you could look out onto the water. There was a sandbar about 100 meters out, and there was an interesting looking sculpture garden on the sandbar. We didn't have time to go to it, but it was very pretty from the shore.

Praça Rio Branco, the point from which all distances in Recife are measured

Standing in front of the Parque de Esculturas Francisco Brennand

Some kids jumping into the water enjoyed showing off for us to take pictures

Before heading back, we walked up to the Forte do Brum or Brum Fort, which was built in 1629 to fend off attacks from the Dutch. Inside, there is a military museum but it was closed that day for improvements.

We were pretty stinky by that point, so after taking another boiling hot metro ride to the bus station, we showered before getting on the bus. The showers in this bathroom were free, which was weird, and the attendant told us to place our backbacks on some shelves while we showered. When we got the shelves, there were very large gay porn pictures lining the shelves. We laughed, and took a picture to commemorate the moment.

Feeling fresh

We got on the bus, and went to our seats, which were in the back row. We had chosen these over two others available that morning, because they were two aisle seats and we could not sit next to each other (you never know who you'll get). As fate would have it, the toilet on this night bus had some problems, or one of the passnegers made a problem that we wound up smelling almost the whole way to Salvador. It was horrible, and I don't think I'll ever sit near a bus bathroom again if I have anything to do with it.

Tuesday, October 10

When we arrived in Salvador, we went straight to a hostel we read about in our guide. It was not such a nice place to stay, but we decided to stay that day. After napping we walked around, had lunch and checked out the city. Salvador (also called Salvador de Bahia or just Bahia, the state of which it is the capital) is the cultural capital of Brazil, as it was one of the earliest settlements (1549) and was the meeting place of European and Indigenous peoples. When the indigenous proved to be poor slaves, Africans were brought here during the 17th and 18th centuries. The clash of cultures defines the city and the country, and the African roots are evident as soon as you arrive there. I felt that I was back in Senegal, with throngs of walking merchants trying to sell their wares, destitute street kids begging at every corner and business owners a little more aggressive with their promotion. The prices were higher than we'd seen anywhere else on our trip, and we stuck out more than we did elsewhere because there were so many tourists and so few white people in the town.

The city is very old, and we stayed in the Pelourinho area of downtwon. Pelourinho means whipping post, and in this area slaves and outlaws were publicly whipped way back when. The area has been preserved to its original colonial grandeur, and it very touristy and loud. Much like Lisbon in Portugal, Salvador is set up with a Cidade Baixa and Cidade Alta (high and low cities), with a giant elevator that connects the two. It costs five centavos or 2 US cents to go up or down. Pelourinho is in the high city, as are a number of beautiful praças.

Largo do Pelourinho

Other spots in the Cidade Alta

The Lacerda Elevador

Salvador has a very unique culture, which is particularly evident in the Bahianas, the black women of Salvador who wear dresses like the one in the picture below. They typically make and sell a variety of foods, chief among them aracajé, which is a croquette of fried black-eyed peas, parted and filled with prawns and spicy sauce. Guaranteed heartburn. They also sold a very good, super-sweet coconut cake.

A Bahiana

African origins in Salvador

At night we went to a forró show. Forró (pronounced: Fo-Ho) is a style of music that comes from the English worlds "for all", and sounds a lot like country music. It seems to attract a similar genre of people, with cowboy hats and all. Incidentally, country and forró music are rather popular in certain parts of Brazil.

Wednesday, October 11

The next morning, we headed out to an island across the Baía de Todos os Santos (Bay of All Saints) called Ilha de Itaparica. We had to take an hour long boat ride to Bom Despacho, and then a taxi to a calm area of the island just north of there. And calm it was...boring, in fact. We checked into a hostel, and around dark we took a bus into the more happening area of the island, Mar Grande. It was also very boring, but we had some dinner and a beer at an outdoor bar that had a karaoke machine. A young man, who was ostensibly quite fond of singing - often in a screeching voice - sang song after song of popular Brazilian love songs (or "MPB", Musica Popular Brasileira). No one else seemed to be interested in singing so after about five songs we left.

The view of Salvador from Itaparica

We each took a moto taxi or motorcycle taxi back to our hostel, which was exhilarating. We then had an ice cream by the beach and went to bed. We were both awoken shortly after shutting the light by tons of mosquitos, which bit us consistently throughout the night. We eventually turned on the air conditioning, which seemed to help, though we also spent some time killing any and every mosquito we could see in the room. The walls ended up covered with a bloody mess of dead mosquitos.

Thursday, October 12

The next morning, we headed back to the Pelourinho area of Salvador, and stayed in another hostel we had seen which was totally empty, so we stayed in a community room alone for only R$20 a night, with a great hammock area and a small but not terrible breakfast included.

We spent the better part of the afternoon in the Cidade Baixa, getting some cash from the ATMs and shopping at the Mercado Modelo, an old market building that today is full of stands selling Bahian arts and crafts. I bought some souvenirs and also got my hair cut there.

The Mercado Modelo

That night, we had dinner and came upon a troupe of drummers called Só Percussão (Only Percussion), which were playing terrific samba-reggae drumming music in the street. A large group of people had gathered around, and began following them throughout the town as they marched. We joined in, and danced with about 30 or 40 people for hours through the streets of Pelourinho. I bought a CD of their music.

Friday, October 13 - Our Last Day

On our last day we went to an area of Salvador called Barra. There wasn't too much to do besides checking out a lighthouse. There were few tourists there, with mostly middle to low-class Brazilians out enjoying the beaches. We had Chinese food for lunch and headed back to our hostel.

Adrian in front of the lighthouse at Barra

Later on we just took it easy, used the Internet and bought some nice T-shirts we found in a shop. We didn't do much besides this, and at night we had dinner and made arrangments to get to the airport for our flight back to São Paulo the next morning.

In all, we travelled what I crudely estimate to be 1800k (1100 miles). It was a great trip, and I thank Adrian for his company and for tolerating me for 16 days.

Please leave any comments you have after reading this here ------->