Brazil: Sunkissed and Windblown
Our brief time in Manaus turned out to be mainly a plotting day. We had to make the decision of how to make our exit from the Amazon. Our choices were either another 5 days on a hammock boat to Belem, or to fly out to another city. It was a tough decision because the flights in Brazil are pretty spendy, but 5 days is a lot of time on another boat and we had to get moving as we only got 30 day Brazil visas, so we opted to fly to Belem. Belem is where the Amazon runs into the ocean and is a much more modern city than Manaus. We´d have rather flown further south, but it was just too expensive. We were only in Belem for an afternoon and evening, so it’s hard to pass judgment, but it was a pretty nice place. Not a lot to see on the tourist track, but if we had a little more time,it would have been a good place to hang out for a few days. We were able to go to the fish market “Ver-O-Peso” in the morning before our bus left and we spent a lot of time in the fruit section figuring out what all of the fruits we´ve been eating look like. I could talk about the fruit all day, but I suppose that would be a bit boring. I will say though that there are so many exotic and tasty fruits here, and they are all so incredibly cheap!! I can´t get over it. Every day we find at least one juice bar and belly up to order a couple of different flavors and combos. Since I´m not familiar with a lot of the fruits and ingredients, it´s kind of a fun hit or miss game. Papaya and avocado, not so good. Açerola and pineapple – Delish!! If I gain a few pounds in Brazil, it will be due to all the high calorie fruit drinks I´ve been consuming (and yes, I do consider caipirinhas to be a fruit juice.)
From Belem we bought tickets to begin making our way down the coast. We decided to make our first stop Jericoacoara, which required a 20 hour bus trip, followed by a 3 hour bus ride, followed by a half hour jeep ride. Not exactly easy to get to but we are a bit overwhelmed by the amount of kilometers we need to cover so we needed to just push on through to get there. The 20 hour trip went by in a snap. Seriously. I don´t know why, but it went by 10 times faster than my regularly dreaded Denver – Omaha drive. It actually ended up being 23 hours, and still, Lani and I were just happy as could be. We are in the very Northern part of Brazil and it´s a very desolate and green area with lots of cattle ranches and palm trees. I was quite content daydreaming and watching Brazil roll by. When we got to our first pit stop, and were shuffled onto our next bus to jet up to the coast, I that is when I started to get antsy. Those 3 hours were way worse than the 20 we´d just sailed through. It was hot, it was stuffy, and we´d been rushed over to get on the bus that was leaving “immediately”, only to discover that “immediately” meant driving around the city in circles until we filled every last seat on the bus, which took a very long hour. Our next switch was in Jijoca and we got into a jeep that would take us through the sand dunes and to our final destination. I´ve been wanting to go to Jericoacoara (try to get Lani to say that word for a good laugh!) since the first time I came to Brazil. On that trip, the 3 friends I was traveling with went there right after I´d had to fly home and they were kind to rant and raved about it. So, when Lani had it highlighted as a “potential stop” in her book too, we decided to go. Jeri is a tiny tourist beach town out in the middle of nowhere. When it started to seem as though we´d never get there, Lani started to look skeptical, but I promised her it was worth it – and it was! Jeri is part of a protected National Park and other than a few hundred residents and some random donkeys, it´s pretty untouched. Jeri is known for it´s rock formations and wind that attracts kite surfers and wind surfers. And after being on the move for so many days, it was heavenly. It´s nice to be in a place where you can let you guard down and feel safe.
One of the main reasons I wanted to focus on the Northeast of Brazil is because I wanted to see some live Capoeira. Capoeira is a mix of martial arts, dance, gymnastics, and music that originates from the time of slavery here and it takes incredible skill and amazing strength to practice. Every night on the beach a group would gather to practice and compete. They would start with adorable young kids who were just learning and move on up the ladder to the guys who were really, really good. They are just amazing and it´s an amazing sport (or perhaps art) to watch. Have I used the word amazing enough? It is in my top 5 favorites of my trip thus far. It was so much better to see it here live, than on tv or at home as the setting is half of why it´s so remarkable.
The rest of the time was filled with walking on the beach and enjoying the small town beach vibe. Lani is currently having some sort of reaction to her malaria meds, which has made her completely allergic to the sun, so she unfortunately had to go into hiding every day from about 10am to 4pm. I probably should have joined her, since I´m now a bit toasted myself. This is a lesson I´ve already learned in the past – you can try to fight the Brazilian sun, but you won´t win. Most of my serious sun burns have happened down here. I don´t use anything less than 45 spf and I still can get burned in a few minutes if I´m not paying attention. So it was inevitable, I guess, and in comparison to Lani – I´m doing quite well.
This morning we jumped out of bed early to catch our 7am jeep ride back out to the highway to continue to head south. Right as I was about to pick up my pack, I saw something dark and hairy crawl behind it. Ok, so I assume that from my jungle trip posting that we´ve established that I am not a big fan of critters, but bear with me as I drive this point home! This was the hugest spider I´d ever seen outside of a cage. Fellow Muggles – think Aragog! I suppose that it wasn´t much bigger than the ones we saw in the jungle, but those spiders were supposed to be there…this one was not supposed to be in my room. It went straight under my bed and I was too scared to get my purse and other bag from my bed. Enter Pedro, angel sent to save me. Pedro was our hostel owner and excellent breakfast chef and he had come down to see us off. I told him that I´d been nearly killed by a spider and being the nice man that he was, he set off to find it for us. The first place he looks – IN my bed. Does that mean that he normally finds spiders in beds? Does that mean had we slept a few minutes longer I´d have found that thing in bed with me? He found it crawling up the wall, inches from where my head would have been and calmly took it outside and said it was no big deal and a harmless one. Ok, whatever silly local, what do you know? Clearly he didn´t see the big fangs dripping with poisonous venom that I saw. Anyway, the point is, we had been sad to be leaving Jeri, but the send-off spider helped us to get over that. In fact, I was so distracted that I almost didn´t notice how much it hurt to carry my pack on my sunkissed shoulders and roasted rump!
We are now camped out in Fortaleza waiting to for a night bus further south to Natal where we hope to spend a few days exploring more beaches and sand dunes!
A few side lessons I´ve learned this week in Brazil:
1) Brazil is freaking BIG. I suppose that is common sense, however, we were a little slow with this detail until we started to add up all the miles we needed to go. And we are only trying to see the North of Brazil Someone pointed out to us that it´s equally far from Manaus to Lima, Peru as it is to Belem….which probably doesn´t mean anything to you unless you are looking at a map – but to us that means we have to go a LONG way in a short period of time. To make things a bit tougher, bus travel thus far has been about 3x more expensive than what we´d accounted for, so we are having to reanalyze the stops we want to make. I´d rather pick a few stops and spend a few days in each, than have to bust a move every day to keep going as I watch my funds dwindle.
2) My Portuguese is complete crap!!! This has been a very frustrating and sad realization. 5 years ago, I´d have considered myself fairly fluent, but now I think borderline would be generous. I can understand almost everything that is said to me, but trying to speak without accidentally throwing in a bunch of Spanish has posed a problem. We get around just fine, but I´m really bummed to have lost so much of it. I have been reading novels in Portuguese and perhaps as we spend more days here, it will start to come back to me…we´ll see.
3) It is actually possible for some Brazilian men to catcall `til the cows come home. Really. Truly. In the rare instances where I´m not annoyed or insulted, it can actually be somewhat impressive that they can be so persistent with their hissing and crude comments. Didn´t they have mothers to teach them any manners?
So, I need to end by saying Happy Birthday Dad!!!! I hope you have a great one and I know that having mom coming home on Wednesday will be a great gift for you (can I somehow finagle that as my gift too??). And an early Happy Birthday to Grandma Mason too – can someone please tell her I said so, as I don´t think she´s reading this thing. And so that no one feels left out, a Happy Valentine´s Day to the rest of you!!!