February 29, 2004

Her little surfer boy

Hung out with the charasmatic, hilarious and great-natured Marcelo, who also spent a little time in the "green room". Had lunch with Bianca, a cute-as-pie little one who loved to eat, snap photos w/ the digital camera and braid Jim's hair:

Aside from Marcelo's obvious charm, having a local to show us the ins and outs proved very valuable as we were treated to some great eats, etc.

February 28, 2004

On to the beach(es)

Mellie, Janet and I said goodbye to Mike and DavidG and took a flight North to the beaches around Natal. We settled in a town called Ponta Negra, a somewhat commercial town but not w/out some treasures of its own.

After experiencing a few Brasilian beaches, J & M quickly felt that their bikinis where more like "granny suits" compared to the world famous "Brasilian cut". Janet would eventually buy four (at less than $10 a pop!), getting braver with each successive purchase (my approval of the lack of coverage also rose w/ each new suit :-)).

At the shop where the girls bought their suits (and convinced me of buying a smaller one as well) Mellie met a 20 yr old surfer by the name of Marcelo, who would later join us on our advenures :-)

February 27, 2004

Does it ever end?

Headed out to see Sao Paulo's winning Samba School for Carnaval 2004. It was essentially a mini parade with the winning school (judged a variety of criteria including dance, theme, float design, song composition, etc.) as well as 10 others. Keep in mind that this was 2 DAYS after Fat Tuesday. Have I mentioned that Brasilians know how to party??

February 25, 2004

Green means "go"
We left Bahaia just as the final bloco blared down the main drag at - I shit you not - 12:30 PM on WEDNESDAY. We waived the white flag and crawled back to Sao Paulo.

That Night we ate at a churrista (sp?), essentially a Brasilian BBQ, offering succulent cuts of meat (13 of beef alone) continually served to patrons as long as their little "stop/go" cards are turned to the green side:

In spite of Janet's rather perplexed look in the image below, she proved to be the star carnivore of the group, surprsing even the small army of waiters:

February 24, 2004

Fat Tuesday Da Authentico
Much to the girls'' (and my own) delight, we headed to the historical district - "Citade Alta"- on our last day in Salvador. It's a beautiful section of town, with a distinctly European feel, owed to it's heavy Portugese influence (this is where they brought the slaves from Africa).

Our Fat Tuesday experience was remarkably different than the previous 4 nights of craziness - it had a much more laid back and, more significantly, authentic feel. Old Salavador Carnaval had a pure feel to it: we watched very small parades and drum schools dance by our corner cafe table for the sheer enyoment of it all.

February 23, 2004

A funny aside. Mel, by now famous among the group for her legendary addiction to caffeine of the coffee flavor, had a ‘lost in translation moment’ when she (with the help of David G) tried to order a ‘caf้e.’ The hotel employee misheard her, thinking she/David was asking for a camisinhas – a condom! David and Mel did not understand a)why they didn’t have coffee in the restaurant b)why they had to ‘go downstairs’ to get some and c)why the woman had a knowing smile while nodding her head at the ‘couple.’ Nothing like condoms with your morning coffee!

After scraping our hungover bodies off the bed we grabbed a cab and headed north to the beaches of Bahaia for some much needed R & R before our final bloco experience (note aforementioned super partier "Bruno" in the background)

February 22, 2004

A quick anecdote to shed some light on the spirit (and priorities) of the Bahians. While we were sidelined in a shopping mall researching the purchase of a camarote, we suddenly heard chanting coming from a store in the mall. Mike went to investigate and reported back that all the workers in one of the mall’s department stores banded together and started chanting “Close the Store for Carnaval” or something to that effect. Low and behold, the store did just that, allowing their employees to head home early to get an early start on Carnaval. That's what I call having your priorities right...

Mike, David and I headed to the camarote, which, while certainly a good time, was definitely a bit more reserved than the previous night's bloco. We did meet some cool peeps - some Brits from Manchester and a fellow we'd seen on the bus as part of our tour package (Bruno, the epitome of party animal). To spice things up, we pooled our free drink tickets and I played "cervaja claus"with our beer, handing them out to our fellow partiers:

February 21, 2004

Joining the fray

Had a great lunch with a coworker of David's and his son, nicknamed "duda"which we of course used early & often :-). The graciousness of our hosts we would later learn is pretty typical for Brazilians - they are naturally welcoming, generous and competely accommodating people. Post lunch we headed to the parking lot of what was essentially a strip mall, where would be Carnaval-goers had set up a kind of open market, buying and selling abadas for blockos. David, Mike , Duda and I (J & M were not into the crowd scene!) bought shirts for "Olodom"'s blocko, a drum school and world-famous band (having played with Paul Simon, Herbie Hancock, Jimmy Cliff & others) that helps keep young Bahians off the street and develop them into amazing percussionists.

The bloco was definitely an experience- much cervaja, revelry and dancing to the infectious percussion of Olodum.

We finished, exhausted but still exhilerated at 4:30 AM, where we met up with the girls, who had watched Carnaval from the relative safety of a "camarote"" or "balcony" in Portugese. we crashed as the sun rose to greet us for the second day in a row :-)
Carnaval: Graduate School for Mardi Gras-vets
Janet and I have both experienced the craziness of Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras. I during my senior year of college (making my tolerance for crowds and alcohol all the greater) and Janet a few years later. However, both of us agree that Mardi Gras is the appetizer for Carnaval’s entree. Bahians make New Orleans look like child’s play – nay, infant’s play. All of Brazil – from the most rural country town in the interior to the glitzy scene of Rio – get in on the act.

Carnaval in Salvador is a good deal different than that of Rio or Sao Paulo – both featuring what many foreigners typically associate with Carnaval – parades with beautiful women costumed in those large and ornate headdresses (the name of which is escaping me) shaking their hips wildly to Samba. Salvador’s version of Carnaval is more active. Instead of watching 30 or more ‘Samba schools’ perform from bleacher seats, Salvadorians and tourists alike can join the action directly in what are called ‘blockos.’ Each of the Salvador’s parade routes (one in the upper region of the city, the other in the lower) are made up of blocks – usually 2 semi’s, one towing a(n often famous) auxe band or a “trios electrios.”

In addition to the massive speakers, the other truck typically carries bathrooms and food and drink. Admittance to each blocko is limited to those who purchased ‘abadas’ for the blocko – a colorful, funkily-designed shirts which essentially serve as your ticket to join a given blocko. Each blocko is sectioned off by a number of workers, actually carrying, pushing or pulling a heavy rope. Another group roped off the area in front of each semi so as to prevent revelers from being crushed by the slow-moving trucks. There are day and night parades with the day one beginning around 11am – 7pm. The night parade begins around 6ish and ends in the wee morning. Sometimes 4am, sometimes 5am, sometimes 6am, sometimes it bleeds right into the afternoon parade

The blocko scene is generally exuberant: people drinking, laughing, and – above all – DANCING. One of the local Salvadorian TV channels ran a little clip from last year’s Carnaval (that I believe was genuine, not canned) in which 5 Germans who had just arrived in Bahia stepped out into the street for the first time and were overwhelmed by the sheer joy on display en masse – so much so that it moved them to tears. I definitely related to what they felt – the Carnaval scene is electric, it’s intoxicating with or without the gallons upon gallons of cervajes consumed by it participants. The beats, (no beads ;)) rhythm and even the Portuguese lyrics are infectious: one can’t help but be swept up by them. Seeing blocko after blocko pass the packed sidewalks and streets with the onlookers and participants singing and dancing as one was truly an unforgettable experience.

February 20, 2004

The Gringos Arrive at Carnaval (aka: The Gauntlet). The boys take 2 very sick girls to Salvador for the Bahian Carnaval experience. Looking around the bus that was taking us to our hotel, it was definitely a Brazilian package-- we were the only gringos. The guide gave the busload an overview of the Carnaval experience - entirely in Portuguese. Thank God-gee for Buck to translate for us. Unfortunately, the translation only intensified our already heightened fears. We were told to take everything out of our pockets, prepare to be pick-pocketed, take off all jewelry, etc. In a demonstration of acceptable things to have in your back pocket, our guide pulled out a crumbled sheet of paper that read Go F*ck Yourself” in Portuguese. Nice!

The population of Salvador swelled from 2MM to 3MM for Carnaval so we were ready for a crowd. However, as we sped down the road to downtown Salvador we were also informed that due to our arrival time (past 11pm) and the location of our hotel directly on of the 2 parade (blocko) routes. As a result, we would need to make like salmon and fight the sea of revelers on foot with our wheelies in tow! Our anxiety jumped a few notches as our tour guide discussed sheparding tactics real-time. The sound of the merriment, samba beats, etc. did not quell the anxiety as it merely served as a reminder that we were about to be pitched into mayhem. As we disembarked we were greeted with no less 20 faux police-officers (there were 15,000 of these security personnel and 5,000 highly trained militia to handle the party-goers) brandishing batons and helmets along with a numerical identification system. While we were happy to have their accompaniment, our concerns were not entirely put to rest with guards like 3059-C, a young lady who weighed all of 90 pounds. The group of touristos secured their belongings as best they could and plunged into the mad merrymakers with their official escorts, who formed the equivalent of a wedge in a kickoff return, moving partiers out of the way as we made our way to the Salvador Praia Hotel.

I have to say, it was quite stressful. The tone of the prep speech on the bus and the grim look on the Bahian guards’ faces (even 3059-C) made us feel like guppies in a sea of sharks. The 300 meters the tour guide told us we had to travel was surely more like 3 km, difficult journey or not. All that said, it really was not as bad as it was made out to be. We made it to the front desk with nary a scratch or stolen item. Plus, after running the carnival gauntlet we figured we would endure just about anything thrown our way.

The pic below honestly does not do the experience justice (wish i'd brought the video camera!):

After we checked in we headed up to the 5th floor to get some perspective on our surroundings which proved to be unbelievable – wall to wall partiers for literally as far as we could see up the parade route (6 lanes wide). Mike, Dave and Jim headed out to the fray while the girls barricaded themselves :-)

February 19, 2004

Multiple adventures, both on and off the beach.

had a bit of a late start (by my (Jim’s) standards, it would become the norm for the group). Mike and the 3 gringos headed to the beach (praia) to soak up some rays. Buck arranged for a cab for us which proved to be quite an adventure….

I think the original idea was to hire a taxi that spoke some English, though the elderly gentleman that arrived at Buck’s did not quite live up to that billing. Not a huge deal, given Mike’s command of Portugese. However the driver’s driving ability seemed to match his linguistics. The ride to the praia entailed mountainous grades, a good deal of traffic and a smattering of rain –featured gear grinding, downshifting from 5th to 2nd, that whiplash style of braking, 2 stops for directions and simply bad driving all around. I think the driver sensed he was in over his head because he suggested getting a new cab for the way home.

however with a few Capirinahas -- pretty much the national drink of brasil featuring Cashasa (sp?) a liquor distilled from sugar cane + lots of syrup and lime -- under our belt we set off on the return journey with little more than fumes in the tank.

After a Bill Murray/Lost in Translation-esque conversation with our faithful driver we learned that we had to find a gas station that sold natural gas – that which fueled our chariot. Turns out the only purveyor of this automotive elixir was not quite ready for prime time. Standing between us and our ticket home was the station’s Grand Opening – quite an affair for in small-town Brazil, featuring film crews, models and no less than 10 men in their Sunday best, beaming with pride de Brazil.

Unfortunately for us, Le Grand Opening also meant the owners wished to keep their prized petrol purveyorship pristine for a few hours, stranding us until they were ready to dispense with the formalities. Our savvy cab driver suggested we (and we only) could speed up the process by falling back on our touristo status.

Low and behold – our nationality actually proved a boon – we struck up a conversation with an English-speaking owner and, after explaining our plight, convinced him to allow us a few litres of gas-o-natural. As we popped the popped the pump's cherry the co-owner shed some light as to just how savvy the taxi driver was: turns out that all cars that take natural gas also take regular petrol – but natural gas is cheaper. The co-owner offered a bit of advice to his befriended gringos – be wary of the Brazilian thriftiness. The cabbie sensed his secret was being revealed so he smilingly ushered us back to the taxi before we learned more.

Later that night we had some of the great aforementioned sushi and - believe it or not - mustered the stamina to stay out to the wee hours You’ll have to get this story in person. Keywords: Caipirinha, pole dancing and purging ;-)

February 18, 2004

The Adventure begins!


A few word on my new favorite country! Brasil (they don't use a "z") is a huge country - slightly smaller in area than the continental US, with over 140M people. i think the natural american bias is to assume 2nd world when thinking of South America but Brasil is far from it...a country of that size can afford its independence from the affairs in the northern continent - which is pretty refreshing...

Janet, Melanie and I kicked off our Brasilian adventure in Sao Paulo, Brasil where our good friend David Lee was kind enough to put us up (and put up with us :-)). Sao Paulo is the world's second largest city boasting over 22M Paulistos in what is truly a mixing pot. for example, it has the largest Japenese population of any city outside Japan...which made for some good sushi a day later :-)

the city is literally a sea of skyscapers - more so than manhattan. it's so congested that license plates ending in certain numbers cannot drive into certain sections of the city.....crazy

after struggling through a bit-o-jet lag, we met David's friend Mike - more of a friend than co-worker and someone we felt immediately at home with (the cervajes helped of course!). headed to Santa Gula for our first Brazilian meal. The place was quite authentic, tasty and like most eateries in Brazil, extremely reasonably priced. Had agreat vibe – outdoors and eclectic décor.

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