A big bright smile, vigorous nod of the head and a pair of thumbs raised straight up towards heaven works wonderfully in Brazil. And that’s how I sashayed my way through the world’s largest catholic nation for two months. I learnt a lot except the tongue. In fact I returned with less Portuguese in my vocabulary than I had begun my journey with. As always wherever I travel, I met and befriended an incredible number of people, fell in love with the land and with its beautiful women, with the air, with the music, food both solid and fluid, beaches, animals and above all with the buses.
This is an introductory post on Brazil hence I will highlight and touch upon certain aspects that I find memorable and briefly mention all the regions I caroused through; time and inclination permitting I shall elaborate upon these as well in future posts.
Brazil could also market itself as a gourmet delight with lip smacking offerings for both vegetarian and meat eating palates and in particular for my kind of ‘opportunistarian’ palate. From the day I landed till the day I lifted off, I was vigorously tempted and bombarded with delicacies both fluid and solid and gaseous in nature that I should have avoided but simply could not; adding thereby considerable girth and luggage to my otherwise lean mean frame; of which I am currently struggling to shed for my forthcoming expedition. It is impossible for me to recall and recount each of them since they were innumerable so I mention those that I remember and must have hogged to the maximum.
Acai berry juice, both as a drink and additive became my addiction as my friend Anita had predicted. I don’t know what good it did to me, and it is touted as a top antioxidant but I liked the look, aroma and the texture and had it at any given opportunity. The crushed peanut bar of Pacoquita proved my nemesis and despite its calorie laced molecules I just couldn’t keep my hands off them, even carrying few back with me to India. If you ask me to give one reason for me to head back to Brazil one day then it has to be pao de quijo or simply cheese bread. It’s a culinary devil in disguise and if I had the liberty, I would put it as the 8th deadly sin. Cheese breads are found all over the world but those of you who have eaten this ‘ball’ shaped incarnation in Brazil would know what I am talking about. To bite into one of the soft warm balls and feel the aroma of the cheese filling up your soul through your nostrils and tongue; ah, that’s as close to heaven you can go without climbing mountains. I must have had tons of these and they were the last food I consumed before boarding my flight back. Add to these the incredible array of seafood, of which camarao (shrimps) became my mainstay. Prepared by a friend, bacalhau (cod) fish became my second favored seafood.
Fruits were aplenty, almost identical to the ones found in India being tropical in origin, except those exotic ones in the Amazon. The melons and the oranges were as fabulous as were the apples and grapes and the plums. The only fruit that India has in better shape, size and taste is mango, so I avoided them in Brazil. Close to the heels were the fresh fruit sorvetes (ice creams), which once again I consumed in dollops with complete disregard to my middle and the one that will haunt me for the rest of my life was the one I had in Belem made of Uxi fruit and I must thank my friend Analuisa and Alexandre for that. Tapioca is eaten in various shapes and forms in Brazil and I too liked them, specially the pancakes I ate in Maranhao. Among the fluid, I proved to be a complete sucker for Cachaca and Caipirinha. Beginning my journey from Belo Horizonte, the hot seat of the finest Cachacas in Brazil, I tasted the best almost a day after I touched Brazilian soil. The only other drink that could top this experience was a chilled glass of corn juice (I had no idea corn could be consumed in this form) I had en route to the North coast of Sao Paulo. Add to this the daily intake of raw coconut water. That pretty much sums up my culinary experience (of which I would elaborate elsewhere perhaps) and to add to this I must end with the most bizarre eatery I tumbled upon in Sao Paulo where the owner charges 2 $ more from the men for eating the same identical buffet since he believes that given a free reign and equal time, men eat more than women; bloody hell, I could have strangled his fat neck and kicked his overzealous belly for being such a sexist.
This pretty much includes everything other than human beings and red meat. In terms of landscape, Brazil is breathtaking though it does not fulfill my criteria of having at least one glacier or a permanent ice covered summit for a country to be interesting. Brazil might be the only exception in my list of ‘interesting’ nations. From the rolling meadows of Serra de Cipo to the roaring Iguacu or be it the turquoise waves of the Atlantic or the dense rainforests of the Amazon, the white endless dunes of Lençóis Maranhenses, each and every vista took my breath away and made me gape in wonder. Brazil is abundant in natural resources, especially water and forest cover and despite rampant deforestation, what I saw was beyond imagination. If we harness carefully Brazil’s forests and fresh water then I guess much of the world’s problem in this field can be fended. The manscape on the other hand left me much disturbed. Tall buildings of glass and steel are rising everywhere, compelling human beings to become imprisoned within their own dreams and sense of security. Just like anywhere, Brazil too is competing to become a developed nation and wrongfully believes that ‘development’ is all about replacing nature and God’s work with human imprints of irrational ego. Rio 20 + happened while I was there, which eventually turned into Rio 20 – (so say my knowledgeable friends) since I wouldn’t know the difference. At the same time I was glad to come across many individuals who are working round the clock towards sustainability to offset the non-sustainable efforts of the masses and the government.
I used the metro at three cities, Rio, Sao Paulo and Belo Horizonte and none of them are worth writing about. Though I must admit that the main metro station in Belo Horizonte was also the finest looking building in the city (the parts that I had been privy to). Briefly, Brazil has a long way to go where metro is concerned. The city buses are rather cramped but neat compared to India and has a conductor sitting behind an open cage with a revolving gate in front, through which he lets passengers in, only after they have paid the fare, which is fair enough. All buses have only one fare, no matter how far you go or from where you board and that fare is written on the outside. The taxis are good and the drivers know what they are doing, so hopping into a taxi and showing a chit with your destination written in clear bold English will normally get you where you wish to go. And the taxis are safe, even at late hours and they don’t charge extra or try to take you on a longer route and they don’t expect any tips either. But taxis are expensive. Now where Brazil scores top marks is the fantastic intercity and inter-regional bus routes and buses. Brazil must have one of the most extensive and intensive road systems in the world and wherever there is a road, there’s a bus company offering you a bus route. All the buses are like aircraft cabins, with free water and toilet onboard. I wish they had lovely cabin crews too but then that would be too much to ask at the price. And the buses run dot on time, perhaps only thing public that runs on time in Brazil, which must be quite anti to the national policy of tardiness. I took many bus journeys and had some of the best moments, riding through jungles or deserts or wastelands, swinging slowly on a cushion so deep that even my waist disappears; sipping coconut water, while trying to keep the sleeping mama off my shoulders… it was fun. I became familiar with the Rodoviarias (bus terminus) and the bus companies and the roads that led from somewhere to somewhere. The internal flights are economical and offered by several private players and the planes are decent and the cabin crew is mostly nice people little over stressed or so they appeared; but then I could well be mistaken.
Art and Music and Dance and Fun
What can I say, you know it all, no one lives up to or like the Brazilians where enjoying life is concerned and I experienced it firsthand almost everywhere. I did not learn the Samba or the Capoeira neither the hip swaying music neither the superlative art and crafts of the artisans though I lived with people who are adept at all of these. But then I enjoyed every moment so much that trying to learn would have spoilt the fun. With few cachacas down, no one even noticed that I totally have two left feet and a vocal cord to rival those of a tree climbing frog. If I call my trip as one non-stop party with few pauses to catch my breath then I wouldn’t be far from the truth.
When my friends told me that anyone and everyone can be a Brazilian since the way different races and anthropological genes have mixed in this vast cauldron that it can produce any shape, any size, any feature, any color anything at all; I took it with a pinch, but when I was mistaken as a Brazilian several times I was convinced. Despite the immense diversity in their shapes, sizes, colors, feature; without a shadow of doubt, Brazilians are very warm and friendly lot. Being from India, a country so similar yet so far from their country, I was welcomed as a long lost friend nearly everywhere, even by stark strangers. Even in Salvador, known for its notoriety, I felt safe in the darkest of alleys walking through the crowds. They are tardy just like in India, but this could also be due to the relaxed and convivial way of living.
Well, as some of my clever readers would say, women are part of people too; but then I had to make a special mention of this specie since in Brazil they are absolutely remarkable. Somewhere in the middle of my voyage, I remember mumbling to myself, though can’t recall the place, that God had been unjust in distributing the feminine gender since the number of scintillating and sparkling women in Brazil by far usurps that balance elsewhere in the world. It would have been impossible for me to befriend them all, who passed me by each day, everywhere, but I did manage to befriend a large number and with each came the Brazilian embrace and beijos (kisses); simply put I just couldn’t have enough of that. Besides the obvious physical charm, Brazilian women by far and large are generous to the point of defect, kind and gregarious to the core. This included the police women and the women guarding the metros and other public places.
Brazil is known for her beaches and beachgoers and I had an ample taste of both as I scoured beach after beaches from up North at Marajo till Santa Catarina to include Ilha Grande and the Northern Beaches in between. Every beach had its own charm and recluse spots and the beachgoers vied for equal attention. What I liked most was that most of the beaches had some kind of hill or forests or both jutting out at the ends with one or two fresh water river streams joining up from somewhere. This offered a fresh water oasis at most places just where the salt water reached. Not an astute fan of salt and deep waters, I enjoyed such oasis for hours. And upon such beaches I also had the true Brazilian experience of doing absolutely nothing on a day full of work. Just chilling out on a deck chair, drinking acai or munching on cheese biscuit puffs (sold by roving peddlers), watching the world and the gulls pass by frolicking people in the waves and surfers doing their acrobatics. I also had my first lessons in surfing, a sport I have never done before and realized that it is far more grueling and challenging than it looks. And in these beaches I learned a new game of frescoball and my tutor being a true champion had me sweating soon. But I am good at games of all kinds so I had her running soon. No mention of Brazilian beaches can be complete without mentioning the bikinis so I will just mention it and will leave the rest to your imagination.
Football is like air in Brazil and rightfully so. Everyone talks, eats and breathes football; well nearly everyone. And I did meet one individual who doesn’t understand, doesn’t play and doesn’t watch this game and in that way he could certainly be my counterpart since in my case it is ‘cricket’. And this individual told me one night, while diving through a cauldron of fishes (caldeirao), that every Brazilian male dreams of becoming a footballer and make lots of money by joining a football club while every Brazilian female dreams of putting silicon (you know where) and marrying such a Brazilian male. I took this with a pinch of a large succulent shrimp. But football is a serious business and Brazil has many clubs with people’s opinions and loyalty divided. So you can expect an absolute mayhem when in a family of four each member supports a different club and if these four clubs happen to reach the semis. So there are football songs, football cuisines, football holidays, football jokes, football fights, football romances, football entertainment and football memorabilia.
We all know that Brazilians speak Portuguese but what isn’t well known is that they speak it differently from Portugal and even in different places within Brazil they speak it differently. So there was no point at all for me trying to recall my barely existing Portuguese that I had learnt 21 years ago to appease the father of my then Portuguese origin girlfriend since her father was a private Portuguese teacher with dwindling business. Despite Brazil’s bulging economy and aspirations to become a developed nation, for which at least one international language should be promoted, I found language to be a barrier at most places. Even in Rio and Sao Paulo, taxi drivers and tourist offices they barely spoke English. The only exception being in Foz where everyone seems to speak some sort of Pidgin English. Though you can get by very well with a broad smile, upraised shoulders and sign language like I did. In Brazil they don’t shun you (like in many countries) if you don’t speak the local tongue or speak it wrong, but if you quickly learn to say obrigado / da and bom dia / noite (like I did) then they treat you with respect and kindness that we normally reserve for our pet dogs.
States and places visited
In the chronological order these were – Minas Gerais (Belo Horizonte, Ouro Preto, Serra de Cipo), Rio de Janeiro (Ilha Grande, Paraty, Rio de Janeiro), Sao Paulo (Sao Paulo, northern beaches), Para (Belem, Marajo), Maranhao (Barreirinhas, Lençóis Maranhenses, Sao Luis), Bahia (Salvador, Lençóis Chapada Diamantina), Parana (Foz de Iguacu), Santa Catarina (Florianopolis). So in all I touched 8 states out of the 26 Brazil has. I did pass through several other states and places but I do not count any where I did not spend at least one night. I touched Brazilian soil at Sao Paulo international airport and left from Rio international airport. On both the occasions, when I landed and took off, there was no one to receive me or see me off yet I felt completely happy and at home since that’s the way it is for me always.
That in an acai shell is how I braved through Brazil. Can’t say I am braver than before but certainly Brazilian than before. Adeus…