Monday, October 17, 2011

Brazil so far...

NOTE: In the preview of this post I couldn't get it to separate the paragraphs... so I'm sorry if that's how it comes out in publishing - just one long paragraph... Hope you enjoy anyway! The problem with leaving it a long time between blogs is that you don't know quite where to start... And if you're me you also run the risk of writing an exceedingly long account off all sorts of random events and happenings since the last post. So the short version is this: Hung out at mum's a while, decided to fly to Brazil for 3 months, flew into São Paolo, travelled to Rio de Janeiro, Ilhe Grande, Salvador, Recife/Olinda, Praia da Pipa and back to Olinda, am staying in Olinda for the next few weeks doing some volunteer work/investigations into the work being done with street kids and local communities. That would, geographically, bring you more or less up to date. But what is missing is the colour... and we all know I love colour :) Brazil and I had a rocky start. I arrived to our first meeting expecting it to beat me to a pulp and steal every item I had on me every time I left the sanctury of a hostel. And I had leaned extremely hard on my denial reflexes in the run up to coming, so I really hadn't thought about being here at all. It took me two weeks to finally feel like I was here, mind body and soul. Do you know what I mean? I mean, obviously I got here physically, mentally there were probably some jet-lag issues for some of that time and to be fair I had intentionally chosen a place that would catapult me out of my comfort zone (it worked). But I had this bizarre lingering feeling that I just wasn't wholly here. Something was missing. I was enjoying myself, but it felt like I could have been watching myself on TV. I wasn't fully engaging. So, I took myself back to some of the things I learned on the Camino, one of which was that, if lost, my mojo can almost always be found at the top of a hill - preferibly one I have to sweat to get to the top of. And my mojo is also more likely to come forth if I tackle a trek through natural beauty, on my own. There's something in feeling like an intrepid explorer (albeit on well-explored tracks) that makes me feel all full of potential and strength. Obviously it's a sort of ridiculous middle class white girl version of intrepid exploring, but that stuff works for me... what can I say?! With this in mind, and fortunately located on the very beautiful Ilhe Grande (pron. Ilya Grandjay), I set off on a 2.5hr hike along the coastal path from the main town Abraão to a beach on the other side of the island called Lopes Mendes. It's an ideal walk for my 'explorer' requirements - not as clearly marked as some of the others, a series of steep inclines and descents, lots of jungle, stunning coastal views... and a boat service to get you back from the other end! My point is, that while I was sweating it out up and down the tracks along the coast, my soul rocked up. Something in the combination of solitude, massive blue butterflies, natural steps made out of tree roots, giant boulders that seem to pulse with energy and heat and the physical exertion brought me squarely and wholly into the moment. Finally. Ilhe Grande abounds with opportunities for this stuff. I spent one day walking to another beach, swimming in natural pools along the way and listening to nearby Howler Monkeys with their prehistoric roar on the way back. Stop-in-your-tracks-and-smile moments. In a sense I was sad to move on from there, but I was eager to get North East to the regions I was interested in finding work, so after 5 days I moved on. So let's go back a little before going forwards... Here I was arriving in a country where I didn't speak the language, hadn't done much research and was afraid I'd get beaten and robbed. Excellent work, no? I want to share a couple of things with you. The first is for your amusement, the second is a little 'Security in Brazil 101'. I stretched the truth a little when I said I didn't speak the language - I had downloaded and listened to several podcasts and audiobooks to aid in learning basic Portuguese before I left, so I'd picked up enough to ask where a toilet was, but not enough to undertsand the directions when given... Still, I figured there was no better way to push myself than to try a little conversation on the plane. I had worked out that my neighbour spoke Portuguese, but not English, so when he kept turning to me for help with understanding the Lufthansa flight staff I did my best to translate. I thought I did OK, in fact I felt pretty damn proud of myself, all things considered. Figured I still had that knack for languages. Unfortunately, to be honest it didn't appear to be helping - he didn't understand what I was saying at all... because he was in fact Ukrainian, as I discovered. Not just any Ukranian, but one who either had a significant drinking problem or was self-medicating his flying phobia with vodka - 4 doubles and two beers in two hours. Not really my ideal in terms of flight buddies. He slept fairly quickly, obviously, and had that delightful pickled aroma for the full 12hrs. At one point is alcohol addled dreams caused him to flail about and then try to hold my hand. Nice. One of my major concerns on arrival had been the possibility of having to withdraw cash from an ATM in view of the thousands of waiting robbers that I envisaged would be at the airport, bcause clearly no one has anything better to do than select newly arrived, idiot tourists to rob. I was relieved to have found thet the exchange place at Heathrow had Brazilian Reais (pron. heyais), so that problem was solved, but the prospect had given birth to a desire to create for myself a security system for my valuables and cash... that system has developed over time and experience... Let me preface the next bit by saying that I haven't actually seen, heard of or experienced any threat to my security directly as yet, but there is so much talk between both travellers and locals about the potential of violence and robberies that I consider my heightened paranoia to be a useful addition to my travel bag! High-Vulnerability System: I use this one on the travel days, when I am most vulnerable because I'm like some kind of beacon. The mix of ethnicities in Brazil means that even I can look like a local sometimes, but when I have a 20kg orange backpack on my back and a bright green daypack on my front there is no blending in happening whatsoever. I have EVERYTHING of importance on me... but it's distributed about my person... sneaky... In one of those sexy skin-tone money belts, strapped to my body under my clothes I carry my passport and any larger amounst of cash I might be holding. In a belt bag around my waist (this is NOT a bumbag, people. I reapeat NOT a bumbag. It's green leather and super cool like something a fire-twirling hippy might carry, not an American tourist with white socks on) I carry a smaller amount of cash, my phone and my camera. I also distribute extra cash in sealed pockets if I have any, so that if everything else gets taken, I still have enough to get myself somewhere safe. Night Out/Cash Withdrawl System: This is my favourite cos it makes me giggle whenever I have to do it. I use it if I'm going out for the night or withdrawing large amounts at ATMs. Basically is bra-based. The boy version is shoe-based, but that just seems boring. On a trip to the ATM I can end up with up to AU$300 stuffed in one bra cup, which can make a girl look quite impressive, if a little wonky depending on the denomination of the notes. The credit card sits in the other cup, for a little economic balance. If I'm wearing a dress I do have a cycling short version of this system, but it's not nearly as funny and makes me feel like I'm carrying some kind of weapon in my undies... weird. OK, back to the journey. Look, I get very tired, very quickly of passing through location after location, sight seeing, but not really seeing the country at all. I find it very lonely, as a single traveller, because you meet new people every few days and, for the most part, your conversations are the same (Where are you from? Where have you been? Where are you goinjg? How long are you travelling?), you share some fun experiences and then you all head off in your own directions. It is all fun, but it feels like it lacks purpose, for me. I've always been like that with travelling. I can do a couple of weeks, but then I start to feel like I'm skating over the surface of a country, aware that the real stuff happens underneath all that. So my intention was always to get up North and see if I could find somewhere to stay for a month and do some volunteer work or something similar. I travelled from ilhe Grande all the way up to Salvador in Bahia State, which is a bloody long way... 34hrs in a bus. I can't even begin to explain the boredom levels that had kicked in by the time I reached Salvador! That aside, what was fascinating to watch was the visible change in landscape socio-economically. I could litterally see the rural poverty increase as I got further North. Salvador's population is very Afro-Brazilian. The whole feel of the city is much more akin to a Caribbean city than your average Latin American city might be. Palm trees, brightly coloured colonial buildings along cobbled streets in the Old City, drums beating everywhere like some sort of urban heartbeat. The music is quite incredible. I was there for 5 days and I don't think there was a single day that there wasn't music around every corner. The drumming groups are amazing and often use the streets as their practice space so you end up with crowds following them as they walk around the streets and drnks vendors follwoing behind to ensure the crowd stays suitably lubricated. Unfortunately Salvador is also flooded with Crack and its use is visible in the skeletal faces of children as young as 11 and 12. I asked around to see if there were reputable organisations I could perhaps find work with there, but I was really sad to hear that there are several organisations, but very few doing good work. I'm sure there must be some, but it looks like a losing battle at the moment. And in reality the month I had to offer means that I had to bea realistic about what I could be part of. Really sad. This is so frustrating! There are so many other little side stories to tell in all this, but I really want to publish this post today - I've started writing three times so far and abandonned all of the previous posts, so I'm determined today! Anyhoo, so from Salvador I took the much more palatable 12hr night bus to Recife in Pernambuco state. Now this turns out to be rather important, because I had forgotten the significance of Recife in my original interest in Brazil... Let me share. About 10-12 years ago I read a book called "At Home In The Street" by Tobias Hecht. This was an ethnographic study of street children living on the streets of Recife in the early to mid 1990s. I was so affected by the account of life on the streets at that time and in this place that it had stuck in my mind as a place I wanted to visit one day. You see, back in the 1980s and 90s there were some utterly awful things happening to kids on the streets and this book captured some of the feel of what it was like to try to survive in that time. For reasons no human being could ever understand city businesses and the government were 'allegedly' (I'm not sure any of this has ever been officially recognised or uncovered, but it was common knowledge at the time) employing what were known as extermination squads to 'clean up' the city. Groups of kids were regularly taken off the streets by groups of men in plain clothes and unmarked vehicles and would later turn up dead and sometimes with evidence of torture. Having worked in Guatemala with street kids at around that time I was fascinated. Similar things had been happening in Guatemala too. I was morbidly intrigued with how people could honestly believe that such a course of action was justified. How can they justify the killing of children to themselves even? And what does that do to a community, a population, to kids - seeing the impact of such hideous violence against their children, their peers. So my fascination was reignited when I arrived in Recife. Oddly it was the first time I had arrived in a new city and not felt immediately afraid. That may just have been the fact I was now a little more comfortable in the country as a whole, but nevertheless, Recife is the capital of what is statistically the most violent state in Brazil... you'd think you might be able to feel that vibe somehow... I didn't stay in Recife itself. Just next to Recife is Olinda, which is officially another town, but it seems like a suburb of Recife. It's a very laid back, very artistic and bohemian sort of town. More cobbled streets and brightly coloured buildings. More galleries and music venues than you can shake a stick at. And it's officially much safer - the first place I've felt safe enough to go out alone at night, which feels like such a beautiful freedom! I did a little asking around and one of the guys on reception at my hostel said his neighbour had started an organisation for kids on the streets and he'd be happy to introduce me... And so the next phase began... Oh, god there's so much to say here!! OK. I think I might stop at this point and then do a second post in a couple of days. For photos of the trip so far (actually I'm long overdue an update to these too), check out this album

1 comment:

  1. Well another well written descrptive blog from the girl who has the ability to transport anyone just to where you are. Can't wait to hear more.