Monday, June 30, 2008

The rest of the trip

On the fourth day of our trip, we took the longest hike, leaving at 10AM and returning at 5PM. We went up to these 2 waterfalls on the same river, called "Angelica" and Purificação". On the way up to the falls, we came across a group of micos (squirrel monkeys) and I was able to get one or two good pictures. Vilma put a tangerine on a branch close to us and the group, including two babies, came down to get the fruit. They were soooooo cute!!! We hung out for a good 20 minutes watching them play and jump around in the trees.

The waterfalls were incredibly beautiful. The only bad part was that due to the holiday, the trail was packed with people. So much for solititude and quiet. There were lots of people swimming, yelling, and making noise. It was worth it though to go up there and check out the waterfalls. Here is a picture:
And here is one of me, sitting on the rocks above the falls:
The hike on our last day in Capão was shorter...about 2 hours on a road and then 5 minutes down a hill to a waterfall/swimming hole called Riachinho. I have no idea what the translation of this word is, so I will just leave it with the Portuguese name. This is another place that a lot of people like to visit due to how easy it is to get to and how beautiful it is. The weather was kind of cloudy and chilly, so I did not swim here. I just kind of relaxed on the rocks, listened to the running water and checked out the view. Here is a picture of the spot:
The last thing about the trip that I wanted to share with you all is a description of the São João parties that they had every night. Like I mentioned in an earlier post, São João involves a lot of Forro music, roasted corn, boiled peanuts and fruit liquor. I can say that I partook in all of these things, except that the corn was boiled in Capão and not roasted. Below are some pics from the festa.

On the last day I was really sad to leave and head back to the city. We also encountered bad traffic on the way home. A section of the highway that normally takes one hour took 2.5 hours! But we made it back ok, in one piece, and still dreaming of the beautiful mountain views and yummy food we had eaten during our time in Capão!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Capão day three

Saturday´s main activity was a hike to a place called Rio Preto (Black River). This place is a short hike from the village, about one hour, and is the kind of place you go to just kick it in a beautiful setting for a mellow afternoon. There are waterfalls, rocks that you can climb on, and pools that you can swim in. LOTS of people like to go there, I think because it is so easy to get to, and so beautiful once you are there.

I swam, and the water was COLD! Remember that June here is wintertime, and so the water was colder than in February, when I last came here, and the temperatures at night got down to about 13-15 degrees celsius, which is in the 50´s farenheit. Now I know this is not cold to you Oregonians, but for Vilma it was freezing, and for me after living for almost 2 years in a tropical climate it was pretty damn cold! Luckily I brought plenty of warm clothes to wear.

Here is a picture of me after swimming. I was very thankful that I brought that sarong along with me!!! Despite the cold, I have to say that it was really refreshing and cleansing to swim in this river. It feels so clean and unpolluted! Now I would not drink the water, but I feel a lot better swimming here than I do in the Bay of All Saints in Salvador. The beaches in Salvador are known for having pollution problems due to sewage lines running into the ocean closeby. Yuck!

We hung out at the swimming hole here for a couple of hours before heading back to the village. We stopped on the way back to eat homemade ice cream that was surprisingly disappointing. The ice cream cafe is on the edge of the village and apparently the freezer was on the blitz or something. It was more like flavored ice than ice cream.

That night we had pizza from the "other" pizzaria. Capão has 2 pizzarias, one is referred to as the famous one, and the other doesn´t have a real reference so I decided to call it the other one. We ate at the famous one the first night that we got to town, so decided to try this one out since we have never eaten there. It was delicious! We got 2 small pies, one plain cheese and the other a veggie mix. They used a lot of sauce, which is a rarity here in Brazil. The norm for pizza in Brazil includes a pie with little sauce, and then Brazilians put ketchup and mayonnaise on top of the pizza as condiments. I have never been able to get into this concept.

Later we went to the town square for more forro, fruit liquor and peanuts, then to bed early again because we knew we would be hiking again the next day. Here is a picture of the town of Capão so you can get an idea of what it looks like. The banners that you see hanging are traditional São João decorations. I have no idea of the significance, they are kind of like what garland is to Christmas.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Capão days one and two

We left our apartment on Thursday (June 19) at 5:45AM because we had to take a bus to the rodoviaria (long distance bus station) to catch our bus to Palmeiras that left at 7AM. Luckily we had no troubles and made it with 15 minutes to spare. We arrived in Palmeiras about 3PM and then had to take a "cab" up to Capão, which is about a 45 minute ride. I put cab in quotes because all the "cabs" are 30 year old jeeps that have no shocks and run on propane gas. In fact, our driver had to stop and change the propane tank on the way! I never knew that the same stuff that fuels gas grills can also fuel cars!

The guy at the pousada (bed and breakfast) was expecting us, so our room was ready and waiting. It was a good thing because I think that every room in town was booked. Some locals were even renting out beds in their houses to make some extra money and provide space for those who didn´t make a reservation. I was glad to have our little room with a bathroom for the equivalent of about $25US per night. Here is a picture of Vilma in the doorway of our room. We took advantage of the hammock in front and spent some QT relaxing there.

The second day we were there, we went on a day hike up to Cachoeira da Fumaça (Smoke Falls), which according to Wikipedia is the 25th highest in world at over 1000 feet! Once at the top, there is a spot that overlooks an amazing canyon. There is a rock that you can lie on and stick your head over the edge to look down. Of course you need someone to secure your feet, but even with this, I could not put my head totally over the edge. See the picture above to check out how far I made it.

I have done this hike a number of times before, but each time when I arrive at the top and see the incredible view, plus the waterfall, I am rendered speechless. It is truly an amazing site to see. You can do a 4 day
overnight hike from Lençois to the base of the falls, which is something that I
hope to do sometime soon.

That night we had dinner at a restaurant owned by this Italian guy. They specialize in vegetarian pasta dishes and are renown for their lasagne, which is what we ate. Homemade noodles and homemade tomato sauce=yum yum! Later we went to the party in the town square (more about the São João parties later), but didn´t stay up too late because we were both tired from the hike and knew we would be hiking again the next day so wanted to get some rest.

Another interesting thing happened on the way down from the waterfall...we saw a snake! A big one! It was red, grey and black. There are 2 types of coral snakes here in Brazil, real corals, which are the poisonous type, and false corals, that have the coloring of real corals but which are not poisonous. A group with a local guide was behind us and the looked at it and said that it was a false coral. I was glad to hear that, but surely didn´t want to mess with the snake, poisonous or not! Here is a picture so you can get an idea.
OK, more later about the rest of the trip. Hope you enjoyed the story so far!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Cool things about Capão

I´m back in Salvador now after 6 wonderful days away from the city. As you can see from this picture, Capão is a little slice of heaven just a 9 hour bus/van ride from here. The top ten thing is a little old, so here is just a plain old list of what I love about Capão (in no particular order):

-There are tons of awesome day hikes that you can take just by walking out of the village. No car needed! And all of them include amazing views, waterfalls, rivers to swim in, or a combination of all three of these things! We hiked every day that we were there.
-The food there is incredible and most restaurants serve all homemade dishes. The best dish I had was this lasagne that had homemade pasta and homemade tomato sauce. It was vegetarian and yummy! It is cheaper and easier for folks to make all the ingredients since this town is so remote and ready-made ingredients are harder to come by as they have to be shipped in.
-There is little to no police presence. I am not sure how this works, but all I know is that when I was there during Carnaval I saw 2 cops one afternoon, but the rest of the time there were no cops. And during this holiday weekend I saw no police at all. And I also saw no fights, there was no visible crime and everyone was totally chill. What they do when they have disagreements about stuff I don´t know, but whatever their system of justice is, it doesn´t seem to involve the police very much.
-The air is fresh, the light pollution minimal (great star gazing!), you can swim in the rivers, there is no constant traffic noise, and it is totally peaceful and chill.
-The people who live there are all very mellow and seem at peace and happy.
-The best coffee that I have ever had can be bought there for R$9 for one kilo (that´s about $5.50US!).
-People there just seem to enjoy good old fashioned fun, like a town dance every Saturday night. There was more partying happening due to São João, but it all involved hanging out and dancing.

I am going to post some more stories, describing more about my trip, but wanted to at least give you a taste of my time away. And the person in the above picture is Vilma :)

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

São João

São João is rapidly approaching, the exact dates are June 23 and 24, although pretty much everyone will celebrate it all weekend long continuing on through Monday and Tuesday. There are some traditions that make this holiday unique, and one of them is called "guerra de espadas", which translates to "war of the fireworks".

Not every town has guerra de espadas, and some towns are famous for having lots of it. I have posted a Youtube video so that you can see what it looks like. And the music playing in this video is Forro music, which is the music of São João.

The town where I am going this year doesn´t have guerra de espadas, but last year I went to a town that does and got to see this spectacle up close and in person. And if you are thinking to yourself, "that looks dangerous", well it is! Every year people lose arms, legs, hands, feet, and there have been deaths. But this doesn´t seem to stop the tradition from happening, nor do signs posted saying "Proibido espada" (Espadas prohibited). People love it, and there is even folklore about how to stay safe during the guerra. Vilma told me that if you run away from an espada, it will follow you. It is better to stay in one place and jump over the espada if one comes your way. Luckily, when I did see it last year, I was far enough away so that I didn´t have to jump or run away.

While I prefer the other São João traditions- drinking homemade fruit liquor, dancing to Forro, eating roasted corn, and kicking it next to bonfires, I can also appreciate the beauty, danger, and mystery that surrounds the phenomenon that is called "guerra de espadas".

Happy São João!!!!

PS. I can´t figure out how to get rid of the second video screen...sorry!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Snickerdoodles, bombas and the Godfather

You might be wondering...what on earth is she talking about with a title like that?! Well these are the main activities happening around me today, so I thought I would share my Sunday with all of you readers.

First of all, cookies are not really common here. You can buy some cookies in the supermarkets, but they are American imports and not very good (think bad Chips Ahoy without the chips). On occasion I get a craving and will make cookies. The only problem is that many common ingredients in the US are unavailable here. So that limits the type of cookies that one can make. Thus, I have resorted to making snickerdoodles whenever I want a cookie. They are easy to make and delicious! I think that I have turned Vilma into a snickerdoodle fan :)

The word "bomba" in Portuguese has several meanings. One meaning is obviously, "bomb". But the meaning that I am talking about today is "firecracker". I don´t know why exactly, but firecrackers are a big part of the São João tradition. And like the 4th of July in the US, the week or so leading up to this holiday is filled with mostly young male children lighting off these bombas as soon as darkness sets in (which here is about 6PM). It is now 7:15PM and I have been listening to almost constant bombas for the past hour and a half. It is driving me crazy!!!!! But of course there is nothing to do about it and complaining doesn´t solve the problem. I just have to accept that this is what they do and try to get on with my night as best I can.

Which leads me to the Godfather. I have never seen this movie in my entire life, and neither has Vilma. We went to the movie store today and in the interest of watching a cheaper movie (new releases R$6, old movies R$3 on the weekend), we found the Godfather. So I am about to embark on an almost 3 hour tale of gangsters, with the sound of bombas chiming into the background of the gunfire in the movie. Wish me luck!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Chuva (rain)

This is what happens in Salvador when it rains. Everyone freaks out and the traffic is horrible. Check out the canal in the middle...not only does it totally fill up with water and sometimes flood when we get a lot of rain, it is also the most polluted water that I have ever seen in my entire life. And some days when you drive or take the bus by there, you can smell the most disgusting smell ever, coming from the water. Yuck!

This picture was taken this morning, near the biggest mall in Salvador. I did venture out in the rain today, but luckily I had my umbrella and went nowhere near the place where this picture was taken!

This picture was copied from the A Tarde website.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Mico sighting

The other day I was in the shower and started thinking that I had not seen a mico for quite a while. Micos are squirrel monkeys who live in the city. They are relatively elusive, in fact in the time that I have been living in Salvador, I have seen micos less than 10 times. But when you do get to see them, they are soooo cute and amazing to watch.

I have seen micos three times now in front of our apartment building, and Vilma has seen them once. There is a big mango tree on the side of a building that is just down the street, and I think they either live there or like to hang out there a lot.

It was about 6AM and I was walking to the bus stop when I saw a group of three running along the telephone wires towards the mango tree. They kind of ran along, stopped to look for danger, then ran along, stopped, etc. They have long, striped tails that help them to balance. I love micos!

The strange thing was that I had been thinking about them before I saw them, and then that same day I saw the group! I was kind of blown away by this, it´s like I was invoking them or something.

I get the feeling that Brazilians view micos with just a little more love than we have for squirrels in the US. They don´t seem to think it´s that big a deal to see them, although they do seem to like seeing them. I get the feeling though that they aren´t as totally excited and blown away as I am when they get to see a mico.

So here´s hoping that this group (is it a family?!) will keep hanging out in my neighborhood and that I will have many more mico sightings in the future.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

World news

This article was copied from the Salvador online newspaper, "A Tarde":

"Quatorze homicídios foram registrados na capital baiana e em cidades da Região Metropolitana de Salvador (RMS) nas últimas 24 horas, das sete horas deste sábado, 07, às sete horas deste domingo, 08, segundo informações da Central de Telecomunicações das Polícias Civil e Militar (Centel). Dos assassinatos, apenas sete ocorreram no bairro de Mussurunga."
(Translation: 14 homicides were registered in the Bahian capital and in cities of the metropolitan region of Salvador in the last 24 hours from this Saturday, the 7th, at 7AM until this Sunday, the 8th according to information from the Center of Telecommunications of the Civil and Military police. Of these people killed, at least 7 occurred in the Mussurunga neighborhood)

This article was copied from the New York Times world section, it was one of the lead stories today:

TOKYO — A 25-year-old man who told the police he was tired of life went on a killing rampage in a popular shopping street in central Tokyo on Sunday, plowing his truck into a crowd of pedestrians before stabbing passers-by with a survival knife. Seven people died and 11 were injured.

There has been a huge increase in crime in Salvador this year so far, especially homicides. I can´t recall the exact number, but it has been an increase of something like 70-80% above the number from last year. It seems like every weekend, there are at least 30-40 people murdered here.

Now, the majority of these people who are killed are poor and many are drug traffickers. But what I want to know is, why is this not one of the lead stories in the NY times? And Salvador is much smaller than Rio or São Paulo, where I am sure there are many more people killed every weekend. It is interesting to see how biased the "world news" really is. How can we really find out what is going on this world?

Comida Americana (American food)

Last night I was invited to the home of one of my students, who is also a friend of mine, and was asked to cook "American food". After a lot of jokes about how I was going to cook cheeseburgers and french fries, I assured them that I would cook some healthy and tasty American food. For those of you who don´t know, I love to cook and if I do say so myself, I am a pretty good cook! I was excited to get into a nice, big kitchen with ingredients bought by my student and get to cooking.

A new American friend of mine came with me to help out with the cooking and to partake in the "American food" dinner. I had prepared the menu and after realizing quickly that I had been a little too ambitious in my menu choices, I was very glad to have the help!

Here is what we cooked: Italian style fish with spiced breadcrumb topping, peanut sesame noodles, mexican cornbread, green salad with raspberry balsamic vinagrette, and for dessert- peanut butter cookies! You can see every thing nicely laid out on the table (minus the cookies which came out later). The presentation was awesome and the food came out great. It was so nice to eat some familiar dishes that I have not cooked since being down here.

It was kind of funny to see the Brazilians´reactions. They didn´t seem to know how much to take or what to try, but overall everyone loved the food. My student said to me that when a good thing happens, it needs to be repeated. I told him that it can be repeated, but not for a while. This cook-fest took all the cooking energy out of me for a while. I need to re-charge the batteries and eat someone else´s cooking for a while. But it sure was nice to eat peanut butter cookies (made with Brazilian peanut creme, alas imported Peter Pan goes for about US$12-13!!!).

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Graffiti

One of my favorite things to do here in Salvador is to look at graffiti as I am riding the bus around. It is always fun to notice new pictures and to try to get a better look at some of the amazingly intricate pieces that are out there, especially since the bus is usually zooming by so fast that it is a challenge to get a good view.

During the first six months of my time here, back in 2006, I had an idea to take a lot of pictures of graffiti and then put on a photography show when I got back to the US. Obviously I have not been back long enough to do this, but it is still on my list of things that I want to do. I have over 200 pictures of graffiti from Salvador, Rio de Janeiro, and Porto Allegre, some of which is truly amazing. My camera is just a hand held digital, but takes decent pictures so I think that I can pull it off.

Given that I just started thinking about this project again, I decided that I need to get out on the street with my camera and get some new pictures. I have not taken any graffiti photos for some time now and since it is always changing, there is always something new to get a picture of! I took these pictures last Sunday in the Barra neighborhood.

I am kind of excited to continue this project and bring it to fruition when I am back in the US. I also have another idea for a different photography project, but need to think about it some more before starting it. It could be a little more complicated as it involves photographing people, but we shall see. I want to take pictures of people wearing t-shirts that have really bad English on them. Salvador is full of Brazilians who think they are being cool by wearing t-shirts with English sayings on them. Only problem is that many of these shirts have really bad translations, misspellings, or make absolutely no sense whatsoever.

One example: An older woman (about 65, and kind of hobbling around) with a black t-shirt that said "Wanted: midnight drummer for rock band". I have seen many many others as I walk around, but can´t think of them now. I think this has the potential for being a cool project, if I can figure out how to approach people on the street.

Here are a couple other pics of graffiti...enjoy!

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Brazilians on ice

video
Today I went to an event that was put on by the English school where I work. They called it "Cultura on ice" (the school´s name is Cultura Inglesa) and it was a partnership between the school, the shopping mall that is close to the school and Burger King. Basically the students paid R$18 and got to go skating, plus got a t-shirt and a 20% discount at good old BK. There were over 300 kids there, plus their parents, so it was kind of a zoo.

The school organized some other activities for the kids to do while waiting to skate. I got put in charge of the Burger King quiz station, much to my chagrin. I thought it was pretty lame that they passed out this questionnaire with questions like: "How many combo meals does Burger King have?" and "Name 3 Burger King sandwiches". Plus BK made a killing...the line was huge! Capitalism at its finest.

I actually did skate, and it was quite a humbling experience. Growing up in Vermont, I grew up ice-skating. Now I was never headed for the Olympics or anything, but I could skate fairly well- frontwards, backwards, small jumps and twirls- these were all in my repertoire at the age of 10. I thought that skating here would be a piece of cake. But I was wrong.

Strapping on my skates I thought to myself, "I´ll show these Brazilians how to REALLY skate". I had spent many a visit to the mall inwardly laughing at the ice-skaters tightly holding onto the rail, falling, and just not knowing how to skate in general. I mean come on, this is a tropical country! I was convinced that I would be skating backwards, twirling, and maybe even jumping a little.

Well, as you can see from this video, my skating was not a pretty sight.

But it was fun, and I can now say that I have ice-skated in Brazil... a country where the majority of the population has never seen snow or a lake covered over with ice. And where the only people who really know how to ice skate are the people who work at the rink.