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Published: March 23rd 2011
21st March was the official first day of Spring for all you peeps in the Northern Hemisphere…..so conversely I guess that I am now officially in Autumn here in North Eastern Brazil. It doesn’t feel like Autumn with radiant hot sunshine, and temperatures in the mid 30s. Currently I am in the tiny coastal hamlet of Canoa Quebrada…. (http://www.google.com.br/images?q=canoa+quebrada&rls=com.microsoft:en-gb:IE-SearchBox&oe=&redir_esc=&um=1&ie=UTF-8&source=og&sa=N&hl=pt-br&tab=wi&biw=1139&bih=436) relaxing in a hammock and catching up on photo resizing and blog updating.
Here is the link if you want to skip straight through to the photos….. http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=341618&id=691995235&l=e7592466b3
We have 2 full days here in a gorgeous pousada (http://www.californiacanoa.com/en/index.php ) 30 metres from the wide sandy beach and azure coloured ocean. This morning, I went for a long stroll alone on the beach (its v safe here, I checked ;-) ) photographing the ochre coloured cliffs and tide sculpted sandbanks. Its sheer heaven and at last I feel I am on holiday rather than undergoing an extreme mental and physical endurance test. There have been many wonderful moments in the past 2 weeks of which I shall tell you about but with 12 hour drive days every other day and camping in wet and humid conditions it is not easy.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…Overlanding is hard work and a serious character building experience. It may not be stressful like trying to promote Blu-ray, event organisation or talking to nasty journalists but it tests you in ways you can’t imagine until you have done it.
To be successful at Overlanding, you need to have well honed patience, team-playing, communication and delegation skills…. Amusingly, all the things I think you need to be generally ‘successful’ in work or in life.
Overlanding is a group effort…. As passengers we may not have to drive, map-read or make many decisions but we all have roles to fulfil on a daily basis. The 29 strong group is broken into 4 smaller groups and each day we have jobs to do…one day it will be cooking for everyone, another day washing up for everyone and the third day is keeping the truck clean and tidy. With so many people on board and in some of the dire weather conditions, its essential that this happens every day otherwise we may all drown in a quagmire of mud and baggage debris. Cleaning the Truck takes place each drive day…the windows are wiped down, the seats brushed, the chair handles and two tables at the front disinfected, the floors swept and mopped. It doesn’t stay neat or sparkly for long but this diurnal effort keeps the filth at bay….
On this Tucan truck we have “Toughies”, the strong guys in the Group who take charge of hoiking the tables and containers needed to cook with off the Truck plus the rucksacks out of the baggage compartments every time we stop to camp for the night. Tent sharing is not obligatory as there are some spare ones but I’ve been sharing with a lovely Kiwi girl called Pip. Unlike Dragoman, Intrepid and latterly Kumuka’s pathetic canvas offerings, these are not dome tents but sturdy, fairly waterproof A Frames which are pretty easy to assemble and strike down. Trust me though when I say there is nothing I dislike more than striking down the tent in the pouring rain, in the pre- dawn dark on a sandy floor I am not exaggerating. In these humid temperatures, the sweat pours off you and as you roll the damn thing up, desperately trying to keep it tight so it fits in its storage bag, you get covered in mud and sand and that cold shower you just had in a communal room full of sand flies and mosquitoes becomes a distant memory.
Our Kiwi leader Mike is excellent. Armed with advice and information, he has maintained a good level of interaction with everyone whilst demonstrating his knowledge and professionalism at all times. The only strange thing about him is that he seems to have grafted a baseball cap onto his head….none of us have seen him without it. I think he must either be coming to terms (badly) with going bald or has a really huge birth mark that he is hiding.
Mark, our driver is Australian and also brilliant at his job. These Trucks are huge Mercedes Benz beasts, guzzling petrol at an alarming rate. Filling the 500 litre tank costs in the region of 700 to 800 reals (c£300-350). I think he told me he gets approx 5kms to the litre…. The man is a driver par excellence regularly putting in 12 hour drive days including pee breaks and lunch stops and he has done this for 5 years! Coincidentally, he and his partner Sue (also a Tucan guide) have just bought a hostal I stayed at in Ecuador in 2009 called Pequeno Paraiso in Rio Verde near Banos…an amazing place.
So that gives you an idea of what life on the road is all about which I don’t think I’ve described in detail before. The most essential piece of kit you can have when Overlanding is a head-torch and although we have only camped for c8 out of the 14 nights we have been on the road, it’s one of god’s greatest inventions!
We left Rio 13 days ago and have already driven nearly 3000 kilometres. Up until the last few days the weather has been challenging. Rain, rain and more rain but with temps rising to 38 degrees and humidity at 100%, you feel like you may literally melt away. The Tucan truck is so much better than the Kumuka one but it’s still not luxurious and legs and backs ache terribly after the long drive days. One learns to contort one’s body into all manner of tantric, yogic positions to try and get a bit of sleep.
As I have mentioned we are pretty much hugging our way up the coast of Brazil until the tomorrow when we hook inland and make for the national parks in the state of Ceara and then onto Belm to board our riverboat which takes us upstream along the mighty Amazon River.
I last wrote from the Atlantic cloudforest of Rio de Montana where we failed to do any rafting as the rivers were too flooded and conditions were above Grade 5 and therefore way too dangerous. Since then we have journeyed North through the states of Minas Gerais visiting Ouro Petro, into the state of Bahia, zipped through Sergipe, Alagoas states to reach Olinda in the state of Pernambuco. Now we are in the north east corner of the country…..
The difference in culture and climate compared with Rio is astonishing. Brazil is such a huge place with such great diversity it’s hard to comprehend that an evening out in Salvador is in the same country as an evening out in Rio.
Colonialism is everywhere, expressed obviously through the churches and architecture of the towns. Some we have visited are extraordinarily quaint… the cobbled streets of Porto Seguro and Ouro Preto or the coloured buildings of Salvador and Olinda. But the thing that has struck me the most about these towns is the African influence originating from the slaves shipped from Angola. This amalgamation of ethnicities is expressed through music, dance, song, food, art and religion.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in Salvador where the city throbs with an Afro-Caribbean influence mainly because it was the country’s main slave port. The evening we were there, the weekly samba drumming in the streets of the old city filled the squares with their ferocious beats. You join in the procession and follow the drummers and dancers like a child following the Pied Piper of Hamlyn. It’s unbelievably loud and the beat is felt to the very core of your being. It’s joyous but I also found an underlying sadness to this expression of life through music as the ancestors of these people were bought and sold to work to their deaths on plantations.
To watch capoeira (a balletic marshal art which originated in Angola as a ritual fight to gain the nuptial rights of women) here in Brazil is quite something. I’ve seen it before at the likes of Guanabara, the Brazilian bar/club in Covent Garden oft frequented (!) but there was something visceral and pure about seeing it here. The speed, strength and skill of these dancers/fighters was just breath-taking. Their bodies hewn from hours of training, each muscle defined to its very limit and yet with their incredibly masculine frames, comes a gentle elegant beauty when they move in and out of the various stances and positions. The photos can only capture a little of what it’s like to see. Here is a 47sec vid of 2 guys which shows you what I’m trying to describe
Breakdancing is also really popular in Salvador and skinny, emaciated ’yoof’s in their bandanas crowd the main square at night with their hip hop ghetto beats shaking their booties and spinning to rapturous applause. These guys were good – real old skool 80s style breakdancing. It’s thought that breakdancing has in fact evolved out of capoeira…watching some of the moves one can see similarities. I was really impressed…these guys had real talent. Simon Cowell will be a booking a flight to Bahaia soon….. Their movin’ and shakin’ made my breakdancing days (don’t laugh…it was all the rage in 1983 when I was at junior school) seem tame. I used to be able to do a mean ‘swan dive’ but I think if I tried it now I’d give myself a hernia followed by a cataclysmic back problem!
As well as dance, the slaves from Africa brought with them their religious cults and Candoblé is one of these. I was lucky enough in Rio to witness first hand through Cris an evening of ‘macumba’…Brazilian black magic. Candoblé, I think, is related to this. Its followers dress in alabaster white and worship the spirits collectively, aided through drumming and singing. Followers enter trance like states, offering their bodies as portals for the spirits who then command them to drink, smoke and act as physical conduits between this terrestrial earth and the spirit world. It was quite disconcerting to be witness to this in Rio but less so in Salvador where we went to a folkloric ‘show’ which although deeply impressive was still a performance rather than a genuine Candoblé ceremony. However, the total absorption in the music and song by these people who ecstatically dance for hours is unnerving. The followers become possessed, shrieking and throwing themselves to the floor allowing themselves to be taken over by the spirits. In Candoblé the worship is commandeered by a pai do santo – a matriarchal figure who intensely holds the proceedings together. It is a religion far removed from my comfort zone but remains very popular here and an intrinsic part of the Afro culture.
No blog update would be complete without a mention of one of my favourite things…food!
When we are camping, all our food is prepared by us on the truck. Lunch involves a quick stop in a garage forecourt, in the shade somewhere whilst we whip up sarnies and salad and fruit. Evening dinners have been pretty decent as the budget is approx. $7 per person per day, the majority of that goes towards the evening meal. We’ve had some awesome bbqs, rustled up a mango and chicken curry in the rain, and skewered vege and lamb kebabs for 31. When we are in a hotel or hostel we are independent cooking wise and for me no travelling is complete without getting out there and sampling street food.
Bahain cooking is truly scrumptious….the secret of ‘comida baiana’ is twofold….an abundance of seafood and strong west African influences incorporating the likes of palm oil, nuts and coconut into the dishes. Salvador is famous for its spicy coconut sauced moquecas which is like a huge curry packed full of shrimp, octopus and calamari. Hmmmmmm. Other traditional dishes I have sampled are casquinha…shredded crab mixed in a coconut based sauce and served in its shell as well as acarajé….a deep fried bean cake stuffed with vatapa (a sauce made from palm oil, coconut, shrimp and lots of garlic), salsa and a few teaspoons of whole prawns or shrimps on top. Yum Yum.
One evening in this fantastic hostel with a gorgeous pool in Olinda, one of the guys on the truck (who incidentally used to be a sous chef under the likes of Gordon Ramsey and Ken Hom) bought a few kilos of prawns from the local fish market. He marinated them in lime and garlic for a few hours and then we all lightly sauteéd batches to our taste, dipping chunks of bread in the garlicky sauce. Fnarr fnarr.
Im eating well! It’s a myth that one loses weight when travelling….. and I don’t care! The food experience for me is as important as visiting the must see museums, parks or beaches.
It’s been a glorious few days and apart from the itchy bites and the constant sweating, life is pretty sweet. Yesterday I experienced para-gliding for the first time over the cliffs and beaches of Canoa Quebrada.
Wowweeeeee….what a rush. Exhilarating but so tranquil at the same time. Silence except for the rush of wind as we twisted and turned in the thermals. Such bliss… I want more of that. Oh yes…..
So folks, hoping you have enjoyed this latest missive and the photos. Thanks to all those who dropped me a mail about the whole mugging with a knife incident. No post traumatic stress suffered but nice to know you are actually reading my updates and care!! Awwwwwww….
Lots of love
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