Brazil – redux

So, after the boat ride down the river, things sped up a lot. Or maybe it was just a long time ago now, and they seem faster in retrospect. Or maybe it was just excruciating being on a boat after a while. Anyway, I remember less of it, so maybe I can cover more ground here, quicker. Anyway, for our purposes, it will seem quicker. Anyway. I met some gringo/brazilian couples on the boat, and we set off into Belém. We found a hotel, and split up. Belém was mostly notable for two things, that I can think of, both related to being a port town. First, it was very dedicated to commerce. There were shops on every street, going every direction for at least 10 blocks in the area where we stayed. In front of these shops, lining the entire street in both directions, were stands with people selling more things. Mostly cheap, and all prices were negotiable. This I learned because I really had no interest in buying anything. But as soon as I asked how much something cost, probably since I didn’t want it, when I heard their initial “gringo price”, I was unambiguously appalled. Sometimes I laughed. Always, I probably seemed like an asshole, but when they thought I was offended, the price dropped noticeably. When I laughed again, and they could tell I really didn’t want to buy anything, the price dropped significantly. So, with prices that low, I had to buy shit. I ended up with some shirts without sleeves, which I argued should cost less (what? no sleeves??). One of them is bright yellow, one camouflage. Anyway. The market is actually quite old there, and the old part of it goes underwater (up to your thighs, i shit you not) every day when the river floods over, but they keep it going. Capitalism rages on! It was called the “Ver o Peso” market, and that about translates to “see the weight”, since it started a long time ago as a slave market, and weight was one of the main criteria for choosing slaves. They brought slaves not only from Africa, but also the native people they captured in the jungle, and Brazil, I now know, was the last country in the Americas to outlaw slavery. Second, Belém, we were told later, is kinda gully, rough, ghetto. I wasn’t sure at the time, but I did seem to walk past a significant number of hookers, homeless junkies and hoods. So, when I later heard that it was a rough town, I felt better about the one night that I walked home alone late, got paranoid, thought people were following me, and kept crossing the street. I took a few too many turns for a “direct” route, and stopped a bunch of times to look around corners to see what was coming up the street. Anyway, I am less humiliated about that now than I was during and immediately after. You needn’t worry, I am no longer flagellating myself over it.

I took a bus with one of the gringo/brazilian couples to Sao Luis, which is not mentioned in my South America travel guide, and which many people skip, despite being a city of a million people. The old town, where we stayed, is also a Unesco heritage site, which meant cobbled streets, pretty buildings, and general cleanliness (for Brazil). I think it is overlooked often because the beach is hard to get to from there, and not that pretty from what I hear (I didn’t even go, but there are apparently oil tankers for miles and miles out in the sea, as far as you can see, so the view is, how do you say, sullied). Sao Luis was amazing, though, in a few ways. I ran into Lexie again, randomly, and met some other dope kids. This bull Juan from Barcelona, who I ended up traveling with for a little while, and I both met (were accosted by?) this flamingly gay dude named Mauro, who turned out to be one of my favorite people of the trip. Now, by this point, I could understand people speaking Portuguese if they slowed down and worked with me, and I would speak back to them in Spanish, throwing in what Porto I could manage. However, Mauro I could not understand. At all. To save my life, I could not tell you what this dude had just said. But he really, really wanted to be able to talk to me. He did it a lot. And brought us out to hang out with his friends, local kids, each and every night we were there. They took us to a Reggae club, an outdoor street party with traditional dancing, a Forro party with not so traditional dancing, and a club on the beach with top 40 music. For those of you who have not been, Brazilian girls are, what is the word for it? Hot. And friendly. This made me doubt that there was much of a need for prostitution, but I was shown how wrong I was later. Anyway, Sao Luis was amazing, and to feel like part of a local crew for a minute was the bee’s knees.

I took a mini bus with the same gringo/brazilian couple again, Alex and Tess, to Barrerinhas, surprisingly, since I had only run into them sparingly in Sao Luis (they stayed in a different hostel). There, they promptly boarded a boat down the river, and I checked into a hostel. Barrerinhas is a sleepy little town, with not a lot going on. What it did have, though, was close access to Lencois Marenhenses, a national park of sand dunes. These dunes, when the rainy season gets underway, eventually fill with water, forming lagoons that come out of nowhere, and are dry most of the year, yet still manage to fill with plants and fish. They were breathtaking. Afterward, however, there was not much else to do there. So, I left with Becky, an English girl that I had met in Sao Luis, and two german girls from the hostal, and Juan, who had shown up belatedly, as well as somewhat sadly from Sao Luis. Juan had a good time there, what with the girls being Brazilian and all, and was of the theory that when you find a place you like with friends you like, it is time to stay. So, eventually he went back. I agree, but there was more for me to see. And I wanted a beach. So we embarked on the longest trip I have ever taken to go 50 miles. There was a Chuck Norris moment involved, well, more of a german moment. We could either do it in 6 hours in a dune buggy for $1,000, or take two days and spend $30. So. This “other” way involved hopping in four different vehicles, as well as spending a night in between in a random small town (where I met a Frenchman who was married to a San Franciscan), and then a very poor decision. Anyway, we were not traveling in actual “cars” because they do not have actual “roads.” They look like roads, but if you tried to drive something without 4wd down them, or without flood panels and a raised exhaust pipe, you would find yourself quickly stuck in the middle of nowhere. Pretty nowhere, but nowhere.

So, we hopped in the back of a Jardinierre, which was a 4wd vehicle with seats in the back. These came in varying degrees of quality, which I did not know at the time, so this one seemed cramped to me, cause i had to dangle my feel over the side of the back of the truck bed, rather than having room to have them inside the truck. I really should have felt lucky that I had a seat. Anyway, the road was bumpy as hell, which made it difficult to appreciate, much less photograph, the amazing scenery around us. It switched back and forth between dunes, sandy grasslands, and forests, with various animals grazing at random intervals, and people living at even more random intervals, including in huts located on and between dunes, with no access to, well, anything. This truck stopped in a little town about 6 long hours later, where we had one choice where to eat, so I didn’t. Then we hopped in what was more typical of the trip, a pickup truck with wooden slats along the sides of the pickup bed, and held on. For many more hours. That night, after probably 14 hours in these things, and one crappy bus, we were in some town, where we had to find lodging for the night. We decided to see what the place had to offer at night, and walking down the street, found some guys sitting by one of the nicer versions of the Jardinierre and asked about prices straight to Jeri from there, which we could not afford, but they were French, and we had a French Swissman with us, so they invited us in and gave out numerous free samplings of all the flavored Cachaza’s they made. Benoit, one of the Frenchmen, was married to a San Franciscan, and had been living there, then in French Guinea, and now Brazil, while his American wife was in Paris raising their brood of four. We talked about things San Franciscan, including the Power Exchange, and then all went to a bar that was closed, but opened up for us. It was another good, and completely unexpected night, where Benoit kept pressing the bar owner on what he thought the cause was for all the homosexual men in the North of Brazil. Benoit, it should be noted, was 43, but looked not a day over 22, and everyone was hammered. Apparently, all the straight men leave the North of Brazil to go work in Rio or Sao Paolo, leaving behind exuberant gay men, and lonely women. True, true. The next morning we awoke early, and found a Jardinierre that would take us straight to Jeri for the equivalent of 30 Reals per person ($15), which sounded good to me, but not to the German girls, or, for that matter, seemingly anyone else but me. So, instead, we spent 16 Reals, and instead of a majestic ride over the beach of about an hour and a half, stopping at a scenic lagoon or two, we hopped in the back of another pickup, and went all the way around through the jungle, stopping at every single town for 8 hours. The lessons from this for me were: 1. speak up. 2. there are hicks in brazil. 3. when a woman who looks like a witch hops in the back of the truck with her daughter and granddaughter, all three of them missing teeth, and the oldest one missing all of them, smoking a pipe, watch your extremities. The combination of tobacco smoke, no teeth, and the breathing required to hop in caused torrents of drool to come cascading out of her mouth and onto unsuspecting laps, bare feet, and, in the case of one of the German girls, directly into her open bag. It was epic, and I was in love. We finally got to Jericoacoara after switching to another truck which drove us through the dunes and massive puddles, proving to my surprise that the front tires CAN splash water in large quantities directly in the front windows. Had never seen that one before, and Becky was none too pleased about it.Nevertheless, we arrived eventually in Jericoacoara neither dead nor having had spells cast upon us, and realized quickly what sort of a town it was. The streets were made of sand, and the whole town was about three blocks square, focused onto the beach from which the town takes its name, nestled in between a sand dune and a hard place. There were no real waves to speak of, but if you were looking for somewhat athletic entertainment and were a girl (or a boy with questionable taste), you could sign up for capoeira lessons from one of the jacked ass instructors/wannabe pimps, who would most likely attempt to take your clothes off. Even the one who had no teeth apparently got ‘nuff play (I saw it happen). Also available to you if you lack a Y chromosome, hanging out on the sides of the roads with the dirty hippies (they insist you call them “artisans” for credibility, but I really just can’t) smoking grass and waxing philosophical on the material needs of the people they were trying to sell the bootleg shit to. Again, to look forward to, you would have them fondling you and trying to take your clothes off. Anyway, what can I say about Jeri that hasn’t already been said about a Ferris Wheel? It’s enjoyable if you’re there, and nice to look at, but you don’t need to plan your trip around it, and wouldn’t go back to the same one unless you were already passing through. They are everywhere. That said, I had a good time in Jeri, met some cool people, got not tan at all due to the overcast nature of the afternoons (apparently the mornings were sunny; who knew?), and ate surprisingly good lasagna. If anything were to draw me back there, to brave the passive-aggressive capitalist hippies and the overly-pumped gym teachers, not to mention the is-it-located-on-the-face-of-the-moon? priced internet, it would be the lasagna. Teach those boys how to make a burrito, and I will book a flight tomorrow. Seeing as how I grew to find that place itchy, you would think that it was a brief stop, but it is hard to leave (literally, as well as figuratively, though inertia is powerful), so easy to get stuck. I think I stayed over a week.From there I booked it straight to Rio de Janeiro, which cannot be done justice by the five days I spent there. The city was so named by a Portuguese captain/explorer, who coming up toward the bay, saw its size and decided that it was the mouth of a mighty river, the River of January, on January 1st, if memory serves. I stayed in Copacabana, which is one of the many neighborhoods they have nestled in between mountains and beach. My first night in town, I took a bus from the airport on my way to try and find this hostel, with only a faint memory of Rio from a month before, when I had come to meet Lexie. Also having only a faint memory of Rio from their time before were two Australians on the same bus into town with me, and so I decided to go have dinner with them, since they were going to Copacabana, too, to search for some dude they had met before, who was supposed to either be American or Brazilian, they weren’t sure, who was to get them an apartment to rent on the beach. This sounded sweet to me, so I went along with them, ready to say goodbye to the hostel. We had dinner in a place that the dude frequented, and were quickly acquainted with the three Americans also eating there at the time, when one of them (the three of them were massive black men who had played D line for Syracuse) came over to stare at my plate, and without looking away from my food, asked me, “what is that?” He was apparently hungry. So, the dude showed up, and it turns out he was from Liberia, but had lived in New Orleans for a time, and was now in Brazil. I saw the apartment, and it was somewhat of a dump, so I backed out, there being three of us and only one bed in the place. They invited me to come to the “hood” with them later, which was their term for one of the favelas that Rio had, a slum basically without much electricity and absolutely no police presence, run by gangs. One of the Orangemen told me that it was just like Bourbon Street, in that you could go to a club, eat, drink, and then go upstairs with any of the drop-dead gorgeous hookers who worked there. I demurred, without much comment, except for the one Australian, who felt obliged to explain to me why hookers were better than a girlfriend, although I got the distinct impression that he had never actually had one of the latter. So, I ended up going to the hostel after all, and spent most of the next few days that I was there on Copacabana beach, all of two blocks away. Ipanema was nice, too, and I took a bit of a tourist trek one day to a gigantic Jesus, a hill with an amazing view, and an older part of the town. I saw two soccer games in the rain at Maracana, the biggest football stadium in the world, and both Fluminese and Flamenco were victorious, and left with the sincerest hope to come back some day, with some more months and hopefully Portuguese lessons.So, I saw about half of what I wanted to in Brazil (I spent a total of about two sunny beach days there), but it had been a month, and I needed to get moving again, back to a place where I could speak some Spanish again. I regret not having more time to spend in Brazil, but the visa is supposedly good for either 5 or 7 years, so given a prime chance, I would hop back in a heartbeat. Some day, but for now, the saga continues…

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