Lost Samba – Chapter 28/01 – Good times in Natal.
In the morning, we continued as the night before, but when we began communicating using words, we very soon came to realise that we were incompatible. I was a spoiled boy from Rio’s Zona Sul indulging in an experience of self-discovery and exploring the world around me, while she was from a nearby small Ceará town and was concerned about getting home fast because her mum wanted her back at work in the family shop. Our relationship only lasted that night. Two days later I saw her walking hand-in-hand with one of my long-haired buddies from the Praia do Francês. This didn’t bother me. The moment had been mine, although the girl was not mine any more.
Pedro and I had grown apart: he now spent most of the time with his new, older girlfriend, Carla, and her circle of mature people with proper jobs in glamorous professions such as journalism, fashion and television. I was hanging out with the musicians and the handicraft makers and drifting into a pretty strange place that was a bit too idealistic for the times, somewhere not in tune with the individualistic “survival of the fittest” mode of thinking that was conquering middle-class urban Brazil. I did not want to– or perhaps did not manage to– adapt. Still, there I was in this idyllic place enjoying my youth in perhaps the best country in the world, managing to celebrate life but with gales of economic crisis, alienation and reality testing spinning around in my head.
As travelling companions Pedro and I were looking for completely different things. But despite our differences, we recognised that we were in the trip together. One afternoon we sat together by the beach to have a talk and decided to keep to our original plan. I was going to put up with a fake hippy, who lied through his teeth to look cool and to get what he wanted, while he was going to put up with a guy who imagined that he was a hippy but was lost in his grip on reality. We were going to continue the trip together. Carnival was approaching and we were looking forward to spend it in Olinda.
There was still time to stop for a few days in Natal, the capital of Rio Grande do Norte, in between the state of Ceará, where we were, and Pernambuco, where Olinda is located. We hit the road again, with our bodies deeply tanned and our souls cleansed by the month and a half that we had spent beneath the strong sun of the Northeast. Natal proved to be wonderful. The strong winds of its exposed coast and the thin white sand dunes would later make the place one of the best sites in the world for kite surfing and the location for shooting numerous national and international commercials. Though Natal had by far the best waves of the Northeastern coast, as its water was infested with Portuguese man o’ war jellyfish, we preferred to stay on the sand drinking beer.
The wind’s strength as well as the quality of the waves was due to its position: Natal is about the most easterly point of the Brazilian coast, jutting into the Atlantic Ocean right where the continent curves to the west. As the closest point to Africa in South America, Natal had served as a refueling base for American planes during World War 2. This helped to explain the strong military presence there and why Natal’s streets were more serene and more organized than in any other city we visited on our trip. The students’ hostel was also the best one we stayed in, with clean, spacious, modern rooms. Natal showed what Brazil could have been like had “Order and Progress” (Brazil’s national motto, adorned on the country’s flag) had been followed.
After a couple of days camping and relaxing on Redinha beach – by far best spot around Natal – we talked about money. To our surprise we realized that so far we’d spent less than we’d expected, and because of this we decided to take a bus to Recife. The next morning, a rare cloudy day, I woke up early and went to the terminal to buy our tickets but the attendant told me that I couldn’t buy one for Pedro as I didn’t have his ID card. After some insistence, she told me to try to get an authorization at the terminal’s police station. The door was closed but after some time a skinny, unshaven, gray-haired man in his fifties showed up. He was drunk and barely managed to turn the keys, but eventually we were able to enter.
Before I started to explain why I was there, he ordered me to put my backpack on the table and dived into it to search for drugs. There were none but he took out two giant shells that I had found on the beach to give to Mum and Dona Isabel. He looked at me and said that now they were his. I asked why, and he took a hammer out of the drawer and put the metal side close to my right ear and started screaming abuse at me.
I invented a story that my dad was a famous reporter and that if anything happened to me, the story would be in all the newspapers throughout Brazil the very next day. As this was a time that the press had become strong, on a daily basis exposing dark secrets about police abuse during the dictatorship, he bought my bullshit. A bit rattled, he allowed me to to stuff my belongings back into the bag, but put aside my precious shells. When I asked for them back his anger was reawakened. Somehow, an unhappy compromise was reached: I reclaimed one shell while he took the other. I left the office without the authorization.
I let Pedro sort out his ticket for himself and we managed to arrive in Recife in time for the carnival. As we got off the bus, we bumped into a friend from Trancoso, a happy coincidence because we had nowhere to stay and he was more than keen to share the costs of a room he had found in Olinda, something we were told would be impossible to get at this time of year. Our carnival base was going to be next to the Praça do Carmo, where the main action takes place. We were in luck!