Lost Sambista

A Brazil never seen.

Archive for the tag “Hitchiking in Brazil”

Lost Samba – Chapter 27/02 – Easy Riding in Canoa Quebrada.

canoa03

Fortaleza was most northerly state capital that we visited. A key reason for making the trek there was that it was very near a fisherman’s village called Canoa Quebrada (Broken Canoe), a must-go place on the Brazilian easy rider’s circuit. After thumbing a few lifts and some short bus trips to increasingly remote spots, we were eventually dropped off at the foot of a gigantic sand dune. The climb up that dune was tough but when we got to the summit and caught our breath, in the distance we made out a group of huts that resembled a lost place between the desert and the sea. We were captivated.

Canoa Quebrada’s rugged huts were separated by sand paths that abruptly ended at a massive clifftop. The beach below was wider than the ones we had seen elsewhere on our travels and its sand was harder, ideal for keeping the fishermen’s rafts – jangadas, a mispronunciation of Chinese junks. These rafts were flat-bottomed and made of tough, dried tree trunks bound together by ropes, and featuring a mast with a huge triangular sail. At sunrise, the fishermen rolled their wooden vessels into the water over coconut tree trunks. At sea, jangadas were light and easy to maneuver, and their simple elegance fitted in perfectly with the surroundings.

jangada

The locals knew how to cope with the sun and the heat: they would only expose themselves early in the morning or late in the afternoon. During the day men mended nets, sold their catches, bought provisions, or simply rested in the shade, while the women produced lace items, their technique famous across Brazil. The summer visitors, hippy-looking people from all over the country, including me, went to the beach at the hottest time of the day, from 11 am to 2 pm. When the heat became unbearable, we found shade in the kiosks by the cliffs and drank beer, listened to one other’s stories, recommendations of places to visit, gossip and expound political-existential theories.

Pedro and I rented, for next to nothing, a room in a fisherman’s hut. The accommodation wasn’t very comfortable but, after putting up with Pedro’s uncle, anything was great. The family slept in hammocks while we were in a separate room, sleeping on mats  placed on the sand-covered floor. There was no electricity, the house was lit by a kerosene lamp and water came from a well. Food was cooked on a rudimentary wood-burning stove. The wattle and daub walls were full of holes that enabled the breeze to cool the rooms slightly and the gaps in the roofing were hardly a problem because it rarely rained.

Our landlord was the patriarch of the three generations who lived under the straw roof. His hair was entirely gray but his body was still strong thanks to the years spent at sea. He had the look of someone who had lived life in its plenitude in the place that destiny had assigned to him. He had a bookless wisdom and a clearer picture of where the world stood than many of my professors,would ever achieve. His questions about our way of life were sharp and we had many conversations comparing our two worlds. If people were to ever dare sneer at him for not knowing how to read or write, he could easily – and rightly – reply that he could read the ocean and the stars – indeed the whole surrounding natural environment, the accumulated wisdom passed down through the generations.

At sunset, the outsiders congregated by the dune. In Rio – as in all the states we had been until then – the sun set at the right end of the beach. But, as Ceará is so much more northerly and located on Brazil’s northeasterly hump, the sun set in land. In Canoa Quebrada the sun disappeared behind an endless plain of low, untouched, woodland that echoed with the sounds of birds. We went to see this daily spectacle from the top of the dune that separated the village from the rest of the world. The intense, orange ball shone on the sand and on our faces, creating an amazing hue that contrasted against the dark blue sky. When night finally arrived, it seemed as though the land had absorbed the day’s light and had responded by providing a different look and a more pleasing temperature.

The sense of harmony we experienced as dusk approached was like that I’d felt in Trancoso two years previously. One special evening  my companions asked me to play the guitar. The atmosphere was so positive that a circle opened around me in the field behind us. That circle of people singing and dancing to the music felt like redemption for the anxieties that we were escaping from.

As I relaxed and unwound, my luck with women began to change. There was a wonderful moment that an average guy like me could only dream of. I was in a bar with a friend from São Paulo, when I noticed a beautiful blonde girl with blue eyes and dark, suntanned skin staring at me. I approached her and asked if she wanted to go to the sea. She immediately accepted the invitation and I took her by the hand as we followed the trail down the cliff.

The beach was almost empty and we laid down with the waves licking our feet. I didn’t need to talk much: we kissed for a long time while stroking each other under the moon light. I whispered the suggestion that we should go to the construction site where, by chance, my buddies from Alagoas and Frenchman’s Beach were camped. On our way, every now and then we would stop to feel each other’s skin and kiss passionately. When we arrived, there was no one there. After tripping on the magic of her sheer beauty, a hurricane of pleasure took over and then, all of a sudden, we found ourselves lying next to each other in the cool, gentle wind beneath the stars. I felt at peace with the world.

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Lost Samba – Chapter 27/01 – A hike through the Sertão, Paraíba and Fortaleza.

Sertao

A Sertanejo in the Sertao

We took a train to our next destination, João Pessoa, the capital of the state of Paraíba. Given the scarcity of railways in Brazil, this was a rare opportunity – and tickets were cheap. The line did not pass along the coast, instead entering the Sertão – the Northeast’s dry interior. This time Pedro and I had company, joined by our Praia do Frances camping companions. With us were some seven or eight guys from the south of Brazil, all with very long hair, most of them blond and – to people who did not know them –unfriendly faces, seeming to step out of a cover of a heavy metal album.

We were in for a ride through the Sertão, a bone-dry landscape, so completely different to the lush coast a short distance away. This was Brazil’s poorest region with a subculture that was akin to that of medieval Europe. The people were deeply Catholic, with quasi-feudal class relationships, a strong macho ethos and a high degree of illiteracy. As the vegetation became even dryer and the air hotter, the towns became increasingly dilapidated. We stopped at train stations that seemed to be remnants of an era when there was at least a promise of prosperity, but now people seemed to be reduced  to fighting to get to our windows to sell us all sorts of stuff, from plastic water bottles to captured wild animals. In every village we passed through, the train was the biggest event of the day, and we – the weird-looking long haired guys – a real highlight. The villagers would gather at our window pointing at us and laughing, sometimes they’d make jokes about us, while other times we’d playfully poke fun at them.

The streets around the stations were filled with make-shift bazaars and rudimentary liquor stores surrounded by rusty old cars, sleepy donkeys, scrawny dogs and barefoot children running around under the scorching sun. Loud music blared out of the record shops, not the folksy and cool acts that helped draw me to the Northeast but cringe-worthy love songs and accompanied by electric organs.

The semi-desert landscape reminded me of the spaghetti westerns that I’d so enjoyed as a child. Here, though, the population was a mix of African and indigenous origin who lived in clay huts with straw roofs, their small plots of lands struggling to look like farms. There was very little vegetation, the cattle were so thin that their ribs were clearly visible and the dry, stifling heat made even worse by the lack of even a slight breeze. All of this reflected the very hard life endured by the people the sertão.

The train’s old British-built engine and carriages were rusty and dillapidated, and seemed completely in tune with the landscape. Inside, we were alone in our carriage, appearing like a gang of suspicious-looking outlaws. Every now and then train officials approached us and a tense silence would fall. Despite their vigilance, we managed to light up our green venom and smoke with our heads leaning outside the windows. Despite the tension and the extreme poverty that we came across, it was quite trippy to take in that outlandish landscape.

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In Rio, “Paraíba” was the derogatory name given to the enormous contingent of migrants from the Northeast regardless of the actual state that they in fact came from. They fulfilled the same role as Mexicans in the USA, Arabs in France and Asians in Britain have traditionally taken. Much as in those richer countries, people in Rio had contradictory feelings towards the Northeast and its population. Along with a fascination about the place and its culture came the rejection of its uneducated and poor migrants.

NE

The poverty of the Sertao

In reality, João Pessoa, Paraíba’s capital, had a classic sophistication with well-preserved nineteenth-century buildings, elegant avenues bordered by lush trees and old-style lamp posts. I was looking forward to our stay in João Pessoa as fortunately a friend from university would be spending her vacation there with her family. They, like many other members of the local upper class, were of Italian descent. Francesca, my friend, had been elected as the muse  ofthat summer by a carioca magazine, attracted, no doubt, by her striking looks, with blonde hair and blue eyes .

Francesca came to meet us at the hostel with two cousins, both obviously part of the local elite, and Pedro and I were driven away in their expensive cars. She told us later that her cousins had taken us for a gay couple: when we tried to look smarter, in our neo-hippy clothes, we most probably gave out the wrong impression. In fact our clothes looked ridiculous and if I had been looking through local eyes, I would probably have thought as they did.

The reality was that I was looking forward to seeing Fransesca, hoping, who knows, that a summer romance would light up. Back in Rio, there had been some flirting, using my guitar-playing to impress her when we skipped classes together. However, with Francesca’s family now around – and with me looking so weird – the chances of anything happening were absolutely zero. Other than Francesca and the João Pessoa elegant architecture, there wasn’t much to keep us in the city, with even the beaches being unattractive compared to the ones we’d seen before. Slightly disappointed, after a couple of days we continued northwards to Fortaleza, the capital of the state of Ceará, where we knew that we could stay with one of Pedro’s uncles.

Joao

Joao Pessoa

If Francesca’s cousins suspected that Pedro and I were gay, Pedro’s uncle had no doubts at all. The strange situation kicked-off with Pedro’s aunt showing us to our double bed and then continued with the uncle throwing food onto my plate instead of serving it. I can’t remember acting camply or wearing neo-hippy, fancy clothes but, through his lens, I was a communist, pot-smoking queen, leading his young and healthy nephew on a journey of drugs and perverted gay sex.

In that part of the world, the same guys who spent their money on lovers, on prostitutes and on booze, and who beat up their wives, considered the youth of the South to be degenerates. I couldn’t help imagining what would have happened if he had seen the scuba guy in Vitória come out of the bedroom with his blonde friend hanging on his neck saying that he had lost his virginity. Anyway, from an anthropological point of view, that situation gave us an insight into how things must have been for the generations before us in Rio. That world was tied around a corrupt ruling class that had been in power ever since the city was founded, and it provided an unbearable universe of oppression and hypocrisy for anyone with half a brain and a critical eye as well as anyone who did not belong to those traditional circles.

In spite of the heavy domestic atmosphere, I was able at least to appreciate other aspects of Fortaleza. It was the wealthiest capital in the Northeast and had an attractive modern buzz to it. Fortaleza’s dry, windy weather and wide avenues made the city resemble modern Middle Eastern ones, such as Tel Aviv and Beirut. Perhaps Pedro’s uncle’s demeanor was an exception for Fortaleza, as its natives had a reputation of being sharp and funny, providing Brazil with some of its best comedians, like Chico Anysio, Tom Cavalcanti and Renato Aragão.

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Fortaleza

Fortaleza

Lost Samba – Chapter 26/02 – Hitchhiking into crazy times in Northeastern Brazil.

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A beach in the Brazilian Nordeste

Our next stop was Aracajú, the capital of the state of Sergipe. Despite its cool-sounding name, the so-called “city” was unimaginably dull. The only good thing about that place was that we could camp on the always-empty beach in the best neighhborhood.

After setting up the tent, we managed to find a bar and got chatting to a pair of upper middle class women from São Paulo who belonged to Pedro’s target audience: those in their mid-thirties. One of them was into Rajneesh and had spent a lot of money on therapies to find her “inner self”. Pedro didn’t take long to show her his “avenue to truth” in our tent. By then, I had already got used to sitting back and waiting for him to score, and took my disgrace in good humor.

There wasn’t any chemistry between me and the other woman, but that didn’t prevent us from wandering down to the sea to share a joint. After an uncomfortable chat, she decided to keep her “inner self” to herself and returned to her hotel. Alone in the less than exciting Aracajú night and waiting for the tent to be free, I went back to the bar where now there had assembled a group of unattractive and drunk lesbians – surely the only openly ones anywhere in state.

Out of the blue, a dodgy looking local sat down at the table next to mine and started telling me about how high he was and that he wanted to smoke some more dope. His Mexican-style mustache, shiny shoes and tidy, tucked-in shirt gave away that we belonged to different tribes, made me not respect the unspoken law of being generous to a fellow smoker and instead I pretended not to understand. After he left, the waiter told me that he was a well-known corrupt policeman.

What felt like hours later, Pedro arrived to tell me he was going to sleep in the hotel. The next day the misery continued: the beach was awful, the people were ugly and the food was inedible. It was time to get the hell out of Aracajú.

Praia do Francês-Marechal Deodoro (6)

Sunset at Praia do Francês

Our next destination was Maceió in Alagoas, a state best known for its picture-postcard beaches. The crystalline waters and generous vegetation with coconut trees stretching along the entire coastline were a welcome change from Aracajú’s urban tedium.

Following a recommendation that we’d received earlier in our travels, we headed to Praia do Francês (Frenchman’s Beach). To our delight, there we found suntanned girls and boys with long hair, very different from the people who dominated the scene in Arraial da Ajuda whose sense of fashion had seemed to me as being completely out of kilter with the natural style of the Northeast. Experience had taught us that the first thing to sort out was a place to stay. We asked around and someone told us about a building site with a wicker roof, the last one by the beach. When we got there, there were other guys already using the premises but this wasn’t a problem: they welcomed us and, in no time, we were accepted as part of the community.

The guys spoke highly about some very potent marijuana that a local grew and that they were about to buy. Despite facing financial wipeout, Pedro and I naturally didn’t think twice about joining the deal. Suddenly we were without any cash, but to get some more would have involved a two-hour bus ride to reach an ATM, which were still only found in large towns. Neither of us wanted to waste time to refill our pockets but at least this meant that our meagre savings would remain untouched for a bit longer.

Our salvation was the coconut plantation right just beyond our camp. We spent an entire week feeding on its produce. For breakfast and as a desert we’d eat the tender flesh of younger coconuts. Older coconuts had thicker, very nutritious meat and were our main meal, while throughout the day their water sustained us, quenching our thirst. They were hard to open and while striking them with a machete we had to be careful not to strike our fingers or hit other people. Occasionally some other campers and fishermen invited us to join in their meals to vary our diet, and we managed to survive.

Praia do Francês was great for scuba diving and I borrowed some gear and spent hours exploring the coral and sea life of the clear water. At sunset, I went for walks alongside the coconut plantation where the ocean breeze created soothing music and made the trees magically sway. Both these activities combined perfectly with the manga rosa weed that had swept away our cash.

I soon met other musicians and, at night, we became the attraction for the campers sitting around fires. However, it didn’t take long for me to begin to feel a bit uncomfortable in what had at first seemed like paradise. Praia do Francês was, in fact, a more up-market tourist destination than the south of Bahia and we, the other musicians, and our buddies from the shack were the minority, and there was a strong sense that many people looked down at us as freaks. We did not think much about it but, perhaps unconsciously, it made us decide to leave earlier than we otherwise might have.

As soon as we arrived back in Maceió, we ran straight to the city’s only cash machine, housed in a startingly futuristic-looking glass kiosk that contrasted jarringly with the surrounding colonial buildings.  What a relief to indulge in a proper meal: just the typical menu of the coast – rice and beans, ground cassava, fish and an ice-cold beer to top off the meal – it wasn’t special, but it tasted heavenly after a week on an almost exclusive diet of coconut.

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destalagoas

Praia do Francês

Lost Samba – Chapter 26/01 – Easy riding in Bahia

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Farol da Barra. Salvador

The next stop was Salvador, where I thought we could stay with a former girlfriend who I’d met in Mauá. Michele came from Bangu, a lower-middle class neighbourhood of Rio, very different socially from my Zona Sul habitat. Michele’s mixed background gave her a complexion that could easily make her pass for Asian. She cultivated that look by wearing Indian-looking dresses and blouses and by letting her long, dark hair grow curly on the edges but straight elsewhere. She was petite and very pretty but her innocent look and her soft voice concealed a wild edge that would lead to her getting pregnant with several friends in my circle possibly being the dad.

The apartment in Salvador where Michele was staying was next to the Barra Lighthouse, one of the city’s most exclusive spots where golden middle class kids went to free carnival concerts on summer weekends. Not only were Pedro and I going to be safe from mosquitoes and have a proper bathroom, but there was a prospect for me of having some real fun at night. However, when we knocked on the door it was not Michele who opened it and we found out that the apartment belonged to her sister’s boyfriend and that there was no room for us. With the dream instantly dashed, the only way for us to hang out in that privileged spot was to sleep on the stage of the Barra Lighthouse. With summer now at its peak, there were concerts almost every night, which meant that to sleep there we would have to wait for everyone to leave. Then, at around three in the morning, we could unfold our sleeping bags on the wooden floor. To our apprehension, we found that we were not alone – there were some weird characters sleeping beneath the stage. Fortunately we never interacted, apart from early in the morning when a drunkard with a hangover emerged to do a gymnastics routine.

This sleeping arrangement ended up not being as bad as we had feared. The stage was less than a block from the apartment, and Michele’s sister managed to convince her boyfriend to allow us to keep our stuff there and to use its bathroom and kitchen. Also, for me, there was the bonus that  Michele could sneak me in when the others were out to be alone together.

Behind the times though Salvador certainly was, the 1980s was beginning to make an impact. The age of the trio elétrico was fading, being replaced by new genres of carnival music. Reggae had touched the ears, hearts and minds of the city’s culturally dominant Afro community and a new way of playing the Jamaican rhythm emerged – a percussion-led samba-reggae fusion. The main exponent of this genre was Olodum, a band from the Pelourinho, an icon of Salvador’s African-based culture and the oldest neighbourhood in the entire country.

In the past the authorities used the Pelourinho’s central square as the location to punish slaves who had misbehaved, escaped or revolted. There are numerous accounts of men receiving more than a hundred lashes and then having had salt rubbed into their wounds. Now their descendants lived in the houses of their former oppressors and the area was to be listed as an UNESCO world heritage site in 1985. Olodum managed to galvanize African heritage and pride in the form of music, radiating that energy throughout Salvador. Everything that emerged in the ”Pelo” reverberated in radios and cassette players in kiosks, spreading throughout the city, blasting out samba-reggae sounds. Olodum would later make an international splash after recording alongside Paul Simon and Michael Jackson.

The other musical novelty was the more white-orientated bands with electronic keyboards and choreographed dancers on futuristic-looking vans. They were completely cheesy, playing a blend of easy to digest salsa, soca and other Caribbean styles. It was a relief that the Trio Eletrico of Dodo e Osmar – the surviving dinosaurs of Salvador’s golden carnival days – still paraded, and we had the opportunity to see them and Olodum in the pre-Carnival events.

As this was my second visit to Salvador – and now travelling as a backpacker – I felt much less of a tourist and knew what to expect. This included knowing the particularities of the various beaches, hugely important for the experience of any Brazilian coastal town. The beaches of the Northeast exuded a nostalgic aura, offering things that had long vanished in Rio. There were fishermen selling freshly-caught crabs tied to a stick, vendors of cheese that was melted on demand, stands of homemade ice cream and men walking around with sliced pineapples on tin trays. Separating the sand from the promenade were straw-roofed wooden kiosks where they served beer and exotic snacks prepared with the large range of local seafood. Fishermen with their nets and wooden boats remained from a past long before pleasure seekers ever dreamt of exposing their pale skin to the sun and, God forbid, seek a tan.

As in Rio, the beaches were the central arenas of summer. They put everyone in a state of mind that no economic crisis could intrude. The correct time to arrive was after lunch and the right time to leave was well after sunset. As the sun went down and the heat became more bearable with the beach started to attract young people seeking similar things: partying, music, interesting people and – of course – sex….perhaps even love. In a short space of time, Pedro and I soon got to know people.

Invitations to parties were frequent and always welcome. The parties, in people’s homes, were for free and entry was by invitation and hear-say. Despite the sound gear always being too weak, these parties were always great fun with joints in every room and bright people discussing political and philosophical issues. If you were not lucky to be in the bathroom having sex, the best place would be the kitchen, where guests would eat and drink. There would also always be a room where people gathered listening to a talented guitarist, and the quality of the musicians was amazing. I never understood why they never made it when so many crap rock bands in Rio and São Paulo somehow did.

caminhoneiro

BR – 101 early in the morning

Sometimes I too would play something, but I soon learned that in order to make an impression I had to stick to playing rock tunes that no one else there was comfortable to play in what was the backyard of the likes of Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil and the Novos Baianos. I was no competition for the kind of stuff that they excelled at, but a Carioca who played rock was seen as something acceptable and even a welcome novelty. However, people really got excited when I played Bob Marley and Jimi Hendrix tunes and sang in English, something that many of the party-goers had never before experienced.

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Partying, going to the beach, meeting new people, playing guitar and trying (and sometimes succeeding) to get laid, was only part of the fun. Our means of transport – hitchhiking – was also a highlight of our travels. The routine always began the same way, by taking a bus to the first gas station on the highway. Many of the drivers told us to clear off, but some welcomed our harmless, and perhaps interesting, company.

By this time, Brazil’s railway system had all-but collapsed, and also goods were rarely transported by ship along the coast. Instead, almost all transport was by road, which was why the highways had an army of truck drivers. As any other category of workers, they were heavily exploited, sleeping very little and travelling for days on end along the country’s poorly-maintained highways, in fear of thieves and corrupt policemen. Nevertheless, they were awesome guys who had their own subculture and a great sense of camaraderie. They knew all the curves, bumps and potholes ahead, as well as the good and bad spots in terms of safety, food, fun and women. All of them had great stories and the cliché girlfriends, or even families, at every stop.

Most rides were with the driver in his cabin where they normally had a good-sized bed where we could take turns in sleeping but sometimes we were in the back, experiencing the unprotected magic of the highway. Together with the feeling of freedom that the constant wind and the open highway provided, at night there were be shooting stars above the moonlit hills, while during the day there was the strong sun bringing out the sweet smell of sugar cane from the plantations on either side of the highway.

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Lost Samba – Chapter 25/01 – Hitchhiking in Brazil

CaronaWhen the summer arrived, ignoring the incoming storm, Pedro and I decided to go on a tour of the Northeast. Things had changed and from the start it was clear that the budget would be limited this time. Dad didn’t want me to go, and refused to finance the trip, and Pedro’s widowed mother did not have much to put on the table either. I had to sell my beloved Blues Boy and he had to scrape most of the money that his father had left him. Still the money wasn’t much and by our calculations, we had enough to get a bus to Vitoria in Espirito Santo, the closest state capital, and from there we would hitchhike, camp and reach as far north as we could, living the Easy Rider dream.

As the bus moved into the lane heading north and took the Rio-Niteroi Bridge, I was thankful to once again be en route to the idyllic Brazil. We did not expect much from our first stop, Vitoria, which was a hybrid of the developed South and the as-yet-developed Northeast, neither modern enough to be exciting nor exotic enough to be attractive.

Our plans were to camp on the beach for a couple of days and then begin the hitchhiking phase into Bahia. We left our backpacks at a kiosk before going to the beach and had our first setback when the owner explained that camping on the beach was forbidden. We didn’t pay much attention, as the sun was shining strong and all we wanted was to evaporate the stress of a 15 hour journey by the sea. When sunset arrived, the question of where will we would sleep that night re-emerged.

We were discussing our options when we met two guys scuba-diving nearby. We asked them if there was anything to see in the water and they ended up telling us that they were also from out of town and were staying in one of their uncle’s flat. We explained our situation and they said that, if we were OK to spend the night in the maid’s room, they wouldn’t mind. This was the best option available, so we agreed. After settling in, taking a shower and eating a quick sandwich, we all went out into Vitoria’s bohemian district, Vila Velha.

Money was tight and the only thing we could afford to do was to walk around along the packed promenade. It felt like a nocturnal funfair filled with trailers selling drinks and food, and playing loud music. In the confusion, one of the guys noticed an empty table filled with untouched nibbles and beer bottles. We were still hungry and dying for a beer, so we spent some time keeping an eye out to see if the owners came back. They didn’t so we got closer and discretely took over.

As soon as the bottle reached my lips, I heard an effeminate voice calling me cheeky. I moved to an ‘excuse me’ mode and offered to pay, but I soon realized that we had fallen into the trap of a gay duo that was smiling at us by the van. It was obvious that what they were looking for went far beyond apologies. Anyway, as the other two divers seemed to be more comfortable with the situation, Pedro and I slipped out and let them deal with the situation.

After a couple of hours, things got boring, we were tired and it was time to go back to the table and ask about going home. There was news for us: the two parties had become perhaps too friendly and going back to the flat was not part of the plan any more. After many deliberations, it was agreed that we were all going to sleep at one of the gay guys’ apartment and in the morning they’d drive us to the motorway.

We didn’t like it but there wasn’t much choice. We went back to our flat to get our gear and were invited for dinner at a good restaurant, a good but rather uncomfortable news. After the meal, the next step was passing the night at the den of love. The chat was a bit tense and after a session of insinuations and avoidances, action time arrived and the scuba guys went to their rooms with their respective partners while we went to the living room to try to get some sleep.

The lights went off, the doors were closed and we stayed giggling like two idiots. About an hour later, one of the doors opened and we pretended to be sleeping. We heard one of the guys saying, “Sorry, but I was not inspired tonight” and then leaving the flat. I almost got up to ask if we could go with him but there was not enough time. The room door didn’t close and, with my eyes closed, I started thinking to myself, “Oh oh, shit is about to happen!” Then I heard some footsteps coming towards us and Pedro saying, “Take your hands off, mate!!!” After a few seconds, the same happened to me; after that, the short and now badly tempered guy, who looked like a Brazilain version of Little Richard, said something and left the flat slamming the door.

The next day the other couple woke us up in a much happier mood. The owner of the flat had long blond hair, a beard and he was wearing a purple silk robe and heavy make-up. He was hanging on to his diver’s neck telling us that he had lost his virginity. We found out that the unsatisfied one was a neighbor who owned the car that was going to take us to the highway. We stayed waiting for him to come down for breakfast. When he arrived he was in a bitchy mood and, in revenge, he said he wasn’t going to take us. The ex-virgin spared us from a ‘Cage aux Folles’ nightmare, as he was on our side, and they drove us to a gas station out of town as promised.

NicolePeralta

BR – 101 – Photo by Nicole Peralta

After that unexpected beginning, we wondered what could be expecting us next. Anyway, we had two months ahead of us and it was a hot, sunny morning and the tone of that day was being set by the noise of cars speeding on the BR-101 motorway heading towards Bahia. Meanwhile we were going from truck to truck asking for a hitch to our next destination, Porto Seguro.

Our first ride was in the rear of a truck carrying dried beef. We climbed up and joined a group of workers sitting on the plastic mats covering the cargo. They looked like the Latin American peasants one would expect to see in a film about revolution. They were a mixture of black, native and white, and wore torn clothes, straw hats and caps, and prehistoric Havaianas flip-flops. They were drunk and having a ball with the wind from the highway blowing all over them.

Riding unprotected on top of a van was dangerous and illegal. The guy sitting next to the driver opened his door, leaned out and shouted, “Police!” We all had to duck under the greasy plastic for 10 minutes where we stayed skidding on the rough but slippery meat until he shouted that we could come out again.

That group could not understand what two university students from the South were doing up on that stinky plastic with them. One of them passed their bottle of cachaça and taught us how to drink from the bottle correctly while others tried to teach us how things were pronounced in the region. Soon we were drunk and talking rubbish too. As we shook from the motorway’s bumps on its unprotected back, the truck took a turn onto a dirt track and stopped at a bar in the middle of nowhere. Everyone jumped off and inside our new friends made a point in treating us to more cachaça and to a local delicacy: a dark and strong, disk- shaped, barbecued organ of some undefined animal. The guys wanted to see if we had the balls to eat it and our pride made sure that we did: we were too drunk anyway to be disgusted but the taste was sobering.

They stayed on waiting for a bus to take them home while we went back on the truck and were dropped off in Eunápolis, only an hour and a half by local transport from Porto Seguro. We arrived there exhausted and found a camp site by the beach where we washed off the cachaça and the meat stench and got some well needed sleep.

We spent the next day at the beach diving into the warm light blue water and feeling the breeze of the south of Bahia. At night we discovered that its streets were lively: the locals decorated their backyards with colored lights, added tables and chairs, filled their fridges with beer, turned their stereos up to the maximum and transformed their houses into lambada clubs. There were more expensive places set up by people from big cities, but even there it would not be surprising to feel a chicken peck at your feet while you were dancing.

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