Lost Sambista

A Brazil never seen.

Archive for the tag “Trancoso”

Lost Samba – Chapter 25/02 – Anguish in South of Bahia’s Paradise.

coco

The return to Arraial d’Ajuda was an anti-climax. The paradise I had fallen in love with seemed to be another place and now its main activity was tourism. Electricity had arrived and the village had become much more structured for tourists and, of course, more expensive. Most of the fishermen had left after selling their boats and their houses in bad deals.

I found very little of the spontaneity that had impressed me only two years earlier and was disturbed by the out-of-context, Eighties-style haircuts and heavy make-up. There were a lot of people who I instinctively did not want to mix with, and that feeling was mutual. To make things worse, I began to realize that Pedro’s agenda was to blend in with the older, more ‘interesting’ and more stable people who rented the more expensive houses and ate in the better places; for him, they were a portal into the world of financial comfort and this had nothing to do with what I was looking for.

Whenever I managed to borrow a guitar the playing at night still happened. It was pleasurable and by then I was way better. I had perfected my routine and knew more songs and could easily grab the attention of people who I had never met before. I began with psychedellic and intimate songs such as Caetano Veloso’s “Terra” and Geraldo Azevedo’s “Caravana”, some Milton Nascimento songs, then I played some solid Bossa Nova’s such as “Wave”, then I progressed into happier songs such as the Novo’s Baianos version of “Brasil Pandeiro” and invariably ended with carnavalsque songs of Alceu Valenca and Moraes Moreira and closed the night with Jorge Ben.

People still liked that kind of music, but not all, and that kind of experience was already in the out as something cool. The atmosphere just was not there, and I wanted to leave. As there was still no electricity in the neighboring Trancoso and the access continued to be difficult, it would be less of a disappointment. Although Pedro could not get enough of the ‘interesting’ people in Ajuda – who actually were the ones who most like what I played – he also got fed up of being treated as tourist. If we moved there, the experience would be more like the real thing: the houses around the green were less spoiled, more affordable and there were as many people to network with, so I found it easy to convince him.

This time there would be no need for crossing deep rivers in the middle of nowhere and in the dark because we had a tent. However, things had changed there too and on our first night someone tried to steal our stuff that was outside the tent. The noise woke us up but we took too long to get out and to get a hold of the fake blond with curly hair running away in shorts under the moonlight. The next day, we saw him at the beach but as we couldn’t prove anything, we could only give him dirty looks which he pretended to ignore.

That same night, I discovered that Trancoso’s mosquitoes used tents for their general assemblies and dawn revealed a carpet of them hanging on to the nylon walls. The only way to get relief was by putting the sleeping bag on the pavement and let the wind carry them away.

trancoso2

Trancoso’s green.

Pedro was a well built waterpolo player, mischievous small eyes, caramel colored skin and curly yet blondish hair, when approaching the ladies he was completely cool and to the point and knew everything about the right timing and the right words to say. After a few days in Trancoso, insects and thieves weren’t the only thing bugging me: my lack of success with the ladies compared to Pedro’s triumphs was affecting me. Also, at night when I was not playing and while everyone was enjoying themselves near the fires, every now and then the seriousness of my situation would change the course of my thoughts. How was the future going to be? Where was the girlfriend who cared about me and liked the same things that I did?

Now my life was as if I had reached the summit of a high mountain in a beautiful landscape and discovered that on the other side there was a garbage depot. Those troubles were like the wall of mosquitoes in the tent: I could shoo them away temporarily but they would come back no matter what I did.

A lot of people were in the same boat: this was a generation of problematic, middle class kids, orphans of the prosperity of the Seventies and of the politics-of-the-body ideology, and unprotected from the economic downturn.

Some people saw us as a market niche. Everyone was talking about Rajneesh, now Osho, an Indian guru based in the US who preached that the way to spiritual enlightenment was the annihilation of one’s ego via the exhaustion of the libido. His therapies had strong sexual overtones, something that I doubted was authentic in the traditional Hindu society. His books were well written and it was very tempting to join – many hot ladies did – but the expensive fees convinced me to keep away. We came across people who had gone as far as meeting him in person in his Ashram in Oregon, an expensive privilege. They talked about falling about in tears when they saw his “penetrating and loving look” that had “liberated their soul”.

During the day people sat on the beach chatting while looking into the light blue horizon while the breeze swayed the trees and the greenery behind them. The main topic were the long bearded guru’s books and his tantric therapies to achieve enlightenment, I would stay quiet thinking to myself that this was THE product that everyone wanted: not giving a damn about anything except their pleasure and, in return, achieving a never-ending orgasm. No one wanted to talk about the anguish regarding the future and regarding what was going on in our lives. This was understandable in such a setting, but why talk without stop about Rajneesh? OK, the hyperinflation and the economic downturn were too real to be mentioned and we were all suffering inside; still my instinct told me that these bad cards were beyond our control, as were the blessings we had received in the good days. We had the power to decide what we were going to do with them but no guru or magic pill could sweeten what destiny had lay for us to swallow.

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rajneesh

Rajneesh, nowadays Osho, graduating a “Sanyasi”.

 

Lost Samba – Chapter 18/03 – In Brazil’s Holy of Holies

Trancoso

Trancoso’s beach

The early morning sun breaking through the cracks in the window’s shutters woke me up. I could still hear the wind but now it was gentler, enabling me to also hear the sound of bird songs and the soothing rhythm of waves breaking in the distance. Daylight revealed pristine nature preparing for the new day. At that moment, the world consisted of just my hut, the surrounding forest, a deserted beach and me. The temperature was agreeable and that unique moment of peace in that special place, transported me to the beginning of time.

I was not very far from where history books say that the Portuguese had first set foot on that uncharted land. This was the spot where those western lost souls had officially planted the seeds of a new country. I walked to the sea and had a long swim. In the deep I floated in the calm, crystal-clear, water. At that moment, at that place, it was easy to imagine the first flotilla appearing from beyond the horizon. Was anyone on those ships considering anything other than plundering what lay beyond the beach? Was the exotic jungle a soul devourer, or a place waiting to be tamed? Could the intruders possibly have imagined that there was anything worthy of their respect or to learn from in this beautiful place and from its original inhabitants?

 *

Before the arrival of hippies, Trancoso had been a Christian mission for the conversion of the indigenous Pataxó people. All that remained of that time was the simple parish church that faced inland and a group of westernized descendants of that tribe who lived in a reserve a few kilometres away. Its back faced the ocean and it was there where we gathered every night when the church’s whitewashed wall reflected the strong moonlight like a screen in a movie theatre. Long before the arrival of the first white men, the local tribe assembled at this very spot for festivals. The sacred ground still held its power with Trancoso remaining a place apart. The only trace of civilization anywhere around was Porto Seguro twenty to thirty kilometres away, its lights faintly visible on the far corner of the horizon.

We waited for the full moon and, after an hour or so, a huge silver ball started rising up at the end of the ocean. We were around ten people, gazing at that apparition in awe and in silence. The reflection grew stronger and created a bright streak across the water. The moon rose above the low clouds making them look like white, puffy, backlit mountains, casting heavy shadows from only a few meters above the sea. Their bases were flat, as if a meticulous artist had sliced them.
While I contemplated that marvellous scene, the universe sent a vision showing me that love, life, health, the water we drank, the air we breathed, were all for free. We were not on a different planet, nor was this a dream: all that magic could be here and now, forever, if only we would learn how to value the things that were given to us. I wished Trancoso would always be my home and that the feeling of completeness never ended.

*

Those last three weeks passed in the blink of an eye and all too soon it was time to return to the reality of city life. I bummed a lift to Rio with some guys who were returning home to São Paulo. Unbelievably, they had managed to reach Trancoso driving their beetle along a dirt track through the forest. I had never heard about the trail and, after a few minutes in it, they remembered that this was not a route intended for cars. Thick vegetation must have sprung up since they had first driven along that track because we kept on having to get out of the old Volkswagen and push it through mud and over the tangle of plants. It took a couple of hours until the trail developed into something more resembling a dirt road. Eventually this got wider, and soon cattle, donkeys and small huts started to appear and eventually, people sitting by stands selling local fruit. Finally, we came across cars and after we passed by Ajuda and arrived at the barge that crossed over to Porto Seguro there was a small queue of cars waiting to board. On the other side there was already asphalt and the highway that took us on the long journey home.

I arrived back in Rio under the spell of Bahia. It was difficult to face the fact that a crucial battle of university entry exams lay ahead. There was another zone of contention ready to erupt at any moment; with every joint I rolled, with every jam session I participated in, with every new friend I made, I was immersing myself further into a world that my parents could not even begin to understand. A process of becoming completely estranged from my family was on its way. Mum and Dad were at a loss, not having a clue as to what was going on inside my mind and my soul. I had taken their quest for the New World many steps beyond their imagination. I was entering a no man’s land where, on the one hand, I was distancing myself from my roots and, on the other hand, those very roots made me structurally different to the people, and to the culture, I was relating to.

My parents expected Sarah and I to accept without question the terms of their happy adventure in the idyllic land that they had chosen. Now that we had grown up, the cultural baggage they had brought over from the Old Continent paralysed their reactions towards our experiences. The British way was to brush everything under the carpet, not to discuss problems in the hope that things would sort themselves out in one way or another. The central European approach was more pragmatic, but disregarded the poetry of life: searching one’s truth was pointless and bad for business – the solution was simply a matter of getting my head down and doing the right thing: studying. From my side, the process of making sense of the situation that I was born into would require a rupture, and, by the looks of it, this process would be solitary and painful.

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TrancosoD

Trancoso

Lost Samba – Chapter 18/02 – Adventures in South of Bahia’s paradise

Part25

The experience did not touch Edu as much as it did me. He was more sensible and I felt he was restricting himself by choosing to mix only with a boring university crowd. They were an important part of the conversations, but only marginally participant in the “secret society”. By not having a relationship with “the herb”, they missed out on an essential element, not because of the act of showing off that they were smoking weed, but because of the perceptual dimensions it seemed to open in conversations and in observations.

Edu was into conventional psychology, which was too intellectual for that time and place. Gabeira summed up the difference of perspectives with a catchphrase, “Without a hard-on [by which he meant desire], there is no solution.” This is what the people in the forefront of that quixotic revolution thought. It was about walking the walk, and not about talking the talk. We were seeking a world in which people lived according to their connection to the positive energy of the cosmos, and not a world ruled by patronizing dogmas. In this utopian summer interlude, who needed to rationalize things? Who needed the weight of history, of schools, of tradition and of science over their heads? Should that dictate what was right and what was wrong?

The drifting apart of my friendship with Edu reached a climax because of our house-sharers, three girls from Brasília he’d found by asking around. When I met the girls, I immediately found them unattractive and square, and therefore completely off my radar. Their feelings towards me were mutual: my exaggerated carioca attitude of being laid back and not giving a shit when it came to anything remotely practical contrasted with the girls’ efforts to be sociable and with their requests to share household chores. Perhaps they were correct in seeing me as a lazy, rich guy used to having a mum and a servant indulging my needs, but I was too immature to take this on board and simply dismissed them as being annoying and ugly bitches. After all I was only seventeen years old.

The girls ended up getting fed up with my laziness and one day after the beach, they demanded that I cook a meal. I warned them I didn’t know how, but they refused to listen and forced me to embark on my first-ever culinary adventure. The stove, such as it was, was a grill lying over some bricks in the field behind the house, and I had to search for some dry wood and paper to light a fire. The wind made this a hard task and when the flames started to go down I placed on the grill a battered pot, into which I threw some water, oil, salt and the spaghetti.

While waiting for the mixture to boil, I lit the roach in my pocket on the fire. Everything was going fine until I added the eggs: as I watched them drop into the boiling water, I noticed that the rest of the contents had become thick and gluey. Even to me it was obvious that pasta should not have that kind of consistency but the harder I tried; the more I struggled to stir my creation. What was going to be a pasta meal degenerated into an unedifying block of dough. To make matters worse, I noticed that the eggs had vanished from sight. I started digging into the “thing” in an attempt to save them, but then the fork got stuck, before vanishing into that amorphous blob.

When I got back to the house and tried to explain what had happened, I found that no one else saw the comic value. In addition to wasting their meagre groceries, I was forcing them to spend their precious money on a meal in the canteen next door. The mood turned sour, but for me there were better things to do than listen to those three girls yelling at me, especially because I had warned them about my culinary inability. That night came the final straw. After getting drunk, I walked the youngest, quietest, most receptive and prettiest one of the three back home. We kissed, and after we got into the house and I was close to finalizing things, the other two girls stormed in, coming close to physically attacking me. The following day they threw me out. Edu wasn’t happy either and sided with them.

Perhaps because of this event, Edu decided to return to Rio earlier than planned and I left for Trancoso, the next village down the coast, where I stayed for three more weeks. Despite carrying with me feelings of dejection, as soon as I set foot in Trancoso, I knew that I was onto something special. That tiny place was somehow even more magical and unspoiled than Ajuda, so isolated that the only way to get there was by boat or by trekking along the beach at low tide.

*

As Ajuda, Trancoso was also situated on a cliff top overlooking the ocean. It was tiny and consisted of an angular formation of huts bordering a sizeable green in the middle of the tropical forest. At the end of the field there was a simple-looking whitewashed colonial-era church, which closed the rectangle. I arrived there at the end of the afternoon and it was love at first site. The beauty of the place was mesmerizing; the long shadows of the golden sun created by the tiny houses were almost covering the field, The smell of the fresh grass in the shade was unbelievably refreshing in that hot and dry weather.

The purity of the air made the ocean in the background assume a marvellous dark turquoise tint as it reflected the deep blue of the sky. The combination of all of this made that small commune possess an scenic sophistication that hardly combined with its remoteness. Trancoso had the look and feel of some kind of special university campus for people in search of living life in the correct way. Here, the divide between locals and visitors was not so huge, as many of the outsiders had decided to drop out of city life and had chosen to make that place their home.

I headed straight to the only bar in the place, an open air one, where I stayed chatting and playing guitar until it got dark. As it grew late, someone asked me if I had anywhere to sleep. I said no and, after a lot of talking, it turned out that the only hut available was one that stood alone down by the beach. I could stay there for free, but the downside would be having to get there alone. Although moonless nights, like that particular one, were excellent for watching shooting stars, they were terrible for seeing even one meter ahead, and even worse for walking in the bush. My new friends explained how to find the hut, but the idea of having to wade through a river to get there didn’t sound good.

trancoso

The Trancoso Church

As the night advanced, the bar’s owner turned off his kerosene lamp but the music continued, breaking the silence of the rest of the village. Soon people started to wander off. Once everyone had gone his or her separate ways, I left my guitar in the bar and set off for my hut, guided by my sharp night vision and relying on my good hearing. When I reached the river and realised that the far bank was at least six meters distant, I considered giving up. Instead, I bit the bullet. The water was warm and the riverbed was muddy. As the river got deeper, croaking noises made my mind turn to snakes, strange animals and flesh-eating fish. At one point, the water came almost up to my chest and the current made it hard to balance the gear that I was carrying on my head. When I reached the other side of the river and spotted my new home, everything became easier as from then on I only needed to follow the sand-track until the hut’s door.

It was unlocked, and as I came in I saw a candle someone had left there and took out the box of matches I’d managed to keep dry. The flickering flame revealed a basic wooden shack stuck together with clay with a sand floor and a roughly thatched-roof, the only furniture was a rustic table and a chair. The wind blowing ashore was howling loudly, rattling the door and the windows in an eerie choreography. However, the candlelight made the hut feel surprisingly cosy. Still soaked, I opened my sleeping bag, stretched it on the floor and fell right asleep.

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noite

Night in Trancoso

Trancoso Church

Trancoso Church

If Brazil had a center to its soul perhaps this place would be it.

Trancoso is not very far from where the first Portuguese officially stepped on Brazilian soil and if one believes in destiny, this was for a reason…

The region remained remote until the late nineteen seventies and in the meanwhile the church above was built as a mission to convert the natives of the Region, the Pataxos (pronounced Patashohs). Usually churches were built over sacred sites to, in a way, respect the old rituals while telling the natives that the universal white European God was stronger, more widespread and better than theirs.

The church “closes” a square of houses around a huge green that used to constitute the village. The people who live there call it the “rectangle” and behind it lay the tropical forest, the almost extinct Mata Atlantica. The view from behind it is fantastic, one sees the entire coast of the Porto Seguro area from the top of a cliff .

There is no doubt that the Pataxos celebrated their beautiful world at this very spot in their festivals long before the arrival of the white people.

I had the privilege to discover Trancoso when it was just a fishing village with no electricity, populated by locals and by hippies some 25 years ago. Now it has become an international attraction and is visited by tourists from all around the world.

It still preserves its magic though.

Lost Samba, the book, will give you a better description of how it was back in the day, the link to is just besides the article.

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