She Tells of Tree Tales

My friend Amanda tells me that the trees in Campo Grande talk to her.

She’s gotten to know them after many morning laps around the central city square in her matching spandex jogging suit that every baiana somehow squeezes into, their bodies painted in floral print that makes my fashion-forward friends want to puke.

I contemplated buying one for myself, but when I shared this thought, my other friends laughed so hard that I quickly stuffed the dream back inside myself before they found out that I was serious.

Amanda doesn’t care though.  She has a jeito all of her own—her ‘fro bobbing back and forth as she weaves beneath the trees, listening as they whisper wonders.

The big old giant on the corner always grumbles over secret sprinkles as his roots sit above the ground in separate sections, conveniently forming stalls that stand firm in the well-fertilized dark-brown dirt.

Peeing in public is nothing to blush over even in the middle of a bustling day downtown.  My friend once saw a weary walker sitting near a puddle in the square.  It wasn’t until she passed by that she perceived the puddle to be promptly pullulating, nourished by the trickle dribbling down the woman’s floral-printed pant-leg.

The tall, willowy tamarind tends to bemoan the boys and their white kite strings that slice through the sky only to snag themselves in her tresses, tangling their tails in the labyrinth of her swinging vines.

I once saw a boy flying a kite in the middle of a busy main street, dancing along while flapping his flimsy piece of plastic.  The two of them were dodging in and out of disinterested traffic until suddenly the string snagged straight onto the front of a passing car, whose arrested antenna arched back, bending beneath the tension created by the fierce grasp of the boy on the other end, who sprinted, shrieking behind the automobile, determined not to the lose the tug-of-war.

The branches of the muttering mangoes mask the mugs of their macaco (monkey) members who meekly manifest themselves upon presentation of palatable provisions.  Their wisely whiskered faces win the hearts of all American estrangeiros sick of simply seeing squirrels skirt the sidewalk saplings.

Perhaps Amanda tells the truth about the treasures of the trees that are found just by listening to the language of their leaves.

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Check out these fantastic fotos of trees that my mom forwarded to me.  I especially like the image of the Jabuticaba, a Brasilian tree whose fruit grows directly on the trunk and branches.

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Word on the Street

There’s always some barulho in Salvador.  Vendors hawking their wares, friends yelling to their neighbor in the street, and people banging on the side of the bus to get it to open its back door.  Not to mention the beeping.

Here in Salvador, there is a unique culture of car horns.  At first I was taken aback by the licentious beeping.  I come from a culture in which honking is considered rude and only to be done in emergency situations–that is to say, “Watch out!”  No one likes the angry driver who is constantly blowing his horn.

Employing this same belligerent connotation to the unconstrained beeping that I heard on my way from the airport, I found it hard to believe those who told me that Baianos are among the happiest people you’ll find.  “If you’re so happy and full of sunshine,” I thought, “then why are you constantly blowing your horn??”

But after driving with my host mom, one of the nicest women on the planet, and losing track of how many times she honked her horn, I realized that I had misjudged the beeping barulho. 

In fact, the culture of the car horn is far more amiable than I had initially imagined.  What is generally viewed as “bad manners” in the United States is the tool that treats transit with far greater politeness here in Salvador.

Like a bicycle bell, Baianos use their beep to warn others of their oncoming presence, as well as to ask permission to enter traffic, to grant it, and to say “thank you”.  The cars thus converse with one another as follows:

*beep*: “Hey, can I back out into traffic in front of you?” 

*beep*: “Sure, go ahead!” 

*beep*: “Thank you!” 

and sometimes…

*beep*: “You’re welcome!” 

Each exchange of light, little tones–always the same intensity and frequency–communicates concisely, quickly, and clearly different information depending on the situation.

The creation of these conversations stems from the sharp turns, blind corners, and very nature of driving itself, in which lanes are invisible and red lights are optional.  Thus, for the motorcycle brushing up along the blind side of the bus, it becomes necessary to say, “Hey!  I’m here!”  Or for the bus bending around a sharp curve to say “Look out!  Here I come!” 

While this medley of Morse-coded messages may sound like the angry chorus of frustrated transit, the beeps are part of another language–a discourse driven by bus, car, and motorcycle alike, spoken out of the reality created by the shape of Salvadorean streets.

Sweet Vengeance

There are few foods that I could eat everyday for the rest of my life, and I have discovered that rice and beans is not one of them.

As the day to go embora is quickly approaching, I can almost taste the cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, and froyo that are always present in my parents’ fridge.  I don’t know why I listed all dairy products.  Perhaps because I still haven’t adjusted to the milk here.  It has this really strong distinct flavor that tends to go away a little if I mix it with enough water or with a banana and chocolate powder when blending up a vitamina.  I think my resistance to the taste might be related to the moment during the summer when I discovered where my host mom stores the excess boxes of milk—in the closet.

Not to mention the ants.  I swear the FBI should recruit these tiny creatures which can seek out the source of any and every piece of organic and possibly edible matter.  If I drop just one crumb on the floor or spill one drop of juice, in just seconds the colorful matter is completely eclipsed by a swarm of tiny ants, a black blob whose tail–the trail of still more ants anxiously arriving–extends across the tiles, dipping in the grouted valleys and winding along the wall, finally disappearing in a crack beneath the cupboard.  One of my morning rituals involves massacring a mountain of these insistent insects, my indignation rising when I find their little brown antennas wiggling through the bristles on my toothbrush.

The other day, I fastened a bag of caramels with a clip, wrapped it in a plastic bag, and stuck it in my carry-on bag, zipped shut, and put the entire suitcase inside my armoire on the top shelf and closed the doors.  But lo and behold, these little sniffing stinkers still somehow snuck inside.  When I opened the doors and undid all the locks and bolts, I found hundreds of little ants swarming inside my clipped-shut bag of caramels, many of which had already slipped within the individually wrapped candies themselves, their faces smushed between the plastic and pure sweet pleasure.  That was supposed to be mine.

Recently when working on a project with my friend Rochelle, she pointed to a blotch on her laptop screen, “Do you know what that is?”  “No, what?”  As I leaned in for a closer look, the broken brown body of an ant came into view, its squashed self fossilized forever—stuck behind her computer screen.

Apparently, one day while working on her computer, Rochelle saw this ant crawling across her screen.  When she tried to flick it away, it stayed, instead of skedaddling, smushed behind her screen.  It was then that she realized, that the ant had in fact snuck inside her laptop, and was wandering its way around on the other side.

Que bom,” I said, “Now you’ll always have a little smudge of Salvador on your screen.”

Out of Context

I don’t really know what I look like anymore.  I’ve been called so many different things that it’s hard to cling to one physical identity over another.

My previous personal descriptions have long been thrown out the window as I’ve struggled to understand the perceptions of my physical presence here in Brasil.  I have found that my mirror changes with each new place I go, as every community reflects (or perhaps projects) a diferente physical reality.

I left the United States as a brown-haires, brown-eyed, slightly-shorter-than-normal white girl with round cheecks that dimpled when I smiled and that unfortunately tended to squeeze my eyes shut in photos.  Long days at the beach have since bronzed my skin and bleached my hair, and yet, I still look more or less the same, and in the States would use the same physical description as before.

But in Bahia, the mirror is held with darker hands.  Here, my sandy-brown hair is briliantly blonde, my bronzed skin a betraying branco, and my hazely-brown eyes as good as blue.

I am a circle amidst a sea of squares, and I know it just as much as they do.  No matter how much I try to wiggle my tongue around the local gíria, or slang, speaking “bem baiano” at times, still I can’t seem to escape the question, “Você é de onde?”, which sometimes even proceeds an introduction.

One day when my friend Rebecca and I got on the bus headed to our afternoon English class in the bairro Lobato, reviewing our lesson in Portuguese, a man in front of us became convinced that she was from Italy.  When she said no, he proceeded to guess every country in Europe and Latin América, from France to Argentina–all except the United States.  Gleefully beside herself, Rebecca finally told him, “americana!”  For her, being an estrangeira from Argentina is at least better than being branded as American.

In the city or in the suburbs, on the beach, the bus, or in the classroom, everyone who sees me knows that I don’t really belong here.

In my whiter, lighter circles of friends, I’ll sometimes pass as brasileira, but never as baiana–only carioca (from Rio de Janeiro) or paulista (from São Paulo), if I’m lucky.

But on the streets of Salvador, my loira looks spark all kinds of unwanted attention, turning the tables on this seasoned observer, placing me in the uncomfortable position of constantly being watched.  When my personality would just like most to slip from one shadow to the next, unnoticed and unseen, my fairer skin screams instead, “Look at me!”  And when people look, they recognize, “Ah, ela não tem cara de brasileira, não.”  I know.  Here in Bahia, é óbvio, né?

However, all it takes is less than a two-hour plane South down the coast to Rio to completely transform the looking glass.  When I took a trip to Rio de Janeiro with my study abroad program a few weeks ago, I felt as if I had entered another world.  Another bigger, brighter, lighter, and whiter world in which all the buses were numbered and actually claimed to run according to some schedule (one which I never quite figured out in my 4 days there).  I felt as if I was in the middle of New York City and somewhere in Europe.*

The hardest part of Rio was trying to find its carioca residentes.  That city is filled full with foreigners, mostly European tourists and English teachers (of course, the fact that I stayed in an international hostel didn’t help my impression).  Besides the breathtaking beauty of the city itself, the best part about Rio was that I became Brasilian!  Or at least I was mistaken for one.  That or someone from Portugal, since my Bahian accent and introverted histency was confusing.

My bronzed branquitude blended beautifully in the chic neighborhoods of Ipanema, Copacabana, and Leblon as well as in the comercial center of the city.  There, if I avoided English, I passed and my fairer appearance was accepted at any corner juice bar, where I could order a deliciously cheap cup of açaí to-go like a local.

Yet, when my friend Rebecca and I hiked a trail behind the favela Vidigal which climbs the mountain on the far-right said of Praia de Ipanema (facing the sea), we quickly realized that we were the only two white people in the bairro.  Once we reached the trailhead, however, we passed mostly white-skinned Brasilian tourists from São Paulo and other parts of southern Brasil.  Back on the beach again in Ipanema was another story, and we would’ve passed for Brasilian if not for the fact that we brought napkin-wrapped sandwiches from the hostel instead of ordering food from the beach barracas.

The image in the mirror morphed yet again when our plane touched down in the city of São Paulo.  In the short walk from the plane to the airport, I was convinced I was dying from frostbite in the rainy, upper-fifty degree windy weather as all I had packed were shorts and tank tops.

I had never seen so many naturally blonde Brasilians in my life!  True to the stereotype, everyone in the airport was classily dressed in chic jackets, pants, and scarves (it was cold, people!), and as I looked into pairs of blue, green, and hazely-brown eyes, I felt simultaneously accepted and wierdly out of place as my bright Bahian colors and tan skin betrayed my foreignness as there’s no coastline in São Paulo.  Seriously though, I had forgotten how white people could get.

Rafting down the river beneath the Falls of Iguaçu and yelling in Portuguese to Rebecca as we raced back and forth along the border with Argentina towards the thundering waterfalls, we were baptized yet again with new identities.  While our very presence at the tourist centers of the city gave us away as non-locals, the fact that we spoke Portuguese convinced everyone we met that we couldn’t possibly be American.  Most often we were mistaken for/assumed to be Brasilians on vacation in Foz do Iguaçu.  One woman from São Paulo actually thought we were joking when we would say an English word here and there, as it is comman for Brasilians to play around and throw in an English word in conversation.  She didn’t believe us at first when we said that that was really our first language.

Being thought Brasilian, instead of merely being present in a Brasilian space is a wonderful thing.  And the sense of belonging that results from this recognized inclusion is a wonderful feeling.  Acceptance creates security for your soul.

That is why, as I boarded the plane to Salvador, I was filled with apprehension at the thought of losing this welcome misinterpretation of my national identity based on the south-eastern and south-western Brasilians’ social reflection (or construction) of my phsycial appearance and linguistic ability.  I didn’t want to give up these precious sentiments of acceptance that I felt due to the false conclusions of others as a result of their own social and racial norms.

As I bounced along the bus from the airport in Salvador to my apartment in the city’s center, I felt–even more profoundly than before–my foreignness.  I realized for the first time that while I felt as if I was coming home, to the rest of the bus I was just another blonde, blue-eyed tourist.  I have lived here for the past 4 months, dogonnit!  But as I looked into the dark eyes of the man next to me and felt the curious glances of the old woman two rows back, I understood just how irrelevant 4 months can be when all people can see is your reflection in their mirror.

While I’d like to be dramatic and end my story there, I have experienced more hopeful angles that keep me anticipating greater complexities in the outward understandings of myself.

The day after I got back to Salvador, walking along Rua de Graça, I heard someone call, “Moça!”  I looked up, startled from my concentrated navigation of my feet along the broken sidewalk tiles.  To my pleasant surprise, a woman proceeded to ask me directions to Campo Grande.  What was even more exciting, however, was that I actually knew what that was, where that was, and how to tell her to get there!

You couldn’t have stretched a bigger smile across my cheeks as I skipped and tripped along those same old broken tiles, my eyes no longer on my feet, but lifted high above the ground, as I headed back home.

*Disclaimer: I’ve never actually been to Europe.

Sand, Sea, and Salvador

One of my favorite conversation questions with people I meet is: “Qual é sua praia preferida?”  Or “What is your favorite beach?”  I never knew that there were so many different types of beaches until I came to Salvador.  The diversity of shore that lines this peninsula is astounding.  What is particularly amusing to me, however, is the way in which Bahians talk about and classify the different sections of shoreline, when to me, it’s really all one big long beach.  But just as each bairro has its own unique characteristics, so the look and feel of each piece of praia changes according to its location on the peninsula and the neighborhood that’s settled beside it.

The farther north you go, the more room you have to breathe in the air and spread out your conga in the sand without laying in someone else’s shadow.  These beaches, like Praia do Flamengo, or Itapuã, are still a feasible day trip away and are the preference of many Bahians that I talk to, who dislike the crowded beaches in the bay, describing Porto da Barra as “sempre cheia das pessoas” as they wrinkle up their noses and flap their hands like talking mouths.  While my introverted soul rejoices at the more “tranquilo” atmosphere of the northern  beaches outside the bay, I loved vibrant community feel of Praia de Boa Viagem which still hugs the curve of the bay in Ribeira, where the less “chic” Brasilians live, work, play, where funky blasts from bayside barracas (thatch-roofed seafood stands) and where young (and old!) men do flips off the crumbling stone dock.

While I have learned that every praia is unique, some things seem characteristic to any beach in Brasil: there’s always a soccer game played by buff guys whose butts are squeezed into skin-tight speedos, a paddle board game played by old, pot-bellied guys whose butts are also squeezed into the same skin-tight speedos, congas in the sand, kites in the sky, and of course, the beach vendors that hawk everything from picolés (popsicles), to caipirinhas, chilled água de coco (a coconut with a straw), and freshly fried cheese on a stick.
The infamous Porto da Barra.  I took this photo early in the morning, so the beach is still fairly empty.  Usually you can hardly walk through all the beach umbrellas and people sprawled on the sand.

The infamous Porto da Barra. I took this photo early in the morning, so the beach is still fairly empty. Usually you can hardly walk through all the beach umbrellas and people sprawled on the sand.

The view from Porto da Barra includes Ilha da Itaparica in the distance speckled with red barges and brightly colored fishing boats that sit close to the shore.  I took this shot during an aguathlon (running and swimming) that my friend Rebecca did.

The view from Porto da Barra includes Ilha da Itaparica in the distance speckled with red barges and brightly colored fishing boats that sit close to the shore. I took this shot during an aguathlon (running and swimming) that my friend Rebecca did.

Porto da Barra is about a 20-minute walk from my house--the closest beach.

Porto da Barra is about a 20-minute walk from my house–the closest beach.

A sand sculptor recovering some of his work after a storm.

A sand sculptor recovering some of his work after a storm.

Praia do Itapuã is much farther north outside of the bay.  You take the orla bus, which is all shoreline view as you wind your way up the peninsula.

Praia do Itapuã is much farther north outside of the bay. You take the orla bus, which is all shoreline view as you wind your way up the peninsula.

To the right of us, the peninsula and the city

To the right of us,  closer to the city

To the left, endless ocean shoreline

To the left, endless ocean shoreline

Fishing boats in Itapuã

Fishing boats in Itapuã

Farol de Itapuã

Farol de Itapuã

More lighthouse views.  There was a man fishing off the rocks

More lighthouse views. There was a man fishing off the rocks.

Silly shadow pictures

Silly shadow pictures

The sun began to set and we knew it was time to get home.  While I love the beaches farther to the north, it is safest to leave around 4 and not wait around until evening comes.

The sun began to set and we knew it was time to get home. While I love the beaches farther to the north, it is safest to leave around 4 and not wait around until evening comes.

Black and white view of Salvador

Black and white view of Salvador

Amanda being Amanda

Amanda being Amanda

Eu te amo meu Brasil!

Eu te amo meu Brasil!

Praia do Flamengo is the farthest beach to the north that can still be a day trip.  After church one Sunday (which is in the same direction), my friend Rebecca and I got back on the bus for what seemed like forever, until I didn't even recognize Salvador anymore.  There were actually houses instead of high-rises!  And quaint little communities of condominiums by the shore.

Praia do Flamengo is the farthest beach to the north that can still be a day trip. After church one Sunday (which is in the same direction), my friend Rebecca and I got back on the bus for what seemed like forever, until I didn’t even recognize Salvador anymore. There were actually houses instead of high-rises! And quaint little communities of condominiums by the shore.

There were a lot of tables in some areas, where most people were sitting and enjoying fish, clams, beer, and little, speckled hard-boiled bird eggs that are popular to eat on the beach.

There were a lot of tables in some areas, where most people were sitting and enjoying fish, clams, beer, and little, speckled hard-boiled bird eggs that are popular to eat on the beach.

Conga and Havaianas in the sand

Conga and Havaianas in the sand

The waves were a lot more rough because we were far from the protection of the bay.

The waves were a lot more rough because we were far from the protection of the bay.

Kites

Kites

Soccer and empty coconuts on the beach.  Often there's some dog going crazy trying to tear the coconut apart.

Soccer and empty coconuts on the beach. Often there’s some dog going crazy trying to tear the coconut apart.

Cute little boys.  There were a lot of families at this beach.

Cute little boys. There were a lot of families at this beach.

Walking along the beach, following the ruts of the picolé cart

Walking along the beach, following the ruts of the picolé cart

Parabéns: Turning 21 in Brasil!

Wow, what a birthday week I’ve had!

On Monday, the day before my birthday, I decided to make brigadeiros for my students at Siloé, the Christian, non-governmental organization where I teach English classes with my friend Rebecca.  Determined to keep stirring until my arm fell off, I cooked the brigadeiros too long, and when I retreived them from the fridge, they were hard as a rock.  The classic sprinkles that usually adorn these doces were not going to stick.  Still I molded the stubborn substance into balls of taffy-texture, placing them in the regular mini-paper muffin cups.  After Aurea gave up after one attempt to take a bite, I fled to the store hours before my class to buy ready-made chocolate doce de leite to form into brigadeiros with sprinkles.

After the most rhythmic rendition of the happy birthday song in English, my students eagerly reached for what I claimed was “taffy de chocolate”, a typical American candy.  I explained that it works best if you suck on it for a while, and that it is very popular in the United States.  Much to my surprise, they loved them!  And even after I passed out the store-bought version, the taffy-like brigadeiros were clearly the preferred candy.  Rebecca, however, insisted that I tell them the truth, which I did, much to their amusement–but I assured them that taffy really was a thing in the United States!

On, Tuesday morning, September 10th, my actual day of birth, I made brigadeiros again for my American classmates in Portuguese class that afternoon, before running off to an early morning meeting with a Toni, my presentation partner in communication class.  Unfortunately, he didn’t show up, but at least I got hugs, kisses, and “parabéns” from my other student friends on campus.  Ironically, to stand someone up is called “dar bolo”, or to give cake, so I guess Toni “me deu bolo”, or gave me cake for my birthday. 🙂

After Portuguese class at UFBA, the Federal University, my friends surprised me with a miracle–a dark chocolate and maracuja ICE CREAM CAKE!!!  I didn’t even know ice-cream cake existed here.  It was Rebecca’s idea to help me celebrate with ice-cream, since I always say I’d choose that any day over cake.

On Saturday, Rebecca and I took the bus to Praia da Boa Viagem, which is in Cidade Baixa, and we met some of her African friends from Togo and Benin who are here learning Portuguese and in her class at the University.  Far away from the high-rise apartments in the center of the city, I loved the feel of the community, the music from the barracas on the beach, and the clear turquoise waters of the bay.  As I sat in the sand, I watched some boys as they flipped off of a stone dock, that edged out just far enough so that they landed in deeper water.  The clouds deceived me and I skimped on sunscreen, which is why in the following pictures my face looks like, as Aurea calls it, a “camarão”, or shrimp.

There were two little boys with the cutest smiles who enjoyed giving us a show of flips and cartwheels in the waves.

There were two little boys with the cutest smiles who enjoyed giving us a show of flips and cartwheels in the waves.

View of the peninsula of Salvador

View of the peninsula of Salvador

Saturday night, my host mom Aurea insisted that I invite everyone from the study abroad program to my house for a party.

A true Brazilian birthday party with both sweets and salgados.  Aurea's sister made the most delicious brigadeiros I've ever had and a huge cake.

A true Brazilian birthday party with both sweets and salgados. Aurea’s sister made the most delicious brigadeiros I’ve ever had and a huge cake.

Thanks Amanda for my first bottle of wine!

Thanks Amanda for my first bottle of wine! (And to my host mom Aurea for my dress!)

Rachel, Aurea, Me, and Amber.  Rachel made M&M cookies for me!  They were my first cookies in Brasil. :)

Rachel, Aurea, Me, and Amber. Rachel made M&M cookies for me! They were my first cookies in Brasil. 🙂

Rochelle, Rebecca, and Amanda

Rochelle, Rebecca, and Amanda

So at my party, I was telling a funny story in my usual animated way, and my host mom

Even my reticent host brother Junior and his girlfriend joined us for song and cake, and gave me a gift of delicious Brazilian chocolates!

Even my reticent host brother Junior and his girlfriend joined us for song and cake, and gave me a gift of delicious Brazilian chocolates!

walks in, saying “I see you’ve already starting drinking the wine!”  Everyone bursts out laughing, knowing that I hadn’t had even a drop of alcohol yet!

After one small sip of wine (and four of five brigadeiros), I was giddier than ever, as I was so excited to find a drink that I liked.  Everyone else said it tasted like grape juice, which is why it was so good. 🙂

Finally, Aurea turned out the lights and everyone started singing “Happy Birthday”, first in English, then Portuguese, which I thought was never going to end….and just when everyone stopped singing, my host mom Aurea began with some song of blessing, with Junior and his girlfriend joing in too.  At last, I took a deep breath and blew out the candle in the little plastic cup that my mom held beside the cake, so that no wax would drip on it.  With big bowls of pipoca (popcorn), we sat down and watched Aladdin on my friends laptop, with everyone narrating their own version of the story, as the volume was too low to hear anything other than the voice of Genie.

The lyrics to some of the Portuguese version is below:

Parabéns pra você
Nesta data querida
Muitas felicidades
Muitos anos de vida!

Chegou a hora de apagar a velinha
Vamos cantar aquela musiquinha
Parabéns pra você (clap 3 x’s fast during the “pra você” part)
Parabéns pra você (clap 3 x’s fast during the “pra você” part)
Pelo seu aniversário.

Que Deus lhe dê muita saúde e paz
E que os anjos digam amém
Parabéns pra você (clap 3 x’s fast during the “pra você” part)
Parabéns pra você (clap 3 x’s fast during the “pra você” part)
Pelo seu aniversário.

É pique! É pique! É pique, é pique, é pique!
(first two are slower, last three are fast, each with their own claps)
É hora! É hora! É hora, é hora, é hora!
(first two are slower, last three are fast, each with their own claps)
Rá-tim-bum! (slow, clap on each)
(Name of the birthday girl/boy) 3 times

Dois de Julho

While the rest of Brazil celebrates independence on September 7th, here in Salvador, Bahians take the streets on “dois de Julho” (July 2nd), when after several battles the province finally expelled the Portuguese, several months ahead of Emperor Pedro the First’s official declaration of independence.

Along with the rest of city, we headed to Pelourinho, the historic heart of Salvador, where the major independence day parade takes place.  The parade occurred in several acts, as each part was punctuated by breaks during which the onlookers, which had previously separated to the sides, flooded the steep narrow-bricked streets to buy the flags, cotton candy, ice-cream, and sweet coconut-lime juice which is basically ambrosia in a plastic cup.

However, after several spurts of marching bands, the parade commenced in full force and everyone joined in, spectators marching alongside feathered natives and uniformed bands, a jumbled mixture framed by the tawny uniforms of the police, who separated the celebration from the few of us still observing the spectacle, perched on the outside edge.  Even so, the Brazilians in our group urged us to move our hips along to the beats of the parade, blurring further whatever divide there was between the dancers in the streets and the spectators on the sides.

View of the old Medical School Building (1808) from our parade spot.

View of the old Medical School Building (1808) from our parade spot.

Many of the decorations were actually remnants of the Festival of São João that happened days before we arrived in June.

Many of the decorations were actually remnants of the Festival of São João that happened days before we arrived in June.

Fighters of independence

Fighters of independence

One of many marching bands

One of many marching bands

The vendors here never cease to amaze

The vendors here never cease to amaze

CIEE staff and student monitors! (From left: Jacob,  Nataniel, Flavia, Luize, Rebeca, Renaldo, Mariel)

CIEE staff and student monitors! (From left: Jacob, Nataniel, Flavia, Luize, Rebeca, Renaldo, Mariel)

Polícia

Polícia

Another band

Another band

I have no idea what this guy is doing with a cow's head...

I have no idea what this guy is doing with a cow’s head…

On duty

On duty

All-female drumming group

All-female drumming group

The hat makes the outfit

The hat makes the outfit

Some of the participants in the parade were dressed as actors in the story of independence as Portuguese soldiers, slaves, and indigenous Brazilians.

Some of the participants in the parade were dressed as actors in the story of independence as Portuguese soldiers, slaves, and indigenous Brazilians.

A float representing the characters involved in independence.  On top of the float is the indigenous, Brazilian, European racially-mixed figure of the Caboclo, which symbolizes Independence.

A float representing the characters involved in independence. On top of the float is the indigenous, Brazilian, European racially-mixed figure of the Caboclo, which symbolizes Independence.

Even Jesus made an appearance in the parade

Even Jesus made an appearance in the parade

Demonstrators

The parade was much more political than any other I’ve seen, most likely due to the recent “maniftestações”, or protests, that have been occurring throughout Brazil’s major cities, including Salvador, over the high cost of transportation and the politicians’ precedence of World Cup 2014 above the problems of the people.  Certainly President Dilma Rousseff’s inattentiveness doesn’t help the situation.

"To fight is not a crime.  Liberate our prisoners."

“To fight is not a crime. Liberate our prisoners.”

Lining the streets...

Lining the streets…

Protestors: "There does not exist a cure for what is not sickness."

“There does not exist a cure for what is not sickness.”  At several different points, I was crushed against the wall as packs of protestors passionately chanted slogans.  And yet, the atmosphere was still jovial as the people watching cheered on those demonstrating, and the entire procession remained peaceful.

Spectators, such as Luize, even grabbed demonstrates signs to pose for pictures in support of their cause: "I also want a better Brasil."

Spectators, such as Luize, even grabbed demonstrates signs to pose for pictures in support of their cause: “I also want a better Brasil.”

Big eyes

Big eyes

As with any celebration in Bahia, the festivities concluded with everyone clearing the streets, headed to the nearest restaurant to memorialize the day with beer, moqueca (fish and vegetable stew), and, of course, a feast of feijão (comida típica da Bahia).  Que gostozo!

Into the Interior: Chapada Diamantina

Contrary to what any map might tell you, the state of Bahia is made up of two parts: the city of Salvador and the “Interior”.  After asking countless cab drivers, college friends, and professors about the origin of their birthplace, I have learned that if you are not from the city of Salvador, then you are from the other “half” of Bahia–the interior.  It doesn’t matter if it’s thirty minutes or three hours from Salvador, everything outside the bustling bounds of Salvador’s metropolis is classified as the “interior”.  If you press for details, then you will hear the names of little towns called “Senhor do Bonfim”, “Santo António de Jesus”, and “Euclides da Cunha” (also the name of a street by my house).  But as most people start and finish their pre-city existence with the one-word answer “interior”, my interest was piqued to discover what really composed the rest of Brazil’s fifth largest state, comparable in size to the country of Kenya.  Thanks to CIEE, my “intercambio” program here, I spent a weekend in Chapada Diamantina, six hours into the interior of Bahia.

“Chapada” refers to the steep cliffs that edge the multitude of plateaus whose wild beauty is what make’s the park’s topography so stunning.  “Diamantina” tells the story of the discovery of diamonds in the hills during the mid-nineteenth century, and the mining legacy that followed.  Created in 1985, I got to meet the man who helped the area receive national park status, which sparked the ecotourism that completely transformed the sleepy town of Lençois, and continues to drive their economy today.  While their fathers were burning down trees and burrowing caves into the cliff-sides in search of diamonds, young men and women learned to care for and protect the creation in the park, becoming guides for hiking to the waterfalls, snorkling in the natural pools, and climbing down into forgotten caves filled with stalactites and stalagmites.  As visitors oooh-ed and ahhh-ed at the breathtaking nature, the chests of locals puffed out a little more, and they walked a little taller down their dirt roads, as they began to see new treasures in the hills surrounding their old town.

Lençois was like stepping back in time, with narrow dirt roads that wound down the hills to the cluster of painted houses in the heart of the little town.  Apart from signs for internet cafes peeking out of doorways, you could catch glimpses of the mining era, a century-and-a-half ago.  Locals claim that there is never any crime, and even at eleven o’clock at night, little children were still darting between the candle-lit tables of late-night diners in the streets.

Unfortunately, I couldn't see much of the interior on the way, as we had to travel at night for safety reasons due to much traffic on the roads during the day

Unfortunately, I couldn’t see much of the interior on the way, as we had to travel at night for safety reasons due to much traffic on the roads during the day

Arriving in Lençois at sunrise

Arriving in Lençois at sunrise

Lençois

Lençois

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Exploring the town

Hiking to Riberão do Meio, a natural rockslide and pool

Hiking to Riberão do Meio, a natural rockslide and pool

I went down the slide twice--it was so fast!

I went down the slide twice–it was so fast!

The water was full of iron and very orange

The water was full of iron and very orange

Squeezing juice out of sugar cane.  The juice was literally sugar in a cup.

Squeezing juice out of sugar cane. The juice was literally sugar in a cup.

Hens and chicks (for Dad)

Hens and chicks (for Dad)

Red dirt

Red dirt

The galera at Rio Mucugezinho

The galera at Rio Mucugezinho

More iron water

More iron water

Poço do Diabo

Poço do Diabo

The cachoiera (waterfall) at Poço do Diabo.  I had fun watching people land in the water at the end of the zip line.

The cachoiera (waterfall) at Poço do Diabo. I had fun watching people land in the water at the end of the zip line.

A cahoiera

A cahoiera

A pretty blue libélula

A pretty blue libélula

The middle child standing exactly in the middle of Bahia!

The middle child standing exactly in the middle of Bahia!

cheesing

cheesing

About to hike Morro do Pai Inácio

About to hike Morro do Pai Inácio

Climbing Morro do Pai Inácio

Climbing Morro do Pai Inácio

The galera reppin Brasil on top of Morro do Pai Inácio

The galera reppin Brasil on top of Morro do Pai Inácio

Views from top of Morro do Pai Inácio

Views from top of Morro do Pai Inácio

More views

More views

Being still

Being still

Gruta Azul: The water in this cave is actually clear, but appears turquoise when the light hits it during a narrow sliver of the afternoon, reacting with the calcium in the sand

Gruta Azul: The water in this cave is actually clear, but appears turquoise when the light hits it during a narrow sliver of the afternoon, reacting with the calcium in the sand

Some vacas

Some vacas

The mouth of the cave "Gruta da Fumaça"

The mouth of the cave “Gruta da Fumaça”

The cave was huge, filled with stalactites and stalagmites

The cave was huge, filled with stalactites and stalagmites

The cieling

The cieling

I think the funniest part was hearing the guide pronounce "stalacteechees" and "stalagmeechees" in Portuguese

I think the funniest part was hearing the guide pronounce “stalacteechees” and “stalagmeechees” in Portuguese

Formations

Formations

Lydia, the cave dweller

Lydia, the cave dweller

Four brave adventurers in a jeep, ready to hike to Cachoeira da Fumaça!

Four brave adventurers in a jeep, ready to hike to Cachoeira da Fumaça!

View of the valley and the town we hiked from

View of the valley and the town we hiked from

Views from the hike

Views from the hike

The canyon of Cahoiera da Fumaça

The canyon of Cahoiera da Fumaça

You can't see me trembling, but the guide's hand on my ankle was all the security I had

You can’t see me trembling, but the guide’s hand on my ankle was all the security I had

Cachoiera da Fumaça, the highest waterfall in Brasil

Cachoiera da Fumaça, the highest waterfall in Brasil

Overlooking the canyon

Overlooking the canyon

A little lagarto that I found

A little lagarto that I found

The waterfall is so high up, that the water evaporates on the way down the canyon

The waterfall is so high up, that the water evaporates on the way down the canyon

Views on the way back down

Views on the way back down

The rocky plateaus that give Chapada its name

The rocky plateaus that give Chapada its name

After surviving the 6-hour hike, where we literally bounded like mountain goats up the rocks of a dry riverbed, we went to a natural pool to cool down.

After surviving the 6-hour hike, where we literally bounded like mountain goats up the rocks of a dry riverbed, we went to a natural pool to cool down.

The coldest pool in which I've ever swam, high in the mountains of Brasil

The coldest pool in which I’ve ever swam, high in the mountains of Brasil

Showering in the waterfall

Showering in the waterfall

This place was my favorite from the whole trip

This place was my favorite from the whole trip

Infinity pool...

Infinity pool…

Chapada Diamantina completely changed my concept of Brasil’s topography, with was previously composed entirely of stereotypical images of beaches and rainforest.  These rocky mountainsides, lonely plateaus, and the dry landscape (think Arizona in the tropics) interspersed with glorious waterfalls splashing into natural pools forever opened up my mind to the vast diversity that is Brasil.  Now I am back living in the salt-water, sea-side city of Salvador, but I definitely want to return one day to the agua doce (fresh water) pools and waterfalls that are the true diamonds of Chapada Diamantina.

Praia do Forte: A Piece of Paradise

The first weekend trip I made here in Salvador da Bahia was to Praia do Forte, about a 2-hour van-ride north of the city.  After the crowded beaches of Salvador, the long, white sandy strips with only little pockets of people seemed glorious.  While the town was overtly touristy, with the main street packed with pricey souvenir shops and expensive cuisine, the little painted houses lining the side streets and back alleyways reminded me of my experience last summer in Nicaragua.  Unlike in the big city of Salvador, little children ran around unsupervised after dark, and I felt entirely free from danger strolling the beach alone with camera in hand.  The safety of a small town was truly a welcome relief for my mind, which after one week was already exhausted from all the adjustments and the constant awareness that is already second-nature to urban Brazilians.

Castelo Garcia D'Avila, the only feudal castle in the Americas, built between 1551 and 1624.  The property controlled by Garcia D'Avila was once the size of one tenth of Brazil's current territory.

Castelo Garcia D’Avila, the only feudal castle in the Americas, built between 1551 and 1624. The property controlled by Garcia D’Avila was once the size of one tenth of Brazil’s current territory.

The chapel attached to the castle

The chapel attached to the castle

Inside the castle

Inside the castle

A window into paradise

A window into paradise

The Galera! Front row: Amanda, Aide, Jennifer, Chanel, Tori Second row: Amber, Erika, Stephanie, Annie, Marissa, Eric, Me, Rochelle, Brandon Third row: Antonio, Cristobal, Rebecca, Jacob, Chris, Jordan, Xhyl, Luize Back row: Ryan, Kelly Max, Eric Fischer, Nick

The Galera!
Front row: Amanda, Aide, Jennifer, Chanel, Tori
Second row: Amber, Erika, Stephanie, Annie, Marissa, Eric, Me, Rochelle, Brandon
Third row: Antonio, Cristobal, Rebecca, Jacob, Chris, Jordan, Xhyl, Luize
Back row: Ryan, Kelly Max, Eric Fischer, Nick

Big, old, Banyan-like tree. The roots were crazy!

Big, old, Banyan-like tree. The roots were crazy!

The cutest little macaco

The cutest little macaco

Jacob, director of CIEE in Bahia, Mariel, an awesome student monitor, and Luize, CIEE staff and the most amazing person ever!

Jacob, director of CIEE in Bahia, Mariel, an awesome student monitor, and Luize, CIEE staff and the most amazing person ever!

Massah Brodah!  We met a poet, and while I couldn't understand the words, I appreciated the rhyme.

Massah Brodah! We met a poet, and while I couldn’t understand the words, I appreciated the rhyme.

A Praia

A Praia

Paradise in a picture

Paradise in a picture

Peace and palm trees

Peace and palm trees

Lots of fishing boats to keep up with the delicious sea food offered here

Lots of fishing boats to keep up with the delicious sea food offered here

Projeto Tamar, which researches and rescues sea turtles

Projeto Tamar, which researches and rescues sea turtles

Another turtle

Another turtle

One of the stingrays finally paused for a picture

One of the stingrays finally paused for a picture

At Projeto Tamar, I held the most slimy and disgusting sea slug thing!!

At Projeto Tamar, I held the most slimy and disgusting sea slug thing!!

The size of a Leatherback Sea Turtle...he's got a couple inches on me...

The size of a Leatherback Sea Turtle…he’s got a couple inches on me…

Wale skeleton at Projeto Baleia Jubarte (Humpback Wale)

Wale skeleton at Projeto Baleia Jubarte (Humpback Wale)

Rebecca and the wale

Rebecca and the wale

Sunset behind the palms

Sunset behind the palms

Night-life at the infamous Bar do Souza (first row: Brandon, Me, Rebeca, Annie, Jennifer, second row: Mariel, Eric, Amanda, Cristobal)

Night-life at the infamous Bar do Souza (first row: Brandon, Me, Rebeca, Annie, Jennifer, second row: Mariel, Eric, Amanda, Cristobal)

Cool palm tree in the middle of the street

Cool palm tree in the middle of the street

The town was so children-friendly.  We ran into a capoeira group that included children!

The town was so children-friendly. We ran into a capoeira group that included children!

Piscinas Naturais: We got up early in the morning to explore the natural pools that form amidst the reef at low tide

Piscinas Naturais: We got up early in the morning to explore the natural pools that form amidst the reef at low tide

There were beautifully bright blue-and-yellow fish in the natural pools as well as spotted eels!

There were beautifully bright blue-and-yellow fish in the natural pools as well as spotted eels!

There were these crabs everywhere and also millions of little hermit crabs inside every shell clinging to the reef

There were these crabs everywhere and also millions of little hermit crabs inside every shell clinging to the reef

I sat down in one of the pools and promptly popped up again howling after getting poked by one of these sea urchins.

I sat down in one of the pools and promptly popped up again, howling after getting poked by one of these sea urchins.

Part of a landscape shot I took--unfortunately I can't upload the whole horizon in this format

Part of a landscape shot I took–unfortunately I can’t upload the whole horizon in this format

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Walk along the beach

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Surfers start young in bahia

Adventure to Praia do Imbassaí

Adventure to Praia do Imbassaí

We took a riverboat to the beach at Imbassaí

We took a riverboat to the beach at Imbassaí

There were restaurants lining the river by the beach, where people literally sat at tables in the water munching on fresh shrimp and fish.

There were restaurants lining the river by the beach, where people literally sat at tables in the water munching on fresh shrimp and fish.

Ocean at Imbassaí

Ocean at Imbassaí

To the left were restaurants on the water, to the right was endless beach

To the left were restaurants on the water, to the right was endless beach

Eating lunch by the sea, sheltered from the storm (Rebecca and Eric)

Eating lunch by the sea, sheltered from the storm (Rebecca and Eric)

I was duly impressed...

I was duly impressed…

I was captivated by this little Sandpiper girl

I was captivated by this little Sandpiper girl

Bright hibiscus flowers everywhere

Bright hibiscus flowers everywhere

I came back from the trip with my head full with wonder, my heart full of praise, and my skin full of sun!  I only wish my camera could have better captured the beauty of it all.  If you’re interested in finding out more about the places and the projects I visited, check their websites out here: Praia do Forte, Castelo Garcia D’Avila, Projeto Tamar, Projeto Baleia Jubarte, Praia do Imbassaí.

Street Life in Salvador

Journal entry: (02-07-13) One month ago…

“I feel very overstimulated right now.  Even just existing here in Salvador is overstimulating.  As I walked back home from Suco 24h (heaven is a bowl of açai at any hour), I couldn’t even pray or think.  It was all I could do to just be aware of my surroundings, as I was walking alone, and just take it all in.  Salvador is a big city.  A huge city.  Think New York City, but Latin American-style.  But there are all apartments instead of houses, mountains of favelas in place of ghettos, and Dr. Seuss trees with vines reaching down toward winding highways.  Long-tailed, whiskered monkeys are the squirrels of Salvador.”  

I’m used to Detroit, where the streets are straight, the corners are sharp, and the biggest hill is the gentle incline of the highway ramp.  A map of Salvador, on the other hand, consists of a series of loops, where one winds the ondulating layout of the city by way of nearly ninety-degree-angled “ladeiras”, or steep roads, that link like ladders “Cidade Alta” and “Cidade Baixa” and the jumble of favelas in between.

When asking for directions, instead of hearing responses such as “take a left, then a right, and then another left”, the answer almost every time to any destination is simply “direto”, or “straight”.  You can only fully appreciate the irony of this word in Salvador after you have followed the bending road “direto”, and eventually, around several twists later, found yourself precisely at your desired destination.  Then you will know that in Salvador, no matter how many highways and by-ways there may be, choose almost any road, and it will be a “direto” route to your home.

(This post inspired another blog post in Portuguese for my class at the university.  Check it out here.)

Scaling the steep, stone-strewn streets of Pelourinho, the historical heart of Salvador

Scaling the steep, stone-strewn streets of Pelourinho, the historical heart of Salvador