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.

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

Vida na Ilha–Sem “Estresse”

After a busy first few weeks orienting ourselves with the summer intensive program part of our study abroad experience, we were given a weekend to explore on our own.  And so began my adventure with Rebecca and Ryan to the island of Itaparica, which lies in the Bahia de Todos os Santos, directly across from Salvador.  After one turnaround, two bus rides, and twenty questions later, we arrived at last at the “fehee boachee” that would take us across the bay to the Ilha.  The breeze, the bay, and the boats were glorious; and as I drank in the view, the other passengers lounged in their cars or on top of their motorcycles, eating snacks and drinking from the bright-yellow cans of beer that are ever-present to celebrate any and every occasion.

When we got to the island, however, and scanned the bleaching boats splayed on the deserted beach in front of the darkened windows of little painted houses, we realized that we had no idea where we were going or what exactly we were going to do there.  After the bustle of the disembarking crowd dispersed, our uncertainty was quickly seized upon by a multitude of van drivers, or motoristas, pitching the prices of their various destinations.  Then one taxi driver appeared and wouldn’t leave our sides as we raced through the gauntlet of hungry hawkers, until we finally stopped, allowing him to flash his certificate as an “official tour guide of the island” and to give us a price much lower than those that we had been hearing.  As we re-traced our steps on our way to his car, we had the pleasure of proclaiming our procured price to our previous prospects, who widened their eyes in disbelief, and then shrugged and laughed once they saw our driver, putting their arms around him and saying that he was truly of “gente boa”, or good people.

After traipsing over the speed bumps in the little dirt-road port town, we were soon whizzing by the luscious green foliage of the interior of the island.  Although the plan was to take us straight to the historic town of Itaparica on the top tip of the island, our guide pulled over to the side of the road in the middle of the forest, beside a crop of small of buildings.  Initially the most hesitant to go with this guy, at that point, I was sure we were being kidnapped.  After pointing out the first group of houses as the compound of a historic terreiro, or house of Candomblé, on the island, our guide told us to get out of the car because he wanted us to see the pousada, or hostel, of his friends.  Oh boy.  As Ryan awkwardly engaged in small-talk with the owners, a Dutch man, who recently inherited unexpected money and so opened this pousada, and his Brazilian wife, I wandered around taking pictures, while Rebecca carefully watched our guide as he grabbed two coconuts, hacking off the tops and handing them to us with straws, to see if he put anything else in the fresh, sweet água de coco.

Thankfully, the other van drivers were right about our guide being gente boa, and after we made on more stop to drop off a credit card at his sister’s house, we eventually made it to the little old town of Itaparica, whose painted buildings reminded me of Pelourinho, the famously historic bairro of Salvador.  The entire experience was perfect proof of the kind of island-living, “sem estresse”, or without the stress of the big city, that our guide constantly professed to be the greatest attraction of Itaparica.  Ironically, however, the stress-free living of our guide added more than a little stress to ours, unused as we were to the laid-back lifestyle of “vida na Ilha”.  

Embarking on our adventure to the Ilha da Itaparica, the largest maritime island in Brasil.

Embarking on our adventure to the Ilha da Itaparica, the largest maritime island in Brasil.

The best part of the ferry ride was seeing all the fishing barges in the bay.

The best part of the ferry ride was seeing all the fishing barges in the bay.

There are lots of little boats as well in the bay, fishing for sport.

There are lots of little boats as well in the bay, fishing for sport.

The barges reminded me of the ones that pass by on the Detroit river between the Great Lakes in Michigan.

The barges reminded me of the ones that pass by on the Detroit river between the Great Lakes in Michigan.

Views of the peninsula

Views of the peninsula

Beautiful blue bay

Beautiful blue bay

A Ilha! The entire ferry ride there took about an hour.

A Ilha! The entire ferry ride there took about an hour.

The island was much poorer than Salvador and much simpler.

The island was much poorer than Salvador and much simpler.

Salvador's skyline, viewed from Itaparica

Salvador’s skyline, viewed from Itaparica

Arriving in the dock!  Literally everyone crowded down from the upper levels of the ferry, ready to disembark.

Arriving in the dock! Literally everyone crowded down from the upper levels of the ferry, ready to disembark.

The vegetation in the interior of the island was luscious and green--a welcome break from the high-rise apartments of the city.

The vegetation in the interior of the island was luscious and green–a welcome break from the high-rise apartments of the city.

A terreiro (house of Candomblé) as viewed from a pousada that we stopped at because the taxi driver wanted to visit some friends of his....

A terreiro (house of Candomblé) as viewed from a pousada that we stopped at because the taxi driver wanted to visit some friends of his….

The historic town of Itaparica, with buildings dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries.

The historic town of Itaparica, with buildings dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries.

The streets were mostly deserted; apparently, 80% of the houses on the island are vacation homes, frequented in the summer months.

The streets were mostly deserted; apparently, 80% of the houses on the island are vacation homes, frequented in the summer months.

Igreja de São Lorenço, built in 1610.

Igreja de São Lorenço, built in 1610.

Another church that looked old and historic

Another church that looked old and historic

Forte de São Lorenço, dating back to 1711, was built on the remains on the original fort, constructed in 1631, which was occupied by the Dutch invasion and used to withstand Portuguese forces.

Forte de São Lorenço, dating back to 1711, was built on the remains on the original fort, constructed in 1631, which was occupied by the Dutch invasion and used to withstand Portuguese forces.

Praia Ponta da Areia

Praia Ponta da Areia

There were more raindrops than people sprinkling the beach.

There were more raindrops than people sprinkling the beach.

My wonderful amiga, Rebecca!

My wonderful amiga, Rebecca!

Camera fun

Camera fun

Rainy streets

Rainy streets

Of course there were vacas in the street....reminded me of my last summer spent in Nicaragua.

Of course there were vacas in the street….reminded me of my last summer spent in Nicaragua.

On the way back, we took a "lancha" instead of the big ferry, which was a smaller boat that clipped across the waves still rolling from the storm--a Salvador-style rollercoaster

On the way back, we took a “lancha” instead of the big ferry, which was a smaller boat that clipped across the waves still rolling from the storm–a Salvador-style rollercoaster

Leaving the island from Porto do Bom Despacho.

Leaving the island from Porto do Bom Despacho.

After the storm

After the storm

Rainbow arching over Salvador's skyline

Rainbow arching over Salvador’s skyline

The best way to display a promise

The best way to display a promise

On the way back home, when I clambered over several people to poke my camera out the other side of the boat, I almost cried as I saw the most beautiful rainbow arching across the city skyline, settling at last in the water.  It was a reminder that God is faithful, and just as He was with us that day, He would be with us on the many more adventures that are to come.

“Have I not commanded you?  Be strong and courageous.  Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”  (Joshua 1:9)

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.