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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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)

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.