Sunday, April 17, 2005

SAS Email 9 - Brazil

Hey everyone,
Greetings from the Atlantic Ocean, it's nice to finally be back on
this side of the world. First off I want to send out a belated happy
bday to my long-time friend and future legal representation, Harrison
Whitman… And to those of you who've written me in the past week or so
(you know who you are), thank you so much for keeping me updated on
your lives, you have no idea how nice it is to hear from those of you
back home that I've missed… We're now only a few days from Venezuela,
and 9 days from returning home to Florida. Today is our "study day"
before the next two days of finals, so the answer is yes to all of you
that ask if I have classes. I just figured most of you would be more
interested in my in-port experiences than the lectures I attend,
although some of them have been really great… But I digress, now onto

There's a unique vibrancy to the nation of Brazil that's unexplainable
to those who haven't been there but incredibly palpable as soon as you
touch Brazilian soil. The culture and people are just so rich with
life, and it's a truly contagious feeling. We docked in the city of
Salvador, which is a pretty diverse place of development and lack
thereof. The first morning I walked around the Pelhourino area, which
is the more traditional, older part of the city. Imagine cobblestone
streets, small cafes, great little restaurants, art shops everywhere,
a few street vendors selling handmade crafts… I felt like I was in
Spain somewhat. Crime is a pretty big problem in most of Brazil (a
friend of mine had his camera stolen out of his hand within 30 mins of
getting off the boat) but I was fortunate that I never encountered any
of it. So I walked around with a few friends, through this great
market called the Mercado Martel, saw some Capoiera (the sweet martial
arts fight-dance of Brazil), ate a great lunch, and did some solid
shopping. The prices are relatively cheap in Brazil, but not quite
like Vietnam, China or India… after that morning spent taking in
Salvador, we went to the game.

We were so lucky in our timing, because the morning we arrived there
was a huge soccer game between the state of Bahia (where we were) and
Vitoria, two of the top teams. A bunch of us paid this tour company
$15 for a ticket, transportation and a beer. At the game, beers were
75 cents each… a real stretch from the $6.50 at MSG or Fenway. So
needless to say, we got pretty liquored up, and made our way into the
heart of the craziest Bahia section we could find… I have some videos
of it that I'll show people when I get back, but let's just say it was
bananas. The first half had no scoring but I still had so much fun.
The second half though, we (Bahia) scored first and it was absolute
madness… Our section was going crazy, drums playing, shirts swinging
over our heads, everyone jumping, chanting, singing, it was just
awesome. Vitoria struck back though, but soon after that we scored a
sick goal that led to the biggest eruption I've ever witnessed at a
sporting event. These guys around me seemed happier than they'd ever
been in their lives… I swear some of them woulda given up their first
born for a Bahia goal. Unfortunately, Vitoria scored in the final two
minutes of the game and it ended in a tie, so the Bahia fans weren't
too happy with the conclusion, but the game as a whole was one of the
true highlights of my trip… A Brazilian soccer game was one thing I
didn't think I'd get to experience, but sometimes things just work out
in your favor.

The rest of the night was spent having a great time in Salvador,
crashing at the Hotel Ibis, and the next morning I did some more
shopping and chilling. I ate a great meal at this beachfront café,
and watched the sunset on the sandy beach be low. The view was
slightly obscured by the two 50 year-old guys in speedos who decided
it was time to do their callisthenic stretches and pushup sets. Just
try to picture this beautiful Brazilian sunset in front of you;
patched clouds with pink and white hues, sounds of Portuguese
conversations and samba music, a group of guys playing soccer-style
volleyball to your right (volleyball with no hands, only feet, chest,
head, etc), beautiful women in thongs to your left… and two hair dudes
in speedos doing hip swivels for fifteen minutes right in front of
you… Ahhhh, Brazil.

That night I jumped on a small tour at the last second to a Candomble
ceremony… Candomble is a religion only found in Brazil, it's similar
to the Santoria of Cuba… it's a hybrid of Nigerian animism (brought
over by the slaves to Brazil) and Catholicism (many missionaries were
sent to Brazil from Portugal and Spain)… The ceremony itself started
off pretty boring, as everyone there was wearing white (including our
small group of students) and we just watched these 20 women and one
man do simple dances to the intensely rhythmic drums while slowly
walking in a circle. After literally an hour of these small dances,
they took a break… I will admit the drumming was pretty intoxicating,
but I was hoping some men would come out and do some more exciting
dances or something… when the women and one man returned after a 10
minute break to do the same dances I was pretty disappointed, and then
after about 15 minutes of the dances, it happened. The guy got
possessed! He started shaking, convulsing, had to be held in place,
then his eyes closed and he started doing the dances but with this
incredible passion. And when one of the drums or bells would be
rattled he would stand erect and convulse in this eratic dance (think
a combination between Elaine from Seinfeld and Carlton from Fresh
Prince). It was really crazy, because his eyes were shut he almost
crashed into us seated around the main floor a few times, and then all
the sudden one of the elderly women (she was probably 75) became
possessed too! She started shaking also, her eyes shut, and she began
the dance as well. We all just sat there in awe, and then after 15
minutes of watching them dance, there was a stirring in the audience…
About half of the 40 people watching the ceremony were locals, and one
of the local woman got possessed too!!! Her head was down, her arms
shaking uncontrollably, and a few other local woman had to slowly
escort her out of the room. We left after about two hours, with my
mouth wide open in half shock, half awe. Unlike my roommate Jaret
(who told me he'd had the Holy Ghost enter his body and spoken in
tongues before), I'd never seen anything like it. My brother and I
sometimes watch BET on Sunday mornings for fun to watch the preachers
touch people's foreheads to make them go nuts, but seeing someone get
possessed in person and especially in a Candomble ceremony was
something that just blew me away… Some of the other students were
skeptics, and although my personal religions beliefs don't lead me to
believe there were orixas (Candomble spirits) actually entering their
bodies, I don't doubt that they entered a trance like state and that
they're physical reactions were geniune… The whole event just
reaffirmed my feelings about the incredible power of our mind, and how
our bodies are merely slaves to the incomprehensible powers of the
mind… After the ceremony I quickly packed a bag and headed to the bus
station with 10 friends to catch the 11:30pm bus ride to Lencois.

Okay, now I know in my last email I said that Capetown was my favorite
city in the world. But as any of that know me well know, I have a
small habit of referring to everything as the greatest, best,
favorite, etc. So, I have to make a small amendment to that statement
from the previous email. Lencois equals Capetown in my eyes, although
they couldn't be more different places. I've decided this is how I'd
put it: If I could live anywhere for a few years it would be
Capetown, but if someone told me I had just one month to spend
anywhere in the world it would hands down be Lencois… The six hour bus
ride there from Salvador was a great start to the trip, as it was a
perfectly clear night and the dark sky out the window was blanketed
with beautiful stars. With that omen, I knew Lencois would be
special… We arrived at 5:30am, and went immediately to a small hospeda
(Hospeda de Arvoles… basically a small hostel) where we napped for a
few hours… Lencois is a very small town in the heart of the interior
of Bahia (Northeast Brazil). There are only a few small main
cobblestone streets in the center of the town, basically no crime, and
the people are so great. They're all kind of like Brazilian hippies;
completely fun, kind, loving, all do capoeira, hike, rock climb, and
basically enjoy life… The entire town even has its own handshake too,
how sick is that!

So we got our guide Luan that morning, and she took us on a 9 hour
hike. We just set out walking from the center of town outwards to the
trails, and the hike consisted of really diverse terrain, beautiful
vistas, lots of lush green, waterfalls, huge boulders, stopping and
swimming in the river/pools, and a few stops to rock climb (as in
harnesses, clips, ropes… real rock climbing). It was a great day that
neither words nor pictures can really describe, and that night we had
a ridiculously good meal… In Brazil most dishes at restaurants are 2-3
people, so when I saw chicken parmesian (which I hadn't had all trip)
my eyes lit up. Luan told me to get a half order, and then when my
own full plate showed up with 4 chicken parms she bet me I couldn't
eat the whole thing (Mom you woulda def laughed at that one). So I
proceeded to eat all four chicken parms, had room on the side for some
steak after, and won a nice gift from Luan on the next day's hike.
After dinner though, we went to the small main street in town and
bar-hopped between the two tiny bars, drinking on the street and
listening to some great music. I had a few conversations with some
locals and other international travelers in
Spanish/Portuese/Spanglish, which was cool as hell. Around 1am almost
everyone had gone back to the hospeda, and there were 20 total people
left out on the street when this local guy began singing and playing
the penny whistle. He led us in clapping rhythms which he'd sing,
play and dance over… it was pretty funny but had such an authentic
feel to it… again just a really cool thing I was able to be a part of.

The next day's hike was really tough. It took about 10 hours, and
consisted of some incredible waterfalls, rainbows, natural pools,
boulders, trails, jungle-feel, etc. The first long leg ended in this
huge waterfall, which is supposedly the biggest in all of Bahia. We
did some cliff-diving too, and I had a really cool meditation with two
friends on this small rock ledge about 50 ft up directly across from
the waterfall. We tanned on the rocks, ate lunch, and headed back.
After the hike all the way back we continued on to the natural rock
slides… The one slide we went to had a few places to cliff dive, where
of course we jumped off. The rock slide itself was this natural slope
with fast-flowing water over a rock formation. We would walk up the
side of the rocks until we were about 100 ft up, edge our way onto the
middle of the rock slide, sit down, and go for the 100 ft ride that
ended in the pool below. A few people bruised up their butts, but all
in all it was incredibly fun. After an hour or so on the rock slides,
we headed back, had a nice meal at a streetside café, and then took
the 11:30pm bus back… Luan and her boss offered me a job to return and
become a guide, which I doubt I'll take at but I know I'll definitely
be returning to Lencois at some point for a longer period of time.
They have this one 5 day hike where you sleep in caves every night,
and one cave is inside a waterfall! So if any of you are in Brazil,
definitely make your way to Lencois 

The final day was spent doing more shopping and touring of Salvador
and the Pelhourino area. I got two cool paintings, and walked alone
through three museums briefly (Museu Udo Knoff, Museo Eugenio Texeira
Leal, and the Afro-Brazilian museum). After one final delicious meal,
we headed back to the ship. I can honestly say I would have loved to
have spent another 2-3 weeks in Brazil, and if you're spending time in
South America you should make it a top priority to see Brazil… the
vibe there is just unreal.

Brazilian Observations:
- Brazil imported 3.5 million slaves during the slave trade era,
that's 7 times as many as the USA… so the people of Brazil have a
strong African heritage, influence, and look.
- There's all this hoopla about the women of Brazil and how gorgeous
they are… its not true… they're actually even hotter than people say.
- This was the country where language was actually the biggest
barrier. Everywhere else English was spoken by many, but here it was
all Portuguese and some Spanish… thankfully some of Senorita Sbrizzi's
lessons came back to me.
- Brazilian women are, in the words of Pat Powers, "fireballs"
- Men in Brazil don't really find it necessary to wear shirts in
public or on the streets… and they're tan and many have longer dark
hair… I swear I thought I saw Jesus jaywalking three or four times.
- According to my friends who went to Rio, it's like "Manhattan on steroids."
- They love the samba in Brazil, and the inability of white Americans
to do the samba is probably why they love it so much.
- I hate to say the same thing multiple times and be redundant and
repetitive, but Brazil has pretty women

Finally, my time spent in Lencois involved a lot of personal
reflection. When you're on a 9 or 10 hour hike, you can't help but
collect your thoughts as you walk the trails. Obviously this happened
to me, but as I was rummaging through my various thoughts on the
second day's hike I realized I was staring down the whole time. I was
looking at my feet, rarely up at the trail. Part of that comes from
my paranoia about further damaging my ankle, but most of it is just
the natural reaction to hiking. That realization got me thinking
about the concept of hiking on a trail, and how analogous it was to
walking the steps of life… I was missing the views around me because I
was so concerned with planting my foot on solid ground. Maybe I
needed to look ahead of me instead, enjoy the surroundings, and trust
my feet to guide me to safe footings. That concept in itself I could
write about for pages, but then I also started thinking further… Many
people explain their personal ideas about fate by equating life to a
trail with roadblocks, forks, obstacles, etc. "We are walking on the
path of life". "I'm on the path to enlightenment" and "There are many
paths to choose from…" are all common phrases when describing not a
hike but life as a whole. So that led me to start considering the
fact that thousands of people had probably done the same hike that I
was on at that very moment. They had walked the same grounds, sought
the same destination, but no single person had taken the same exact
route as I had. And if they had taken the same route, maybe it was
the very step I was taking at that instant that was separating my
route from theirs… So every single step, no matter how small or large,
could be the one distinguishing step that defined the rest of my hike…
And on the hike we found moments of beauty in the rainbows, moments of
fatigue when we thought we couldn't take another step, moments of
solitude, reflection, social engagement, laughter, elation, boredom,
and frustration, but each of them could have been determined by any
one of my earlier steps. No single step was any more important than
any other, just like how each of life's moments is no more important
than any other. They are all so interconnected that no one can happen
without the others… We only look at the bright light bulb that's
illuminated, but equally as important are the thousands of tiny wires
leading the electricity to that light.

Then at one point we came to a river crossing, where we had to walk
through the water on wet stones. It was pretty hairy, but in order to
cross we took off our shoes and socks… To make sure I wouldn't slip, I
needed to grip and feel the rocks with my toes. When the river got
deeper, we removed our backpacks and shirts… So when we came to a
major obstacle, when the path was no longer clear and uncertainty
permeated the air, we changed our current state by removing the
excess… we let go of the physical materials we thought we held dear,
and were stripped to the bare essence of our bodies… it was so
blatantly symbolic that when we faced that obstacle, we let go of what
we thought we held dear and only relied on our true selves… At the
end of the long hike there was the huge majestic waterfall, a reward
well worth the hike. But then it dawned on me that it wasn't the
waterfall that made the hike special… if I had stepped outside my
front door to see this waterfall, it wouldn't have been such a great
experience. It was the hours of hiking that was the true treat… like
my mom told me before I came on this trip, "Life is not about reaching
the destination, it's about experiencing the journey." I don't think
she could have been any more correct.

And for my final piece of advice: To alleviate suffocation, breathe normally.

We arrive in Venezuela tomorrow, and then I'm back in the states at
the start of May… I can't wait to see you all.

Be safe and stay classy,

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