A Travellerspoint blog

Update

FORTALEZA, CEARÁ

semi-overcast 29 °C

It has been a while since I last posted. I have travelled nearly 1,000 km since I last wrote, that is the reason! Hopefully I will get around to updating the blog tonight or tomorrow.

Posted by Alex-H 13:46 Archived in Brazil Tagged postcards Comments (0)

Feliz Natal

OLINDA, PERNAMBUCO

sunny 31 °C
View Brasil 06/07 on Alex-H's travel map.

Well, it is time for me to say Feliz Natal to everybody who has been reading this blog for the past month and a half!

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Olinda, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is where I will be spending Christmas.

I arrived in Olinda at six o' clock yesterday evening, and suddenly realised it was Saturday... and that today was Sunday, and that all the shops would be closed! So I had two hours to get everything for my Christmas dinner before the local supermarket closed!
I am staying in the Albergue de Olinda, in an old colonial building near the historic centre of Olinda, a small city just north of Recife, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Christmas day I will be making pancakes! Cheap and cheerful. With lime and sugar. (They were a big success in Salvador.)

So what is Christmas like in Brazil? Well, thankfully, it only lasts for one day (the 25th.) People don't stay in with their families, but go to the city centre to celebrate and dance (I will probably go to the historic centre of Recife the night of the 25th.)

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An ice-skating rink? But we're in Brazil!!! Christmas gone wrong in a shopping centre in Vila Velha, Espirito Santo.

Fake snow factories must be making lots of money in Brazil, because half the country seems to be covered in white fluff! Most of Christmas seems to be imported (from America.) A friend of mine in Salvador told me that there used to be Brazilian Christmas traditions, but that they disappeared long ago. He remembers his grandmother putting pitanga leaves (pitanga is a tropical fruit) on all the floors of the house at Christmas. If you walked on the leaves, they would release a Christmas-like scent, and the whole house would be perfumated. But he says nobody does this anymore... (In honour of this tradition I bought loads of pitanga juice in the supermarket yesterday!)

Well, a Merry Christmas from Olinda to everyone who has been reading this blog. And thank you, for showing an interest! It really means a lot to me that so many friends and family all over the world can follow my trip this way! And if you are bored during Christmas, check back!
Alex.

Posted by Alex-H 05:56 Archived in Brazil Tagged postcards Comments (0)

A Bumpy Ride!

MARAGOGI, ALAGOAS

semi-overcast 29 °C

I am guessing that since I left Guarulhos International Airport in São Paulo in early November I have travelled well over 4,000* kilometres on buses to get to where I am now, in Maragogi, Alagoas. And you can add another 250 km or so to that on city buses in São Paulo, Santos, Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte, Vila Velha, Vitória, Ilhéus and Salvador.
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This is the oldest (and bumpiest) bus I was on in Brazil - from Conceição da Barra to Itaúnas in Espirito Santo.

Brazil closed down most of its intercity railways years ago (smart move! Of course Ireland did exactly the same.) Since an internal flight crashed near Manáus in October, air travel has been a complete chaos, as nearly half of all air trafic controllers in Brazil appear to have been suspended. When the airports can't handle the number of flights, they simply close down. So travelling by bus is the only alternative!

Thankfully, intercity bus travel in Brazil is generally of a very high standard. The intercity buses are bigger and better (but not faster) than we are used to in Europe. Still, all buses eventually fall into one of the following categories:

1. The Driving Refrigerator
Because of the long distances, most intercity buses run at night, so that passengers can sleep. There is usually plenty of legroom, but don't forget to bring warm clothes and a blanket! For some reason, Brazilian bus companies seem to think a fridge on wheels is a good idea. The airconditioning is usually turned on so high that condensation happens on the OUTSIDE of the bus windows, which makes it look like it is raining. Meanwhile, the passengers inside are freezing.

2. The Day-Old-Chick Bus
When you are travelling a medium distance during the day time, chances are you are going to be travelling on a day-old-chick bus. These buses carry everything - from people to pots and pans and birds in cages. If you do not get on at the very first stop, you will probably have to stand.

3. The Suspension-less Canonball (alternatively: The Human Sardine Can)
Brazilian intercity buses are fine. City buses are a mixed bag. First and foremost: the drivers are lunatics and the buses seem to have no suspension - prepare to be shaken, not stirred. Secondly, no maps with bus routes are available anywhere. Therefore you have about 1 millisecond to read the sign on the bus itself which displays the stops. Thankfully, the city bus systems usually make up for the confusion caused by the lack of maps with: loads of buses. It is not unusual to have 5 buses with the same destination pass by in one minute. However, when you are in a hurry, your bus will not pass by for another hour.
City buses drive at breakneck speed - but not during rush-hour. During rush-hour, the Suspension-less Canonball changes into the Human Sardine-Can. Fitting as many people as possible into a bus is a national sport. It's fun, there is always space for one more! I spent about half an hour pressed up against a middle-aged woman's bosom in a bus in Salvador and her hair was in my armpit. There was absolutely nothing we could do (except for sweat, which we did, profusely.)

Another fun thing about city buses is that whereas in Europe bus routes are usually lines, in Brazil they are often circles. Some cities (like Maceió) are enlightened and have a system where they have a blue sign in the front window if the bus is going one way, and a red one if it is going the other direction. Some cities (like Salvador) are less enlightened. In fact, Salvador's bus system is completely insane. For example, it is possible to spend an hour in a bus, pass the same lake twice, then pass the same supermarket twice, before arriving at your destination (which was only 4km away.) (This is not me being a tourist and taking the wrong bus - this is travelling with Nilton from town to his house - he has to take this bus every day!)

  • If you read this article earlier today and read that I travelled around 3,000 kilometers: I estimated that without looking at a map. When I looked at my map I was shocked: as far as I can tell (without a ruler) I have travelled more like somewhere between 4,000 and 4,400 kilometers.

Posted by Alex-H 13:10 Archived in Brazil Tagged postcards Comments (0)

Bubble

MACEIÓ, ALAGOAS

rain 29 °C

Since I started my trip in Brazil, many people have asked me if it isn't lonely, travelling on my own. I won't deny that sometimes it is (see Crabby Crabs, a previous entry) but other times it is exactly the opposite: you meet and get to know people faster than you think is possible.

I am writing this from Maceió, but my head is still about 600 kilometres south, in Salvador, where I spent over a week in the company of three fantastic people, all couchsurfers: Ksenia, from Russia, Mikael, from Sweden, and our host Nilton, from Salvador.

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The Fabulous Foursome

Sometimes, by pure fluke, travel throws people together in what Mikael calls a 'bubble', a space and time in which friendships are formed faster than you think is possible, and where you feel induced to tell your entire life story, including things you would not even dream of telling your best friends, to a complete stranger - all over the course of a bus journey across town.
The best example I can give of the 'bubble' phenomenon is Alex Garland's book 'The Beach' (which was also made into a pretty mediocre film starring Leonardo DiCaprio.) Except for that our 'bubble' happened in a poor neighbourhood in Salvador, without a beach in sight.
What it reminded me of most was some weeks spent at Mary's Hostel in Gleann Cholm Cille in the early 1990s when I was learning Irish.

But all bubbles must burst. These periods of enlightened, sped-up reality don't last forever. Sunday night, I blew out of Salvador on a driving refrigerator (a Brazilian bus, more about Brazilian buses soon!) Tonight, Tuesday, Mikael is flying out of Salvador on his long trek home to Gothenburg. Before the end of the week, Ksenia will be in Belo Horizonte to spend Christmas with a friend there. Nilton and his family will have their house to themselves again.
The ads for Aero bars (or Bros bars in Holland!) are right: the bubbles taste better than the chocolate.

Posted by Alex-H 13:50 Archived in Brazil Tagged postcards Comments (0)

Dancing With Saints

SALVADOR

semi-overcast 36 °C

Thursday night Nilton, Mickael (a Swedish couchsurfer) and I went to a Candomblé ceremony in the Cidade Baixa. Nilton's brother Bruno is a Pai-de-Santo ('Father of Saint') - a Candomblé priest. Candomblé is an Afro-Brazilian religion, a mixture of beliefs brougth to Brazil by slaves from Africa, with a little bit of Catholicism. In Candomblé, the Orixás (gods, or spirit forces) double up as Catholic saints. The Orixá of Bruno's house of Candomblé, Iansã, doubles up as Saint Barbara, for example.

It wasn't the first time I had gone to a Candomblé ceremony in Salvador, but this was the first time I went to a ceremony I had been invited to, rather than as part of a tour for tourists. Describing a Candomblé ceremony in words is nearly impossible. You need to be there to hear the beat of the drums, the bell-like sound of the agôgô, the rattle of the metal shakers used to call the Orixás. You need to be there to see the fantastic costumes made of metal and cloth, to see people become possessed, to see people dance the intricate steps of the dance of each Orixá. You need to be there to feel the heat and to smell the sweat of more than thirty people having a frantic religious ceremony in the tropical heat in a space smaller than the average European kitchen. But most of all, you need to eat the food that everybody shares after the ceremony. Food that is prepared with meat that comes from animals that were sacrificed. Everybody takes part, iniciates and visitors alike, to renew the energy of the house of Candomblé and the people in it. (Sacrificial meat tastes exactly the same as meat from the supermarket by the way.)

I always thought that it would be very hard to talk to people who practice Candomblé about their religion, because it was persecuted in Brazil for such a long time (it was in fact illegal until the 1970s) and because even today there are strong prejudices against the Afro-Brazilian religions in Brazil (Candomblé is not the only Afro-Brazilian religion.)
But the opposite appears to be true. Two days before the ceremony, Mickael and I spent an entire afternoon talking to Bruno, the Pai-de-Santo, about Candomblé, and today, one of Nilton's cousins, a girl of maybe 11 or 12, was explaining to us about the ritual scars on her upper arm.

Posted by Alex-H 12:27 Archived in Brazil Tagged postcards Comments (0)

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