Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Days #41, 42, & 43. Imbassai, Salvador, and Sao Paulo, Brazil.

When we booked a motor taxi, I imagined it to be a motorcycle with a carriage built over the back of it. Like the ones in Peru. But nope, it’s just a motorcycle. Three of them pulled up to the hostel to take us to the bus stop. So we all hopped on with our backpacks, and off we went! No helmets necessary. My dad and Missy would kill me over this. Luckily the bus stop wasn’t far, and soon we were on a bus headed to Praia do Forte. I had a bad feeling about going there. The English girl, Kathryn, really wanted to see the famous Sea Turtle Project there. But the one I saw in Floripa made me sad. I didn’t like seeing the turtles swimming round and round in their 4x4 kiddie pools where they remained captive for their lifetimes. We got there, looked around, watched a guy from LA feed them, and left. It was just as depressing. The poor little turtles. By the way, did you know that out of 1,000 eggs only 1 tortoise makes is to adulthood?!

That evening the 4 of us girls hiked out to some rocks by the river for sunset. We took turns going around the circle, asking the most random questions we could think of. “What makes you mad?” “What is the weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten?” “What do you want out of life?” Soon the mosquitoes started coming to life, so we went back to the hostel to scrape together something for dinner. We were all in the mood for something fresh, so I made the girls a potato salad and tomato salad. Simple. Then we all crashed early, seeing as how we’d gotten about 2 hours of sleep the night before.

The next day we took more motor taxis to the bus stop to catch the 1:30 bus. We waited for an eternity with no sign of that bus. In desperation, I made a sign that said “SALVADOR” in big red letters and stood by the road with my thumb out to try and catch us a ride. Lots of cars slowed to stare at the sign, but no one stopped. No one. Not even a Volkswagen van that appeared to be empty aside from the driver. So we waited some more. And finally the bus came.

That evening I strolled around town on my own, listening to music and people watching. I stopped to hang out with a group of people jamming in the streets. There were some drums, a guitar, saxophone, and flute. A flute!! First one I’d seen in South America so far. “Muito gosto flauta!” I shouted over the drums to the flautest excitedly, “I like the flute!” He smiled broadly and handed the flute in my direction, nodding and waving it at me. At first I shook my head no, but he kept insisting. So I took it and started moving my fingers across the beautiful silvery keys that I know and love so well. We jammed for a good 20 minutes before my lips just wouldn’t work anymore. It was SO much fun!! I was ecstatic to be speaking the universal language of music with these creative and passionate people on the streets of Pelourinho. It got me all jonesin’ for the old love lab jam sessions back in OB with Terry and D and all the hippies.

After that I met up with Kathryn and we went to a free reggae show. The band members all wore matching camouflage pants and jackets, and yellow/green/red striped hats that bulged out over their massive dreads. The sweet smell of herbal permeated the entire area. High-school aged boys and old Rasta men danced in the front row. One guy got lambasted for resting his can of beer on the stage. “Por favoooooor!” the sole lady in the band cried into the microphone, and he quickly removed the beer. I guess Rastafarian religion doesn't tolerate alcohol. But they have absolutely no qualms whatsoever with the herbal!! We danced until I felt like I was melting into a pool of sweat – it was sooo hot out.

In the morning, Kathryn and I decided to hit up Barra Beach along with a few others from the hostel. It was my last day! A Sunday. And lucky me – there would be a pre-carnival parade along the beach later in the afternoon. We soaked up some sun and ate ice-cold acai out of cups. I finally tried pastel, a crispy fried pastry filled with cheese. It was absolutely sinful, the grease dripping off the cheese onto my bare feet. Around 2:30 the parade started. Several drum schools marched down the street, followed by decorated trucks, singers, dancers, and large brightly colored mascot characters towering over the crowd. I would love to be in Brazil for the actual carnival, but just for 1 or 2 days. It’s amazing! But it’s also incredibly over-stimulating.

It was Kathryn’s last evening in Salvador, and my final evening in Brazil. She said we should have one last moqueca to commemorate. You don't have to twist my arm over moqueca. It was even better than the last time! Then we had my favorite dessert: passion fruit mousse. Kathryn suggested we stop at an internet cafĂ© to check-in for our flights. We had decided to share a taxi to the airport the following day, since both of us had flights at 1:30 pm. I hadn’t planned on checking in, but since she was I would do it too. When I opened my e-mail from GOL airlines, I had to do a double take. Did it really sat that my flight was at 0130??? Or maybe I just read it wrong. I opened all the e-mails from GOL, and all of them said 0130. I couldn’t believe it – Kathryn had just saved me from missing my THIRD FLIGHT OF THE TRIP!!!! So instead of taking a taxi with her the next day, I actually quickly ran back to the hostel, showered, packed, and got my own taxi to the airport 2 hours later. Close call.

Now I was facing 17 hours in the Sao Paulo airport before my connection home. I’ve spent 24 hours in an airport before in London, and it was absolutely the most miserable travel experience of my life. I couldn’t bare the thought of this again. So I messaged a Brazilian friend of mine who lives back in the states on Facebook, and he gave me a contact in Sao Paulo. His friend, Alexandre. “He’ll take good care of you,” he wrote. Alex graciously picked me up at the airport at 6 am. Then he went to work while I took a long nap with his little black dog and the sweetest cat. He came home from work early and took me on a tour of the Northern Sao Paulo countryside on his motorcycle. And yes, I had a helmet this time! J We went to one of his favorite restaurants where we dined on tapioca and cheese balls with chili, dry beef in an onion broth, and fish in a tomato sauce with pickled pearl onions, cilantro, cherry tomatoes, cashew rice, and coconut falafel. Everything was beyond delicious. Apparently the 30-year-old chef who runs the place is known for his creative variations of traditional dishes. I had heard of the exciting Sao Paulo food scene, and this restaurant definitely delivered. For dessert, I ordered my 2nd favorite: flan. This flan was extra special though, topped with a layer of tapioca and toasted coconut, and smothered in rich caramel sauce. Phenomenal. Alex, thank you infinitely much for your gracious hospitality! If you ever come to San Francisco, dinner and a tour of the city are on me!!

I made it back to the airport with 3.5 hours to spare. After all my travel mishaps, I was ultra paranoid about this one and took every precaution. Definitely did not want to jeopardize my $1,000 non-refundable flight home.

Wow. The 6 weeks went by way too fast, and now I sit on a plane, thinking back on this time with tremendous gratitude.

Much to my dad’s relief, I wasn’t mugged, robbed, or kidnapped. I didn’t lose anything other than an old pair of crooked sunglasses, my yoga matt, and 2 of those bow-and-arrow type capoeira instruments that I unfortunately left behind the door of my Salvador hostel. Sorry Missy! One of those was supposed to adorn the wall of your new house :/ I’ll grab another on my next trip.

I gained 4 pairs of Havaianas, a tan, a few pounds (to be determined), new friends, a new perspective, an unexpected but delightful tour of Uruguay, burning love for Brazil, a desire to learn Portuguese, and an insatiable thirst for kite surfing, samba, and passion fruit caipirinhas.

If I were to rank the places I’ve visited so far, I would have to put Brazil at #1. This country is phenomenal. I observed the breathtaking grandeur of Rio; basked in the balmy sunshine of Floripa’s pristine beaches; kited under near-perfect conditions in beautiful Jeri; soaked in the colorful, throbbing culture of Salvador; and savored a brief but powerful glimpse into Sao Paulo’s vivid countryside and eclectic food scene.

When I boarded the plane from Sao Paulo to Miami last night, those same butterflies that I had in my stomach at the beginning of my trip came back. I felt a warmth of emotion wash over my body. I had an overwhelming urge to cry, but couldn’t. This trip has been extra special for me. It’s not that some earth shattering idea came down from the sky, or a huge life-changing decision was made. It’s just that I feel…. inner peace. CRNA school and graduation and taking boards and finding a job, all those things had made me frantic inside. After taking these 6 weeks off to immerse myself - to lose myself - in other cultures, I now feel an overwhelming sense of calm, quiet confidence.

South America, it’s been unreal. Until next time.

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