Monthly Archives: January 2012

Arriving at Jericoacoara

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Jericoacoara beach was one of my top three must-visit places in Brazil, the other two being Rio De Janeiro and Iguassu falls. Its name means “The crocodile with open mouth”!

After saying good-bye to William (who drove me to the bus station… how spoilt can I get???) I got on the super-comfy bus to Jijoca de Jericoacoara, a village close to the world-famous beach. I slept for most of the four hour ride, but managed to take some pictures of the landscape. I knew that Ceara is supposed to be a “certao”, a dry area… but it is actually extremely green.

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In Jijoca we got on a new bus. This was something I had never seen before – a 4×4 bus (if there is such a thing) with lots of luggage space on top!

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The next hour was one of my best times in Brazil so far. The bus took us through dunes, lagoas and small houses, driving next to the beach for about an hour. And it was just one beach. One long stretch of beach. It is simply not possible to describe my feelings during this hour – a dream becoming a reality. I was on Jericoacoara beach.

Time for some sun

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Sao Paulo is a cool, multi-national mega-city and I could easily have spent more time there… but it was time to move on. The flight to Fortaleza, in the state of Ceara, northeast of Brazil, wasn’t exactly cheap, but after five rainy weeks it was time for a warmer, less rainy place. Fortaleza is one of the biggest cities in Brazil, and the closest city to a beach called Jericoacoara (or Jeri), where I’ve wanted to go for years. My host William came to pick me up from the airport (cool!), and after a quick shower we went to eat some shrimps. We bought a kilo of fresh shrimps for about 13 reals (5 euros) and gave them to one of the local restaurants to fry. I don’t normally eat fried food…. But those shrimps were absolutely yummy! Image

Nope, the stuff next to the shrimps aren’t stale fries… they are fried “macachera” – better than fries 🙂 Next day we woke up and… guess what? It was raining heavily!!! Of about 300 days of sun in Fortaleza, I got there on their first rainy day for a while… And the following two days were identical. There was nothing else to do apart from giving up the idea of a swim, and trying to enjoy the rainy mornings. This was very easy, as Fortaleza has plenty of amazing markets, enough to keep a window-shopper occupied for days – and plenty of extremely cheap clothes that were really tempting 🙂 I could totally re-write the Fortaleza section of the “Rough guide to Brazil” guidebook with lots of information I picked up from William and Leo, another cool guy I met there. We spent long hours walking by the beach – there are two interesting statues of Iracema, the Brazilian girl that fell in love with a Portuguese conqueror. As Leo pointed out, no need to point out she’s Brazilian… she has a big butt 🙂

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After the third rainy day in Fortaleza I decided to go to Jeri as soon as possible, and got my bus ticket. The last night was very nice, as William took me for some live music in a nice area of the city. We spent some time listening to music at home – like almost always, I wish I had more time to spend with my host – William is a clever, curious, focused guy and I was really happy I had time to show him how to make a healthy Greek salad! In Fortaleza I realised for the first time that Brazilian road signs are different from European signs, and also that Brazilian cars can also run on gas made of sugarcane. Last but not least I found out that many cars are manufactured in Brazil, under a European brand name – but the car models are different names. So, for example, over here they have Fiat Palio, and Volkswagen Gol!

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Overall I really liked Fortaleza – I somehow felt that this city is more authentic than Rio and Sao Paulo, and I would easily go back. In a certain way, it was a quite familiar place… perhaps because some things really reminded me of Greece, like plastic chairs on the sand 🙂

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People in Sampa

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After meeting SO many people in Rio, I felt like taking it easier with socialising in Sampa.

Another one of my favourite guests, Antonio, has just moved here, so we met a few times. Now – Antonio was in Greece about 4-5 years ago. Back then he was a student in England, and was taking a short trip around Europe – and I was lucky to host him, and have an interview about CS with him 🙂 We had also met briefly in Barcelona… And now, in Brazil, it was my turn to feel out of place, and get some good advice from him! We even had some drinks in a bar-restaurant called Atenas 🙂 Hardly a coincidence!

In Sampa I also met Guilherme, a guy who works in a place called “the Hub”. The Hub started in London a few years ago, and has been spreading in several cities. (Mostly) young entrepreneurs, working on (mostly) eco-friendly, people-friendly, world-friendly projects, share a large office-like space. I’d love to work in an environment like that! Guilherme is vegan and he works in projects against animal cruelty. We had a great evening out with him and his friend Rafael, talking about travelling, Greece, Europe, and translation. He’s by far the best student that I’ve ever had when it comes to Greek language!

Meeting Dario, a red Indian, was quite fascinating too… Not only did he offer me original Acai and took me to the samba school, but he gave me some good vibes – and lots of tips and information – for the rest of the trip. Definitely someone I’d love to go to the Amazon with – and perhaps show him the dry, sandy Greek beaches in the future. I somehow communicated with his mother – who looked much younger than her age, and was quite a character, leaving Belem to move to Sao Paulo after her children left home, because it was “province”.Image

And – on my last day there – I met Arash, a friend of two friends that had both suggested to meet him “in Brazil” 🙂 The world is smaller than we think, so we met on top of the Banespa tower. How odd.

(Incidentally, the view from the Banespa tower is great, but I preferred the Martinelli building, as I had a “guided tour” by the guard, who was fascinated to meet someone from Greece).

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Samba school

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I was quite curious to go see the pre-carnival rehearsal of a Samba school – but not TOO excited, after all I don’t dance.

However, what I saw was beyond any description, and left me wondering about the actual carnival…

Drummers, men, women, children, were all moving to the rhythm of samba, in a ritual-like animalistic dance. What attracted my attention more than anything was a transvestite dancing “like nobody’s watching” for as long as the music went on… and teaching a young girl how to dance as well, with her mother’s approval. So far, this is one of the strongest pictures of Brazil in my mind.

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(yeah yeah my camera sucks…)

I also had the chance to try an original carnival costume. Heavy, but well balanced. I don’t know how long I could keep it on for.

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And now wondering where to head for the carnival. Recife / Olinda? Salvador? Or Rio?…

Food

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I’m realising this is about the second time since I joined CS that I actually stayed with a couple! And this makes a HUGE difference, as we got to cook quite a few times 🙂

Soooooooooo it was really nice to cook some (hopefully not too bad) Greek food for the guys… Chicken with potatoes and lemon sauce, strapatsada (my favourite scrambled eggs with tomatoes), lentil soup, briam (the Greek version of ratatouille) and Greek salad (well, “caipira” salad to be exact).

The guys said they liked everything, but a) next time I’ll make sure I use less lemon in the chicken b) next time I’ll bring with me some Greek feta, as Brasilian feta didn’t look like feta, and the Greek salad wasn’t exactly as we know it. Well, Minas cheese is really good… But it’s not feta!!!

This is what happened after the dinner. Some things never change… I’ll cook something different next time.

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Apart from my homemade Greek food, and some delicious dishes Renata prepared for us, I’ve tasted several strange dishes, fruits and juices so far, and I have many favourite things!!!

– Acai!!!! This fruit comes from the Amazon area and I haven’t seen the real fruit yet – just the thick, sorbet-like juice they make out of it. They normally serve it with a spoon, and it tastes like… acai – I don’t think I have eaten anything similar before. Apparently it has too many calories, but I haven’t checked.. I was very lucky as my host from Belem offered me REAL Acai, straight from his homecity… very different!

– All juices from strange fruits I have never seen before… I still confuse their names, but it’s not a big deal as they are all good!

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– Pao de queso! Well – I love cheese and bread – so I loved the brasilian cheesebread! And in fact… Minas cheese, similar to Greek ανθότυρο, and ofcourse… catupiry cream cheese. Especially combined with palmito. Yum..

– Anything containing mandioca, or mandioquinha, or whatever they call it. Fried, baked, in a soup, in anything.

– Polvilho biscuits, especially Gloibo. A rather healthy snack – a bit like pop corn, but a lot more addictive.

– Almost all cooked food I tried from a buffet. I think the best one was on the day after the rainforest (when I was starving). Lots of quiche-type pastries, quite heavy, but delicious nevertheless. Similar to a soufflé, or a pie.

One thing I hate about food here is that eeeeverything seems to contain sugar. Finding bread with no added sugar is quite difficult – and when I found some, the words “Does not contain sugar” were clearly marked on the package. For a country whose economy is so much related to sugar I suppose it’s normal… but it’s still frustrating if you are trying to avoid it!

Another thing I found strange is that people seem to drink fruit juice with their meals. Ofcourse beer is very common too, but I think wine is rare.

And of course, bottled water is quite expensive if you are buying the convenient half litre bottle…

As for caipirinha – whereas in Europe I don’t like it, here it makes a lot more sense. Even when it rains! There are several kinds of cachaca – I even tried one with lemon, a bit like limoncello – I didn’t like it. But the caipirinha is good – and pretty strong too!

Sampa

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After 10 days in Sao Paulo (or Sampa), I have only just started to get a taste of this cidade grande. And soon it’s time to leave… 😦

Sao Paulo’s most famous Avenue is Avenida Paulista. Similar to the 5th Avenue in NYC – full of skyscrapers and shopping malls, and people walk just as fast.

The centre of the city is rather small, and quite diverse – lots of buildings, churches, skyscrapers, and coconut trees. Lots of shops for clothes and shoes, lots of places to eat and drink amazing juices. Lots of graffiti, and lots of homeless people. Lots of museums, and lots of nightlife, with “erotic” nightclubs and rock bars as well. Many prostitutes, and one of the gay-friendliest areas I have ever seen, reminded me of Berlin.

The Municipal Market reminded me of the Barcelona food market – a little too expensive and touristic, great nevertheless… I was offered a caju fruit by one of the market people – who also gave me his phonenumber and took a picture of me. The caju fruit is the fruit that comes with the cashew nut. I had no idea about this…

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I spent quite some time looking at fashion in Sao Paulo. Clothes are colourful and you can find plenty of flat, cheap sandals. I was very tempted to buy a new pair, but following Renata’s precious advice (when you buy a new clothing item, you throw away an old one) I decided not to. Not before I start weight lifting. Then again, I’m still thinking of that little dress I saw……..

Going to the weekend street markets with “the brasilians” was muito legal. Liberdade, with stalls selling (mostly) Japanese food, was smaller than I expected, but very busy. Republica, with arts and crafts and lots of semi-precious stones was less busy, and in a colourful part of the city. It was easy to visit both in one afternoon – forget about London markets that need two days or more to visit properly 🙂

The graffiti in Sao Paulo beats by far the graffiti in any European capital I’ve been to… (Looking closely you will realise that I’m somewhere in the picture too…)

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But the most impressive thing about the city is the number of skyscrapers, and the view from above… Either at night, Image

or daytime!!!Image. (Oh yes, I was lucky to surf a couch on the 19th floor of a building…!!!)

Arriving to Sao Paulo

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Talking to cariocas, one could conclude that Sao  Paulo is a place not worth visiting. “Too noisy, too big, people in a hurry, too much pollution”. Strange but that description had clicked something in me – perhaps because it sounded like London. In anycase, the most important reason to go to Sao Paulo was to see again two of my favourite guests ever, “the brazilians”, Guther and Renata, that I had hosted in Athens three and a half years ago. They had clearly loved me too when they were there.

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Getting to Sao Paulo on the bus was definitely an experience… After that fantastic green landscape, all of a sudden all I could see was skyscrapers. Many of them. Apparently Sao Paulo is mostly famous for its skyline… But I was sure that the largest megalopolis (nothing to do with the Greek city Μεγαλόπολη…) in the south hemisphere has lots to offer. Interesting fact: within its population of about 22 million, it has the second largest Japanese community in the world.

Meeting “the brasilians” again was “muito legal” 🙂 They were less tanned, and looked a little more professional, but other than that nothing much had changed!

The first evening was spent catching up 🙂 A great feeling!