Archive for March, 2008
The road to Punta del Diablo.
And here’s the village.
Erm, not sure what this guy is trying to communicate.
I took this on the beach. I was trying to take a picture of myself with the timer thingy, but obviously I moved while it was doing it. No idea what that object on the sand is. I hope it’s just the bottom of my jeans and shoes in some odd photo freak-out, ’cause otherwise it’s some fucked-up creature that by rights should scare the shit out of me.
Second podcast. I must admit, this is tougher than blogging. With the latter, one can edit over time, but with the former it’s kinda tough. Bear with me, I’m finding my way. We’ll get there in the end. Anyway, here it is. Oh, and the photo shows you where I was recording it.
I had a bit of a cob on yesterday. Maybe it was the lack of sleep, maybe it was being in two underwhelming towns in a row. Punta del Este, despite having a few nice things about it, sucks. It’s boring in that most tedious of ways: a boring rich person’s place. But maybe it’s not the sleep or the boringness of this place. Maybe it’s just because I wouldn’t have come here had the fucking Rough Guide not insinuated that certain things were nearby. They should really try to knock the ‘rough’ on the head, and try a bit more of the ‘guide.’ Of course, I only notice the bad things, but this bad thing means a few hours back-tracking on buses, not to mention the extra money. There’s somewhere that I specifically want to go, and had they mentioned it in the bit about the Brazil/Uruguay border town Chuy, I would’ve got off the bus there and made my way the short distance to see what I wanted to see. But, no, they mentioned it in the Punta del Este bit, so now I’ve gotta go back virtually as far as the border. It’s Laguna Negra, where, apparently, there’s a shed load of flamingos just bumming around and being all pink and pretty. I could, of course, have checked it out first on the Internet, but, why blame myself when I can blame a brick of a book that pretends to be informative. (Anyone who’s been to South America: is it worth me ditching this book and getting a Lonely Planet book instead?)
So, anyway, unless you’ve got a yacht, there’s not a huge amount to do here. There’s some pretty house at the end of the peninsula, away from all the shops and stuff; a nice light house, a nice church, and a nice-looking weather centre, too.
But the main part of the town is just restaurants and shops for rich people. And, basing this view on one whole day in Uruguay, all rich men look exactly the same. Groomed grey hair, pink Lacoste shirt, khaki shorts, deck shoes. But I suppose that’s what rich men look like in most places where they have a fancy marina.
There is a couple of oddities on one side of the peninsula, though. First, there’s a massive sculpture of a hand sticking out of the sand; then there’s this shrine to the Virgen de la Candelaria at the sight where conquistadors arrived here in the 16th century. Lots of people have written stuff near the shrine in cement or on tiles. They like the virgin. They think she’s foxy.
I mooched around ’til sunset, a very nice sunset as sunsets go, then, after some faffing around watching football on telly in the hotel bar, went to get some food.
At least in the restaurant I had a good time. But it was mainly ’cause I got to end the day with some chuckles. And fine chuckles, too. Fine schoolboy chuckles. The kind that you try to suppress so you don’t bring too much attention to yourself. And the kind that you feel a bit guilty about. It was the translations on a restaurant’s menu. Man, oh man, they were funny. I assume they used some online translation thingy ’cause of the consistency in the errors. I know that I shouldn’t be laughing; I should be learning Spanish so they don’t have to provide tools like me with English menus, but, y’know… sorry. I took photos of the whole menu so that I didn’t have to try and remember them all, but I was doing it quickly before the slightly pissy waiter returned, so they’re a bit out-of-focus. Still, you’ll get the idea, and hopefully find yourself chuckling too.
For some reason, it was “several cakes” that made me snort out some beer. Maybe ’cause it’s just so simple and funny. I think one day, though, I’m gonna have to do an animated story about the Pasture Prince of Napoli. He sounds great. After all that chuckling, I went for the male goat to the bread, which was served with potatoes of France to the fryer. It wasn’t great, but then, nor was the rest of the town.
Oh, but I did see this shop earlier in the day. That made me chuckle, too.
A spot of breakfast while I put this shite online, then I’m off. Not sure where. I’ll see which buses are at the station. As I type, the restaurant is virtually empty. Just one other woman eating breakfast. But now an elderly couple have come in and of all the seats they could’ve chosen, they chose to sit right next to me, and the lady has big red sunglasses that look like she’s in Battle of the Planets or something. And she’s wearing so much perfume it’s making me choke. It seems dreadfully unfair that I can’t retaliate with the aroma of fags.
Having a bit of time to kill before I got the bus back to Porto Alegre, I opened up the little map that I was given by the hotel fella – one of those that’s credit card-sized; full of adverts for fondue restaurants on the back, and a load of cutesy little drawings on the map itself – and decided that something called Mini Mundo had to be worth a visit; ’cause if it was anything like the name suggested, it would be right up my alley. And it was. It was a model village kinda thing, but rather than being a miniature mundo, it seemed to actually just be a miniature Deutschland. There were tiny replicas of bits of Munich, Freiburg, Hamburg; the odd thing from Brazil; employees wearing top hats; and toilet signs in German.
The Mini Mundo cafe was pretty average, but the woman who worked there was nice. There weren’t many visitors in general – ten at most – and none of those that were there went into the cafe, so she seemed kinda happy to have something to do. Neither of us spoke each other’s language, so we fuddled along with miming and pointing. It wouldn’t be possible to have a nicer interaction with someone even if we did speak the same language. And she had braces on her teeth which always makes me like people.
A bus back to Porto Alegre, then to the ticket office, a quick and disgusting burger in one of the grim greasy spoons at the station (I wonder who first thought of that description of a crappy cafe), and then to the bus which was heading for various points along the road to Montevideo. Getting onto the bus was a right pain in the chuff, though. It’s like being at an airport with none of the obvious steps in the process marked out in a specific order. And with the added hassle of people in the queue and around the queue who aren’t travelling, just saying goodbye. There’s about four pieces of paper that you have to give the bus operator staff. They put sticky numbers on your bag and take your passport, which worried me a touch. Then I had to give a number to the operator that the baggage guy had given me. Really bloody confusing stuff. I neglected that last step, but noticed something going on out of the window that suggested I should’ve given the number to them. I got up from my seat and went down the aisle. I saw a girl who looked European and traveller-y. I asked her if she spoke English. She did. She told me that I did have to give the number to the guy. She sounded German, so – in German – I asked if she was. At that point, she suddenly got all unfriendly, which was a bit odd. Don’t worry, luv, I’m not hitting on you, just being friendly.
So, at just gone 10pm, the bus backs out and we’re haring along with the radio on a bit too loud for my liking. Much as I like “Too Shy” by Kajagoogoo, I’m not sure I want it to the last song I hear before my eardrums are punctured. The stewardess, if that’s the right word, had a microphone. She was flitting between Portuguese and Spanish, and blabbering on about Coca Cola and Pepsi for a good couple of minutes. I got the impression she was trying to get some sort of party atmosphere going. Either that or she was – unsuccessfully – practicing her stand-up routine. I was a tad worried about the driver. We’d already had the brakes slammed on fairly hard once, accompanied by the sound of a passing lorry honking its horn and we weren’t even out of Porto Alegre. I felt a bit safe, though, as there was a military police man sat on the seat opposite me who also looked concerned. He had four chevrons on his sleeve, so I guess he’s some sort of super-lieutenant or something. I figured any more horseplay from the driver would see some sort of one-man vehicular junta.
After the stewardess had pressed play on the DVD player (some film with The Rock playing an American football player), we got to the refreshments. Pepsi was the only option, so she must’ve been apologising to Coke fiends earlier. We got a sandwich without a crust or, for that matter, any flavour. We got a buffet-style sausage roll with about an inch of hot dog sausage in it. And we got a cup cake with chocolate chips stuck to the cup not the cake. We were also given a knife and fork. Not entirely sure what we were supposed to use them for, but then I saw the policeman using his to eat the sandwich. Maybe he’d just seen that Seinfeld episode.
Some brief drifts of sweaty sleep, nothing too substantial, and at 4.30am we arrived at the border. Seemed to take forever on the Brazilian side. Long enough for me to go and have a fag, have another little nap, and then have another fag. Sure enough, though, we were heading into Uruguay. Wah-hoo.
Another bit of sleep, the iPod shuffling to “Tubular Bells,” and being happily aware of it until I was properly awoken by the bells themselves. Open the eyes, and it’s daylight outside. Lots of fields, lots of cows. A shit beaker of coffee later, and it’s 8.30am and I’m getting off the bus at Punta del Este.
I change up the few remaining reais I have and set about finding an ATM to get some more money. It took a while, ’cause two machines kept telling me I didn’t have enough funds. This wasn’t true, but it did worry me a touch, so I spent 10% of the Uruguayan pesos that I did have on a coffee, mulled over the possibility of all ATMs in this town telling me to piss off, and set off again, going further and further until I found one that gave me that lovely fluttering-of-money sound.
Now I’m at the hotel, which looks all swish downstairs, but the moment you get in the lift, it suddenly becomes quite ugly. It’s not really a big deal as I’ll only be here for one night, but one does get the feeling that one has been ripped off a touch. But, I can see the ocean, which is never a bad thing, and I figure it’s my duty to go and have a paddle.
This place is nuts. Like a little replica Bavarian town. Full of gift shops, hotels and restaurants and, err, bugger all else. I didn’t really know it at the time, but I could quite easily have skipped the getting-a-hotel thing, and just found a place to dump my backpack at the bus station, had a whizz around the town and buggered off again. The hotel that sounded cheap and decent in the Rough Guide seems not to exist any more, so I had a little walk around and looked for one that didn’t look too fancy or too shitty. Three hours after arriving I had checked in, had a shower, seen the whole of the town centre, walked to Lago Negro (Black Lake), got the stink eye from some swans, and I was more than ready to leave. Had I not already paid for the hotel room, I’d've just gone straight back to Porto Alegre to get a bus further south. But I had paid for the room, so I had a nap. One of those naps where you wake up with your arm all full of pins and needles. Here’s some snaps of Gramado.
Looks like a fairly regular main street from this angle…
… but it’s all Alps-y.
A classy gift shop.
Outside a chocolate shop.
Some pointy bits.
A couple more things.
Lago Negro. A lake, yes; black, no.
Some nice flowers, some bark, and a butterfly.
A pedal boat that looks like a swan. What will they think of next?
Taking my life into my hands, I was, just to get this picture.
The evening brought one heck of a thunder storm. There was a good five minute period where there was no gap in the sound of thunder. And the sky kinda did this sort of thing. (It’s an animated GIF, so may take a moment or two to load.)
After the rain stopped, I ventured out to go and eat. It was only 9pm and the town was deserted. Maybe it’s the weather, maybe it’s because it’s the arse-end of the tourist season, but there was nothing open. A couple of bars with employees stood around looking bored, and one Italian place which, unsurprisingly, is where I ate. It was called Tarantino, and seemed quite a fancy place, a bit on the steep side, but the waiter was friendly. He was an AC Milan fan, so, noting my LIverpool shirt, we had a chat about our Champions League victories and defeats. Every now and then, he seemed to remember he was a waiter in a fancy restaurant, and withdrew a little, like he suddenly felt like he should leave me alone. But in this freaky town, talking about football was the most normal moment of the day.
So, if all goes to plan and I get the bus I want to get, I’ll be heading over the border today. After six weeks in Brazil, I’m going to a country where I can say “No hablo español” instead of “Não falla português.”
Brazil is amazing. It’s best country I’ve ever been to. All the things I’ve mentioned before: the people, the food, the weather. And there’s a difficult-to-describe feeling in the air. Life here seems to be for living. Cliche, I know. I’ve seen so little of this place, but I’ve seen more than I planned to. I will be returning after Uruguay and Argentina, though. I need to see more of Brazil. I need to see Rio de Janiero. I need to see Bahia. I wanna see the Amazon. But I get the feeling that I could stay in Brazil for a year and still not feel like I’ve done more than scratch the surface.
Before I leave, though, I want to say thank you, a massive thank you, to my friend Juliana. She invited me to stay on her sofa in São Paulo; she showed me the sights; she took me to wonderful bars and restaurants; she introduced me to lots of nice people; she organised her trip to Brasilia to coincide with me being here; I was invited to stay at her family’s home there and was treated like a king; her brother-in-law went out of his way to help me buy a new camera; her father treated me to a wonderful churrasco; she drove me around to the outskirts of the town just so I could see some great views of the city from afar; she introduced me to Bob’s ovomaltine milkshake; she helped out getting an eye test and new glasses; and she hooked me up with people to hang out with in Curitiba and Florianópolis. Were it not for Juliana, my time in Brazil would not have been so much fun. A better friend I could not wish for. Just goes to show how cool the Internet can be, that you can exchange a couple of emails and a few years later be the best of friends.
I’m a bit sad to be leaving Brazil behind, but I know that once I get on the bus, and it reverses out of its bay at the bus station and starts trundling down the road; once I slip my headphones on, empty my mind, and just stare out of the window, then it will change; and I’ll feel fireworks of joy in my belly at being on the road again, heading off into Uruguay to see what lies there for me.
According to Wikipedia, Porto Alegre translates as “joyous port.” Which seems fair enough. I’ve had a good time here. It’s Ronaldinho’s hometown, so I’ve been trying to expose my gums as much as possible in his honour. After a seven-hour bus journey from Florianópolis, I arrived late on Tuesday night, checked into a hotel, had a quick beer, then fell asleep watching “Scent of a Woman.”
The restaurant here is on the 16th floor, so it was lovely that my first daylight view of Porto Alegre was a nice panoramic view of the city and the lagoon, Lago Guaíba.
I was in for a nice surprise, too, when I checked my hotel’s location on Google Earth, the red dot which marks the city is right on top of the hotel. Woo hoo.
So, what’s the city like? Well, it seems to be nothing out of the ordinary. I’d been told it was “great,” “okay,” and “dangerous” by different people. I’d say “okay” is closest on this very briefest of visits. I dunno what it is, though, but there’s a slightly New York-ish feeling about it. Maybe that sounds ridiculous; but the streets, the height of the buildings, the early morning sun and shadows all made me feel like I was in a city designed by someone who’d seen New York as a child and had tried to remember it through Brazilian eyes as an adult.
I was up and at ‘em yesterday, and I’m glad I was: the temperature was 30°C by 9.30am, and I’d already done a huge chunk of the sight-seeing to be done in the downtown area by midday. I’ve never seen so many people handing out leaflets in one city centre in my life. You can barely walk twenty metres without getting something thrust into your hand. Please, insert your own lewd joke here if you want to. Had a look in an art museum. Quite nice. A couple of churches. Ditto. A military museum. Yep, cool. I saw a cool nine or ten year old kid doing keepy-ups for what must’ve been a minute, (watch out in the future, that lad’s gonna be playing for Brazil one day, but probably not called Nineortenyearoldkidinho, so you’ll have to take my word for it.) And I just, y’know, looked around at the people and the buildings.
Wanting to experience more of the joys of this state capital of Rio Grande do Sul, to soak in the atmosphere of daily life in gaúcho country; I went to McDonald’s for lunch. Now, it’s easy to scoff at this, but, now and again, it’s nice to have something familiar. Plus, I’ve not eaten in a McDonald’s since I was in Panama City. I approach the counter, and there’s a woman with a clipboard a couple of metres in front of the desk. She asks me something, with a pen poised to write something down. I tell her I don’t speak the language. She smiles at me and turns to one of her colleagues behind the counter and tells her that I don’t speak Portuguese. The lass behind the counter says something to another lass behind the counter. This girl goes off into the kitcheny area, shouting something. A minute later, another woman appears in a slightly different uniform; a supervisor or manager. She says “Hi” and explains in English that I can choose something from the menu. I struggled with the pronunciation, but eventually managed to ask for a “Big Mac, por favor.” I look up from the laminated menu she had thrust in front of me, and there are five McDonald’s employees behind the counter staring at me. I felt like a diplodocus skeleton in a museum. Aaargh! Why are you all looking at me? Or are you all being trained to interact with gringos in their own language? For me, the funniest part of all is that McDonald’s is probably the one place where I don’t need help in my own language. I can pretty much work it out, what with everything looking exactly the same as in a British, American, Panamanian, or German McDonald’s franchise. Still, it was nice that they cared. When my tray of food was handed over, I got five smiles, too. Which was nice.
Back to the hotel for a refreshing shower. I see five seniors waiting by the lifts. I saunter up and notice that none of them have pressed the button. Well done. I press it, the door opens straight away. Not one of the old folks acknowledges that a) they were idiots, or b) that I wasn’t. They just piled into the lift without a glance towards me, and then one of them seemed slightly miffed that my presence meant he had to move further into the elevator carriage than he wanted to. The noise! My God, the noise in there when five seniors are talking at old people volume. I thought my nose was gonna bleed like Uma Thurman in “Pulp Fiction.” And on my way back out of the hotel, they were in the lift again, coming back down from the restaurant. I closed my eyes and channeled my post-Santo Daime calmness.
Out back into the heat, and I went off in search of a park that looked pretty good on the map. I got lost, though, and gave up when I saw a bar showing football on telly. Sat there, on the ubiquitous plastic chairs, watching a replay of the Inter Milan v Juventus game and the first half of the Egypt v Argentina game. By that point I was a tad drunk, having had a few Skols in the sunshine. And I had one of those “fucking hell, you’re in Brazil, Craig!” moments that come along now and again.
Early evening was on its way, and the Wikipedia article about Porto Alegre mentioned that the sunset over the lagoon was rather nice. Indeed it was nice.
Before that, though, I met up with Guilherme. He’s a guy that, way back in September when I was beginning to plan my trip, left a comment on the blog mentioning Porto Alegre. So we met up in his book shop, had a quick beer, then I went off to watch the sunset, and we made plans to go and eat and watch some football afterwards. I knew that his team Grêmio were playing an away match, so I was just expecting to watch it in a bar, but the match was only half an hour down the motorway, so he invited me to join him and his three fellow Grêmio-supporting friends. And what lovely fellows they all were, too. Brazilian friendliness and hospitality at its finest.
Before the football, we had to eat. We went for churrasco. I’d had this before in Brasilia with Juliana and her father, so I was looking forward to having it again. There’s a salady buffet to make you feel healthy for a nano-second, then several waiters come roun
d with skewers of various types of juicy, delicious meat and they cut slices or chunks of it for you. It’s a festival of flesh, a carnival of carne, if you will. I’m pretty sure my colon is gonna be angry with me one day, though.
After eating, we drove to a small town called Campo Bom, home of Grêmio’s opponents, Clube 15 de Novembro. Snappy name there, chaps. In Brazil, they have regional league tournaments before the main national league begins. This was one of those regional Campeonato Gaúcho games. The stadium was tiny. Probably holds a couple of thousand people. But it was ace. Grêmio’s fans far outnumbered the home team’s, and they made an impressive amount of noise. And I got to see four goals. Hurrah. A peach of a volley, a nicely-taken penalty, a comedy own goal, and a gorgeous curling free kick. All within 20 minutes of the kick off. And all this from Grêmio’s second string team. The home team pulled one back a few moments later, but I was doing a wee so I didn’t see it. Second half was a bit pedestrian, but, y’know, 4-1 isn’t a score you can sniff at, is it?
Here’s a couple of clips. First, the fans singing and jumping around; then the penalty kick.
All in all, a fine time was had in Porto Alegre. Anyway, the backpack is packed and I’m off to the bus station. I’m rockin’ some new deodorant today. Rexona Extreme. Grrr, tough. So we’ll see how that works out. You’ll be waiting for the verdict with bated breath, right?
Okay, a quick one before I hit the road. I made myself a little playlist of some of the songs I have listened to whilst walking along or lying on the beach over the past week. I guess it’s quite summery without being overtly Una Paloma Blanca.
I watched Hertha Berlin v Schalke 04 on ESPN Brasil a couple of nights ago and saw that the Olympiastadion was full of people in coats, gloves, scarves, and hats. Apart from it being weird seeing a little bit of Berlin for the first time since I left, it did hit home a bit that I’m lucky to be over here in a warm sunny place in March. When I say “lucky,” though, I probably mean “smug.”
Here’s a mix cobbled together from a few of the songs from my Sunny in Brazil playlist that hopefully might make you north Europeans feel like the sun is already shining in your heart. Hope you enjoy it.
sunnyinbrazilmix.mp3 (54:07, 62MB)
Then I Close My Eyes – David Gilmour / Either Way – Wilco / Late in the Day – Supergrass / I Can Buy You – A Camp / Santa Maria Da Feira – Devendra Banhart / Casanova 70 – Air / A Little Bit of Soap – De La Soul / Bing Crosby – Van Dyke Parks / Sombre Hombre – Tim ‘Love’ Lee / Time – Sly & The Family Stone / Santa Cruz – Fatboy Slim / Regret (Sabres Slow ‘n’ Low Mix) – New Order / Do It Again – The Beach Boys.
As always, it’s available for a week.
It was a fairly ordinary Sunday. It rained most of the day, and the restaurant (my wifi office) was full of Argentinians playing some sort of dominoes-ish game with coloured numbers on the pieces. It felt slightly odd to be sat in the restaurant with my headphones on, muttering under my breath, listening to live commentary of the game on the Liverpool FC website while folks all around were drinking their mate oblivious to the horrors that were being described into my ears.
Saturday night there was a big big thunderstorm which was one of the most beautiful that I’ve ever seen. I don’t remember seeing one from a beach before, so that may be why. When lightning came down behind the hills, the whole sky turned a glorious lilac colour, giving a split second’s worth of light to the whole bay. And with the benefit of a massive sky, a big expanse of ocean, and some hills to frame it, the forks of lightning looked magnificent. Hmmm, actually, that gets me thinking. Does lightning ever hit water? If so, I wonder how much of the surrounding water is electrified by it.
It’s still a bit overcast today, but my sunburn is on the mend, and should it get sunny between now and dusk, I’m out there a-bronzin’. (One of the effects of the sunburn seems to have been making my boy-nipples browner, which is not entirely unpleasant.) The hotel is thinning out now, folks going home after Easter. Lots of people left yesterday and even more today. But not the nice elderly German couple who spoke to me in Spanish in the elevator yesterday. When I looked at them blankly, the guy said something in poor English, and I recognised his Germanic tones, so I replied in German. He and his missus smiled, and we had a decent natter. I told a lie, though. I told them that I once lived in Berlin for six months, not seven years. Thus, they thought of me as a cultured Brit who’d done rather well with learning German, rather than a lazy embarrassment.
Earlier in the day, I was sharing the elevator with four teenage girls (steady on there with those thoughts, you paedos). They looked at me with that half-grin that youngsters look at oldies with. One of them, the eldest, about 15 or 16, asked me something.
“No hablo Español.”
“Are you English”
“I thought so. You look English.”
I like to think it was my air of intelligent sophistication that gave it away; but I imagine it was just my pasty-turned-pink head.
So anyway, it’s my last full day here, so I had a nice three hour walk this morning, along to the end of the beach, over the dunes, and to another beach called Santinho. There were some rocks there, so I did my best to feel manly and walked up some of them. It was quite a pathetic sight, really: slipping around in my flip flops, then ouch-ing my way over the limpet-encrusted rocks in bare feet.
Some pictures of my epic hike:
Anyway, I’m starting to get a bit stir-crazy in this hotel. I’ve not felt much motivation to do anything other than bum around this little town and use the beach, so I’m looking forward to packing my backpack and moving on tomorrow. I’ll be heading south to Porto Alegre (or the slightly-closer town of Gramado, if I can find a bus that will take me there without having to go to Porto Alegre first). I tried to do some planning last night, because I’m already about three weeks behind where I’d hoped to be by this point. The big question is, do I work my way down through Argentina, after visiting Uruguay and Buenos Aires, or do I just hop on a flight right down to Ushuaia and see Tierra del Fuego while the weather is still a tad autumny. That question kind of answers itself considering I don’t have a coat with me. I’ll have to buy one in Argentina, of course. But after ten weeks of sunshine, a bit of rosy-cheeked autumn will be a nice break. Still, that’s a couple of weeks off yet.
Time for a swim.
Well, I gone and done it. I made a podcast. Yes, I caved in and fell into line with the online ranks. So, y’know, if you wanna hear me mumbling about the last couple of days rather than reading my writing about the last couple of days, then give it a listen. The sound quality probably won’t satisfy Steely Dan fans, and you might have to turn up the volume a bit, but you can, should you be fool enough to want such a thing, have me umm-ing and aah-ing right into your earholes.
I’ve not worked out how to put this on iTunes podcast directory, but seeing as though I have no idea if this will be a regular thing or not, it would probably be too presumptuous to try and do that anyway. So, if at all possible, enjoy it. Oh, and if the word “fuck” offends you, be aware that I’ve used it a couple of times.
No thought must go unblogged, so…
I like how languages adapt themselves to incorporate foreign words, and just spell them so they can be pronounced the same. For example: bikini is spelt biquíni here. And sandwich is sanduíche. Hurrah.
It’s completely understandable, because we are humans and we tend to like comfort; but isn’t there something fundamentally odd about going to the seaside and using an umbrella to shade you from the sun, a blanket to stop you getting covered in sand, and a towel to cut short the amount of time you are wet? I know it could be said about most activities we do, but, I dunno, it just seems amusing to me.
I saw a guy in an old-fashioned swimsuit. A proper all-in-one job, like a guy from the early 20th century. He had a baseball cap on, which destroyed my imagination that I’d travelled back in time, though.
I was walking along the beach last night and the busboy from the hotel came up to me, and apologised for the hotel telling me they had wifi in the rooms when that was quite clearly false. (There may well be a wifi signal thingy, but it doesn’t seem to actually be connected to the Internet.) How nice is that? Can you imagine that happening in, say, Berlin?
Today, three people have mentioned David Beckham after I told them I was English.
And this morning, I did something so ridiculously like a ’70s sitcom moment. In the restaurant at breakfast, I was in front of the pushy-lever thingy full of orange juice. I pushed the glass forward so that the lever began releasing juice into the glass. Then I got distracted by a very pretty lady in a bikini who was walking to her table. I was still pushing the lever. The juice overflowed.
Is it just a really bad sign at how easy it is to become part of the modern corporate world’s devious plans to dominate our brains that I automatically assume that anyone wearing Nike is Brazilian, and anyone wearing Adidas is Argentinian just because they are the manufacturers of those nations’ football team kits?
And finally, after a few hours sunbathing today, I’ve managed to turn my pasty white English skin into a nice landscape of pink pain. With my tanned arms, neck and exposed-due-to-lots-of-flip-flop-use feet, I now look like Neapolitan ice cream.
I was in a post office yesterday getting stamps for some postcards, and when I handed them to the woman, she split them into piles: three cards for Alemanha, two for Reino Unido, and one for Belgíca. She dealt with the postcards for Germany, then asked if Reino Unido (Portuguese for United Kingdom) was in Grã-Bretanha (Great Britain). I sniggered inwardly, and told her it was. Then she asked if Belgíca (Belgium) was also in Grã-Bretanha. A bigger snigger still went unsniggered.
But as I left and shook my head at a post office employee’s terrible geographic knowledge, I began to think of how many people I know who have commented, when looking through “Atlas, Schmatlas,” that they were surprised to see that Suriname wasn’t in Africa. Something that I used to think too, before I began researching the book. So I got off my smugly-tall horse and whispered “sorry” into the air, hoping it would in some way float its way into the post office and into her ears.
The location of Belgium is, of course, fairly easy for us Europeans. But, I think we tend to get a bit flakier the further away from home we think about. It’s normal, really: I know where all the villages are around Lincoln, but I’ve got no idea where Bolton is in relation to Manchester. I think it’s a bit north, and probably near Blackburn, but that’s about it. Why would someone in Brazil know where Belgium is? It’s a small country that does very little that gets itself in the news, (apart from the piles of murdered children, I can hear you all thinking).
So, because I am a published atlas writer – *polishes fingernails with dumb pride on his lapel* – I figured it might be interesting to look at what the multiple names for my part of the world are referring to. I don’t want to underestimate your intelligence, but several people that I’ve met on my trip have asked what the difference between the UK and Great Britain is.
The big bit down at the bottom. Invented the language. We all wear bowler hats and pinstripe suits. London is here. The Beatles are from here. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
The cold bit above England. They all have ginger hair, drinking problems, and talk funny.
The bit on the west side of England, where the English keep their dragons and coal.
The top bit of the island of Ireland. Some of them want to be part of the UK, some of them want to be part of the (Republic of) Ireland. They like to fight about this.
This is the island that contains England, Scotland, and Wales.
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
The full name of the UK says it all, really: it’s England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Sometimes when people say Britain they mean the UK. Yes, it’s fucking confusing.
Sometimes called the Republic of Ireland even though its official name is simply Ireland. In Irish, it’s called Éire. For Americans who own a green t-shirt and have drunk a pint of Guinness, it’s called the Old Country. A separate country altogether, nothing to do with the UK any more.
The geographical term for the islands of Great Britain and Ireland and a bunch of other fairly insignificant rocks poking out of the ocean.
Oh, for the love of God, how confusing is this!? The British Islands is the UK plus the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.
Some rocks off the coast of France that are crown dependencies of the UK, but not part of the UK itself or, for that matter, of the European Union. The main islands are Jersey and Guernsey. Both named after cows.
Isle of Man
Where my sister lives, and a bugger to describe to Brazilians. A crown dependency like the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man is an island in the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. Apparently, Jeremy Clarkson lives there which is reason enough to never go.
British Overseas Territories
These are places that the UK is the boss of, even though they aren’t actually part of the UK. They are scattered all over the world, and the only time we Brits ever think about any of them is when we see Argentinian warships getting too close to the beaches. They are: Anguilla, Bermuda, British Antarctic Territory, British Indian Ocean Territory, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Montserrat, Pitcairn Islands, Saint Helena (inc. Ascension and Tristan da Cuhna), South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, the Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia, and the Turks and Caicos Islands.
You could have got all of this info on Wikipedia, but then there’d be an empty space where this blog post now lives. And, yes, I know what you’re thinking, “Atlas, Schmatlas” would make a superb Easter present for every single one of your friends, Jesus-loving or not.
Inselaffen, by the way, is what some Germans call the Brits: island monkeys.
Aside from the people, the landscape, the food, and the weather; this is my favourite thing in Brazil.
The ovomaltine milkshake from the fast food chain, Bob’s. It is, (and I’m sorry for the blatant use of foul language, Mum), fucking wonderful. Like a big ice cream-y Ovaltine with little crystals of sugary goodness in it. I’m limiting myself to one every three or four days, because it must have about a thousand calories. But, should you ever find yourself in Brazil, I heartily recommend trying one. It’s the best milkshake ever. Even better than Kelis’ milkshake and, as you know, that brings all the boys to the yard.
Could someone remind me to go and pick up my laundry from the lavandaria at 5pm, please?
(I was just waiting for the elevator and the thought of doing that as a blog post amused me no end. Then an old Argentinian man came and waited next to me. He spoke English and was pissed off that his keycard was playing up. He looked like he’d spent every day of his life in the sun, and was very friendly. When he finished telling me about the keycard, he paused for a beat and then said “FUCK!” really loud, then smiled like he was really proud for remembering the word.)
Update 5.11pm: Yes! I got my laundry. And had a, I don’t think “conversation” is exactly the word, but the woman in the shop and I discussed the price of my Liverpool FC shirt.
Because of my current Coldplay obsession, I was looking at the “play count” in iTunes. Mainly because I listen to “Everything’s Not Lost” quite a lot, but always skip the gap and little extra bit at the end, so it doesn’t have as many plays registered as it should do, what with the play count being counted when each song ends.
And I noticed that songs that I don’t have any particular affection for often have a high count, simply because they follow a song that I do like. Sticking with Coldplay as an example (because, I assume, a lot of you may well also own their albums), “God Put A Smile Upon My Face” is the fifth most listened-to Coldplay song (“Speed of Sound” is the most listened-to). I don’t really feel one way or the other about this song, but it follows “In My Place,” a song I love, so it gets a lot of listens.
An utterly pointless observation, let alone blog post. As you can tell, sitting on the beach has given me a lot of important things to think about while I’m making sandcastles. I call them sandcastles, but they were actually just slightly-conical mounds. And, yes, I think passers-by did think I was retarded.
It’s now 72 hours since I left the Santo Daime ceremony. Things are still whirling around my brain. What happened there? It’s like I’ve had all these concrete things melt away. I had no religious or spiritual tendencies, but now that doesn’t seem so firm. God still doesn’t exist for me, but something went on in there. Be it just the force of so many people who did believe, or the effects of the Daime, or both. But I’ve never experienced such a volte-face.
I tend to be stubborn about my opinions. They only change when factual evidence comes along to prove me wrong. But the swiftness of going from someone who was not enjoying himself at the ceremony, to someone who views it all as a beautiful and wonderful thing happened within hours. This has freaked me out a touch. It’s all very confusing. Not in a furrowed brow way, though. It’s confusing, but I can live with the confusion.
What I do know is that I’ve not felt so calm in a long time. Perhaps it’s just the effect of being on this long long long holiday in a beautiful part of the world, but I was already on my long long long holiday on Friday, and the calmness wasn’t there then. And I’ve done stuff that would normally have stressed me out, and it was all okay.
On Sunday I began thinking about moving on, and I’d been planning to head south to Porto Alegre and probably make my way across into Uruguay by the weekend. But, it’s Easter and the Latin folks sure love that Jebus, so I didn’t want to risk being stuck somewhere with shops and bus stations closed. It’s bad enough trying to remember to buy enough milk in Berlin never mind being somewhere you’ve never been before and don’t speak the language.
Something came along, a bit of work, that gave me an excuse to try and find a hotel with wifi, so I could use Easter to get the work done and pay for another few weeks travelling. Two birds, one stone. Renata suggested Ingleses, so on Monday afternoon she gave me a lift up here to find a hotel. Being a dolt, I didn’t think about packing my backpack and putting it in the boot; I underestimated the size of the island, thinking it’d just be a short hop back to Lagoa to pick it up.
As Renata dropped me off in downtown Florianópolis, and we said our goodbyes with a quick hug whilst stopped in traffic, and she went off to teach a class before heading off to Rio de Janiero for ten days of Buddhist meditation; as she dropped me off, it began to rain. Out of nowhere it began; pelting it down. I walked along the shore and twenty minutes later arrived at the bus station to get the bus back to Lagoa, absolutely drenched.
I queued for the bus, and in this line of wet Brazilians, who do you think was the person that new arrivals in the queue asked, “Is this the queue for the Lagoa bus?” Yes! The one person in the queue who didn’t speak Portuguese. (I was also reading a book, unlike the few people either side of me, which makes it doubly odd that they managed to choose me to ask.)
The rain had stopped by the time I got to the centre of Lagoa. It would either be another bus to where Renata lives or I could walk. I chose the latter. I fancied a nice dusk walk around the edge of the lagoon. But it took about 40 minutes, a lot longer than it had seemed in the car. I worked up a sweat, which, underneath my rain-soaked clothes got a nice stink going on.
I stuffed my clothes into the backpack, had a quick wash, a clean shirt, and was back out at the bus stop waiting to go back to Lagoa. A backpack on my, err, back. A rucksack on my front. And a can of Coca Cola in my hand, and I’m stood trying to give the bus-conductor money as the bus jerks through the gears.
At the Lagoa terminal, I wait for half an hour, then get another bus to Florianópolis. This time sat behind a woman listening to Brazilian R’n'B-ish music on her cellphone loudspeaker. She was one of those nicely-odd people who seem to be oblivious to the world around her, not like the London version of that type of person who likely plays the most inappropriate-for-a-cellphone-speaker music just to piss off us oldies. She kept holding her hand up – like she was trying to attract a waiter’s attention – in time to the music.
At the bus station, I asked several people where to get the bus to Ingleses. Without fail, they all replied that they didn’t speak Inglês. Eventually, a kindly woman in a booth took notice of my miming and helped me out. Sadly, though, I didn’t understand that she was telling me that I’d need to change buses again after the next bus journey. And the bus was full, so I had to sit with my backpack on my lap.
At the next bus station, another wait, another packed bus, and the knowledge that I’d forgotten the name of the hotel, and I didn’t know what the street name was. I had to look out of the small portion of window that having a backpack on your lap allows, and hope I recognised something in the dark. Just as a the bus was pulling up to a stop, I saw a hotel that I’d decided not to stay at, so dashed to the door, dragging my backpack behind me, and walked along the street to the hotel I had chosen. A five hour trip to go just 30km.
In the hotel, up to my room, and the wifi they’d assured me was in all the rooms didn’t work. I gave up on trying and went out to get some strawberry juice. None of the above stressed me out. Last week, it would’ve had me muttering under my breath like a mad man, but instead I had a smile on my face and was dancing in my room like it was 1989, to “Vanishing Point” by New Order.
I have no idea what my brain took in from the Santo Daime, but all I know is that it seems to have done me a lot of good. And I look forward to going back again one day. Anyway, it’s sunny outside, and I’m about 100 feet from the beach, so you’ll have to excuse me, I’ve got some paddling to do.
I’ve moved on from Lagoa da Conceição, in the centre of Ilha de Santa Catarina, to the northern edge of the island; to a place called Ingleses. Appropriately, it rained a lot today. But I still had a lovely long walk along the beach. Not many folks around. The clouds, some surfers, a crab, and me.
It’s very tough to work through what I experienced on Saturday night. I went to a Santo Daime ceremony. As I begin typing, I’ve not slept for 36 hours, and I’m still feeling the comedown effects of the Daime beverage that is a part of the ceremony. If you wish to know more facts, there’s plenty of websites, so I’ll not go into it here. I just want to put down what I saw and experienced. But a tiny bit of an introduction. It’s a Brazilian Amazonian practice. It has elements of native South American religious stuff. It’s got a splash of Shamanism. But the over-riding thing seems to be a healthy dollop of Christianity. It’s been around since the thirties.
I didn’t really know a huge amount about it. What you’ve just read above is about all I knew. So maybe it was a mistake to go into it while not really knowing what to expect. I did know about the Daime drink, though. I knew about the effects it could have. I’m probably using the wrong words, but it is supposed to open the mind, bring visions, and can help purge emotional impurities. It’s also called Ayahuasca (after the vine that it’s made from, in a mix with other leaves and stuff), and for these religious purposes, it is legal in Brazil.
As I’ve mentioned quite recently, I’m an atheist. Why did I choose to go to something that is supposedly attempting to get energy from above? Well, I was intrigued. Curious. And, from what I was told about the drink, it sounded like something that would be good for me. I could do with a bit of emotional purging. Plus, y’know, I’m willing to be proved wrong. A good-sized proportion of me, before I went, was looking forward to writing this blog piece admitting that my atheism was no longer such a solid belief.
It was fairly overwhelming. My mind is still whizzing around thinking about it. And that’s not the drink talking. Halfway through the ceremony when we had a break, Renata asked that I try not to judge it too much until it was all over. And now that I’m coming down, I can see that she had a point.
We arrived as the sun was just about set. We’d driven to the north of the island, up a dirt track that was more like a dried out river-bed than a road. Up and up until we were high on the side of a hill. I’d spent most of the day feeling equally excited and apprehensive. It’s easy to hear the words “twelve hour ceremony” without actually understand what that would mean. But that’s what I was setting out on. We parked up, walked up a bit further, and there in the middle of the forest were a few buildings. Some homes for the community, an office, male and female bathrooms, and the church itself.
They have different types of ceremonies. Some shorter than others. The one I went to was me being thrown in at the deep end. The full-on twelve hour job. But before that could begin, there was a wedding. The details were different, but it was like any other wedding, really. Children not being quiet, cellphones going off during the vows, that kinda stuff. Because of this, and because it was this particular church’s 21st anniversary, the general vibe was apparently more celebratory that usual. There was no booze, buffet or “Hi Ho Silver Lining,” though.
The church is a hexagonal wooden place with windows all around, with a pointed roof and a skylight at the roof’s peak. In the centre is some sort of altar with their cross on it. The cross is like the Christian one, just with two horizontal bars instead of one. I didn’t ask if their vision of Jesus had four arms. Around the alter were six painted paths on the floor going out to the corners of the hexagon; between the paths were rows of stars on the floor, which seemed to be orientation points for each person to stand behind.
All the men were on one side of the room; the women, unsurprisingly, on the other. There was probably about 130 or so people. All of the regulars wore special costumes. The men in white suits with dark blue ties. The trousers had two green stripes down the side like knock-off Adidas gear. And they had golden badges of a star on the lapels. These sheriffs were the guys who’ve graduated (for want of a better word) and have vowed to take this all very seriously. It was like a convention of fancy wine waiters and cricket umpires. The women wore white dresses with green sashes and waistbands. From one shoulder hung thin, multi-coloured ribbons. and they all wore sparkly diamante crowns. It looked a bit twee; kind of a Polyphonic Spree version of the Girl Guides. A lot of them had a maraca, too. The less devout, the beginners, and the small handful of first-timers like me, wore our normal clothes. I felt a bit out of place having a black hooded-top, cos virtually no other person was wearing black. Not a cool colour for these guys, black. Still, I had a green t-shirt underneath, so it wasn’t all bad.
We all lined up around the hexagon, facing the altar. There were some guys who didn’t take part in the lining up, as it was their job to help keep the energy channeled, and move people around for this effect. The height of the people on a row was important. The tallest should stand next the second tallest, etc. So, if someone went to the toilet or had a rest on one of the chairs, the helpers would come and move us around so the energy still flowed. Lots of people had hymn books. I bought one at the office before it began. I hadn’t expected that the hymn book would be the sort of thing that would be gone through from the beginning right to the end. But that’s what happened. The singing began with the first hymn. And the dance steps began, too.
I couldn’t join in with the signing; it was all in Portuguese, of course. But once the repetitive melodies became clear, I hummed along a bit. The dance steps, for the most part were exactly the same. We moved laterally, making three steps: left-right-left to the left, right-left-right to the right. It was an exhaustingly unnatural thing to do. It felt jerky. And after a couple of songs, my hips were feeling it. It was tough to keep the rhythm. Every few songs, one of two other dance moves would be done. The first was one that I couldn’t help but grin to myself when doing. One two three, turn to the left; one two three, turn to the right. 180° turns for the whole song. The other was a nice relief every time it came around, just a simple swaying from side to side. I enjoyed that one a lot. And it was the only dance move that I could do and really stay focussed and allow myself to feel a bit calm and relaxed; not concentrating on the moves.
But for the most part, it was the jerky three lateral steps dance. Like the brain-ravaged tigers in their cages at Berlin’s Tierpark zoo. Side to side. Again and again and again and again. Looking over the heads of the men, the move looked effortless on the women’s side. On my side, though, it was just a forest of shuffling legs. Maybe it was the same for the women, though; they also would just be seeing the upper-body part of the dance. It was exhausting. I didn’t feel comfortable. I was getting hot. I was sweating. My hair was soaked within the first hour. This place is not where I wanted to be. I walked along the line, as I’d been told to do when I wanted a break, and left the ceremony via one of the six paths, talked to one of the helpers and told him I was hot and wanted some air. He smiled at me and ushered me to the door. I went outside. It was raining. It was wonderful. Beautiful rain cooling me down. Then one of the helpers, stationed outside to check that people on the way to the toilet were okay, asked how I was. I told him I was very hot and wanted to cool down. He said it was normal to be hot, and that I should cool down inside so I didn’t remove myself from the ceremony. I bit my tongue and accepted what he told me, even though cooling down in a warm room with a couple of windows open would in no way compare to cooling down in the rain.
Back inside, I stood by a
window for a few minutes, and then re-took my place. Part of the problem with the three step dance was that I was next to two other new-ish guys. I assume they were new-ish, anyway. One of them couldn’t keep the rhythm, so we kept bumping shoulders, which knocked my rhythm out. The other guy was a bit too enthusiastic; frequently coming too far to my side. I was being knocked from pillar to post. Plus the enthusiastic guy was a terrible singer. He couldn’t carry a tune if it had a handle.
To the side of the room, a guy had a big medicinal-looking bottle (about the size of a water cooler bottle) full of a brown-ish liquid. It was the Ayahuasca, the Daime. Suddenly, when it seemed to be ready to be served, a bunch of the men and women filed to queue next to him. He served the people alternately: man, woman, man, woman. The helper guys took care to make sure us newbies made our way over there. I stood and watched as each person took their drink, held it up to toast whoever is Upstairs, and then, more often than not, did some sort of crossing themselves thingy like the Catholics do. I shuffled closer and closer. And then, soon enough, I was at the front of the queue. In my head, the guy serving the drink looked a bit like Augusto Pinochet. (I double-checked on Google when I got home, and he didn’t really look much like him – more like Peter Sellers playing Pinochet – but it didn’t stop me wondering if there were mountains of dead Chileans out the back somewhere.) He served the woman who stood on the opposite side of the table, then he turned to me, looked into my eyes, then poured a double-whiskey’s worth of the liquid into a glass. I smiled, put the glass to my mouth, and downed it in one.
Never in my life have I tasted anything so foul. It’s very very difficult to describe without using pointlessly outlandish claims. So I’ll use a pointlessly outlandish claim: it tasted like diarrhoea mixed with aspirin. It was just so revolting. And I’d left my Tic Tacs at home. Bugger. But, what did it actually taste like? I really want to describe it properly. It had a very slight sweetness, but only in the same sense that dog poo has a slight sweet smell to it. It was quite obviously the mashed-up juicy stuff of a plant. And it made me feel like retching it up. My face scrunched up, and I went back to my place between the Disco Twins and kept on with the dancing.
Another hour passed. More dancing. More songs. One song ends, a slight pause for a few seconds, then the next song begins. All accompanied by a couple of guitarists and a flautist sat next to the altar. The songs had very beautiful melodies. And they were sung with great passion. Looking across at the women singing was highly enjoyable. They seemed to be so there. The melodies were very repetitive, not just within one song, but there seemed to be many songs with similar melodies. At the end of the night I felt like I only listened to four or five songs over and over again, each one of them subtly changed from the last time I think I heard that song. It was the choral equivalent of listening to a Spacemen 3 or Richie Hawtin song that lasted twelve hours.
As an outsider, the ceremony seemed rigid but slightly hippy at the same time. There were plenty of rules in play. The helpers constantly altering the position of the people and making sure we behaved correctly. On three occasions when I was sat at the edge having a break, I was told not to cross my legs. Another time, leant against a window frame, I was asked to put both my feet flat on the floor so the energy flowed better. It would be easy to feel a tad bullied had these things not all been done with the sort of kind-faced smile that showed that the helper actually wanted me to have a better experience as well as doing things correctly.
Even when, after three and half hours of the dance steps and two glasses of Daime, I went and asked the guy by the door if I could go outside for a smoke, he smiled nicely and suggested that I didn’t do it. It wasn’t forbidden, but it’d be better for me if I refrained. Pesky do-gooder. More dancing. More singing and more humming along for me. By this point, the cynical sarcastic Craig began to take over. I knew we’d be having a break at some point, but it was 12.30am. We’d been doing this since 9pm. My hips were really feeling the pain from the steps; this minimal, boot-scootin’-less, line dancing. Then the lights were turned off. And the only light was from the candles on the altar. Suddenly, I felt cooler without the hot electric lights. Suddenly, the dance steps felt more natural. I put a bit more swing in the hips at the extreme points of the lateral movement and that eased the aching a bit. And when the swaying songs were being sung, I felt very very relaxed, like I would finally be getting somewhere with the Daime. It was the best moment of the evening for me. And after about five or six songs, the lights went back on. Cynical, sarcastic, annoyed, slightly angry Craig appeared.
I felt like something was happening and it was snatched away by a light switch. (I didn’t know at the time, but the lights going off was because of the rain; it wasn’t intentional.) I surveyed the room, looking at all these freaks, these oddballs with their nice, clean haircuts and stupid white culty clothes and wondered if any of them has ever enjoyed the thrills of Grand Theft Auto or a Whopper. Weirdos. The negativity continued until we took the break. At 2am, after five exhausting hours, the singing stopped, and everyone began hugging each other. I skulked off and sucked down a cigarette outside on a wet bench. Angry and irritable, I put on my black hooded-top. Fuck ‘em and their dumb colour rules. If they wanna see me as a bad vibration, so be it. Good. See if I give a flying fuck.
One of my worst character traits is a nasty sarcasm when I’m not in a good mood. Renata came out, and a couple of other dudes who I’d spoke to came and sat down. They all seemed happy with their experience. All I could say was, “I wish there was a bar here, I could murder a beer.” I retreated underneath my hood and let the others discuss proceedings while I stewed in my own juices. One of Renata’s friends, on a bench behind us, asked, jokingly, if I was a Scotland Yard spy. I was angry, and now getting gyp from some funny cunt; in my paranoid mind, he thought that because I was wearing black and hunched over chomping down cigarette after cigarette. I had a little walk around. Then I pulled Renata to one side and asked for the car keys. I would sit out the remaining five hours after the 90 minute break by having a good kip in a Fiat.
She was annoyed with me. And, in retrospect, with good reason. She’d explained beforehand that there was to be no bailing out at half-time. It was against the rules. Certain things were prohibited to protect Santo Daime from getting hassle from the government. It kinda makes sense, really. If you have the privilege of having your Ayahuasca being legal, the last thing you want is someone walking off on their own and having a bad time or an accident. So, we talked animatedly in hushed tones. She asking me to not be closed-minded and judgmental; me calling it hocus-pocus bullshit.
All too soon, a bell was rung. We were heading back in. It was one of those moments where I just couldn’t fathom the possibility that it would ever end. The thought of five more hours of this… man, how the hell will I get through it? I stood on my spot, and the song began, and I moved. Left-right-left. Right-left-right. It was gonna be a battle of attrition. Soon enough, there was more Daime to drink. By this time, I was finding it tough to actually keep it down. The smell alone, by this point, was making me nauseous. But I drank it anyway.
Nothing much was happening, though. While all around there seemed to be people who were clearly off exploring other worlds in their mind, I was stuck here. The only reason I knew I’d ingested something psychoactive was I had a fuzziness akin to the comedown off acid or ecstacy.
Except I’d not had any high to go with that comedown feeling. Which was a bit of a bummer. By this point, though, I was well aware that my state of mind wasn’t right for having any sort of positive experience. My mind focussed on what I would write here about the event.
I would write about how thinking about Eric Cartman got me through some of the more tedious moments. Imagining his incessant laughing at the people in funny costumes. I would write about the guy stood on my row playing the flute with an average amount of talent. I’d write about the small handful of hippy chicks who looked quite foxy in their uniforms. I’d write about the guy stood next to me, with rags in his hair and scrunched-up eyes, who was so utterly off his box that the left-right-left was barely one step. I’d write about how much of a nightmare this place would be if you’d just had a hip replacement operation. I would write about the incessant mosquitoes and the stupid amount of bites I have.
John, one of the guys I’d talked to previously, was stood near me. He’s from Cologne; kinda having a good time, but like me, wasn’t getting the full effects of the Daime. He also seemed tired. And, like kids at school, the odd look or eye-roll set me off with the shoulder-shudder giggling. All the while, the songs went on and on. The left-right-left went on and on. A few 180° turns now and again. Aaaah, some nice swaying. Each swaying song was such a relief, that even when I was sat down taking a break, I got up and danced so as not to waste the swaying opportunities.
As the night wore on, and the daylight began to come along, I was getting very tired. The left-right-left got a bit freer, though, a bit more relaxed with the tired feet. I’d achieved a kind of calm blankness to the repetitiveness of the movement. And with the daylight arriving, I could also see the end in sight. I went outside to use the bathroom, and had a sneaky fag behind the toilet building. Back inside, we were nearing the end of the book. Hymn number 160. “Meu Deus, Meu São João.” It was over.
Except it wasn’t. That was the end of the main bit. We still had the encore, the bit of the hymn book called Nova Era. Flicking through, I saw that there were 27 further songs. Please please please, the-God-that-I-don’t-believe-in, make these hymns as short as Napalm Death songs. But, of course, they were normal length songs, between three and five minutes each. And the calm blankness reappeared. I shuffled some more. I sat down a lot, too. I nodded off to sleep for a few minutes until one of the helpers woke me up. My head began to slump again, and the guy playing the flute caught my eye and motioned with the end of his flute for me to stand up, like it’d help me. I half-heartedly smiled and stood up. Then he left his position in the row and came and stood right next to me. When I’m feeling sleepy, there are plenty of things that I don’t want to happen to me. Having some guy who looks like Francis Rossi from Status Quo playing a flute badly, and smiling with eyebrows at me, inches from my head is, I have discovered, now in the top five.
I went off again to stand in the bathroom and pretend to urinate just to get away. By the time I returned, Francis was back in the row so I went and sat down again. Then another fellow motioned at me to stand up. He held up three fingers, like, “just three songs left.” Excellent. Like sleepy folks who hear the aeroplane captain saying, “We’ll be landing in New York in twenty minutes,” I kinda shook the sleepiness away and got up and had a good ol’ boogie. Left-right-left. Right-left-right. (I later found out that it’s not allowed to be sitting down as the ceremony ends.)
The three songs came and went. One hundred and eighty seven songs in total. One hundred and eighty fucking seven. The book was over. But not the songs. Oh no! They are going off-piste. Aaargh! Where’s this gonna end? Is there someone out back writing lyrics to new songs that are being added as we go along? John and I exchanged withering-but-amused glances after every song. Six or seven songs later, the music was over. They all chanted a prayer for what seemed like five minutes. Then the lead guy gave a speech. My oh my, he banged on. We were tantilisingly close to the end, but he kept on and on. Of course, it came to an end eventually.
Cigarette. Let’s go. Renata said goodbye to her friends, and we came home. Scrambled eggs and coffee have never tasted so good after that night of having my mouth taste only of Daime and cigarettes. I’d been awake for over 24 hours. I had a shower. Felt good. Wearing a clean t-shirt and shorts, I felt the actual comedown beginning to take hold. And with it came something I’d not expected: a feeling that I’d been at something good.
I look at the email I sent a friend just an hour after I got home, and it’s so much more full of anger than this blog piece (which I’m writing at 11pm on Sunday, even though it’ll probably won’t be online until Monday morning). But as my Sunday wore on, I even begun to think that maybe I need to go again. There was something there. Beneath all that cynicism, I can’t help but admit that something good was happening in that room. I wouldn’t go as far as to call it an energy. I didn’t feel anything like that. There was a lot of love in the room, that was obvious. The people all loved each other. And when they interacted with me, they did so with love. And, even though I’m not sure I could do the whole twelve hour thing again in a hurry; I am tempted at some point in the future to do one of the shorter sessions. It’s tough to process everything that’s happened. But I feel that there’s loose ends. Which is difficult to grasp, because I still don’t believe in God. And maybe that’s the key. Maybe I can’t go any further with Daime if I don’t believe in that most core of elements to the ceremony.
I get the feeling it will be a very long time before I really know what happened to me there on Saturday night. There was one point, just after the break in the ceremony, when I was dumbstruck with the thought of five more hours, and I remembered that the alternative Saturday-night plan we had was to go to a nightclub. I began fantasizing about Brazilian girls, dressed to the nines, all dancing around. Hair and perfume all over the place. I fantasized about a few cold beers. Some doof-doof-doof housey music. Now, though, I’m really glad I went to Santo Daime. This has taken me four hours to write. I’ve not re-read it or done any changes yet. It was just a mammoth thing to go over in my mind. I will never ever forget it.
I think enough time has passed for me to finally think about my resolutions. The 1st of January seems to me to be a silly time to choose to do stuff like that considering it’s a fair possibility that I will wake up with a hangover and just want a cigarette and a bacon sandwich, not a Nicorette patch and a granola bar. Let the resolution-ing begin:
1. I will not spill anything anymore. No more milk dribbles when making a cup of coffee; no more dribbles of water through my beard as I hungoverly gulp down water first thing in the morning; no more superglue on the fingertips: the spilling years are over. For. Ever.
2. I will never trip or stumble again. Broken pavements, steps, cobblestones: beware! You will not make me look stupid any more.
3. I will not sing “Mmmm, Danone” every time I see one of their products.
4. I will not look at my watch, then look again ten seconds later because I failed to take notice the first time.
5. I will not bite a Tic Tac and try to realign the two parts with my tongue, because it stops me enjoying the wonderful vanilla-tinged mintiness.
6. I will not try to hide the fact that I’m sniffing my armpit to see if it’s a bit sweaty by pretending to itch my nose on my upper arm.
7. I will not get caught in a white lie, by saying I’ve seen a film that I haven’t seen or don’t remember, and then find that, when the other person says “that bit when X happens is great, wasn’t it?” I am further and further entangled in the lie.
8. I will not “write” a word on my thigh with my fingertip when someone who I am talking to says a nice, interesting word; leading me to get distracted by my fingertip calligraphy and stop listening to their other words.
9. I will not be bitten by any more mosquitoes. You’ve had your fun, you little buggy bastards.
10. I will not pick at my toenails when wearing flip-flops. I might not think they do, but people probably do notice me doing it.
11. I will not tell people I meet in South America that my German skills are “quite good” because sooner or later one of them will speak German and I’ll have to confess that actually, I’m a lazy bugger who never bothered to learn much German in my seven – sefuckingven! – years there.
That there are eleven resolutions there leads to a twelfth: that I won’t be so insistent on groups of things being “nice” amounts. Like, I won’t stop at ten if there’s actually eleven just to make a nice round number. But this one is number twelve, which does make the list a nice round dozen, which isn’t what I want. But, I shouldn’t add a thirteenth simply to avoid it being a nice amount, either. Which makes my twelfth resolution a two-part resolution, which is more-or-less thirteen, so, y’know, phew!
Picking up where I left the all-too-brief obsession I had with finding animal shapes on Google Earth (Martha’s dog and Beacon dog): here’s Florianópolis’ dogs.
It’s where the island of Santa Catarina meets the mainland. Looks to me like one of those terriers and a Fred Bassett-type dog. Note the meticulous dog breed research, there.
So, what else? Well, it’s been fairly relaxed in Florianópolis. The island, Santa Catarina, seems to have just the one big town, and a bunch of small villages spread around the coast and lagoons. I’m staying near one of the lagoons, Lagoa da Conceição. Beautiful hills all around. I spent most of Thursday hanging around the apartment, doing the last couple of bloggy updates, letting my brain catch up a little. It’s three-and-a-half months since I left Berlin, and just over two months since I flew from London to Mexico City to begin my trip, and I’m having a wave of catch-up. Lots of thinking about where I’ve been and where I’m going. Both geographically and mentally.
Music has become important. I’ve listened to a lot recently, after spending a huge amount of the trip ignoring my iPod’s music in favour of podcasts (should you be interested: BBC Radio 4′s Best of Today, ESPN Baseball Today, The Guardian Football Weekly, Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo’s Film Reviews, Real Time with Bill Maher, Stephen Fry’s Podgrams, WFMU’s Seven Second Delay, and The Word Magazine podcast).
And it’s mainly comfort music. Before I left Europe, I put lots of CDs on the iPod that I’d not listened to so much, or CDs borrowed from friends, and I’ve hardly touched them. Instead I’ve found myself going back to records that give me a nice, warm, fuzzy feeling. Maybe it’s because I have none of the home comforts I’m used to (I’m sleeping in my 17th different bed since I left Berlin), but, really, it’s no excuse for my Coldplay obsession right now. I can’t go a day without wanting to listen to them. Even “X&Y.;” When I’m listening, I still find myself thinking, “Gott in Himmel! These lyrics suck so much.” I don’t get why I’ve fallen for Coldplay, but I have, and it’s all fucking yellow. (How’s that for a cutting edge reference, eh kids?)
Yesterday, Renata and I went to go and look at the beaches in the north of the island, but a simple wrong turn took us onto the bridge off the island, so we kept going. We headed north for about an hour to a seaside place called Balneário Camboriú. A nice beach, a nice view of hills either side of the bay, with a bunch of modern hotels behind the beach to spoil it. The place was full – yes, full! – of Argentinian old folks. I cursed my luck that my first time walking along a crowded Brazilian beach wasn’t full of bikini-clad beauties; Renata was a tiny bit freaked that there were so few of her fellow Brazilians around. I took photos, but one feels a bit of a pervert taking photos on a beach, so most of them were done surreptitiously, holding the camera at my hip, which is probably even creepier.
Back on Santa Catarina, we stopped for some açaí. A tasty bowl of juicy pulp from the fruit of açaí palm, served mixed with strawberry and muesli. Good for you, apparently. (He says, lighting a cig as he types.)
Back at the apartment, I played some more with Nikolas. I’m not someone who has spent much time with children. My friend John in London has a two-year-old daughter, and she’s lovely. And since I’ve been here, playing with Nikolas, I’ve began to feel a tad broody. Not really used to that feeling. But when we were watching Woody Woodpecker (in Portuguese), and he scooched along the couch to fling his legs over my thigh and rest his head on my belly, I melted a little bit. This trip is doing strange things to my mind. And it’s probably about time that those strange things occurred. One can’t spend one’s life sitting at one’s desk at 3am watching the Yankees play the Blue Jays on a live Windows Media Player stream, can one?
Still, Coldplay!? C’mon, Craig, sort yourself out, son.