Yesterday, in the back of a ute, I bounced through a national park of sand dunes and coconut trees with a baby strapped to my chest until I arrived at a true oasis on the North Eastern coast of Brazil, Jericoacoara (Jeri-kwa-kwara). It’s pretty remote, it’s buzzing with travelers, kite surfers and locals, and my god, it’s beautiful. We’d left the small coastal town of Fleshieras that morning with our new friend, Andre, a cousin of our other Brazilian friends, Ness and Raph. Andre has been putting us up in the Pousada he runs, but he’s taken some time off this weekend to show us around Ceara, the state he loves and calls home. As we groaned carefully over those dunes and through the freshwater lagoons, I had time to take stock of my experiences in Brazil so far. It was clear to me then, through the movie of memories that flickered through my mind, I was in love with this country.
If you’d asked me about Brazil before we arrived, I would have bemoaned the visa application experience. I would’ve told you it was arduous and ridiculous, and had I known how painful it was going to be, I would never have booked all those flights in and out of the country. Now, as I sit here with a sandy baby on my breast, listening to the wind ruffle the palm fronds, I know I’d go through that visa process six times over and smile all the while, just to get where I am today.
Brazil steals your heart. It’s the beating drums in the rolling, steep streets of Santa Teresa. It’s the dancing in the night through a crowd of colour. It’s sprawling cities combined with mountain views. It’s the glean of a thousand stranger’s smiles that shine down on our son every day. It’s the icy cold coconut that sweetens my salty lips. It’s my toes in the sand with a thousand other toes.
It’s beaches packed to the brim with people, umbrellas, bronzed bottoms and in that, a sense of community that makes rubbing shoulders with your neighbour on the foreshore seem right! In Australia, I know we’d gasp at the thought of having to share our patch of sand with another possie. No doubt we’d need a radius of personal space that matches a football field to feel content. Here, you crawl and duck under brollies and between chairs to squeeze into your spot within the crowded beach because that means you are among friends and family and the people you’ve shared that beach with for 30,40 or 50-something years.
You see, Brazil is packed with people, and as far as I can tell, they are all family.
The Wittys have been blessed on this tropical trip. Our experiences have been fortified by special connections with old friends… and old friends who know how to party! Witty had two great mates in Australia who returned home to Brazil to start their family a few years back. Now living between the coast and Belo Horizonte, Raph and Ness, with their two babies and extensive families, took us into their homes and showed us la boa vida! In the country where we predicted we’d be working our hardest as lone traveling parents, instead we found ourselves engulfed in family… in friendship, love and bloody good times! I’m not gonna lie: it’ll be hard to leave.
We left Rio de Janiero after an incredible stay with a beautiful couple in Santa Teresa. Ion was a refugee from Romania who ended up in Brazil in the 70s. He bought this old house on the hill and married the beautiful Sheila from Leblon.
They’d made a life in this rustic, mansion-like home, surrounded by mango trees and in them, a family of marmosets that came down to greet us in the afternoons. Ion made the best caipirinhas, and Sheila gave the best hugs. She also gave young Atlas a tiny soft toy- it is a jaguar and we have named her Sheila. Finn kisses her daily with an open-mouthed passion acceptable only by 5 month-olds.
We arrived in Vitoria and were picked up by Raph, who took us to his and Ness’s family beach homes in Guadapari. It was there, that the beaches, the families and Carneval swept us away. Carneval can briefly be described as thriving, heaving and wild. But to experience it is so much more. I could spill adjectives all over the page, then spray them with hypercolour paint and sweat, and then make them bounce off the screen to the beat of 28 drums. That might start to depict the sensation. Instead, I reckon you should just go. I was embraced by hoardes of happy people in the street. Babies, kids, young couples, old lovers. I danced beside a doctor playing Spanish guitar on a deserted beach in the evening. I swooned with dozens as a 79 year old man in nothing but his leathered, brown skin and his DTs, hollered Frank Sinatra’s I did it my way on a busy side street (awesome, by the way). We danced, danced, danced. Oh yes. And there were a few celebratory drinks involved.
Staying with Ness’ family at their beachside apartment, we also learned how to recover, Brazilian style. Most of this happened at the breakfast table around 10 or 11 before we hit the beach downstairs again. It was also here that we learned how to eat like Brazilians. Tapioca pancakes were a main event, and this other sawdust-like substance called farofa went on pretty much everything. Witty and I thought hard about what we could match it with, and we introduced Vegemite to the family’s breakfast table. Suffice to say, while we do have some things in common with the Brazilians (like saying “Oi”as a greeting and drinking cold beer), the appreciation of Vegemite isn’t one of them.
Other memorable culinary gatherings were back yard BBQs. Raph’s parents put on a beautiful BBQ party one afternoon. Excitedly, we went to the fish market with Raph to scope out the local catch. Fresh and deliciously priced, Witty and I bought a bunch of lobster to add to the feast. There were many moments like these. Long afternoons with lots of laughs, slow evenings with good company and red wine. The festivities continued long into the nights and stretched all the way through Vitoria and on to Belo Horizonte. As I learned, the Brazilian working year doesn’t (un)officially start until every last drop of the good times and fiesta have been squeezed out of Carneval. I thought we had a lingering start to the year with January 25th as Australia day… but March as the kick off? Now these guys know how to live!
It was sad to leave our friends in Belo Horizonte. Raph and Ness showed us not only the charm of their country, but the variety of life here and the importance of family. Still, as will be the way on this journey, we must eventually leave everyone we meet. With huge hugs and big love, they sent us on our way, and into the arms of yet another another laid-back legend of Brazil, their cousin Andre.
Jericoacoara will be our last hurrah in this fine land and it is a warm, windy and divine way to end the Brazilian experience. Tonight we will wander up on the sand dunes and, as is customary up here, we will cheer and clap with the bronzed Brazilians as the sun sets over the water. Then we will wander back down to the beach, Finn will squeal and gurgle (sing) again as the capoeira drumming starts and the dancers will form in a circle by the water’s edge. Brasil, Te Amo.