Seventeen years ago I met an amazing Brazilian woman who was at that time also working as an au pair in London. We shared some memorable moments together, travelling, laughing, experiencing and I was always touched by how perceptive and sensitive she is. Marcela became my first reason to want to visit Brazil one day… and the reasons multiplied as the right time kept coming closer. Another of my dreams is now being fulfilled. I am in Brazil at carnival time, staying with Marcela and her lovely family and friends.
As those of you loyal blog readers know, I find it really hard to leave places. So, after spending a couple of weeks in my native land with my family and friends it felt difficult to leave again for my travels. I had a lot on my plate back home, arranging various bureaucratic issues and the necessities needed for my further travels, and it was cold most of the time as it is the winter time now in the Czech Republic. So, I left in a state of upmost stress and exhaustion, with not much energy left in me. The long flight (with a transfer in Lisbon and Recife) and the air conditioning (I am not a fan of) worked the final drain on me and with emotions swirling in me (I mean, come on, it is South America, after all, you get to hear stories about the big Latino cities, the poverty and crime every day, so, surely, as a single blond solo traveller worries arrive to test your strength and determination) I ended up totally sick with terrible flue, accompanied by voice indisposition.
The great vibes of the place though, the sea and the sunshine and all the love of the people who surround me now helped to heal swiftly, basically in a few days.
Arriving to Maceió and meeting my friend at the airport at 1am, I got a wave of emotions in me… a dream that we were talking about for so many years, always repeating in our Christmas cards exchanged “I hope to see you some day again”, coming true at that very moment. It felt special. Even though I basically speak no Portuguese and Marcela´s family, most friends and maids (actually most people in Brazil – or South America) speak no English, I manage my communication with Marcela´s translation help, google translator and my knowledge of French and a bit of Spanish.
I have grown fond of the “full house” by the beach where there is Marcela´s husband Breno, their son Breninho, Breno´s grandma, her nurse, Breninho´s nanny, and currently (as it is the carnival) also Marcela´s parents visiting with their maid who does most of the cooking. A cleaning lady comes and goes and so thus the gardener. The house is always packed. The maids have their room downstairs, I have mine upstairs, where the family stays, with the view over the sea and palm trees in the lagoon.
You can tell that family is a huge thing in Brazil and so is the necessity for a well-established family to have maids. You have the rich and the poor here, or the richer and the poorer. The richer employ the poorer and thus help to feed them. A new, ultra-rightist president has recently been voted for in Brazil, so we will see what changes that will bring…
It took some funny moments for me to get used to the help of the maids in the house. The very first morning, I flew into the kitchen, starving (you know, food on planes…), and started preparing my tea and eggs as soon as I said my “Bom Dia” to the maid who was busy preparing breakfast for the others. I did not expect her to be helping me too – I mean, why should she? I was a perfectly self-sufficient world-traveller, couch-surfer, easy around other people´s houses, right? Well, not really, I was simply ignorant…
I scrambled my eggs in a minute, cut a few slices of cheese and a watermelon and went to the dining room as Marcela, in the meantime coming to the kitchen, exchanged a few words with the maid. She then came to me to say that the maid was sorry, I was too fast with the eggs. I quickly grasped the situation, understanding that it is actually impolite to the maids to be “doing my own thing”. I have generated a feeling that they are incapable of doing things well and brisk. Silly me… Now, I do wait for my eggs to be made for me, I smile with an “obrigada” when the plate arrives in front of me on the dining table, while I am sipping my tea that I still do make myself (nobody else drinks tea here, they all prefer coffee) – I can help a little at least by pouring hot water into my cup, si?
It is amazing how perfectly the house functions and operates with all the people in here. I could easily imagine having a similar life myself… Perhaps that shows that I could be able to settle down – after all. We will see…
What I immediately fell in love with here were the colours… truly, Czech Republic is so grey! Houses here are blue and red and yellow and orange – so beautiful! And there is street art, graffiti everywhere, I don’t mean tags, I mean real art! They use paints to write advertisements on houses and walls and pillars too – no posters needed, you just paint what you want to say, later, you might repaint it.
The colours multiply as the carnival is on. There are mask decorations in supermarkets and in the streets, people wear colourful clothing and sometimes even masks and costumes, guys would sometimes dress as ladies (now, even though it is Catholic Brazil – recently, with Spiritism growing in popularity – homosexuality is pretty common here) and every region would have its dance: here in Maceió it is frevo, in e.g. Rio it is the world famous samba. Even though the origins of samba would be rooted in African tribal culture, it became famous in the form that we know today thanks to the famed favelas (the most prominent samba schools are rooted there).
The main carnival shows in Rio would take place on Sunday and Monday, thus following the Friday and Saturday shows in São Paulo. You can buy tickets to see the samba parades in Sambodromo online and you can also buy a costume from your favourite school online and thus join the parade free of charge, once you pay for the costume – about Reals. Clearly enough though, cities get even more crowded, jammed and expensive on the carnival days – and also more dangerous when it comes to snatchers.
The parades happen over the night and finish around 5 or 6 am but this year things in Rio got a little delayed due to the heavy rains. We are now having some rain in Maceió too but hopefully it won’t last long. I love the carnival mood all around but what I don’t like is the loud music played everywhere over the night – real loud with heavy drums and beats and basses resonating through the air so that they disturb your sleep even with ear-plugs used (not to mention the fact that the bed seems to be moving with the beats underneath you).
Generally, Brazil seems loud – which is not a problem for me as it actually helps me make my ear condition unnoticeable. People speak loud enough and like to articulate with a lot of emphasis. They laugh out loud too which is truly appreciated by me.
Maceió as a town is really nice and I love the fact that the sea is never far. I like Gunga and Barra de São Miguel, Praia de Frances (the surfers´ beach) and Mundaú lagoon just outside our house.
I love the local food, all the amazing fruits and root veggies, such as yam, macaxeira and sweet potatoe. My favourite street food so far is acarajé, deep-fried mashed peeled-bean balls which can sometimes contain some filling such as shrimps and cashews. And I love brigadeiros and tapioca with coconut shreds!
My family here always laughs at me when I make guacamole for my dinners because they eat avocados as a sweet food here, with honey and coconut powder. When I first put garlic into my mashed avocado they stopped asking me if I would eat this and that as one of the maids correctly said: “If she can eat an avocado with garlic, she can eat anything!” So far for gastronomy around the world…