Monday, April 21, 2008

“Luis, saia de ferias!”

One-tenth of my Portuguese-absorption is now coming from TV commercials. I’m not certain whether that observation should be followed by a “Ha!” or a “Hmph”.

The 2+ hour bus journey to Torres was enjoyable. It was the first time I’ve seen anything close to “countryside” in Brasil, let alone my state. On previous visits I wanted to explore, but lacked the time. Even passing through the city limits, and seeing some of the… less glamorous parts of my new home was stirring. About an hour into the trip I began to see the serra geral (I think that’s the correct serra) that I’ve read about. Being from the plain states, even the most modest of mountains excites me. When we neared the ocean and I saw loads of those cool modern windmills, and lakes or swamps or floodplains or whatever they were—the scenery was new and lovely in my eyes. Unfortunately I didn’t have my camera at the ready when we passed the giant cuia (the cup used in serving the ultra-gaúcho-tradition: chimarrão [tea]). Some of you may already know that I have an inexplicable fondness for little-things-made-big. But I only like the realistic things, not the animated kind. Some examples: a realistic giant toothbrush outside a dental clinic—cool; the giant bowl with chopsticks outside Big Bowl on State Street—cool; a giant whisk outside a culinary school—super cool; the big barbeque mounted on the exterior of the Weber Grill restaurant—positively delightful. However, the mushrooms and frogs and butterflies adhered to Rainforest Café—hate them. En route to Torres, we passed a roadside store (I suppose) that had a giant 3-D cuia on the roof. Happiness.

Welcome to Torres…

…where you can witness the 20th Internacional Festival de Balonsimo


The Guarita Park Hotel is everything I hoped it would be: a lovely, tropical orangey-coral color, with a gorgeously landscaped pool; and my own private balcony in an inviting dark wood with a cream-tile floor. It is well-situated across from Guarita Park—an easily accessible nature preserve which separated me from the Atlantic Ocean –which allows the few minute walk to be a more serene experience. At the peak of the rocky cliffs in said park, I discovered what is probably the most peaceful place I’ve ever been. I sat here…

…and watched the waves crash in, sozinha, for some time.

Then, I wondered about how to get back down. I remembered the harrowing experience in England’s Lake District when the path I was descending turned out to not be a path at all—but a death trap! After seriously fearing for my life for a few minutes, I remember, I screamed for help from some better equipped hikers far below. Alas, the Brazilians were much more hospitable. I found a crazy little staircase carved into the side of the cliff, leading right to the gorgeously remote Guarita beach, which I had seen once in a photo a friend sent.

One of my favorite quotes of all time: "Reminds me of my safari in Africa. Somebody forgot the corkscrew and for several days we had to live on nothing but food and water." --W.C. Fields
I had considered bringing a bottle of wine, but forgot to pack one. But I also forgot to pack my corkscrew, and that’s just bad form! I was forced to drink overpriced mojitos and caipirinhas in the hotel bar on Friday night, though a dirty old man did send a cocktail over for me. (Smirk.) On the subject, I’ll admit that the inclusion of the next photo is tasteless, but heck, I can be déclassé sometimes.

On Saturday I roamed the town. The ten-plus miles didn’t phase me, as I’ve been working the legs so much around Porto Alegre, with far more demanding inclines. I walked the entire length of the beaches, all over city center, dead-end residential streets, and to the parque de balonismo, where the hot air balloon festival is held. There, I watched a capoeira demonstration. I adore watching capoeristas; it’s so mesmerizing. Capoeira is (in short) something between a martial art and a dance with roots traceable to the African and indigenous slaves in northern Brazil in the 16th century. The practice has a great deal more depth beyond the two capoeiristas performing in the center of the roda (circle of participants). It is rich in musical and social tradition as well. The instruments you see in the background that look like giant bows are called berimbau. (Astrud Gilberto sings a song of the same name that I fell in love with several years ago—far from knowing that was even in Portuguese, let alone anything about the instrument, the culture, or that (ha) I’d being living here writing about it now.) Hint to Blogger newbies: if you press PLAY (the right arrow) below the picture, you'll get more from the experience. ;)


After the entertainment, I grew impatient waiting for the big balloon launch and headed back to the beach to watch the surfers and kiteboarders.


I took this picture of the jellyfish before I realized it was still breathing. Then I went all Baywatch in my attempts to rescue it. "Respira! Respira!", I consoled as I tried rolling it back into the water with a shell, but I was concerned about cutting into it’s…jelly… with the shell, and the next wave set it 6 feet further onto shore. So using my havaiana as an ambulance, I scooped the blob onto my flip-flop, ran into the waves, and hurtled the thing to (hopefully) a safe distance into the sea.

Ironically perhaps, Saturday night I went for frutos de mar (seafood) because, hey, when in Rome, ? I have to be careful on such excursions because I don’t like fish—the swim swimmy kind. I was going to have siri (crab) because that’s a nice treat that’s within my culinary boundaries. I ordered small plates instead of a meal at Restaurante Beira-Rio: siri na casca and mexilhão à milanese. Crab in the shell and mussels with some tomato sauce respectively, I thought. The first dish came, and though it wasn’t what I expected, it also wasn’t as puzzling as the second. The crab meat was served in (another animal’s) half shell and was akin to a crab cake. But the mussels weren’t mussels at all. It was something deep fried (therefore difficult to identify) that appeared at first glance to be larger-than-normal calamari. Then I thought, maybe it’s halves of frog. Mmmm, I don’t think so. Calma, calma, I said to myself. I delicately sliced into a piece to find black bits, then some orange bits, and some white bits—all unrecognizable. Is it the tentacle of a larger octopus? I ate a piece, prepared for the worst. It was ok. But I kept investigating. I’m pretty sure it was deep-fried oysters, but being less-than-comfortable with the tail-like and leg-like parts, I selected just the pieces with a shape that fit into my stereotypes of what an oyster should resemble. Then I was fine. (I have since confirmed that mexilhão is in fact oyster. Phew.)

On Sunday, I did exactly what was advertised when I planned this excursion months ago—“venha fazer nada!”—I did nothing. I took a nap after breakfast (ha), listened to the rain, watched the futebol game, surfed the net a little gathering ideas for the coming week, and watched a film on TV.

Oh, the boxes, which I have named Fernandão and Girassol, are making progress. “Em Processo de Liberação” which means, I cautiously presume, they have landed and are awaiting clearance at customs. I’m not sure if they sailed to Santos, Porto Alegre, or some other port city—so those two kids still might have many adventures ahead.