Monthly Archives: January 2013

Amazon adventure

This entry is non-capoeira related and ties up my trip to Brazil. The last thing I’d been desperate to do in Brazil was take a trip to see the Amazon, this was also one of the big factors which motivated Mel to come with me and I’m glad she did as this part would have been less than half as fun on my own.  We got very lucky with this trip, for some definitions of luck, and it was very memorable.

It started off pretty badly in the airport from Salvador. There were no direct flights so we’d planned to fly through Brasilia, but our plane was getting delay and delayed…  and it turns out as well that Brazillians have no real idea what to do with my name. Glynn has no vowels that they recognise and as for Forsythe… I suspect they’d delayed calling us because of this, but in the end the announcer called Mel’s name. After that they stopped and you could almost hear the confusion as they tried to figure out what to do with this uniquely British combination of consonants in front of them, so to spare them the trouble we headed for the desk ourselves and found out that we were now on a plane to Sao Paulo and we had to go NOW. Luckily (yay, luck!) I somehow managed to get some free internet on the way and shoot off an email to our tour guide, but it was all very hurried. Flying to Manaus from Salvador via Sao Paulo is absolutely crazy in terms of routing, it’s essentially like going to London from Glasgow in order to get to Norway, but about 4 times as far, so we were very very late. By this point our guide had had time to get tired of waiting for us, go home, check his email and phone a driver to come pick us up, so we were very glad to see the guy.

Apparently all the guides had been hired in the area, as a couple of cruise ships had shown up and taken over the local tourism industry, so we got further luck in the we had the head of the tour company as our guide, a guy called Elso Lima with near perfect English. Further, we’d only paid for a group tour, but for the first day and a half we were the only tourists there, so we definitely got our money’s worth. (The company was Amazon Green Tours for anyone thinking about taking a trip from Manaus.)

It was a pretty big trek out of the city, but the environment is so different there it’s amazing all the way along. It’s a bit tragic how little the people that live there actually seem to care for their surroundings, but I guess it’s easy to judge when you’re a rich tourist and not a fisherman/farmer doing some serious manual labour to get by. Even after a whole day’s travel the banks of the river were mostly farmland and were all owned by somebody or other, but we had even more luck when we ended up in a room with aircon in a surprise free upgrade. Luxury in the middle of the jungle! Mel thought it was bliss to escape from the damp heat and although I was up for a bit of a “proper” jungle experience I had to agree. We had a bit of a recovery in there but that night we were off camping.

First we stopped off to grab some cachaca and limes. The cachaca was super-cheap (about £2 and a bit or $3.50) and the limes Elso sent us to pick. He was completely incorrect about the position of the lime tree, with the only thing there being a weird spiky green fruit. He laughed at me when I said they couldn’t be limes because they were spiky, so I picked a couple to demonstrate he was being a nobber and eventually we found the tree further away from the river. The limes were tiny and orange, and we ended up getting them by hitting them with a stick, which worked pretty well. When he saw the spiky fruit I got so much grief for “not knowing what a lime looks like”, but I sent some his way for sending us on a goose chase.

We camped further down the river, which was full of caiman, fish and two types of dolphin, made a fire and cooked up some tasty fish and chicken with rice. Elso showed us how to make a decent jungle capirinha (don’t use the middle of the limes, apparently this part is what makes it bitter, then add as much sugar as lime and mash it up with as much cachaca as you can handle). Him and the boat driver then successfully freaked us out by killing a snake that was trying to climb into the driver’s hammock and showing us how long its fangs were and how big its poison sack was. Both were massive for such a skinny snake. So we both climbed into our hammocks with our shoes (Mel wearing hers, I slept on mine) and went to sleep. We woke up the first time when the candle set fire to the table (I jumped up and put it out while our guide slept) and the second time with the hooting call of a jaguar no more than 10 metres away and probably less. They’d pointed the call out to us earlier that night, and had actually built the fire up when one started sounding a bit close to us, but by the point the fire was really low and we couldn’t see a thing. For a long time it was right there in the dark, I didn’t move a muscle and I could tell by the lack of breathing coming from my right that Mel was awake as well. I have never wanted to see wildlife less in my life. The next day the guide asked me what I would have done if it came into the camp – his answer was that he would take his machete and run for our little boat as fast as he could, which was less than reassuring. I was still less than certain that it was a jaguar (the guide was calling it a panther which apparently is a generic name for big cats) and not a large owl or something equally comical, so I looked up jaguar noises on the internet when we got back to Australia. That noise was definitely a jaguar and I hope I never get so close to one again.

We were pretty shattered after a night of non-sleep, but the next day we saw monkeys and a sloth, which is a story in itself and went piranha fishing. That was very entertaining, the rods were bamboo and before the hook the fishing line finished in thick wire so they couldn’t bite through. They were very easy to catch with just a bit of chicken skin on the hook and everyone (we now had 2 more people with us) managed to get at least a few. I caught 6 and what I claim was the biggest, although none of them were massive. Elso was showing off and got at least 12 very quickly. We had them for dinner, they tasted OK but there was only a tiny bit of meat covering a lot of bones. At night we went off caiman spotting, the highlight being Elso hypnotising a small one by catching it, turning it upside-down and stroking its belly. The Amazon is absolutely infested with caiman.

Our last day we went for a hike in the forest, with lots of talk about jungle food and remedies, they even made us toys out of fronds of some leaf, I got a grasshopper (it was impressive sculpture for a being a leaf). They also showed us a few tarantulas and managed to coax them out of the burrows with a long leaf. We also saw a couple of types of monkeys and heard howler monkeys a few times. In all we saw an impressive amount of wildlife and avoided seeing one particular type which was fine by me. The Amazon was absolutely an amazing and different world and we hadn’t even reached anywhere more than a day away from the city.

So that’s the end of our trip to Brazil. It was a fantastic experience and everywhere we went made us want to see somewhere else, so we will definitely go back even without the draw of capoeira. We were glad to get home and stop travelling for a while though, so my next adventures will have to be in Australia, at least for a little while. Coming up!

Rio and Salvador

So I didn’t update for a while… Sorry… I know from experience that I am bad at keeping a diary when I have a social life happening. Luckily though I had a bored moment and found this entry half way completed! Even though I am in Australia now, back to Brasil:

So Mel (which means honey in Portuguese, but who happens to be my beautiful fiancee) arrived and brought plenty more rain with her in case Brazil didnt have enough. São Paulo instantly lived up to its name for being untouristy but with fantastic food. We went to the occasional interesting but mostly bizarre museum of Afro-Brazillians and B’s parents took us out for an amazing meal and gave us plenty of things to take back and a big hug to pass on, as they obviously miss their daughter.

So with plenty (too much) to carry we packed off for Rio and my friend Herbert, who was amazing. He worked extra hard during the week before so he could take the weekend and a couple of days in the week to hang out with us and show us around. Once again the food and music were fantastic and it definitely helped having a local contact in Rio. We saw the zoo, the statue of Christ and the sugarloaf mountain, but the highlights were definitely the music nights we went to with Herbert. I tried to meet up with a friend from Scotland for some capoeira but it didn’t come through. No capoeira for me until:

Salvador! The home of modern capoeira. Oh. My. Giddy. Aunt. So many famous Angoleiro mestres and capoeira groups in one place. Allow me to explain: I was invited to a roda within 5 minutes of stepping into our pousada. Bliss.

The pousada is a Brazillian guest house, basically a bed and breakfast. Getting there was a bit worrying, as we negotiated a cheap rate with a taxi driver from the airport only to find he was just some guy with a car, nothing official. We drove through some really bad neighbourhoods hoping we hadn’t made a mistake and were going to get dropped off and mugged, but in the end we arrived perfectly safely for about half the rate of the overpriced airport taxis. Our pousada was a gorgeous red place right on the sea front with art everywhere, it was called Noa Noa. Like about half the pousadas in Salvador it was owned by a Frenchman. As soon as we were checked in the guy at the reception desk (Cristian) invited me along to a roda with his teacher (Mestre Valmir). I guess the berimbau case I was carrying was a bit of a giveaway, but I knew I’d come to a great place

It was a very fun roda, with long games and a good atmosphere. M. Valmir wasn’t there though, he was on a trip to the UK, but I did get to meet his incredibly acrobatic son (whose name I can’t remember, apologies). Cristian also turned out to be a skilled capoeirista and he was an awesome contact to have in Salvador.

We were only in Salvador for a week so we went on a few trips around the place and had a few adventures getting out to Praia de Forte and some of the islands. I also went a bit mental in Mestre Lua’s drum shop and bought a bunch of percussion, including an atabaque (big capoeira drum for the non-initiates) which I had to post home and is currently getting bathed in radiation courtesy of Australian customs. It wasn’t until the end of the week I discovered the most amazing thing in Salvador, the Forte do Santo Antonio, aka the Forte da Capoeira.

I was a bit confused at first, because it shares a name with the fort at Barra next to where we were staying, but I’m glad we made it out there while we were in Salvador. It is literally a fort full of capoeira, with classes from about 6 different schools of capoeira. I went for a roda and a class with the Centro Esportiva de Capoeira Angola, the old group of Mestre Joao Pequeno but there were also classes available with Mestre Moraes and Mestre Boca Rica and 4 others besides. This was without a doubt my favourite roda in Salvador, with amazing capoeira on show in techniques, skills and maladragem. Also I played. I got to play a student and a teacher from CECA and they were very entertaining games, I think I more or less held my own in the first and understandably got thrashed in the second, but in a very kind way. The professor definitely was testing me, as he wouldn’t let me leave the game (I had the stitch bad and wanted a rest, he wasn’t having any of it) but we played for a very long time so I took that as a complement. They kept a tight control over the roda, which was good as there was a guy in Krav Maga trousers who looked like a serial killer and kept trying to fight everyone. As soon as it went too far off that way – and these angoleiros were good, they gave it right back to him with icing on – the berimbau called everyone back and kicked the offenders off to cool down. The only thing I didn’t like about the Forte da Capoeira is the way everyone had teaching on the night the others had their open rodas, so the groups didn’t seem to mix even though they were right next to each other. This seemed like a waste. It was a really beautiful place though with great views of Salvador. I want one.

I suppose I should say something about touristying my way around Salvador. It’s a gorgeous place, let down only by the smell of piss along some of the streets (especially the waterfront at Barra). We were told we’d only want to spend a couple of days there, but with all the capoeira I could have spent much longer quite happily. We got out to a couple of the islands and a turtle sanctuary and they were all little paradises, so next time I’m going to hit up Salvador for the capoeira and then hopefully get out into Bahia a little more, especially to the Chapada Diamantina national park. And there will be a next time, oh yes.