Category Archives: Travel

Capoeira in the land of Bruce Lee

I don’t think many people are going to argue that getting to know your piano teacher better will help your fingers get around the keys, but that’s precisely the claim made for capoeira. I believe it, which is why one Thursday morning recently found me getting off a plane in Hong Kong rather than my usual routine of a quick warmup and checking my emails.

 

It wasn’t an entirely capoeira centric trip. I’d wanted to check out HK for some time, especially since a couple of friends had moved there. They’d managed to bring our teacher over for a workshop, so with the promise of that plus checking out the sights the signs were aligned nicely.

 

Hong Kong is a crazy, bustling place. There doesn’t seem to be a building below 10 stories and everyone has somewhere important to get to. It’s impressive to see but after living in chilled out, stretched out Perth for a while I couldn’t imagine living there. Homem de Ferro and Zoinho seem to be doing pretty well for themselves there though, and we spent the days checking out the big Buddha, Bruce Lee’s statue and so on, the evenings playing capoeira and the nights talking (or partying!) til 5am.

HongKong

The workshops were great, it always feels good to train with M. Parente again. Most of the HK capoeira students are relatively new, but their dedication and energy were amazing to me, they were very advanced for the length of time they’d been training and put so much into every roda. I’m sure it helped that there is a legend like Mestra Jo teaching there and I liked the style of the other teachers I met too. It was a real inspiration and definitely gave me something to aim for with our little group here.

 

It was also just great fun hanging out with my teacher again and talking capoeira talk. It’s fun, it’s interesting and you do learn things that will help your game. We all know that capoeria is more than just a bunch of cool movements, and talking with someone who lives capoeira every day is a great way to pick up on the extra snippets of culture and malandragem. Mestre Parente always talks about how important it is for students to talk to and interact with visiting teachers, sit with them at dinner and chat away (assuming you share a language) because you can learn so much. It’s also true about your own teacher, and if you get the opportunity it’s well worth while. Capoeira is such a social activity, and that manifests in so many interesting ways. If nothing else, you can guarantee that any capoeira teacher worth learning from will have some crazy stories.

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.

End of studies and Minas

This weekend has been heavily influenced by rain as Brasil finally cools down from the crazy heat. I’ve also finally finished my portuguese lessons. Hard to believe its been 3 weeks here already! It was also a little hard to maintain enthuiasm for the classes given how intense it felt, but I think I did a pretty good job there. That was definitely helped by my teachers being friendly and easy to talk to, and I tried to keep my responses to questions at least a little interesting rather than just the dry facts. Definitely glad I didnt taken the option with more comtact hours though!

So last weekend I went to hang out with my friends’ teacher CM. Kuata. He’s a great guy, gave me some good tips for my game and has been really generous. Along with one of his students called Urso (who has also been really friendly) we went to a place that did amazing feijoada after training in the morning. I ate so much I was good for the rest of the day. Then he took me to a capoeira angola roda, I always love watching good angoleiros, especially old men. After all this I was pretty knackered, but the day wasn’t over. We headed off to a forro night (a brazillian dance vaguely similar to salsa) with another of Kuata’s students. I’d danced some forro before in the UK and thought I at least knew the basics, but going there convinced me I could barely see the basics from where I am. These people were amazing! I was pretty intimidated but I got a bit of coaching from J and some friendly girls we were standing next to and ended up having a great time.

There was more brasil-based-boogie the next day as my hosts André and Julia took me and a bunch of their students to a samba school. They were rehearsing for the carnaval of course, and since it’s nearly the end of the year they were very tight. What amazed me the most though was that they hit a peak of energy very early on, then managed to sustain it for the next 2 hours! With about 70 musicians in a hall it was also incredibly loud. There were probably twice that number of dancers and they pounded the floor for that length of time as well. My favourite dancers were the flag couples. Each flag was held by a woman and sort of attached at her waist. They would present the flag to the audience at intervals and the dancing involved a lot a spinning, one of my favourite things. Quite often the woman would be spinning in the middle with the guy running large circles counterways. The youngest pair looked to be about 10 and they were awesome, more awesome than any 10 year old has a right to, but the older dancers were stunning.

After training monday to wednesday on top of the active weekend my body had decided enough was enough. Fortunately it was then time for a little finishing-the-course drink with the school, which was very friendly. The next day I was off to Belo Horizonte!

As my plane landed my occasional rain-calling powers kicked in with some force, preventing all the later flights from landing (we were lucky to get in when we did I think) and even stopping Dani on her way to pick me up as she could no longer see out of her windscreen! Once Dani had managed to get me though we had an amazing weekend. First she showed me an awesome museum about Minas Gerais (the state BH is in) then we went to an absolutely insane market where we had some drinks and traditional Minas pub food. Minans seem to be very proud of their food and it was indeed awesome. Apparently it is also home to artesan cachaças, so we hunted around the market and found a place I could buy a couple of bottles. I was a bit worried about the plane as I just brought hand luggage and didnt want to check my bag in, but this is Brasil. Of course you can bring 1 and a half litres of cachaça in your hand luggage!

Next we headed off to Ouro Preto with a couple of Dani’s friends. This is the small town which was a former capital of the country as well as the center of the gold rush. It’s fantastically pretty in a mountainous Portuguese style and is now mainly a tourist destination and university town.
We had a great weekend here with a bit of cachaça and some stunning gold-covered churches. These make me feel quite sorry for the poor people who initially donated all the gold, it’s one thing to want a beautiful place of worship, but at some point you expect them to say “You know, we finally have enough gold leaf, solid gold ornaments and beautiful statues.” In Ouro Preto this just didn’t happen.
We also got an invite into a republica – basically a brasillian frat house with a decent party and plenty of free beer. After a quick tour I was sceptical how anyone who lived there managed to get any studying done, but apparently they don’t.

Back in Belo Horizonte for my last day I was dropped off for the morning next to a lake which would have been gorgeous if it had less crap floating in it. On the other hand it also had capybaras floating in it and chilling out on the sides. I wanted to see some of these massive rodents for years so this was an amazing surprise. They were so relaxed, paddling around or having a sleep with their sprogletts and I took a lot of pictures. Some of them seemed to be receiving a groom from vultures while they slept, although if they didn’t move for too long the vultures seemed to give them a hopeful nip to check they were still alive. I think vultures are nature’s optomists. After all, everything dies if you wait long enough. Other, less morbid birds had built some little mud houses in the trees, so I got a look at those too.

Dani’s mother really wants a picture of a roo with a joey!

I arrived back in São Paulo late, so grabbed a taxi to Osasco. This was a mistake. Generally Brasil has been well balanced or a little cheaper than Aus or the UK, but not the airport taxis. Made it just in time for a last roda with Kuata and his students and stayed over for a solid morning of training. CM. Kuata has been incredibly generous while I’ve been here, not charging a penny for his classes and giving me a bunch of instruments for Lee back in aus (and one for me!). It was also a great test of my portuguese as we had a decent chat over lunch, albeit with lots of simple words and explaining.

I’m still a bit behind but I better post this before it becomes the entire rest of my trip. Next time, Mel arrives!

Chilling in a hot place

So, after however many years and 30 hours on planes I’ve finally made it! Chilling in Brazil…
The planes were fine. I did a lot of sleeping and movie watching. The low point there being the amazing spiderman, which managed to make me feel like I’d wasted my time despite the fact I was trapped in a metal box with nothing else to do. About the last 5 hours i started to get antsy, but luckily planes these days have plenty of 90’s style computer games to distract my inner child.

Being met by a friend’s family at the airport was an absolute luxury. And my hosts have turned out to be great so far. I’m in a little granny flat at the back of their house. It even has a bunk bed in case granny feels sprightly. They both teach portuguese and one also teaches english so they’ve been very helpful.

I made it to the CDO matriz (headquarters) on my second day. I was so nervous! I realised over the last 8 years of capoeira I’d built this place up in my mind as a promised land of capoeira, full of mini mestres waiting to become the next M. Xuxu or M. Poncianinho at the age of 16. Not to mention all the famous mestres I’d probably be tripping over who’d kick my arse if I blinked at them funny. Of course, the matriz was just a normal class, full of friendly capoeiristas (as ever). I was greeted by CM. kibe in a friendly but busy-and-this-gringo-barely-speaks-my-language way and went on to an intense but fun class. I cant tell if i actually haven’t trained that hard in a while or the humidity just killed me, but i felt like I was training at altitude. The first student I met turned out to be urso, a friend of my friend who teaches capoeira in perth, and he offered to help me get to the place where their mestre teaches the next day. I also met a little kid with a lisp who talked at me for about 20 minutes. I couldn’t understand much but it was good practice. He does judo and his dad was getting his hair cut. Or was a hairdresser. Either way. The class was full of foreigners like me though. One of them even thought i was brazillian because of my broken portuguese, i was pretty chuffed. Pretty destroyed by the end as well.

So the next day I head off to osasco to meet CM. kuata, my friend’s teacher. Its a half hour walk to the station then another hour across 5 trains to estacione comandante in osasco. Kuata seems pretty cool, but the class is mostly beginners. I was nervous again, but this time because i couldn’t figure out when the last trains were and this class doesn’t even start until 9pm. No one seemed worried that i came by train though, so hakuna matata. Urso met me at the station to help me find the place and he’s already one of my favorites here. Awesome guy, super dedicated to capoeira and with a great game. I think he trains every day, sometimes more than once. Thanks to the late start and long travel route (I was basically taking trains in a spiral to get home) I didn’t get in until 12.30. Naturally then i was woken up at 6 by a brain convinced it wasn’t tired. If I understood him correctly CM. kuata would like me to come to as many classes as possible to take sequences back to his student in perth, but with that timetable we’ll have to see how many I can make (sorry doodz, I’ll do my best).

Today, instead of having a “proper” portuguese class we basically listened to a cool song by a band called skank, had a chat and went to the local market. It was awesome. They take over a street once a week and fill it with fresh fruit and deep fried packages of fatty joy called recheio.

Alright, so I’m off to capoeira at the matriz again tonight. My legs are sore but my belly is full and my head is happy. Here’s a link to the song I mentioned, I’d like to embed the video but I’m doing this through an ipod and it’s a bit limited. The typing is a bugger too! Skank – Saideira

Saideira is the last drink of the night, sort of a “one for the road” type vibe. Enjoy!

Anticipation

In 1 week I’m off to Brazil. 3 weeks of capoeira and Portuguese lessons (I may practise putting bits of Portuguese on here) on my own, then Mel’s coming and we’re off travelling for 3 more weeks. I’m a little bit excited. Actually very excited, but sitting here it doesn’t quite seem real yet. Especially since, as I type, I haven’t told anyone at all about this blog (hi there, I hope the future is nice).

The plan is to immerse myself in Portuguese, as I think I’m too lazy to really learn a language properly otherwise. I’ve got various basics already (thanks to years of hanging out with Brazillians, some effort on Livemocha.com and a few helpful lessons from Mariana), and I have no idea how much further it is practical to get in 3 weeks of study, but my hope is to be able to converse at a basic level by the time I come home. The theory is that I can then get better by using the language naturally (talking, typing and reading) after that. From what I’ve learned so far I think that tenses and conjugation are going to be my main enemies.

At the same time my capoeira school Cordão de Ouro has its headquarters only a few kms away from where I’ll be studying. I’m hoping to get some serious training and adventures in at the source!

I’d like to see if I can keep this blog going after as well, as I occasionally get the urge to write down my thoughts about capoeira. Less because I believe I’ve got some particular insight but because it helps to crystalise my own thoughts when I have to order them and type them out. This first post is going here so that when I do eventually share it around people actually have something to read. Next post: flying for 30 hours to a strange city where I don’t know anybody or speak the language – yet.