A Travellerspoint blog

Underwater love

Part 1:
Wow, time is passing fast! After racking my brain to decipher the day and date, I realised that it has been 6 weeks already since I’ve been travelling. Although I am trying to move to Argentina sooner than later, because Brazil is expensive and I am worried I will spend all my money here, I made a snap decision on Wednesday to backtrack to Arrail do Cabo (3 hours north of Rio) to do my Open Water Diving course. It is something I was planning to do somewhere in South America, but had no specific plans as to where. But after meeting Lance, an Australian who ran the hostel where I stayed in Rio (called the Mango Tree – thanks for the reccommendation, Mel), and hearing about the possibilities for diving in Arrail, I started to think it could be a good place to do it. Lance also did his open water ticket there and reccommended a school to me. He even went out of his way to organise it all for me from Rio, managing to get the necessary medical assessment waved so that I could start straight away. Figuring that a reccommendation from an Australian was probably the best quality assurance I was going to get in South America, I decided that Ilha Grande could wait a few more days. So after hiking up to see the famous Jesus statue and incredible views of Rio, followed by a night out in Rio checking out some live samba with Eric at the Rio Scenarium, a 3 storey high nightclub filled with an ecentric Carioca´s collection of rare antiques and kitch belongings (another great reccommendation, Mel), I hurled my hung over self up north (again).

Jesus Statue in Rio (shame about the scaffolding)

Jesus Statue in Rio (shame about the scaffolding)

It is now my third day in Arrail and I have completed 2 days of the course. On my first day, my instructor didn’t speak English, so I had a 17 year old Dive Master in training translate everything to me in very average English. Despite the odds, this seemed to work OK. There was no starting in the pool, however, it was literally straight in the deep end to complete all the essential exercises. Fortunately, I had completed 2 one-day introduction dives before, and one at a very good school in Indonesia, so I had some idea of how to dive. Otherwise, I think it world have been a bit overwhelming.

There is a lot of practical information to take in and being the only student on the boat has been a bit difficult at times, but overall it has been fine. The good thing about doing all the theory in the ocean is that I have been able to do a dive every day and have checked out heaps of the marine life here. So far I have seen loads of turtles, and lots of colourful fish and sea snakes.

There are not many International toursists in Arrail do Cabo, other than those from Argentina and Chile, and not many of the locals speak English. And while my survival Portuguese is enough to get by with all th essential things, it has made me realise the limitations of not speaking the language in the country I am travelling, and motivated me even more to pick up Spanish once I get to Argentina. But one other English speaker is sometimes all one needs to feel at home, and Kenneth, a guy from Belgium doing his instructors course here, has been that person for me.

The beaches of Arrail do Cabo are georgeous! I have to eat my former words about not being impressed by Brazil’s beaches as they are truly magical here. With the thin white sand and turquoise water, it is almost like being in the Whitsundays. The town of Arrail do Cabo itself is a bit of a dive (scuse the pun), but at least retains a not overly developed or touisty feel about it, which means the beaches are not too crowded and nobody hassles you.

One of the beaches in Arrail do Cabo (loved the cacti)

One of the beaches in Arrail do Cabo (loved the cacti)

Yesterday after diving, I hired a bike and rode to the other side of the peninsular to watch the sun set over Praia Grande (Big Beach). The sunset was spectacular and I was filled with a serene sense of freedom and happiness. I slowly rolled back without a care in the world, picking up my daily dose of ‘acai with granola’ on the way (the unbelievably delicious gelato made from Amazonian berries) and arrived back at the hostel satisfied with the day’s events.

Acai... yuuuummmm, i want one now!

Acai... yuuuummmm, i want one now!

Tonight I am heading out for Japanese with the dive crew. I think it should be fun though I am secretly hoping my social lifeboat (I just can’t help myself with the sea metaphors here), Kenneth, will be there, not because I fancy him, but because we can actually have a real conversation. Everyone needs a buddy, and not just in diving!

However, despite feeling relieved over finding another English speaker, I am truly loving travelling alone. It is amazingly liberating to feel such freedom to go or do anything without worrying about anyone else, and it feels empowering to feel so at peace with being alone and confidently being able to handle any challenge that comes my way.

Just now I was speaking to two Israelíes from my hostel who are both at the end of their 9 month long travels in South America and have hit traveller’s burn out. They are now just haning out, watching TV all day, and basically waiting to go home. I wonder if I will feel the same in 6 months time. At the moment, I cannot imagine feeling that way and think I could travel around the world for years, but I am sure that at some point I will start longing for home, and in fact, I look forward to that feeling when it comes.

But enough about the future, right now it is all about chilling out on the beach and going with the flow (oh, and learning to dive, the theory of which I will have to catch up on tomorrow).

Part 2:
Dinner with the dive crew was delicious. My nervousness about not having anyone to talk to was totally unnecessary with the group speaking English for the majority of the night. I got to know Paulo, one of my instructors and the owner of the school and his family. He and his wife have the most adorable 7 and 9 year old boys who also provided great entertainment at dinner. Paulo is a 40 something Carioca and ex engineer who made a career change into professional diving 15 years ago, without a drop of regret. At dinner he was a friendly and considerate host, and made sure everyone had enough sushi on their plates and was having a good time. Physically, he reminds me of Homer Simpsom, but he has a much cooler and more intelligent personality.

Sunday and Monday were spent diving and studying and eating in the only bar near the hostel, which is a hole, but which I have grown to like. Owned by a couple of old hippies, it is filled with Hindu iconography, has music that is always too loud, has regular shady characters residing out the front, and the owners are consistently stoned. But the food it good and cheap and the service is friendly enough. One of my favourite things about travelling is discovering these idiosynchratic places that become my local haunts during my stay somewhere. I love returning each night for my favourite dish and earning a sense of familiarity with the staff. I guess I am a creature of habit!

Today I completed my diving exam, which didn’t even get a look over by my instructors, and wham bam thank you mam, I am now a qulaified diver! My last few dives were great. I felt much more relaxed and finally worked out how to stay neutrally boyant. I saw tonnes of marine life and loved how relaxing it felt just to float by and watch aquatic life happening around me. The visibility was always good and the water mostly warm, and I have been extremely lucky with weather, each day being fine, and only today, the day I am leaving, the rain beginning. With my diving course over, I feel ready to move on, but I have enjoyed my stay here in this down to earth and laid back fishing town.

Next stop is Ilha Grande, an island off Rio, that I have heard great things about. I may have a few days of rain ahead but I am hoping it will clear for the weekend and I will get to continue beach bumming for a while longer.

Life is pretty easy right now!

(Disclaimer – this was written without a spell check so please forgive all spelling mistakes of which I’m sure there are many.)

Guilleme and Paulo, my two diving instructors.

Guilleme and Paulo, my two diving instructors.

Posted by Tracy Chap 14:33 Archived in Brazil Comments (0)

Beware of sharks!


Lencois is a small colonial town, 6 hours inland from Salvador. Its famous for being a diamond mining town and was once a very wealthy place. Now it has an exclusively tourist-driven economy, but is still quaint and charming. Surrounded by beautiful landscapes of caves, mountains and waterfalls, Lencois is filled with agencies organising tours and treks, and a few restaurants and shops.



I arrived at 5am on Saturday morning by bus and was greeted by a young boy offering to help me find my hostel. Without a map or a taxi in sight, I had no option but to trust him. I later discovered that Lencois is a very safe town and most people here are genuinely helpful.

Due to my swollen and inlfamed insect bites, I decided to book myself a double room in a small Pousada and enjoy some rest. This has been good as I have slept very well and my bites are slowly going, but it has meant I haven`t met many other travellers during my stay here. Also with the peak season coming to an end, Lencois has been very quiet, and I have for the first time felt a touch lonley and bored. On Saturday night though they had a live Jazz concert in town which I enjoyed, and I happended to acquaint some fellow travellers there. We hung out for a few drinks and checked out a forro party @ one of the nearby hostels. I got to learn to dance the forro with one of the biggest sharks in town, apparently. Unfortuantely, the cool travellers were leaving the next day so our short friendship ended there.

The next day I did a tour to see some of the waterfalls and caves. The tour was good but very tousity, and it rained a few times throughout the day. The quiet and sometimes sour Israelian couple were difficult to get a word out of, but were luckily compensated by the young, chatty, dentally-braced guide, Roger, who ended up being quite good company. Due to the late night forro party, I was extremely tired all day and slept the entire way in the car. I realised on my way back that my sleepy brain had left behind 2 essential belongings, one being my bikini bottoms... a major bumma indeed. The evening was spend eating a banana and chocolate crepe, my nightly ritual here, and sharing a juice with No 1 Shark, who assured me it was to be ¬“just one juice”. Leaving shark at the doorstep, I headed for an early night, and 12 hours later woke very refreshed.

Lencois 2

Lencois 2

One of the caves in Lencois

One of the caves in Lencois

Today has been a bit non-descriptive, filled with chores and booking tickets. I did manage to fit in a quick walk though to one of the nearby waterfalls and have a dip in one of the fresh pools there. Along the way, I was offered the service of a local guide, called Phillip, a 12 year old capoeira, percussion and football fan, whose father is French and whose favourite subject is Maths. He was the best guide I could have found – he spoke slow simple Portuguese, asked for no money, knew every rock and tree in the forest, and didn-t try to pick me up at the end. The sweetest Brazillan boy I have come across by far.

Tonight I am heading back to Salvador for a day then flying to Rio and shortly after heading to Ilha Grande, where I plan to take it very easy on the beach, hopefully with some cool peeps and good, cheap caprihnias.

Posted by Tracy Chap 13:36 Archived in Brazil Comments (0)

A musical mecca

3rd March 2010

It has now been 5 nights since I arrived back in Salavador. I am not exactly sure where the time has gone, but I have been enjoying Salvador the second time round. I took another overnight bus from Maceo and checked into a hostel in the old centre, Pelourinho, called ´Gallery 13´. It has a good vibe with cool, friendly staff and interesting travelers staying there, but it´s most seductive feature is a pool, which has turned out to be a god send. Whether this is because the heat has jacked up here or just that the rest of the hostel is unbearably hot, I am not sure, but every morning after breakfast I am able to feel cool a short while… a very rare thing in Salvador.

On my first day back here I went in search for percussion classes. I tracked down two teachers near my hostel and organized some lessons. One was a private lesson with a young dude who lived with his mother. As we played in her lounge room, she rested on the couch beside us. She did not seem impressed with my presence or the loud noise we were creating. The lesson was good and I got to learn some new rhythms on the Timbal (the Djembe equivalent in Brazillian music) and try my hand at the Pandeiro (a type of tambourine that is one of the essential instruments of samba).

The same day I also tried a collective class with a teacher on the other side of the street. His name is Micambira and he has an established school and rehearsal space with all types of drums set up and ready to play, and no cranky mother lingering in the shadows. In the class was myself and a German lady, Jesselie, who was on her 5th annual monthly study vacation with Micambira. I was on such a high after my afternoon of drumming, because it really was a dream come true. To be studying percussion in Salvador, the heart of Brazilian music, is one of the best experiences I could have asked for from this trip. I organized a private class with Micambira the next day and then decided I would stay the whole week and attend classes with him everyday. So far they have been going really well. I am learning so many new rhythms and improving rapidly. I think Salvador is going to be one of those places that I will return to on a regular basis in the future. It is what I came to Brazil for – a place where you hear music every hour of the day, stumble upon people of all ages drumming and dancing in the streets, and enjoy live concerts nearly every night of the week, not to mention being able to learn from the multitude of musicians that reside here… my idea of heaven!

One of the many child batterias I stumbled upon

One of the many child batterias I stumbled upon

My evenings in Salvador have continued to be filled up with interesting musical and cultural events. On my first night here, I accompanied a French lass and Aussie bloke to a local bar that had a small band playing samba and loads of locals drinking and dancing. The next night I went to the Modern Art Museum to see a JAM night there. Not knowing what I was in for, I was delighted to discover that the museum was situated right on the water´s edge, and in a prime position to watch the sun set. The JAM cost 5 Real to enter, was located outdoors, and had excellent cheap cocktails. I did not need to try hard to enjoy myself there. We saw two other bands that night back in the Pelo. An old school brass orchestra which played everything from big band jazz to Frank Sinatra. It was a bit surreal and I felt like I was at somebody´s wedding, with all the old couples interlocked on the dancefloor. The other band was a reggae group playing for free on one of Pelo´s biggest outdoor stages. They were good, but when my body could no longer move and I started yawning uncontrollably, I knew it was time to hit the sack, but not before a few extra minutes listening to a street drumming batteria on the way.

The Museum of Modern Art

The Museum of Modern Art

Right now, I am sitting at a cafe overlooking one of the main squares of the Pelo. In one corner are the capoeiristas, who mainly stand around and pick up gringas, but once in a while also play some drums and pose for photos. There are numerous locals waiting to catch a tourbus load of tourists to sell their beads, food, water, beer, jewellery, chewing gum, taxi ride, sarongs, colourful ribbon or whatever else might make a buck. There are tourists in every direction, though it doesn´t feel too overcrowded. Emedded in the crowd are a few street children and mothers carrying babies who mainly ask for food, and tonnes of locals going about their day. Just one level up at my favourite lunch time haunt is a totally different crowd of weathly middle class Salvadorians, much lighter in skin tone and ordained in stylish, expensive looking fashion. Despite the touristy atmosphere, I sense that everyone is just trying to make an honest living here, sometimes with a smile, and usually with enough energy left over to bop to the never ending music that parades pass the senses even more frequetly than Salvador´s numerous smells. Playing in the café is a CD of Machinhias, the Rio carnaval music, reminding me of Rio, the place where my trip began, leaving me with a sense of nostalgia, or what Brazilians call ´sodade´. I have been trying to translate this word for days now, not quite grasping its meaning. I guess I had to experience myself it to understand it. Just like Brazil.

My most frequented square in Salvador

My most frequented square in Salvador

, The gringo hungary capoeiristas

The gringo hungary capoeiristas

Posted by Tracy Chap 13:24 Comments (1)

Invisible natives

One of the best things about getting to know some locals is having the chance to ask them about my observations, questions and theories about cultural life in Brazil. Eric was a good person to seek information from as he is a journalist and educated about such issues.

One thing that has pondered me is how little Brazillians seem to identify with, publically celebrate, or symbolically acknowledge to native people of Brazil. To my surprise, I haven´t come across any symbolic representations in any of the places I have been. I am sure if I traveled closer to the Amazon I would start to come across more but I would have thought that at a national level the native Indians would be more celebrated, and their suffering and plight more acknowledged.

When I questioned Eric about it, he agreed that as a whole Brazilians don´t idenitify with the native Indians or see themselves connected to their history. He said they identify much more with their Portuguese and African heritage.

The plight and suffering of the African-Brazilians definitely seems more publicly recognized and their culture (music, dance, food) more integrated with mainstream Brazilian culture. One of the most popular ornaments in Brazil is a African woman resting her head on her hand, with her elbow resting on the window with a sad, relfective expression. They can be spotted on window sills all over Brazil.

One reason for this I am sure has to do with the quantity and location of the natives. During their colonization, most of the natives were sadly killed off, and those that did survive moved inwards to the Amazon. Now they make up only around .4% of the population. Another reason could be that Brazil and Brazillians change dramatically from region to region, so much so they are almost like visiting different countries. The differences from Bahia to Rio were enormous, and I have heard that southern Brazillians and the northerners are different agan. Each region has different ethic groups, cultural differences and language variations.

I guess I will have to travel to the Amazon before I can come to any conclusions about this issue. But it is something to ponder about in the meantime.

25.3.09 - After just a mintue of crossing the border into Argentina I came across several people dressed in native dress selling jewellery, which made me even more sure that Brazillians don`t seem that interested in their country's native history.

Posted by Tracy Chap 13:16 Archived in Brazil Comments (0)

Hamburgers and quad biking

Maceo and Praia da Gunga

(Thurs 25th Feb)

After a 6 hour bus ride sandwiched between a horny hippy couple who kissed the entire length of the trip and a sinus-challenged woman desperately in need of a box of tissues, I made it to Maceo. The centre of Maceo is poor and under developed, a stark contrast to the affluent Gold Coast style beachside - yet another reminder of the huge gap between rich and poor that pervades Brazil.

My hostel is gritty and aesthetically unsettling, but at least has air conditioning and only one other female sharing the dorm. I quickly dropped off my bags and headed off for an evening walk along the beach. The sea breeze was again delightful. I grabbed a healthy burger (an oxymoron you would think) and a fresh orange, pineapple ad mint juice at one of the juice bars along the shore. The boy working there was friendly and we exchanged some broken Portuguese/English words. He told me where the good ´foro´ clubs were around town. Several locals passed by to chat and offer more tips of hot spots to go. Again, I was impressed by the open, friendly, and hospitable manner of these lovely people.

After an early night, I headed off on a tour to see Praia da Gunga, the area´s most beautiful beach. It was cloudy and raining and I nearly backed out at the last minute, but luckily didn’t. Coincidentally, despite raining before and after our stay at Gunga, the weather was in perfect form the whole time we were there (with sunburn to prove it).

Coming from Australia, I generally find it hard to be overly impressed by most of the world´s beaches. I expressed this sentiment to my English mates in Olinda, but funnily enough, they struggled to sympathise with me. But Gunga was actually quite nice and even better once we moved out of the touristy part.

One the way there, I acquainted a friendly carioca who was on vacation in Maceo. As usual, I was impressed with the warmth and ease to which we quickly befriended each other. He translated snippets of the tour guide´s speech and as a result I learnt that there is a statue of liberty replica in Maceo, and that two of Brazil´s prime ministers were born there.

The friendly Carioca, Eric, and I conveniently buddied up for the day, sharing walks and swims, and finishing the day with a 4-wheel quad bike ride along the beach – definitely the best part of the day. The highlight of Gunga itself was the incredibly colourful rock formations that aligned the beach. At one point, I was standing in the middle of these towering rocks, bedazzled by their diverse orange and red hues. It was the most peaceful place I have been to in Brazil so far, surrounded by just birds, the sea (and Eric). Overall, it was a fun day. My body and mind are really starting to relax with all this beach time and the slow pace of life.

At night, Eric and I ate together at an Arabic restaurant, attempting a 3 way translation of the menu from Arabic to Portuguese to English. We ordered a nice wine from Brazil´s desert region (…go figure), and finished the night with a few Bohemia in a beer hall with live Pagode, a popularized form of samba. Deciding not to pay the R$20 cover charge to the underground forro club, I will have to learn to dance forro another time.

Right now I am sitting on a patch of grass under the shade at the beach, killing time until my night time departure. I just had breakfast at the same hamburger/juice joint and caught up with my buddy there from a few nights ago. Finding it hard to feel stressed about anything, I am just loving chilling out, with a sense of having so much time and many more adventures to come. Tomorrow I will head back to Salvador to soak up as much music and drumming as possible before heading back to Rio and then further south.

Posted by Tracy Chap 08:54 Comments (1)

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