Going Nuts for Brazil – an Odyssey of Six Parts

Going Nuts for Brazil – an Odyssey of Six Parts

Part Five – Hold onto your handbags – we’re in Salvador

I arrive in Salvador gagging for some culture, maybe even a bit of a booze-up. I’m ready to shake my Samba arse or maybe go legs akimbo with a spot of capoeira. But first, I need a bloody good hose down – I’m dusty and a bit crusty. I hop into a taxi and flash my phone at the driver indicating the hotel I’ve pre-booked. According to Google Maps, the seaside district of Rio Vermelho is pretty close by but Salvador is a big city of 2.5 million souls and to say it’s congested would be peddling an under-statement. We make slow progress through the city streets, over flyovers, pass by what look like hillside favelas and circle impossibly large roundabouts. Somehow, we avoid running down the countless hawkers who mill around the road junctions thrusting nuts, nick-nacks and chewing gum through the windows of idling cars.

Bikinis by day, stabbings by night

Eventually, we arrive at my hotel which is up a side street just off the seafront. I had reckoned that this being one of Brazil’s biggest cities, a lot of people would speak English. Wrong! In the clean and modern reception is a very handsome young man with a row of shiny braces. I ask him if he speaks English and he laughs. His female colleague, who’s sat next to him and who also has a row of sparkling metalwork in her gob, also laughs. I tell them my name and am shown to my penthouse apartment. Remember Paula’s Pousada with its polyester decked bunk beds, cracked bathroom tiles, and non-flushing WC? This is the opposite. My eyes are dazzled by the sheer luxury of my hotel boudoir for the next three days. I have pristine white bedding, purple scatter cushions and mood lighting, I have a kitchenette, a walk-in shower and a flat screen TV. A corner room, it even has two views: from one window I can watch the waves crashing onto the nearby sandy beach; from the other I can watch next door’s pizza chef smoking a fag on the fire escape while an overweight woman in a boob tube pegs out her husband’s y-fronts.

Capoeira – legs akimbo

A couple of hours after my arrival, I’m joined by Claudia, my new best friend and translator. Claudia, who I met at Paula’s Pousada, is a part-time chiropodist and waterworks employee at Sao Paolo council. She knows a lot about oil spillage (along with bunions, naturally). By the end of our three days together, I will also know a lot about oil spillage. She tells me there’s been an oil tanker incident off the coast of Brazil and injured and dead wildlife have been washing up on all the beaches up and down the country. That bastardo Bolsonara denies the spill is in Brazilian waters, says Claudia, but it’s hugely impacted on tourist numbers. No-one wants to swim in claggy brown oil, obvs!

Claggy brown oil is not the only thing to put off the tourists. The first thing I need to know about Salvador, Claudia tells me, is that we stand a good chance of getting mugged. My guide book concurs; it says tourists should NEVER go off piste, and if approached by young men brandishing machetes, should resist the urge for heroics. I remember a story I’d heard about a British couple who followed their Satnav into a favela by mistake and were promptly shot. Getting ready to go out that night, Claudia removes her jewellery and shoves her money down her pants. She implores me to do the same. We walk (a little uncomfortably) to a nearby Italian. It has red and white checked tablecloths and candles; oh, and two menacing security men who hover around our outdoor table carrying what look to me like machine guns. I fancy a creme brûlée but all the hardware and glowering puts me off and we make it an early night.

Quite possibly the biggest fish and chips I’ve ever been served!

The next day we do a few churches (Baroque, lots of gold, lots of nuns), sample Acaraje, the local Afro-Brazilian street food (blackeyed pea ball – very hot, very messy), check out the capoeira (lots of leg cocking in a circle while avoiding kicking anyone in the face), and end up in Porto da Barra, a well-to-do neighbourhood that has a lighthouse, a great spot where people gather to jam, drink, and watch the sun go down.

Jamming in Porto da Barra

We fancy a day trip to a beach but without the stabbings so decide to take a boat trip to the pretty island of Ilha dos Frades. The boat is rammed with cheery day-trippers dressed in colourful beachwear and carrying gigantic cool boxes. It’s only 9am but everyone’s necking the beer and caipirinhas like it’s the end of the world and when a Samba trio starts playing, they all go crazy and start doing the conga around the boat. On the island, we swim and sunbathe and eat a huge brown buffet. I let my lunch go down under a beach umbrella while Claudia combs the beach looking for oil. There’s a middle aged man sat with his back to me who has possibly had a surfeit of sun or a dodgy prawn, or just one too many caipirinhas. Anyway, I watch him casually turn his head to the side and vomit, a lot. Eventually, he’s down to dry heaving but I think it might be time to go home. Back on the boat, the Samba trio strikes up again although everyone is by now well and truly pissed so as the boat bounces through the water there’s a lot of lurching and quite a bit of grappling, especially during the Bossanova.

One, two, three, and shimmy!

That night Claudia and I venture out for dinner in the neighbourhood. This time, my credit card is down my bra which is slightly more comfortable than having it nestled in my gusset. We find a table in a large square where groups of young, beautiful types are eating and drinking to the accompaniment of a live band. We’re sitting ducks for the usual hawkers who weave in and out of the tables with their bags of tat. I look at the menu and plump for fish and chips but the thing that arrives at our table is a deep-fried monster. On the menu it says it’s for two but really, this is a meal for four very hungry people. We can’t even eat half of it! Claudia gets chatting to one of the table hawkers, a skinny woman in her 60s who’s selling sweets. She’s wearing make-up and is well-coiffed but by the way she’s oggling our leftovers, I can see she would eat a scabby dog, given the opportunity. We tell her she can help herself. She whisks a plastic bag out of nowhere and swiftly scoops up the fish with her bare hands along with the by now cold chips – and even the salad – saying it will feed her and her husband for two days. There’s no shame in this transaction just a brief respite from grinding poverty.

On my last night in Salvador, I’ve been bumped out of my penthouse suite by a couple of newly-weds. I join Claudia in her windowless dorm for six. It feels like a coffin and the aircon is giving me cataarh but I can stand it for just one night. Claudia and I share a farewell beer in the lobby. As a parting gift, she trims my toenails and removes a splinter from my thumb with a diabetes needle. Cheers mate!

There's Something Nasty in the Woodshed

There's Something Nasty in the Woodshed

Sun, daffodils and an off-duty sheepdog

At Stansted Airport a couple of weeks ago, a man on the Liz Earle concession in Boot’s asks: ‘How are we today?’. Me: ‘We is fine.’ Ignoring the grammatical boomerang, he persists: ‘Can I help you? What type of skin do you have?’ Me: ‘Medium.’ Slight furrowing of the brow. ‘I don’t know what that means.’ Me: ‘It means I’m normal (sotto voce) you moron.’ To be honest, I don’t actually need any Liz Earle Superskin Moisturiser with Natural Naroli because my pores will be clogged with mud and dog hair until mid-March, the reason being, I’m in Limousin playing housekeeper on a farm during the very hectic lambing period.

Is that afterbirth the dog’s eating?

For almost three weeks, I am Betty, Maid of All Works, aka domestic drudge. My daily duties are legion: I make breakfast for aged Ps, let the chickens out and collect the eggs, make breakfast, make cake, make busy with the hoover, put on a big load, bottle feed a lamb with a death wish, haul a tonne of logs in from the woodshed, make lunch, wash the boot room floor, clean the bathroom, assist with sheep tagging and vaccinating, fluff up the hay, stop the dog eating sheep’s afterbirth (it gives her the runs), make dinner, put aged P in the shower, and finally, put myself into bed, perchance to have nightmares about wiping my arse with Izal toilet paper.

The mole man cometh

Life and death are ready to smack me in the face whichever way I turn. For example, this morning, the mole man (squinty eyes and a long nose) gaily bonjoured me then skipped out into the field for a spot of killing. Then, I was interrupted during my morning mopping to help drag a dead sheep out of its pen ready for the knacker man to pick up. Meanwhile, next door, H. was elbow deep in a ewe’s fanny (big lamb, tight vagina). It eventually plopped out and I sang ‘Isn’t she lovely?’

Poor lamb thinks I’m its mother. Must be the Icelandic jumper

Yesterday, there was an ugly incident at the chicken coop. I was feeding the chickens when a 15-strong herd of hungry rams came at me from the next door field. They galloped into the feed shed and cornered me and my bucket. One particularly aggressive Suffolk flew at me with its ugly head. I shouted ‘fuck off’ and lunged at it with a kung fu style kick (not easy when you’re wearing Wellington boots two sizes too big), and the ram retreated with a poo/wee combo. Talking of poo, after my ram roasting, I had to go with H. to collect some sheep dung for worm analysis at the vet’s. H. only had one rubber glove on him but luckily, I had an old dog poo bag in my coat pocket so he was able to fashion a mitt and complete the dung collecting task (somewhat of a challenge as the dung was a bit sloppy). The receptionist at the vet was less than impressed when he plonked the poo bag down on her counter next to a complimentary bowl of lollipops. ‘Zut alors’, she seemed to be saying with her eyebrows but H. simply laughed. Farmers eh!

Larry, the he/she llama who thinks it’s a sheep. Duh…

New-to-me fact: llamas are exceedingly stupid. One on its own in a field of sheep will think it’s a sheep and adopt stupid herd behaviour. But put another llama in there and it will wise up and know that it’s not a sheep and start behaving like a llama. Fascinating! The farm’s resident llama, Larry, is a singleton and so believes itself to be one of the flock. Larry isn’t the only one that’s confused. For six years, H. & M. have been convinced Larry is a girl (despite having a boy’s name – given to her by previous owners). Then, one day recently, M. saw a winky-like protuberance emerging from Larry’s undercarriage. So, Larry would appear to be male after all. Whatever, he’s a bit miserable right now. With all the sheep residing in the farm’s maternity unit for at least two weeks, Larry doesn’t know what to do with himself. He spends his days wandering around the farm yard or standing mournfully by the barn entrance.

It’s turning out day

The lamb mobile has a funny looking occupant

On my final day down on the farm, I help M. mark and tag the lambs. This involves dangling the lamb while using a staple gun to attach two plastic tags to its ears, weighing it, attaching an elastic band to its tail so that it drops off and, finally, spraying it with its ID number. M. does the dangling and I do the rest but when it comes to the spraying, the lamb is wriggling and I’m all of a dither with the can. The poor lamb’s number 35 ends up as a big blue blob while poor M. is left looking like a Smurf. Oh how we laugh! And finally, we pile all of the off spring into the lamb mobile and transport them to the fields for their very first taste of grass, closely followed in the cattle truck by their anxious mothers. Bye bye sheep, I’ve learnt a lot about you, your water bags, your afterbirths, your four stomachs and your prolapsed vaginas. It’s been a pleasure.

Going Nuts for Brazil – an Odyssey of Five Parts

Part Four – The Big Trek

It’s 7am and I’m rendezvousing with my trek group for a three-hour drive into the Chapada Diamantina National Park. It’s an all-French-speaking group. There’s one Belgian – let’s call him Hercule, one Quebeccy (or is it Quebecian?) – I’m going to call her Butch, and a French couple – Philippe and Marie-Claude. Butch, a PHD chemist and part time pole dancer, has very short arms and legs and a voice like gravel. Hercule is exceptionally brown and an ear surgeon. He once spent time in Eastbourne! Philippe and Marie-Claude are having an early life existential crisis; they think starving themselves of good quality cheese and wearing the same pair of socks for a week will help them pinpoint the exact meaning of their shallow existence (at some point, I will tell them it won’t). Meanwhile, our guide, whose name is unpronounceable to me but means ‘Little Willy’ in Portuguese, has a habit of gobbling his words so although he’s apparently speaking pigeon-English to me, his unenunciated words are lost on the breeze. We’re rammed into a small jeep driven by a gormless middle-aged man in board shorts and flip flops who insists on swapping my smallish backpack for a bigger one (more of this later). As promised by the trek organiser, en route we stop in a small town where there’s a bank which has actual cash in its ATM. Glory be! I replenish my wallet with Brazilian Real while Little Willy visits the market and buys all our food for the next three days.

We’re dropped off at the foot of a steep climb and Little Willy shares out the food. Apparently, ours is a basic trek, i.e. there are no sturdy porters, not even a small donkey to carry our bags. We are the donkeys. Rather conveniently, Butch and Marie-Claude have very small packs so can only fit in a few cheese balls and a couple of bags of pasta. Courtesy of our driver, I have a much larger pack and so end up with three days’ worth of potatoes. I’m also carrying 1.5 litres of water! We start climbing almost immediately. It’s two kilometres straight up, the sun is high in the sky and there’s no shade. After three hours, my spuds are taking their toll. I’ve got waggy legs and my head is on a rolling boil. Hercule, with his medical training, sees that I’m probably going to pass out and drop off the edge and comes to my rescue. He masterfully takes charge of my pack, carrying it up the last few remaining metres. At the top is a flat, scrubby plateau where I collapse. Little Willy gives me a banana and pats me on the back. For the rest of our trek, he will constantly ask me ‘tudo bem?’, which roughly translates as ‘don’t you dare die on me you lanky bitch.’ At first, I’m grateful for his concern but after a while I want to punch him.

There is precious little evidence of humankind in the Chapada Diamantina. There are no roads and only a handful of homestays dotted around. There aren’t even any other trekkers. Imagine, a beautiful, wild landscape of dramatic rocky outcrops, colourful orchids and deep forested valleys where the only sounds are the gentle rustle of the wind in the trees and the chirp of birdsong. And then, rudely puncturing the serenity is le blah le blah le blah of my four Gaulish companions. They never shut up. In their late 20s, and seemingly super fit (especially Butch), they can skip up a steep incline of switchbacks, with a backpack, in searing heat, and still have enough breath to guffaw and titter at each other’s travel deprivation stories. ‘Marie-Claude, cherie, do you recall the time in Umpalumpaland when we got lost in the jungle for three weeks and had to eat our flip flops?’

I catch up with Little Willy who’s striding on ahead – no doubt, he’s also desperate to get away from the eternal blether. At our first homestay (think 1970s youth hostel but without the lightbulbs and hot water) we rinse the sweat out of our smalls under a cold tap in the yard while Little Willy cooks our dinner, a strange combo of rice, fried potato, cheese balls (naturally), tapioca flatbread (too much chewing) and stewy stuff – all washed down by the local beer. By the time we’re done eating it’s dark. I leave the rest of the group to get pissed on the local cachaca (rustic rum) and retire to my 20 bunk room, of which I am the sole tenant.

The next day, after a thick slurry of porridge and black coffee, we’re off up the ominously named Prefecture Slit. It’s another vertiginous climb involving lots of scrabbling around on rocks and a hazardous crawl through a dripping cave. Marie-Claude is afflicted by claustrophobia and Philippe has to cover her head with a travelling tea towel so she can’t see how low the ceiling is and freak out. We make it through to the other side and the trek culminates with some staggeringly scary views down a sheer cliff face. Under Little Willy’s direction, we inch on our bellies to look over the edge. Apparently, a few years ago a freak gust blew a trekker off the edge so he’s taking no chances. And knowing my propensity for falling over, neither am I.

That night at the homestay, the Gauls are on the cachaca again and Butch demonstrates some of her pole dancing moves. ‘It’s not sexual’ she growls flinging herself into a Martini Spin around the corner pole of the veranda. The boys, evidently feeling a prickle in their testicles, then have a press up competition. I leave them to it. The next day, we have a long 24km trek across the plateau back to the beginning of the trek. En route, we see a humming bird bathing in a creek and some wild horses. Oh yeah, and I’m so tired, on one of our periodic rests, I narrowly miss sitting on a lizard. It’s time to go home. We descend the same way we came up (so much easier without the potatoes), meet up with our driver and make our way back to Lencois where we celebrate our safe return with a can of Coke. I’m gagging to get back to Paula’s Pousada for a big old lather but my backpack (the one I’d exchanged for a bigger one at the start of the trek) has disappeared, as has our driver. I have a row on WhatsApp with the trek organiser (very difficult as a. his English is shit b. the mobile signal keeps dipping out, and c. he’s not even sure who our driver is and I don’t know how to say ‘gormless’ in French). Needless to say, at 6am the next morning said driver turns up at Paula’s and thrusts my backpack at me with a scowl. There’s no mea culpa forthcoming, nothing. Time to move on I think; before I kill. Next stop – Salvador.

Going Nuts for Brazil – an Odyssey of Five Parts

Part Three…..the Bus to Lencois

At Brasilia’s interstate rodoviaria (why so many syllables – it’s only a bus station!) I’m bewildered by the vast concourse with its multitude of ticket desks, each one for a different coach operator. It takes me a few abortive attempts using a combination of pigeon Portuguese and charades to establish where to go to pick up my ticket to Lencois. Eventually, I find a jolly man in a Hi de Hi blazer who directs me to a self-service machine where I tap in my reference number and print the ticket. Bingo!

The ubiquitous Brazilian cheese puff

I’m feeling peckish so I cross the concourse to a Lanchette (that’s a caff) where there’s the familiar ‘brown buffet’, a long counter populated by cheese balls and a mass of insipid looking pies and pasties. As my body is now a meat-free temple, I go through the usual rigmarole of trying to negotiate something ‘sim carne’ but despite smiles and nods from the dollies behind the counter, I end up with a mouth full of ‘con carne’. I wince and swallow like a good girl.

Chapada Diamantina, Brazil’s number one trekking destination

I spend the next 22 hours on my arse on a coach heading north to the state of Bahia, home to the Chapada Diamantina National Park. The highway runs through a flat, sandy landscape; there are scrubby hills in the distance and scary looking roadside cacti. Huge birds of prey hover ominously and every so often there’s a dead dog to swerve around. Onboard, we’re kept entertained by a middle-aged mama who lolls across two seats while shouting into her phone and then playing us tinny renditions of her fave samba ditties. She sings along, loudly and badly, waving her phone in the air. Thankfully, as night draws in and we close the curtains, she runs out of steam, wraps herself in a blanket, and the coach heaves a collective sigh of relief. The next morning, bright and early, we roll into Lencois, an old colonial diamond mining town.

Nice colours but the cobbles are a killer

I get off the bus and, whether my legs have gone a bit waggy from all the sitting around or I’m delirious from lack of proper sleep (thanks loud bus lady), I somehow manage to immediately fall flat on my face in front of a man selling coconuts. He helps me up and while I dab my bleeding knees he directs me to the centre of town. Lencois is a pretty town of shady squares and brightly coloured houses. I hobble up the cobbles in search of a hostel before alighting on Paula’s Pousada, a somewhat down-at-heel terraced house with multi bunk rooms and a small, windowless dining area. Paula is a chirpy young woman who dresses like a rapper and has a dicky eye. We converse via Google Translate and she shows me my room – clean but basic. Within a few minutes, following a major evacuation, I’ve broken the toilet flush but on the plus side, Paula has made me scrambled eggs for breakfast. Never mind her brioche is stale – I’m eating my first eggs since leaving the UK. Bloody marvellous! I spend the day booking a trek and trying to get cash out of the town’s solitary bank; the ATM says NO and the trekking company doesn’t take plastic but I’m informed by the French dude in charge that there is one bank in another town that has cash on a Monday! And since this bank is en route to the park and tomorrow is Monday, I should be able to draw some money out so I can pay the trek guide. Allebloodyluia! My evening is spent celebrating in a pavement cafe singing along to Bob Marley’s greatest hits while nursing a pint of caipirinha. I scan the menu – it’s very meaty but I’m heartened to see that the cheese is ‘artisanal’. I do love a bit of culinary bullshit. That night as I lie on Paula’s rock-hard bed looking forward to another egg dominated breakfast, I wonder: Will the bank really have cash tomorrow? And do I come clean with Paula about my toilet incident? And if I do, will I mime it?

Going Nuts for Brazil – an Odyssey of Five Parts

Part Two….Going Solo

I’m all omm’d out

I float away from my hillside yoga retreat full of bon homie and wind. This is the new Anna. I embrace serenity; I shun cheese on toast. When I close my eyes, my internal chatter is gone; all I hear is the low rumble of a didgeridoo entwined with the ‘orchestra of nature’. FOR GOD’S SAKE, WILL SOMEBODY SLAP ME?

I prepare to come down to earth for some good old fashioned trekking. But where am I going to stay for the next couple of days? Diaine, my friendly pigeon-English-speaking taxi driver has a suggestion. She picks me up in her clapped out Vauxhall Cavalier and takes me to Donna Didi’s (pronounced GiGi), a pousada on the outskirts of town. Didi, a plump Grannie type with a twinkle in her eye, has clean but VERY basic rooms. The socket flashes when I try to plug in the TV and the sink tap has just two settings: irritating drip and flash flood. I elect to wash my pants in the shower. It’s all mod cons here; there’s a bin for bum wipes, a fridge and a picnic table with plastic flowers. There are also three beds, plenty of room for an orgy but Didi tells me no men are allowed in the room; with this she winks and blows me a kiss. I think Donna Didi may be verging on lesbiana. She certainly can’t be getting much action from Signor Didi, a snowy-haired indolent individual whose arse seems permanently glued to a rocking chair by the front door.

Having spent the last week screen-free and alcohol free, I decide to go crazy with a beer and a spot of tele-visual low-culture. This being a Sunday evening, Brazilian TV delivers meagre choice. There’s a spiritual smorgasbord of preaching ranging from Evangelical i.e. delivered by men with slimy hair and ill-fitting suits to Catholic i.e. delivered by men in fancy hats and dresses. I flick channels to watch a teary-eyed young woman and her mother talk to camera about how she’s been cured of a hideous dermatological condition by the power of heavenly belief (well I’m guessing it was Jesus not steroid creams that had done it for the scabs). She looked pretty peachy now but boy does she bang on about her boils. Strangely, I also discover three channels devoted to cattle, that is lots of humpy white cows with excess neck skin wandering around in a field. I keep with it for a good half an hour but there doesn’t seem to be a storyline and there were no people or other animals, just cows, just hanging, in a field.

It’s a bigger drop than it looks

The next day, I’m fancying a bit of a yomp so Diaine hooks me up with her mate Lady, an English-speaking guide who sidelines as a yoga teacher. Lady offers me a day trek and vinyasa combo and we set off for the nearby Chapada Veideiros national park. In searing heat we hike through the rocky, scrubby terrain to two canyons where we eat bananas, sing the praises of Greta Thunberg and slag off Bolsonara and Prince Andrew. Then I cool down with a swim in a beautiful waterhole while Lady strips down to her bikini and goes through her flow on the rocks above me. I decline her invitation to join in the dogging. The water is super refreshing plus my hard skin is getting a chomping from some tiny but very hungry fish. I could do without the leeches joining in the party but this is Brazil after all; there’s always something around the corner ready to eat you.

At this point I am oblivious to the leeches swarming around my downstairs

The next morning I pay Donna Didi (who, despite advertising that she DOES take credit cards, in fact DOES NOT take credit cards at all which means I am now down to the last of my cash). Luckily, I have enough to pay for my shared taxi back to Brasilia and have used my credit card for my onward bus ticket to Lencois in the neighbouring state of Bahia. And so, at the crack of dawn, I find myself wedged into a very small taxi with three strangers. My knees are around my ears and the middle-aged man next to me keeps making heaving noises with his Eustachian tube. The most ominous part is when everyone crosses themselves as we lurch from the dusty high street onto the Brasilia highway. My seatbelt doesn’t work so I’m already visualising us in a head-on collision with a juggernaut whereby I’m catapulted forwards pushing the dolly on the front seat through the windscreen. Thankfully, after three hours ploughing the busy highway punctuated by a visit to a roadside caff for a breakfast of vile coffee and yellow things, I’m despatched at Brasilia’s rodoviaria, ready for my 22 hour mammoth coach journey north. Bahia here I come…