Lost inside myself and my own mind
I'm writing this in an airport in Sao Paulo. We got up at 4:45 this morning to catch a flight here from Salvador. We have a five hour layover now, followed by a flight to Iguaçu Falls. This is the waterfall that made Eleanor Roosevelt say she felt sorry for Niagra. Should be pretty awesome.
We got into Brazil only yesterday. As always, it took an eternity to get off the ship. When we did, Amanda and I and one of her fellow RDs walked up to the oldest part of Salvador, making it one of the oldest European settlements in the New World.
Salvador was the first capital of Brazil (it's had several. The capital has been Brasilia since the 60s). It was also a major capital of the slave trade. Because of this, the population of the city is almost totally of African descent. Four or five centuries of combining African, Portuguese, and a little bit of indigenous cultures has created a really interesting mix. This all comes out in Carnaval (I'm using the Portuguese spelling because I'm fancy). Like Mardi Gras, it's the last celebration before Lent and, similarly, it is a big party of indulgence. But the African influence has brought it incredible music and dance, along with amazing costumes.
It also brought capoeira, a martial art/dance that is performed all over the place in the city. It was a ritual dance in Africa, which slaves turned into a martial art in the New World. Of course, now it's mostly a ritual dance again. I imagine Salvadoran high school productions of WEST SIDE STORY have numerous fatalities. This year in Salvador the theme for Carnaval was capoeira … but my understanding is that it's always a big part of the celebration. This seems a bit like saying "the theme for this year's Christmas is Santa Claus."
The city is quite beautiful, but even the touristy areas are in disrepair. This is a poor city. Selling food at Carnaval is the only income some people have all year.
In the afternoon we saw a lot of the decorations for that night's party. We also saw a lot of people in blue and white robes and white towel-like turbans. They were from a Samba School called Fillios do Ghandy (Children of Ghandi). We were warned they were bad news, the ones who run up to strange women and kiss them. But they were well behaved in the afternoon. We also saw a lot of small children in costumes.
Our desire for a cheap lunch sadly led us to a pretty generic place. I tried to order something interesting off the menu but I was told it wasn't available so I just said "frango" which means chicken, in hopes of getting something interesting. I, and the rest of the table, got chicken sandwiches on enormous buns with a side of French Fries. Sigh. I did drink straight from a coconut, though, so the meal wasn't a total loss.
The other nice culinary discovery was a drink called Guaranha, the Brazilian national soda. It has a few flavors, but they're all basically a sweeter, fruitier, less crisp ginger ale. Very tasty. Coca Cola does a version of it too, called Kuat … I can't really tell the difference.
Sweltering in the afternoon sun, we went back to the ship to shower again and get ready for our SAS-organized "more mellow" night of Carnaval. We would be staying in the old part of town, where the tradition is the strongest and the bacchanal is the mildest. Many members of our party painted their faces to go out. I tried to put a star and something like vines on Amanda but time was short, so they wound up a little lame … it sort of looked like her right cheek had Patrick from SpongeBob Squarepants on it. I declined to wear paint myself and was given grief for this by the group. Sorry, just not my cup of tea.
We certainly enjoyed Carnaval by night, though we probably would have been fine on our own. We got additional security from the tour guides, but we never felt unsafe when we were off on our own. SAS repeatedly warned everyone to be careful of thieves and other scoundrels. It was overkill, though I'm sure some of the students needed it.
We saw some great costumes and dancing and heard some fun music. My favorite costumes were either the women in gold Mylar (or something that looked like it), and a drag queen in an electric peacock-type costume. He walked MILES in that thing, never able to go more than a few inches with each step. Would he ever stop? And give up showbiz?
Amanda loved the food from the carts. Our first stop, a sort of sandwich deep fried in palm oil, was not much of a success. Very messy to eat, giving us flashbacks to our attempt to eat schneeballs in Bavaria. Next up we an AMAZING churro filled with warm caramel, and a stick of cheese grilled over an open flame - a guy walks around with a huge Tupperware container full of these sticks and when you order one he goes back to his open flame and cooks it until it's charred and melty. Very nice.
So, Carnaval was fun and colorful. But, since we're not big party people, it wasn't the thrill of a lifetime.
Those falls on the other hand …