Saturday, December 13, 2008

December 7-13: Recife/Olinda & Gaibu

We´ve spent the past week or so in the far northeast of Brazil, in the state of Pernambuco. This area has more of an African influence than any other part of Brazil as evidenced by the darker people, drum-influenced music and slightly spicier food. At the suggestion of a friend we spent some time in the Recife/Olinda area. This turned out to be one of our favorite spots in all of South America.

Olinda is a small colorful town, a few kilometers from the major city of Recife. It supposedly has one of the best carnivals in all of Recife as it is free, as opposed to Rio or Salvador´s where you buy a ticket and are sitting on bleachers. Olinda´s draws more than a million people all partying in the streets. As an old Portuguese colony, there are beautiful 17th century churches throughout town, that are still actively used. We made Olinda our homebase for exploring the area.
We unexpectedly stumbled into a week long art festival. Olinda has a very active art community with probably 50 or more artisans displaying their work. The whole place seems to revolve around carnival, with much of the art taking inspiration from it and everyone talking about it even though Carnival´s not til February. With few tourists, and therefore a lack of restaurants or hotels, the place had a great atmosphere. Almost ghostlike during the day, it comes to life in the early evening, as everyone walks the cobble-stoned streets, greeting their friends, drinking beer, playing music, dancing capoeira (Brazilian dance fighting)... Everywhere we went there was some form of live music, from the anyone-join-in African style forro beats we heard at a small concrete-floored club, to the couple sitting on their steps, guy playing guitar, woman singing to him,  to the troop walking the streets practicing for carnival, while serenading old women. I had this impression of Carnival as raucous and almost violent, but these people where inclusive, loving and brought out the best in everyone they walked by way. We were almost brought to tears watching this maurading group sing to a 90 year old woman as she smiled appreciatingly through her gate. Another guy was sitting with his family having a beer on his stoop, when he got so excited he ran into grab his shirt to join the group. It was like this was all through town, like the pied piper they were picking people up as they went. By the end it was a group of about 100, all singing every word to every song.

At Barrett´s suggestion we checked out the Oficina Brennand, an old ceramics factory that Francisco Brennand inherited in the 60s and has turned into a surreal sculpture garden, filled with anatomically vague animals in sexually suggestive forms. In a forested area, with extensive grounds it was a really interesting place to spend a couple hours. Recife itself is like many other large cities, and besides the music scene is somewhat missable. There was some interesting architecture in the old part of city, but downtown was just another hectic South American city.

As our last spot in South America before heading home for a few weeks, we decided to just spend sometime by the beach. Based on one recommendation from a complete stranger we picked the town of Gaibu, about an hour down the coast from Recife.

Gaibu is a small town with not much going on, which is exactly what we were looking for. We are the only non-brazileans we've seen here these past four days.  Our daily routine has been simple. Lots of swimming and reading. Watching the kids play soccer at low-tide and the men waist deep in the water fishing by net. Allison does some yoga in the afternoons, while I find some kids to play soccer volleyball with (just like regular volleyball, but using your legs and head) Due to a yet unexplained abhoration in global timezones, Pernambucu with is significantly east of Rio is an hour behind it. This means sunsets at 5 pm and early evenings out. We've spent each one sampling the street side bars (bar is an overstatement, I should say plastic table on the street), each competing for their patronage playing music videos louder than the next. We´ve had the same lunch and dinner most days. Fried fish on the beach for lunch; rice, beans and BBQ´d chicken with a healthy dose of hot sauce for dinner. Delicious. We recently discovered the one place in town with internet access (thus this blog post). The place is thronged with 12 year olds playing on Orkut, Google´s social networking application, with is apparently only big in Brazil. Mid-week I went scouring the only street in town for a TV tuned to the Champions League, sure that in Brazil they would be showing it. Every TV I found had music videos playing; a real testament to the love of music in this region.

Some views from the hammock...

Tomorrow we take an early flight back to Rio, where we´ll kill a few hours before a red-eye back to the US where we´ll spend some time with family before heading back to the Bay Area for a couple weeks then onto New Zealand.

1 comment:

  1. Glad you guys enjoyed Olinda, those pictures take me back. Funny, I stayed at Aguas Marinhas too. They were just building the upstairs at that time. Valery is a really good guitar player.