Fourteen years ago, on June 6, 2000, I stood with my family at the Canadian cemetery by Juno Beach. We had arrived at the commemoration ceremony partially by accident; unable to find a camping spot, we’d parked our VW Westfalia in the cemetery parking lot, and awoke the next morning to find ourselves surrounded by armoured vehicles, teary-eyed veterans, and soldiers with machine guns. I have no doubt that it was being there, along with coinciding visits to Vimy, Verdun, and numerous other WWI/II sites in northern Europe, that taught me the importance of remembrance.
10 months + 12 countries= 861 meals.
From llama to cow intestines to ceviche to guinea pig to a LOT of rice and boiled potatoes, Latin America introduced me to a lot of new gastronomical challenges. Some were successes (I love alpaca!), while some left me feeling queasy (spit-roasted guinea pig is not a delicacy for me), but all reminded me that the secret to understanding a culture is through their food. Here is just a taste of what South American cuisine is all about.
Also, for a more detailed look at Peruvian cuisine, don’t forget to check out my post on the most typical Peruvian dishes.
There’s something wonderful about seeing the world in black and white. Maybe it’s because nothing ever is just that. Black and white is not our reality. We are forced into a world of colour, of multiple dimensions, of scents and smells and tastes. Yet once in awhile, we need to step and look at the simpler side of things. We need to see things in shades of grey.
Here of 50 black-and-white photos from South America. They look at the land, the cultures, and the people that I met along my journey.
There’s not much to say about my photo of the week this week; I think it speaks for itself. I took this panorama in May on the Brazilian side of Iguazu Falls. The waterfalls are situated between three countries: Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay. In my opinion, the Argentinian side is the most impressive, but this side gives you an overall impression of the park. If you have time, I highly recommend spending a day on both the Argentinian and Brazilian sides.
I hope everyone had a wonderful Valentine’s Day. To my Canadian (Albertan) followers: enjoy your Family Day long weekend!
As for me, time to shut off my computer and head back to work…
I finally understand the hardest part of solo travel.
It’s not dealing with unsafe situations, nor is it trying to make friends. It’s not even the inconvenience of cramming a backpack into a filthy bathroom stall.
It’s being back home.
Don’t take this the wrong way — I’m not lonely. I feel overwhelmed by the number of friends who have been asking me to meet up for coffee. Yet no matter how many people ask about my trip, or look at my photos, there is still something I can never transmit — the memories.
When my brother and a few of my friends came to visit at various points during my trip, I thought that it was fantastic to have the company. I wasn’t lonely then either — I was making lots of local friends. But having loved ones visit gave me people with whom to share the experiences, and more importantly, the memories upon my return.
Still, there are a few countries in which I was completely alone: Ecuador, Uruguay, and Brazil.* Now that I’m in Canada, those memories are locked in my mind.
Last week, the Brazilian hit “Balada Boa” came on at a Latin bar. While everyone else let loose and danced in a circle, a wave of emotion hit me. I was transported back to my road trip across southern Brazil. Vinicius, a local who was on a tour of his own country, had driven me from Paranagua to Florianopolis, and during the four-hour trip, we discussed our faourite zouk music and sang along to “Balada Boa.” Nobody here will every remember that, nor will they remember the night we spent dancing zouk and forro on the beach of an almost-deserted island.
The same thing happened last night as I listened to a CD of Uruguayan guitar music for the first time. It had been a gift from the artist himself, an old man who I met along La Rambla in Montevideo. No matter who listens to the album with me, nobody will be able to recall the smile on the old man’s face, or his deep concern for my safety as I continued my run along the beach.
Those memories are all mine.
I have this idea that, every year that I get older, it will become harder and harder to find a “soulmate.” Not because all of the good men will be taken, but simply because each year leads to thousands of new memories that I will never be able to truly share with my future husband. They are things that I can only try to tell and explain through words and photos. Maybe that’s why some people are so afraid of ending a long-term relationship — they’re afraid of losing years of shared memories. In the same way, some people are afraid of traveling alone.
They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, but nothing is like having been there yourself.
*Well, in Brazil I did have the opportunity to meet up with a couple of friends from my semester abroad in the Netherlands, but they don’t live in North America either, so the problem is the same. (I don’t want you to think I’m forgetting about you Sandra, Thais, and Jorge!)
Part 2: Falling in Love with Brazil
I stand knee-deep in paradise. The fronds of nearby palm trees tickle a cloudless sky and the sun beats down on an empty, white-sand beach. I wade through Ilha do Mel (Island of Honey)’s azure waters and soak up the sublime. Then, I make the mistake of turning my IPod shuffle to salsa.
Nostalgia washes over me. I sway to the rhythms of “El Gran Combo” and dream of dance teams and congresses. I decide that if this was really paradise, I would be salsa dancing on the beach right now.
At this point, I step on a crab.
A sharp pinch on the sole of my foot.
You’re in Brazil, Ellen — wake up!
I obey. I flick off my IPod, and head back to the shore, where the pulse of a slow samba drifts across the hostel patio.
I’m in Brazil.. a country where salsa dancers may be hard to find, but music is life.
Almost all of my favourite moments in Brazil involved music.
In São Paulo, I saw how it infuses daily life. We spent weeknights at my friend Jorge’s apartment, gathered around as he strummed Brazilian songs on his guitar. Paula Fernandes, João Bosco e Vinicius. We went to a bar on a Friday and met a big group of friends who were having drinks and dinner alongside live samba music. We squeezed into an overcrowded samba club on a Saturday afternoon (!) and ate feijoada and danced to live covers of major country hits, including numbers I recognized and could sing along to. “Balada Boa,” “Nega,” and “Danza Kuduro,” a song that I’ve heard probably a hundred times at home, but one that took on a completely new meaning when performed in Brazil.
I saw how music energizes Brazilians, makes them laugh and dance. I met a 59-year old man who couldn’t stop belting out “Ai, Se Eu Te Pego.” In Rio, I learnt some Samba de Gafieira from Wilson, a dance teacher and new friend. Later, I became the only non-Brazilian in Ilha do Mel’s sole bar, and danced forro with the locals between sips of Skol. Finally I road-tripped down the coast with a Brazilian and bonded over four hours of Zouk music.
The music continues on Ilha do Mel after sunset, when the local surfers exchange their surfboards for guitars. The long day in the heat has taken its toll and by nine I am ready for bed. But then I start talking to Vinícius, a Brazilian. We sit on the deck chatting until the guitars stop and the island falls into slumber.
“What type of music do you like,” he asks.
I smile. A loaded question.
“Well, what I really love is salsa.”
He grins, and tells me that he dances a bit of salsa. The next thing I know, I am barefoot, spinning on the sand, Marc Anthony’s voice muffled by the sounds of the waves. The song ends and we run into the ocean to cool off. Once again, I’m knee-deep in paradise… and now paradise should finally be complete. But, as I gaze up at the starry sky, where the Southern Cross has replaced the North Star, I realize that something is still missing here. I turn to Vinícius and request more dances. Zouk, then Forro.
The dull metal counter of the loncheria in the Porto Alegre bus terminal fails to show my reflection as I bend over my umpteenth pastel of the last few weeks. It’s probably a good thing, as I’m only eleven hours in to my 28-hour journey to Montevideo, and I’m already nothing but tired eyes. On the TV screen above my head, a 90s’ Julia Roberts sits in a subway station chewing something equally greasy and delicious. Yet despite a shared setting of deep-fried snacks and public transportation, Hollywood’s New York seems worlds away from the Brazil I’ve come to know, love, and even question over the past three weeks.
Getting to Know Brazil:
I arrived in Rio de Janeiro with a head full of warnings: bottom line — Rio is dangerous. Until the minute I stepped off the plane, I had brushed these thoughts away. I’m an experienced traveler. I’ve been to lots of “dangerous” cities — I can handle it. But as I sat on the airport bus, staring out at the darkened Rio skyline, I suddenly realized that I was utterly alone with a backpack full of expensive electronics and only a slight understanding of where I was headed. And then I thought… Rio is dangerous.
Fortunately, it only took a few hours of daylight and a freshly-squeezed glass of pineapple juice for me to come to my traveler senses. “Unsafe” places are everywhere — the Edmonton Greyhound station, for example, is probably even more likely a spot for a mugging than Copacabana, but that isn’t going to stop me from either taking a bus or strolling down the beach. But of course, I won’t leave my valuables unattended in either place.
With renewed awareness and a healthy dose of common sense, I tackled the city head-on.
If there is any place where stereotypes hold true, it’s Rio. In Rio, the energy is contagious, the sunsets are gorgeous, the Cariocas are stunning (and seem to know it), and the bikinis are scandalously sexy. With my new German-Brazilian friends Christian and Michael, I explored the city centre, drank Caipirinhas and coconut water, and relaxed on the beach. With Philip, a Belgian businessman who promised me that France is the best country in the world, I drank wine, ascended the Corcovado in a sea of mist and admired the hazy view from the Christ the Redeemer statue. And, on my own, I posed for photos with a South African diplomat atop the Pão de Açucar (Sugarloaf), got drenched on a rainy favela tour, and navigated the Brazilian medical system with my shaky Portuguese.
My minor medical emergency forced me to extend my stay in Rio, which caused me to eliminate some of my other plans so that I could still make it to São Paulo in time for a mini Tilburg reunion. Sandra, from Austria, and her boyfriend were also visiting São Paulo, and the three of us spent four fantastic days there seeing the sights and experiencing the warm hospitality shown by our hosts, Thais (a “Paulista” born and raised) and Jorge (who has been calling the city home for the last year).
With a population of 19 million, São Paulo is the largest metropolis in South America, and home to one of the most world’s most efficient metro systems and largest bus stations (the latter is preceded only by the station in New York City). In combination with thousands of bars, clubs, and restaurants, São Paulo forms the ideal playground for the hardcore urbanite.
I found it overwhelming. Although the city boasts an immense park near its centre, it is difficult not to get caught up in the tangle of apartment buildings, high prices, and exhausting commute times.
That aside, I had some of my best Brazilian moments there. One of the biggest highlights was Easter Sunday, which we spent at a family BBQ hosted by the aunt and uncle of Thales, Jorge’s roommate. Although we were complete strangers, his family welcomed us with open arms. Delicious Brazilian churrasco (grilled meat, and tons of it!), trying hopelessly to learn the rules of a card game in Portuguese, and listening to Thales’ uncle constantly burst into song (“Assim você me mata!”).. all led to a lot of laughter and fun.
The best part of São Paulo, however, was that my time there made me realize what it is that I love most about Brazil. Something that unites the people, fuels their energy, and makes them smile.
To be continued…
A Few of the Foods I Sampled:
- Guaraná: a soft drink made from the extract of an Amazonian fruit
- Brigadeiros: chocolate bon-bons covered in sprinkles
- Churrasco: grilled meat, served at a buffet “kilo restaurant”
- Cocada: A very sweet coconut snack, made with milk and sugar
- Cashew, Açai, and Cupuaçu juices
- Feijoada: Beef and pork stew served with rice and beans. We had it at a buffet at a samba club on a Saturday afternoon, when it’s typically eaten.
- Pastel: a deep-fried pastry filled with meat or cheese
- Pão de Queijo: a cheese bun, essentially
- Agua de Coco: coconut water, drunk out of the coconut with a straw
A very small sample of my trip to Brazil. The rest will follow on Facebook.