Monday, October 22, 2007

In love with the beach

In two months of living here lots of things have happened. In this time we had to decide when to go home. The protocol for obtaining a residence permit has changed in last two years. Brazilian authorities don't allow tourists to stay longer than 6 months anymore. The rules have become more strict even for job seekers. The only option for us to stay here longer would be giving birth to a child with a Brazilian nationality. We can't really imagine how to get a child in less than 6 months, but this is how the officials explained it. It means that we have to leave the country in January. And then we will have lots of time to decide whether we want to come back to Brazil pregnant or not at all :). January is still far away and we're not yet thinking of the departure. We rather enjoy the vibes of Bahia, discovering endless palm beaches just outside Salvador. We both fell in love with the ocean, enchanted by the never-ending music of the waves and stillness of the sand. The sea and waves have so far been the only contact with the nature that we have been missing so much. (Lately we've been longing for the mountains and the forests painted in wonderful yellow, orange and red.) The north of Salvador is all beaches, much cleaner and less populated than those in the city. On a working day we were practically alone on a few kilometers long beach, full of scenic views.
One such place is a charming small village Praia do Forte with excellent tourist infrastructure, full of top-end restaurants, souvenir shops, and colorful bars. The place is popular among Brazilians and many rich Soteropolitanos (inhabitants of Salvador) have their summer houses there. Some of the chique decorated houses really look like those from the movies; with luxury furniture and excellent location by the sea.
There we visited an ecological reserve, the Tamar project (, whose objective is to save marine turtles along the beaches of Brazil. They have established several camps along the whole Brazilian coastline to recover the populations of different species of turtles. In the reserve close to Salvador we got to know about the work of the project and about these huge animals. In fact one of the species of the sea turtles can reach a length of 2 meters and can weigh more than 700 kg. It is amazing to observe such a big animal floating and moving slowly in the water. We particularly liked the babies, which are normally born from September to December. It must be emotional to see them getting out of the eggs, laid in the sand, and quickly running to reach the sea. Five of seven species of marine turtles live in Brazil, that is why the Tamar project has had an important impact on preservation of the turtles. Its social role and dedication has rescued thousands of turtles and the main objective is to educate people in the local communities to protect the animals instead of eating them. One community of 400 people has been converted from turtle-eaters into turtle-guards. It is sad to know that such harmless animals had been threatened to extinction. Illegal fishing, pollution, coast urbanization and industrial fishing are still sad reasons for those and many other animals' death.

In the same village we also visited another ecologically oriented project, dedicated to research the whales. It is the Whale Institute of Brazil, whose purpose is to protect, rescue and save the Humpback whales. The institute educates visitors about the behaviour, nature and life cycle of these big mammals. During the 10 years of work they managed to lobby for laws prohibiting whale hunting. By monitoring, protecting and researching Humpback whales that come to Brazil to breed during the winter, researchers have learnt about their behaviour. All the accumulated knowledge has allowed researchers to organize ecological whale-watching tours for visitors. Even though we went to watch them only 2 days before the whales would supposedly leave Brazil and head to Antarctica, we had luck and spotted a mother with a calf. It was impressive to see them swimming in a synchronized pace, showing a bit of their shiny upper fins every now and then. Unfortunately none of them was in a jumpy mood, so we didn't have a chance to see the spectacular jumps and splashes of water, when an animal of 40 tons suddenly jumps out from the water. As the rules don't allow boats to stay more than 30 minutes with the same group of whales, we had to leave the mother and the calf alone. In the argument to cancel whale hunting globally, it is claimed that there is more money to be made from whale watching tourism than from industrial whale hunting. At the institute we got to see the original skeleton of the female whale, which was beached and died couple of years ago in a nearby village. The size was incredible! Even though they are harmless, it must be quite scary to accidentally come across an animal of that size.

The coastline in Bahia is scarcely urbanized, which gives space for the flora to grow in its natural environment. Apart of famous palm trees, there are thousands of other plants and interesting trees that triggered our attention. In general it is quite difficult and dangerous to walk off the beaten paths. But we hired a guide, a boy of 10 years, to walk us in Floresta Sapiranga to watch the forest and observe the plants. Local people know many secrets from the forest and the guide explained some about medical plants, herbs, edible roots, useful leaves, as well as legends and stories of the "mata" (forest). Mango trees have become our favourite ones, because they grow fast and become really tall and wide, giving a generous shadow and tasty fruits. In Praia do Forte we were lodged in a modest room in a small house with a big garden and many mango trees. The property was located outside of the village, in a forest, close to the nature. Every morning we got woken up by a cock, together with the horses from the ranch. It was nice and calm as a contrast of the touristified and loud village centre. Other villages along the Coco road and Linha Verde road (north of Salvador) are less popular and less modernized. We found the village of Imbassai even more charming and nicer than Praia do Forte. Imbassai is a modest village, where asphalt has not yet polluted the nice reddish soil. We also experienced what this means when it rains -- it wasn't as bad as one could think. The village has only a few restaurants, all closed during the day, one supermarket with limited assortment, and a couple of hostels. The beach of Imbassai is an idyll - where a river mixes with the ocean, its sediments have built a natural lagoon of fresh water. At the time when we were there, we were almost alone. It seemed deserted and peaceful and only for us.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The summer has come

It is pretty hot but still bearable. We spend the most time in the shadow in the garden. We also like to take a bath on one of Salvador's beaches or in a swimming pool. The sea – The Atlantic Ocean – is quite clean, with big waves. Unfortunately the beaches are less clean, and the city littered with all kinds of things. People are not used to throw trash in trash bins. Since there are already street dogs and litter, a little more makes no difference and there is anyways needed to clean the street all the time. But most probably people don't think about what happens after they drop leftovers. Sometimes it can be difficult to navigate on the streets early in the mornings, before the cleaning brigade comes. We like to observe people working here; normally there is a group of people executing a task, where only one person is working and the rest are watching or resting. Somebody said they sometimes don't get paid, so maybe they are working in relation to their salaries. It seems that improvements are taken slowly. It is an overall atmosphere here. Relaxed and easy. And intresting on a great scale.

The Bahianos are regarded as party animals, food lovers and Casanovas. They take each small opportunity to make a party. And opportunities are many; there are many holidays and days off. The music is on for the whole day even on a normal day. If it is not music from the neighbours, it is from the small nearby bar, passing cars, improvised instruments or just singing pedestrians. It is loud all day long. Not only on the streets, also at home. People here don’t have a conversational tone, they shout all the time - either of cheerfulness or out of frustration. Conversations often sound like quarrels and yelling. It is quite common to encounter a verbal fight on the street. It seems to us that many people are bored and nervous, and maybe that is why they spend so much time quarreling, small talking or gossiping. One example is the mother from the house, who is only one year older than Polona but is already nervous, shouting on the kids all the time. We try to show them that it is nice to have a conversational tone and respect for eachother. We think it is a clear cultural difference. People here don't seem to suffer from quarreling and harsh words are easily forgotten and probably forgiven. Hopefully the next generation that is now being yelled at, at least won’t suffer of frustrations and feel a need to yell. Although it seems it has been like this for ages; keeping people happy in their own way. Soap operas take up the prime time both on TV and in reality with plenty of secret lovers and frauds. This gives room for juicy gossips and imagination. Often nobody knows the true parents of a child, but everybody's talking.

In general people are quite religiuos or at least supersticious. There are hundreds of different Churches, all more or less originating from Catolics. All kind of saints play important role in the religion. In September we often saw a small bowl filled with food left on a corner of a street for a saint called São Cosme da Miau. It is not so unusual for locals to practice black magic, conduct spells, use incenses or other superstitious beliefs to indicate the way for luck. Many people still possess beliefs that the slaves brought from Africa. The slaves brought not only the beliefs; but also religion, cuisine, martial art, music and the entire culture that is today still reflected in Salvador. People don’t talk about big plans for the future, and it seems people aren't very economical. Some people here prefer to buy branded but not well constructed furniture made of masonite or plywood, alike cheap IKEA shelves, rather than buying real wood furniture from a carpenter across the street. Second hand is scary to the middle class, although there are stores selling used clothes for a few reais or around 1 EUR. Otherwise new clothes cost like in Europe. It is difficult to find cotton - maybe because there are moths or other animals eating non-plastic clothes. Staying in the fashion and looking good is important for females of any age. Even an prematurely born child who appeared on the evening news had earrings.

Fashion seems more important than investing in durable things and people would like to earn money quickly. Tourism offers money for low efforts. Sometimes people follow the trends, which causes similar stores to be grouped together. When one new convenience store opened on our street, another one opened soon after. Maybe they want to have a better store than their neighbour. It also goes quickly to switch profession. One day a flower store, two days later a hairdresser. (We haven't looked closer to see if they renovated or rebuilt anything inside.)

It is said that no business can have all the papers and documentation correct, partly because of difficult bureaucracy and partly because of ignorance or laziness. Also many people try their luck in illegal activities. Every time we watch news there are either police raids on drug trafficers or corrupted officials getting caught. It is said that Brazil is the country with the biggest social difference between the richest and the poorest ones. We can only guess what made the rich ones so rich. On the other hand, the life of the poor majority is going in a circle. It seems normal for girls have kids early in their lives. Most of them loose the opportunity to study, which in many cases leads to a modest way of life.