I don’t care what anyone says. I defy you not to feel cool arriving somewhere by speedboat. Sure, your face may be wind-whipped and salt-encrusted. And, sure, you might have spent most of the hour-long journey from Valenca clenching your jaw due to the many last-second, high-speed turns to avoid the sandbanks. But cool. Definitely cool.
Ilha da Boipeba. A little Bahian island paradise, a few hours south of Salvador. Described in the guidebooks as “like Morro de Sao Paulo was 20 years ago”. That appealed to me, because I’m basically like I was 20 years ago. Immature. Broke. Trying to avoid doing any work…
My final beach break. Last chance to soak up some sun and relax before the long flight home. Fairly achievable goals, I thought.
divino spirito santo
As a (very) lapsed Catholic, my knowledge of holy days is a little sketchy. So, I didn’t know that they would be celebrating Pentecost, the feast of the holy spirit, during my stay. I arrived on Friday afternoon to find the town square festooned with multi-coloured streamers, fluttering prettily in the breeze. On closer inspection I realised they were made of strips of plastic, but the effect was very beautiful. (As an aside, Brazilians love plastic bags. Nothing makes them happier in shops than to put only one item in a plastic bag, or preferably, in a bag inside a bag. Largesse with plastic bags is a point of national pride, I think).
When I went in search of food that evening, I was accosted by a guy with dreadlocks, who insisted on being my companion for the evening. Our first stop was the church, where they were just getting to the good part of the service. I stood aside to let the young actors playing the fishermen pass, with their traditional hats, oars and nets. They rowed and cast their way up the aisle in a way that was wholly in keeping with the island’s traditional fishing past.
Then came the word of the Lord, played by a young actor in priest’s robes, flanked by two other boys who were playing the part of the church, carrying an arch draped in cloth. The fishermen fell to their knees and cast off their nets, before following the pretend church out of the doors of the actual church, followed by the actual priest and the congregation, who were singing beautiful, moving, but uplifting hymns to a slight samba beat.
I retired, with my companion, “Jackson”, to a nearby restaurant. Jackson told me he’d been married to a French woman, but that she’d ultimately been too possessive and wouldn’t let him express himself through his passion, capoeira. He then pointed out a Dutch girl that he’d been in a relationship with and spoke of an Argentinian he’d been involved with a couple of months back. I was beginning to form a picture of the ecosystem of this island and feel a little bit like conspicuous foreign fish, small pond…
He turned out to be a nice guy, if a little intense. I’m not sure that my laughter was the correct response to his pronouncement, eyes flickering and hands constantly tugging at his dreads, that he was living a simple, holistic life now. No more drugs. No alcohol. No cigarettes. Only marijuana…
He explained that I’d picked a great time to visit. The feast of the holy spirit was a bank holiday, so the whole island would be celebrating, with music in the town square. I’d already noticed that they pumped music through a PA system attached to electricity poles (like a cool version of the musak rocks that you get in crap theme parks), so I was looking forward to getting a little more musica brasileira in my life.
I spent Saturday on the beach, snoozing and watching a hippy dad play a very authentic game of ‘sea monster’ with his young kids. They seemed to be laughing, but they may have delayed PTSD.
My pousada was only 50m from the main square, so I heard the first band start early evening. It was a bit louder than I expected, but it was exciting, having this just next door. I decided to give it till 8, get some food and see what it was all about. I stepped outside and, naturally, bumped into Jackson. He took me to a tapioca stand run by friends of his and sat with me whilst I ate (chicken and fried banana – my new staple). His sister and her kids came passed and he introduced me to them. I didn’t know the Portuguese for, “I’m just being polite, I’m really not in the slightest bit interested in your brother/uncle”, so I just smiled and said hello.
Jackson was going to a house party and invited me along. As much as I would typically love to go somewhere with a load of people I don’t know and can’t understand, on this occasion I declined. I said I was staying for the music. Which he told me didn’t get going again till 10pm. So I slunk back to my room and waited. At 10.01, I ventured out again. I stood in the field to the right of the stage and tried to look inconspicuous. I slurped the heck out a caipirinha (gotta keep busy) and watched the townsfolk having fun.
Ultimately, though, there’s only so much fixed-smile swaying you can do. I was in bed by 11pm.
I think the music stopped sometime around 4.30am…
on the seventh day
Right, so basically “religious festival” in Brazil is synonymous with “all night rave”. Now, I’m not sure if this is a Vatican-endorsed initiative (South American pope, after all). But if my formative experience of Catholicism had been like this, I think it’s safe to say I would still be a believer.
The Sabbath. A day of much needed rest after a sleepless night. The double-couple retirees staying in my pousada had invited me on a jaunt to Morro de Sao Paulo, a couple of islands away. But instead it rained all day and all night. Fat, heavy, curtains of rain. Non-stop. Typical bloody bank holiday weekend weather.
So I was stuck in my room for the best part of 36 hours. I braved the deluge only when I got so hungry that I was close to passing out (at least I was horizontal, should that have happened). And I discovered two things: (1) the music, which was loud outside, was amplified about tenfold inside my room, as the bass reverberated around the walls, and the stage PA competed with the local bars’ soundsystems; and (2) the same four songs were being played over and over again. And one of them was Gangnam Style.
I couldn’t understand it. It was clearly different bands, playing different styles of music. Some samba, some bossanova, some a bit more pop. This great tradition of Bahian music. But they played the same four songs. Even sometimes within the same set. It became a form of torture and I found myself developing Pavlovian responses to certain tunes, particularly the “jiggy jiggy boom” song.
Now, God moves in mysterious ways, but I don’t think even He could be bothered to have come up with such an elaborate plan to show me the error of my ways and get me to repent. Also, I suspect He was pretty preoccupied with the mortal souls of the grinding girls who were putting the ‘carnal’ into carnaval up on stage.
I was very grateful when rain finally stopped play at 1.30 in the morning and I could fall asleep. Well, except that I couldn’t quite fall asleep. Because, for a reason known only to themselves, the owners of my pousada had clad my windows with aluminium foil, inside and out. And every time the wind blew (which was all night), the tin foil rustled loudly…
older, no wiser
Monday, I was determined to hit the beach, whatever the weather. Praia de Morere was voted 4th most beautiful beach in Brazil by an influential guide, so that was my destination. All I knew about getting there was that you have to cross a river, so you need to check the tides. Check. There aren’t much in the way of maps of Boipeba. A few curvy lines on a bit of paper and that’s it. So I just picked a path and followed it. 10 mins down a deserted track and I hit some monster puddles. I’m just about to turn back when an old man appears coming from the opposite direction.
I ask him if I’m going the right way and whether it’s navigable. He smiles a three-toothed grin and says that he’ll personally accompany me to the beach, so that I don’t get stuck. We talk and walk. He is very complimentary about my (broken) Portuguese and about English people in general (bad judge of character). After a further 10 mins, we hit the beautiful Praia de Cueira, all sweeping sand and palm trees.
My friend says he’s enjoying my company so much that he’ll walk me to the next beach. He’s very pleased that our paths crossed today. He says this whilst putting his skinny arm around my back to pat my shoulder.
We reached the river crossing, but I decided it was too deep for me to cross easily with my bag. I said I was going to stay on the beach till the tide went out a little. My friend said he had to go back into town, where he was heading before he met me. I smiled and started to thank him for his help. He took me by the shoulders in a surprisingly strong grip and I turned my cheek towards him. And before I know what’s what, he’s kissing me full on the mouth and planting gummy smackers all over my face.
I managed to pull away, still muttering “thank you, thank you” as I beat a hasty retreat. I took my chances with the river crossing, holding my bag high above my head with water up to my chin, and just about avoiding being swept out to sea with the current that was stronger than I expected.
I recounted the story to The Mack that evening. When he finally stopped laughing, all he said was, “I think it’s time for you to come home now”. He’s got a point.