Week 1 and 2 in Medellin, Colombia

Week 1 and 2 in Medellin, Colombia

On the day that I left Brazil I cried.  It wasn’t that I was sad to leave, of course I was little but I was also ready to move on. Alas, as I looked back towards the bumpy, dusty roads of this secret bohemian paradise we’d found I suddenly felt overcome with emotion. Here in Trancoso, I had felt a pure and simple happiness that had been greatly enhanced by the many special people that we had met here who made our experience that much richer.

As the plane arrived in Medellin, Colombia I couldn’t help but marvel at the magnificent landscape before my eyes. Never had I seen before such a dramatic entrance into a country’s interior – the plane flew through gigantic rugged green mountains and into a vast and busy modern city with high rise apartments that reached way up into the clouds. I was mesmerised by the contrast between the mountains which surrounded the city like a bowl, and the way the mist in the air floated by as if all of this impressive splendour were all just a magic trick. 

Our 3 plane, 16 hour long flight to Medellin arrived in the morning so I was able to enjoy the sights of the city as we drove through the streets and from what I could see I was impressed. 

Much bigger then I had anticipated, Medellin, Colombia was a city very much on the up. Surrounded by gigantic mountains on all sides, living in this green and fertile city gave you the best of both worlds: the experience of an up and coming modern city who were shrugging off the once all encompassing negative image of a city in the grips of drug gangs, cartels and Pablo Escobar. And the natural beauty that it clearly possessed in abundance, with a dramatic and verdant green landscape filled with trees, lakes and valleys. 

Colombia had been on our radar for awhile. In the search for a vibrant culture, lowkey living and natural beauty, we had found Colombia very appealing. And though we had just come from another South American country with a long and interesting history and culture, we had decided that since we were going to be in this part of the world it would be a crime if we didn’t also experience Colombia, and what better place to start then the “city of eternal spring”, Medellin. 

The contrast between where we had just come from and where we were going to couldn’t be more extreme. We were coming from a small town in a tropical location in Brazil with a beach and living in a small chalet on the outskirts of a jungle, to a huge and bustling city, with a year round spring-like temperature, and living in a high-rise 2 bedroom apartment in Colombia. 

Also, unlike in Trancoso, Brazil where it was just Josh and I, my sister (who had been travelling through Ecuador, Bolivia and Peru) was going to be joining us and would be spending some time with us in Colombia. Exciting!

We were impressed with our new apartment which was located on the 13th floor of a brand new apartment block in an upmarket part of the city. Modern and spacious with every and any mod-con you could imagine including the much desired washing machine and dryer which I had been dying to get my hands on, and with a panoramic view of the city to die for from it’s spacious balcony, we had really lucked out. The interiors of the apartment had been thoughtfully and sympathetically considered with a homely colour palette of blues, greys and copper. To be sure, I had liked what I had seen in the pics when I had booked the apartment for our stay in Medellin but it was even better in person and another bonus was that I even had my very own walk in wardrobe: fantabulous!

I could certainly see myself, Josh and my sister, who was due to arrive the following day being most content in this apartment. 

Our new Colombian apartment

 

Room with a view

Carulla Supermarket

I never thought it was possible to be excited about a supermarket but Carulla was the exception. Kind of like the Fortnum and Masons’ of supermarkets, Carulla supermarket was the real deal. Clean as a whistle, selling lots of high-end brands and a few international ones, the supermarket was spread out and well organised with a variety of impressive displays including a vegetable display, which was manned at all times by dedicated staff who kept the pristine wall of colourful fruit and veg looking perfectly ordered and perfectly preened at all times whilst a cold mist blew down from the ceiling ensuring that the fruits and vegetables were in prime condition. The cheese stand looked too beautiful even for cheese lovers like me to select from, and the ham counter was just as appealing! Of course coffee required another specialised stand, where you could taste and select from the many coffee brands on offer in this food lovers paradise. And to top things off they even had a cocktail bar right in the middle of the supermarket! 

Never had I seen such attention to detail in a supermarket and just being in there made me smile. We also spent alot of money as despite the fact that Colombia is a very cheap country to live in they had many eye-catching things in that supermarket that we just couldn’t pass up.

The following day my sister arrived. We had been expecting her to arrive in the evening after a long and tiring bus ride from Salento, Colombia but suddenly we had a knock on the door and there she was: 2 gigantic rucksacks that had been her life these past 3 months and a weary but relieved smile to have eventually arrived. We hugged and told her to come in. I was very happy to see her, most especially because with all of the intense trekking and moving about she had been doing alot of the time when she was feeling unwell, I knew that finally she would way overdue some rest and relaxation.

We’re not into tick box exercises, trying to impress people with all of the places we’ve been or doing activities that are physically exhausting to the point of destruction or low level enjoyment. So now that my sister was here, she would see that we will see things and we will do things but we will do them at our own pace and with the aim of enjoyment and wellness and to experience rather then merely just to see. She had been travelling with a friend of hers and moving from hostel to hostel so she admitted it was nice that she now had her own bedroom and bathroom (that she didn’t have to share with randoms), and could wash her clothes. I agreed with her that washing ones clothes was a necessity not a luxury! 

The following night we met up for drinks with her friend who was staying in a hostel in another part of town and we went to a really great Caribbean restaurant called Malanga Del Tropico where we all thoroughly enjoyed our food and drinks and the best thing about it was the price: super cheap! We will definitely be returning. Her friend was telling us about her plans to go back to Peru (where they had just come from), to spend some time with a tour guide guy she met there before she returned back to work in February. I wished her the best of luck as having a long distance relationship can’t be easy!

When the sun goes down..

El Pablado

El Pablado was considered to be the “gringo” (foreigner) part of town. Because of this description, I wasn’t particularly keen on spending too much time there as I did not wish to be identified as a gringo thank you very much, alas all of the great coffee shops were there (as surprisingly coffee drinking at least in the Western sense anyway), isn’t much of a thing here. 

We had gotten used to drinking Espressos in Brazil because the coffee was pretty good but we were still waiting for our apartment manager to put a coffee machine in our apartment so we were really looking forward to finally having some Cappuccinos and Lattes in El Pablado. Getting used to speaking Spanish as opposed to Portuguese was a bit of a transition for both Josh and I. Despite their similarity it was not the same language and there were many words and phrases in Spanish that I had yet to learn because we had just come from Brazil and I had more familiarity with French. I was just hoping that it wasn’t as complicated as the Portuguese language that I had found so challenging. 

El Pablado was around a 40 minute walk from our apartment. Uber’s operated here too and were so cheap that it was criminal (how does £1 for a 20 minute journey sound to you?), but unfortunately the powers that be, much like back in the UK, were trying to shut them down and had been successful (Uber was due to stop operating in Medellin on the 31st January), which meant that we only had a few weeks to take full advantage of the service. The walk to El Pablado was nice but very hilly and the further we walked the more pleasantly surprised I was about how well the city seemed to be doing. Far from the limping second world country that I had imagined it might be, and looking more financially healthy then Brazil when taking into consideration all of the infrastructure, roads, banks, casinos and the cars that people were driving around in not to mention all of the building work that was going on it would seem that they were doing more then okay. When we arrived in El Pablado I surmised that this gringo part of town looked and smelt a little rundown in my opinion, but that there seemed to be many businesses here, and of course the coffee shops that were promised. 

We walked around the almost empty streets and I looked around trying to get a sense of what it was all about. I couldn’t really see any gringo’s at this point, just a few market stall sellers selling identical items, perhaps this place comes alive in the evening. Not long after walking around a bit longer we came across a sign on one of the lamp posts warning of sex tourism. No Sex Tourism it said! Go somewhere else! Well that shows them I thought. But then I had the disappointing memory of what it was like in Thailand, where sex tourism is most definitely a very obvious thing. I didn’t realise that this was something that had been exported to Colombia too. 

Santa Fe Mall

We made the mistake of venturing into one of their malls, the Santa Fe mega-mall, and it was so big that we almost got lost in there. There were so many shops that we were simply overwhelmed, and as we didn’t actually want to go shopping it was just like getting trapped in one big maze. The first shop we ventured in we were accosted by the shop assistant in there who once we found out that we weren’t Colombian but from the UK, proceeded to tell us how happy she was that we had come into her shop and that we were visiting Colombia. As I was gathering from my various encounters with Colombian’s they were NOT very proud of their history, most specifically with regards to the rampage of Pablo Escobar, who murdered many people and made life a living hell for the residents of this beautiful city. 

So I knew what she meant when she asked me eagerly how we were finding it so far and what we thought of the city as it was clear to me how important it was for these very friendly people to finally get some recognition for what the city had become rather then what it once was. And though I had been looking at doing some tours like we had done in Rio De Janeiro, I most definitely would not be doing the Pablo Escobar tour, which I now know that the locals found offensive. Despite the international obsession with the life of Pablo Escobar with help from the Netflix blockbuster Narco’s (which I thought was an excellent series), the residents of Medellin, (where Pablo was born) did not wish to revisit it, and even though in many ways they had cleaned up the city, there was still an ever present undercurrent of seediness, danger and the presence of drug gangs that would probably always persist. 

 After 30 minutes of talking to this girl who asked us to promise her that we’d come back to visit, we left. The mall was so big that my head started to spin and I could feel a really bad headache coming on.  Josh was also starting to get a little frustrated. We both realised that we really needed to sit down and gather our thoughts aswell as have something to eat as we were starving. What we had realised in this short time of being in Colombia was that they loved a mall. We had passed about 4 on the way to this gigantic one and all of the people who weren’t in El Pablado seemed to be here in Santa Fe – and they even had a huge ice rink. Thankfully we eventually found somewhere to eat in the crazy mega-mall that we had gotten ourselves trapped which sounded interesting: Crepes and Waffles.

Perhaps we were just missing our French crepe lady in Brazil a little, but this crepe restaurant was no joke: it served both crepes and waffles in a huge and creative variety of sweet and sour offerings. The crepes, both sweet and savoury were very impressive, and I had also found a new favourite drink: Coconut Lemonade. Yum Yum!

My Braids

The day I arrived in Colombia I started my search for someone to do my braids. Since I couldn’t find anyone in Trancoso for love nor money I realised that Medellin was probably the last chance that I would have to find someone to do my braids since we were in a big city with a large Afro Colombian population. Naturally, I had the language barrier to look forward to, and as with in Brazil, the concept of local businesses actually having a website to advertise their service and allow you to make a booking seemed to be beyond the scope of South American business acumen.  So, I had to do some serious research. 

Eventually I managed to find 2 options, the 1st one had an Instagram page but no website but she didn’t bother responding after I told her that I could wait the following week for her to do my braids, and the second one had an Instagram but no website but on her instagram page she said that she done home visits and would bring the hair! Bonus. Both of the Instagram pages had some really nice examples of braid hairstyles but I was a little concerned since they seemed to be very artistic in the main then what I was looking for: simple box braids. The kind I have take awhile to do and I wondered whether it  would be a little too time consuming for them, however when I sent over the picture of my current braids (which were doing pretty well for 3 months considering), she said it would be no problem and charged me the super low price of £56 to travel to my apartment, take my current braids out, provide the hair AND put the new ones in again. In the UK I pay around £70 (and that’s from a cheap hairdresser in Croydon), to get her just to put them in! So already I was experiencing the absolute bargain of Medellin living and I liked it!

I had brought some packets of braiding hair with me but I had left out the blonde so I asked the girl to bring some with her so that I could see what she had. She was supposed to arrive at 11:00 am but at around 11:30 am I got a message from her telling me that she was going to be late. She was now not going to be there until 13:00. I was annoyed but I was more perplexed about how she expected to take my current braids out and put new ones in before midnight as I knew that the later she arrived, the later she would leave. Usually it takes around 8 hours to put my braids in but this girl seemed determined to do all of it on the same day. Fair enough I thought.

Up until this point I had been communicating with the girl using Google Translate so she didn’t actually know that I was British but when the security guard called me to tell me that she had arrived (another hour and a half later that she told me she would be there) and I went downstairs to collect her, I used my Translater device to communicate with her. Though it worked I was a little concerned just how this braiding thing was going to go considering the fact that I couldn’t communicate with her properly. I know she was doing it for cheap but I didn’t wait all of this time to have someone do a bad job with my braids, especially when they would have to last until I returned to the UK. Thankfully since my sister was now here, we three (me, my sister and the hairdresser), set about taking my braids out. The girl (who couldn’t have been more then 20 years old), was lucky to have had us both helping her do her job as it would have taken much longer then it did had we not. I never put braids in back to back but I unfortunately didn’t have the luxury of giving my hair a little rest as this girl wanted to do it all on the same day so I had to wash and condition my hair myself (which thankfully was in pretty good condition), and then she set about braiding my hair. I decided to go for the hair that she had brought with her as it felt better quality then the hair I had brought my with me, and the blonde hair that she had brought with her which I decided to use was the same brand so I thought it made sense to keep it consistent. I didn’t have a hand held mirror and couldn’t speak Spanish so I couldn’t give her instructions as to what to do but I had showed her the picture of what I wanted so I just hoped that she would do as instructed. I became a little paranoid towards the end as I saw her using a little more blonde then I would have liked. I enjoyed having some blonde in my hair but this blonde was much lighter then the one I used before and she seemed to be being a little more generous then I would prefer so I stopped her and ran to the toilet to have a look. 

I was right, she had used quite a lot of the blonde. Also, the hair had been braided thicker then I’d had before, which was what I said I wanted but the partings she had made were bigger, meaning the thick but sleek look that I liked was now very sparse looking, with thicker braids and a lot of blonde. I figured that I’d probably get used to it, afterall I did like the lighter braid look, but I wasn’t sure about this bigger parting thing, the hair wasn’t as long as I liked and the blonde seemed a little too noticeable to me, but I figured that perhaps I just needed to get used to it. Since the girl was there until after 10 in the evening, we had to provide both lunch and dinner to her. I was thankful that she had done my hair after she left, but I decided that since it was so reasonably priced, if I didn’t like it in a couple of weeks or before I left Medellin I would get to her to do it again exactly how I liked it. 

Now that I’ve had the hair in for a couple of days I can say that I have identified the problem. Firstly, she probably did less hair because it’s quicker to do. Then, she should have used less blonde. The plaits could be slightly less thick but they’re okay – they are very neat. It should have been longer too, but the worst thing of all is the hair itself – despite me feeling it and comparing it to my own hair that I had, and the fact that it said it was “Premium” the hair I had was definitely of better quality. The hair she brought was very dry and brittle, it breaks off and it tangles. Mine never tangles. I liked the sheen-free look that it had initially as it’s closer to my own hair texture but now it just looks dry. Basically, I’m not really a fan. It is more then likely now that I will get it redone properly before I leave her as I don’t fancy my chances finding another hairdresser in Cartagena and I’m not convinced that this hair will last until April. A waste of money? – perhaps. But since I couldn’t see what she was doing and could hardly communicate with the girl it was probably inevitable, however that won’t be happening again!

Antioquia Museum

Fernando Bolsero is a famous Colombian artist. Dedicating many of his sculptural works and paintings to the Antioquia Museum, located in  Botero Plaza, a green space which has been dedicated to Botero and his work, so we decided to spend the day at the plaza and see some of his work.

After walking to El Pablado and having lunch at the beautifully designed Azul Selva, a hotel aswell as a cafe, we jumped into an Uber to take us there. 

We had briefly considered walking it but soon decided against it when we realised that Uber would be a more logical choice. We were still being surprised by the cheapness of Uber in this city. Having such bargain basement prices for transportation was still a bit of a shock but it was a no brainer when considering the other options available. Why take an overcrowded public bus in the heat when you can have a private chauffeur to take you there for £2?!

So far, we’d been discovering some of the best areas in Medellin: El Pablado, Laureles, Evigado, and I had been finding that Colombia was not what I had imagined. For starters, there was the amount of money that was clearly sloshing around, with a huge variety of restaurants, hotels, coffee shops and mega-malls to choose from. And then there was the people themselves. I had imagined wrinkled, dark and olive skinned Colombian men, wearing fedora hats with cigars sitting down playing Dominoes excitedly on the street corner whilst voluptuous women wearing red lipstick and a red dress sauntered confidently down the road to salsa beats. 

I was imagining a riot of colour and noise, lots of pretty, colourful buildings everywhere, music, people and lots of trees. But now that I was stood here in this thoroughly modern city, which could be anywhere if it weren’t for the shop signs written in Spanish, I felt a little letdown. The people too, seemed much more reserved then I was expecting. Indeed it took me a few days to remember that these people were Colombians, not Spanish. Where was the energy, that Latin fire, the friendliness that I was expecting? – sure, it was here but these pale skinned, suit wearing, softly spoken people just looked and sounded like Europeans to me. Soon it dawned on me that I wasn’t likely to see the kind of Colombia that I was looking for. Not here anyway, because this was a city. The second largest city in Colombia and the success story of this formerly blighted and overlooked, crime-ridden city.  The people that I was seeing here were the success stories of Medellin. The wealthy and well to do of Colombia. Many of whom had a good standard of living here in Medellin, a well paying job and yes, likely studied in Europe too.

 What I was looking at was what Colombia was hoping to become: A safe city with good infrastructure that could attract tourists and international business. It wasn’t trying to be the salsa district of the country – for that, I’d have to go to Cartagena, which luckily for me, was the next stop on our travels! So once I had come to accept that this was essentially a latin american city break I was able to finally begin to enjoy their offerings. 

What they offered was Uber (at bargain basement prices), a reliable (and cheap!) bus service, modern buildings and businesses, a fascinating culture and a beautiful (and reasonably safe) city. Of course there were still places that it was recommended that we did not venture as a tourist but largely the drug gangs were operating on the down low as the police presence was high. 

As we drove through the city on our way to Botero Plaza I marvelled again at the buildings that we passed by. There was some really cool architecture going on here, and most of it looked pretty new. But as we turned a corner from the main stretch onto one of the side roads that connected us to the centre of town, I looked out of the window in horror as I suddenly saw hordes of people crowding the road and the pavements: filthy looking people, a combination of bedraggled locals many of whom looked as though they had mental issues, many without shoes, homeless women with babies dangling from their teets, people with maimed feet, other south american refugees begging for food, people with missing teeth, women wearing clothes far too small for them advertising their bodies for sex, people who were clearly on drugs, helpless, dirty desperately poor people such as I’d never seen before. 

The road went on for what seemed like forever, with hundreds of desperate and desperately poor people flashing before my eyes, carrying broken bit of tyres, plastic, discarded cans, blankets and flimsy looking mouldy bits of cardboard. I saw them on the sides of the road bartering with one another, teeth blackened and falling out, to exchange what must have been people’s dumpster trash for other pieces of trash. It was a given: these people were resourceful. Scurrying to and from these people were busy concentrating on their daily tasks and didn’t seem to even see me staring at them with curiosity and shock as we went by. I was not only astounded by the filth that I could see all around, but by the fact that these people were trying to preserve what could only be described as trash by our standards. They didn’t have broken tv’s, toasters and kettles to fix, these people were bartering with one another for shards of glass, deflated rubber, broken pieces of wood and plastic. 

People were wearing filthy rags for clothes. Clothes that hardly covered their bodies, stumbling around in this concrete jungle. Homeless people with physical deformities sat helplessly on the side of the road. The contrast between what we had just come from to what we had come to was staggering. I had simply never seen this kind of abject poverty before. I certainly didn’t see this in Brazil and Colombia is clearly doing much better financially.  So what was this about? Why was this this much destitution and poverty? Road after road after road I saw the same thing. Hundreds of poverty stricken people. My heart went out to them but equally I was feeling some concern that the place we were going would be near here. I simply would not be able to deal with being amongst these people. Call it disgust, call it guilt, call it what you will, I had no desire to see this level of poverty up close and personal. 

When we finally arrived at Botero Square after what seemed like a lifetime of passing poor people on the street, we were relieved to get out of the car. We had all been equally affected by what we just saw. It had become clear that what we had just seen was a representation of how far Colombia had come, but also how far they had to go. Because the contrast between the parts of the city that we had seen and this was STARK and I was finding it hard to hide my shock. I only hoped that whoever was in charge was aware of this and had a plan to do something about it. Now I could finally say that I was seeing the real Colombia: a city on the up with a dark past and with alot of visible poverty.

The square was full of people. The artist Fernando Botero was renowned for his sculptures, most of women: very plump and voluptuous women with round tums, bums, and chubby faces, sensual women who looked very cuddly, almost like a caricature of a normal women blown up. But his sculptures must have been fashioned off a real women I surmised, as they were so very precise, afterall the women of Colombia were very curvaceous. Even more so then the Brazilians. The Brazilians had incredible figures that were well proportioned but they weren’t big necessarily. Colombian women had wide hips, big bums and this Botero guy was clearly wanting to celebrate that. 

We walked around the square which was filled with his fantastic sculptures of both men and women and surrounded by trees. It was teeming with people, some tourists taking pictures of the incredible sculptures which were gigantic and made out of bronze and black metal, and lots of locals just sitting on the surrounding benches. They were probably so used to seeing the sculptures that they didn’t even notice them anymore. 

After walking around for a bit we went into the Museum that was on the square: Museo de Antioquia. It wasn’t free but we figured that since this museum was rated as the best museum in Medellin then it made sense that since we were here that we should check it out too. And we did. Many of the works both the paintings and sculptures had been donated by Fernando Botero himself and some of them were (much smaller) copies of the sculptures that were on the square but though I enjoyed many of the artworks by the other artists, I found Botero’s himself to be the standout. He really was a master of his (big and bouncy woman) craft. Every time I looked at his work it made me smile.

Fernando Botero’s muse? 😉

My sister kissing the handsome stranger!

Maxin’ & Relaxin’

Bootylicious

Botero’s cute looking Jesus

Rocoto

I had heard before that Peruvian food was the best in the world but I equated that with a particular dish that they created: ceviche (marinated cold fish). In theory, though I had never tasted ceviche before, I could grant them that it probably was very tasty, but it had taken me some time to come round to the idea of eating raw fish (sushi), so I knew that it would take me a little longer to come round to ceviche. So I had never had Peruvian food but I had doubted that it would be as impressive to me as Thai or French cuisine for example. Alas, we had decided that we all fancied having some seafood and I found an interesting looking Peruvian restaurant in town so we rocked up there ready to enjoy some good hearty seafood. Another bonus of living in a city was the variety of cuisines we now had access to. In Brazil I was very dismayed with the food selection on offer, and though it had been better in Trancoso, it still wasn’t quite varied enough for my tastes. However on the other hand, I really enjoyed it’s Brazilian authenticity. But now that we were in this huge city of 2 million people I could pretty much get whatever kind of cuisine I felt like having. So far we’d already had Italian, Caribbean, American and French and as we were on our way to the restaurant I saw a few more interesting looking restaurants for us to try. 

I liked the decor of Rocoto. It was surrounded by the beautiful trees that were everywhere in this city, giving it a permanently fresh and lush feeling. The walls were exposed brick, with dripping candles built into the walls for maximum effect. The restaurant had a dark, moody vibe with ropes as the ceiling decoration and it was open on all sides allowing you to indulge in people watching while you ate. It was pretty cool but it was the food that was the stand out. 

Reading menus that are written in Spanish (particularly when you’ve just come from a country that speaks Portuguese and you never learnt Spanish), is challenging, but thankfully both our Google Translater app (which works offline if you download the language over wifi), and my sister who after studying diligently using Duo Lingo and travelling in Spanish speaking South American countries was now a pretty impressive Spanish speaker (at least by our standards), so she was able to translate alot of the menu. But still, particularly with this kind of cuisine which was very ingredient heavy (most of which I’d never heard before), it was very hard to even imagine what you might get when you ordered. In the end I resorted to guessing. 

We each ordered a cocktail, mine was a variation on the Peruvian national drink Pisco Sour and it was delicious. I absolutely loved it. Best drink so far in my travels and edging to be my best drink yet! It was lemony, it was sweet, it was salty and it was sour. I’ve no idea how they managed to pull all of these flavours off in the one drink but they did and it was refreshing and delicious. It was also heavy on the alcohol: bonus!

The first indicator of the food being good (besides from all of the reviews I’d previously read claiming so), was the starter. Some kind of a meatball, on a bed of rice, with a delicious sauce, it was presented perfectly and tasted unlike anything I’d ever had before. Then came the mains: I had a potato dish that had been made with bell peppers, with breadcrumbed prawns, avocado and another spicy, tangy sauce accompaniment. The potato was cold which put me off at first as I do not like cold food (unless it’s sushi), but my initial shock quickly died down once I’d actually tasted the dish: it was incredible. My mouth was experiencing a taste sensation: tangy, spicy, creamy and with texture too: Magnificent. Now the French certainly know a thing or two about textures and flavours but these Peruvians had taken it to the next level. 

Each of our dishes were completely different but they were all presented thoughtfully and creatively and tasted different from anything we’d ever had before. I didn’t know what ingredients these people were using but the food was delicious. And as with most of the restaurants in Medellin, the food was SUPER CHEAP. Our mains, including the starter and alcoholic drinks came up to £40 TOTAL. Now this is what they’re talking about when they speak about living a good lifestyle. You could easily live very well here and we already were. We were dining out at fancy restaurants whenever we felt like it, living in a beautiful penthouse apartment (which included a weekly cleaner) with an incredible view of the city, I could get someone to come to my house and do my braids, food shopping was easy, and we could travel by Uber anywhere we wanted to go, all for unbelievably cheap prices. Now don’t get me wrong, not everything was cheap, all of these mega-malls that the Colombians had around the city were not so cheap but that was mainly because they had imported many of the brands. American brands and other European brands were taking up alot of retail space and charging accordingly and the average Colombian couldn’t afford it. But everything else was extremely reasonable and I could very well see that if you were perhaps able to make your money online (because finding a job here as a foreigner would probably be next to impossible), you could have a good life here, but for me, it wasn’t in my sights: it was too far from the UK for starters – I would miss my family, I didn’t really wish to learn Spanish, and I don’t really see the point in switching from living in the best city in the world (London), to another city even when the standard of living is so high and they have better weather. But for other Digital Nomads I could totally get it and I know that Medellin already had a high Digital Nomad culture. 

Talking of weather, they do have it right in that it is the city of eternal spring, however, coming from Bahia it is perhaps a little too cold for me now, lol. My tan is rapidly disappearing and though it is warm everyday (with an average of around 25 degrees), and of course the tropical heat in Bahia was becoming very oppressive, I liked the feeling of being on a permanent holiday. I feel a little too much like I’m living here now with the usual chores that comes with that and I’m missing all of the incredible Brazilian beaches. Alas, we have many options here, with activities in and outside of the city, museums to visit, a lovely apartment to enjoy, shopping malls to peruse, restaurants to sample, plus my sisters here now, so I really cannot complain! 

In addition, even though my sisters friend said that she’d seen a few cockroaches aka barratas where she was living in Laureles we are 2 weeks in and haven’t seen not one!

I think we are lucky in part because of where we live. There aren’t lots of restaurants around here, it’s mainly residential and it’s also very green with lots of trees and open spaces. And because we are on this side of town the temperature is a little lower here so perhaps that also keeps the bloody buzzards at bay. Maybe it is also because there are alot of hostels on the other side of town. When we went to dinner with her in that area and dropped her back at her hostel we saw lots of hostels in that area and not to be horrible or anything but hostels attract “hostel people”, many of whom are looking for the cheapest possible prices no matter what the standard of living, and some of the people for whom have questionable washing and living habits. We have no hostels here in San Lucas where we live, it’s all fancy schmancy high rise apartments with their own security guards and thus I have seen no sign of a cockroach here or anywhere else in the city thank goodness and I haven’t been bitten by a mosquito once! 

The Peruvian restaurant (food-wise) has been the highlight of my trip so far both in Colombia and in Brazil. If this is what these Peruvian people are dealing with then I will have to do some research on fine dining Peruvian restaurants when I get back to the UK! My sister however has confirmed that the quality of food we had there was in the minority as she was in Peru for almost a month and she said that she never had food of this quality or anywhere close. Something to bare in mind. Alas, I will be returning!

Panorama & Drama

I could never tire of this view. No, I could never tire of this view. Kind of like a New York penthouse (but better as we aren’t in New York), it feels like we are on top of the world, with the most dramatic view of the green encased hilltops and mountains in the far distance surrounding the entire city. High rise can be seen as far as the eye can see but unlike in some parts of London they are quite handsome looking – you can see that they are very new and modernised so they aren’t an eyesore. It actually showcases more then anything else the contrast of this city, with a busy bustling centre with lots of buildings, malls and good roads (unlike Brazil it has to be said!), hugged by a magnificent abundance of trees and a stunning landscape.  I’d never seen anything quite like this before and it is impressive indeed from every angle. Every window in our apartment has a view of these gigantic mountains and at night we watch as the sky turns from blue-lilac to black with thousands upon thousands of city lights twinkling in the distance as far as the Barrios. Being that we were so high up that we aren’t overlooked we have this privileged position to enjoy at all times of the day from the comfort of our generously appointed balcony. Because of the temperate climate and comfortability factor Josh and I are finding that it is much easier to work here and going food shopping isn’t a big deal either – we could simply walk it to the impressive Carulla Supermarket or take a £1 Uber to another supermarket nearby. 

Living here in Medellin, life is real easy. Alas the same cannot be said for my hair situation as despite me finally finding someone to do it and having the convenience of her coming here (and it being so reasonably priced), I have decided that I don’t like it. The hair quality is too bad, therefore I am going to ask her to come and redo it before I leave here for Cartagena, Colombia in around 4 weeks time!

The dish that changed my life!

Brazil: You had me at Beach

Brazil: You had me at Beach

Discovering Caraiva

I’d been really busy before arriving in Brazil that I hadn’t had much time to plan the things that I wanted to see and do whilst I was here and a part of me also wanted to have the spontaneity of discovering things along the way. In between working, hosting my perfume workshops, having my driving lessons, attending and running a meetup group, packing and seeing family and friends I was all but burnt out in London and more then ready for this most exciting travel adventure. 

So because of all of this I hadn’t heard of Caraiva before when our Airbnb host mentioned the place to me. She had been very vague as to what exactly we would find once we arrived there, but she said it was special and I trusted her judgement in particular when considering that whilst residing in the mysterious allure of Trancoso, she was recommending this place as a must-see destination in Bahia. So see it I must!

Getting to Caraiva was no easy feat. The roads here in this part of Brazil were shockingly bad, indeed on the night that we first arrived I was bumped and bounced out of my exhaustion on the perilous journey through the dusty, narrow, rocky and uneven dirt roads to get here. The roads were so dusty here that just walking down them immediately covered you with plumes of dirt. And our balcony had a permanent reddy brown film of dust on the floor, tables and chairs that daily sweeping couldn’t fix and all of the surrounding plants and trees were permanently dusty to match. So the idea of venturing out into this tourist unfriendly landscape for a day out, where a burst tire could happen at any given moment, didn’t particularly fill us with enthusiasm.

   

Sunrise from our balcony 

Getting to Caraiva required us to walk for 30 minutes in order to get to the bus station where we would pick up a bus that would take 2 hours to get there, then once we arrived we had to then get on a little boat. As always, we were the only non Brazilians present so it was fun and games trying to buy a bus ticket from the man at the kiosk who couldn’t speak any English but we got there in the end. Thankfully the bus had lots of windows and as we had chosen to go on one of the hottest days since we’d arrived in Trancoso, we really needed the cool breeze. We had brought along with us water, blankets and suncream but since we hadn’t done any research on where we were going or what to expect once we got there, we didn’t really know whether there would even be a beach there. All part of the fun!

The journey to Caraiva simply took my breath away, and not in a good way!

If I’d thought that the roads in Trancoso were bad I need think again as the roads towards Caraiva were utterly awful. The bumps in the road had me and Josh bobbing up and down like a jack in the box. I felt as though I was on some kind of a fairground ride that I was about to be chucked off of and I was genuinely shocked as to how many ditches and lumps and bumps in the road there were, and for how long in the journey this shock to the system went on for. It was as if I was actually partaking in a sport of some kind.

 A bus ride should not increase the adrenaline of it’s passengers (who are supposed to be relaxing afterall!) but every second that went by I was forced violently up in my seat and then thudded back down again as the bus wobbled over the humps in the road. I imagined myself to be a horse jockey. The roads were extremely narrow and had twists and turns in them that would make even Lewis Hamilton blush, yet this bus driver was flying around these roads like he himself was a professional F1 driver. I didn’t even know that buses could reach such speeds as this – but surely he must have been doing around 50 miles an hour down these rural roads, which had huge precipes’ and deep ravines on both sides. This man clearly didn’t care one iota about the health and wellbeing of his passengers.

Water flew out of my water bottle drenching my clothes. My head was pounding from all of the jolting about, my legs felt bruised and Josh almost had carpet burns from his knees being rammed and scraped into the seat in front. We were both pretty shaken up and we hadn’t even arrived yet! To think that some people were actually doing this journey on a daily basis was beyond my British comprehension but then it just goes to show you how much you can endure if you’ve never known anything else I guess, and for these locals, this was all they’d ever known!

After a long and very uncomfortable ride eventually we got off the bus to be met with intense heat and humidity in equal measure. We hadn’t wanted to come when it was overcast and now we were reaping the rewards of a sun that simply wouldn’t quit. The first thing we had to do was pick up a ticket to enter the park so we walked over to the kiosk to get our tickets and that was when we first found out what Caraiva was: an ecological seaside village. 

No cars were permitted on the island, so once you crossed over to it by boat transport was only permitted by foot (or on one of the resident donkeys). To preserve their sacred space they had even devised a donkey “poo collecter” in the shape of a net that hung on the underside of the donkey!

To cross, we had to take a small rowing boat. The whole area was a UNESCO heritage site and the Brazilians took the safeguarding of their natural treasures carefully as I had seen from all of the other UNESCO heritage sites I’d had the pleasure to visit whilst travelling in Brazil so I was exciting to see what this place was all about. I loved the look of the beautiful lake that we had to cross to get to Caraiva, and the sweet colourful little boats that lined the shore. 

Soon we were on our way across the lake. All I could hear whilst we were crossing was the smooth dipping motion of the oars plunging quietly into the still lake and the sound of the birds chirping as they flew overhead. I still didn’t know what exactly I was hoping to find in Caraiva but I was already being mesmerised by the simple beauty of the place and I felt a deep and sincere sense of peace and relaxation being out on the water. 

I wondered if they knew how lucky they were? To have such an abundance of secret treasures curtesy of nature everywhere you turned? 

Caraiva Lake 

After a short ride in the boat we stepped onto the shore and the first thing I noticed was that there was sand everywhere. The ground of the entire village was covered with sand. If you were lucky enough to have a home in Caraiva then when you stepped out of your front door you stepped right onto streets of soft dark yellow sand. Talk about laid back – this was taking laid back to the extreme and from what I could already see, it had an effortless charm and wasn’t even trying. 

The narrow walkways were a maze of streets that had inconspicuous bars, restaurants, private homes, hotels and boutique shops, all decorated in that beautifully rustic hippy-filled way that was common in this part of Brazil but unlike Trancoso, which had a much more “rich hippy” look, Caraiva’s was the real laid back deal. It was authentic right down to the colourful little homes with hammocks swaying on the front porches, the beautiful native indian girls with feathers in their hair and beads around their necks who sashayed silently through the tropical trees, and the little old donkeys  as they made transporting fresh coconuts through the secret sand filled passageways. Dappled light filtered through the trees providing shade from the heat of the sun whilst brightly coloured butterflies fluttered on by making their way to the exotic plants and flowers that decorated the streets. This place had that special something that I kept on discovering Brazil possessed in abundance: Natural Magic.  

We had no idea where we were going we just walked, letting our eyes lead us where it may. It was like walking through a labyrinth with no particular direction. We had already reached the destination but every little thing about this characterful place was a destination in itself. It was simply beautiful. Quiet and humbly so. I was simply elated to have found such a charming place. 

The quaint sandy streets of Caraiva 

We soon found out that Caraiva also had a beach so we made our way there using the vague directions that were dotted around the maze like streets until eventually we arrived at yet another stunner: Caraiva Beach.

The beach was long and wide with thick and luxurious golden sand that merged with another gorgeous icy blue lake that had a generous amount of palm trees swaying invitingly on the beach behind it. The beach was incredibly unspoilt and big enough for you to have all to yourself if you wanted to and it was devoid of any big developments that would have spoilt it’s simple and rustic beauty by Caraiva’s eco status. 

Beach Club on Caraiva Beach

As we were leaving to catch the boat back we saw that some of the locals were just setting up a market which looked lovely. We decided that it would have been nice to stay in Caraiva for a few days and really experience it’s very apparent tranquility. It is perhaps a little too rustic for me to stay in for longer then a couple of days but I truly think that it’s somewhere that is very special and I was glad that we were able to visit. I also did not get the sense that they have seen many tourists (outside of Brazil that is), so that made it even more memorable. 

Arrial D’Ajuda 

This was another place that we were told about by our Airbnb host cum friend, who was so far becoming a very reliable source of recommendations. As with Caraiva I didn’t do any research on the place, I just took her advice that it was somewhere that was worth a visit. 

The only problem was that like many of the other secret discoveries of Brazil, it required a commitment from both Josh and I to get to it.  Lagoinha do Leste  required a 2 and a half, almost 3 hour climb through dense jungle, up the side of a mountain, hugging a precipice of said mountain and alot of clambering, climbing and precarious walking over rocks, streams and goodness knows what else in order to get to it. It was absolutely knackering and though we had taken the “scenic route” which was supposed to be the easier of the 2 options (the other route was only an hour’s hike through the jungle), I was so tired that I couldn’t concentrate on the bloody scenery. 

Even though it was beautiful all I could think of was my utter energy depletion and worry about having to go through this on the way back. But when we landed on that beach I had to acknowledge that it was otherworldly beautiful and very unspoilt. That beach was truly paradise on earth. 

Rio Da Barra 

And then there was Caraiva which should have been easy enough since we were basically just passengers but which was such a terrifyingly bumpy journey there and back that it ended up being far more challenging then I originally thought it would be. But again, like with Lagoinha do Leste I had to acknowledge when I arrived that it’s effervescent beauty far outweighed any difficulty in reaching her. Caraiva was like it was frozen in time, stripped back to the most basic with a most magical allure. 

So I trusted her when she told us to make sure we checked the tide times before planning a trip to Arrial as a trip to Arrial required a walk along 3 beaches: Nativos, Rio Da Barra and Taipe, before arriving there and it would take us no less then 3 hours to get there. 3 hours? I asked. Yes, 3 hours. But she promised. It will be worth it. And she was right. Again.

Firstly, we checked the tide times and it told us that low tide was at 07:30 am so we made sure that we were up and on the beach ready for the 3 hour long trek before the tide came back in. 

It being so early in the morning we had the pleasure of having all 3 beaches almost completely to ourselves. And it was exquisitely beautiful. Taipe beach in particular, as it had these gigantic coral coloured clifftops providing the perfect backdrop to a pristine beach with generous golden sands, lots of palm trees swaying gently in the breeze and a life giving sea that roared it’s greatness. 

The distinctive pink hued clifftops of Taipe Beach

Josh and I remarked at the natural beauty of this place. Yet another beach that had been preserved and so retained it’s outstanding natural beauty. No high rise hotels or ugly buildings were permitted to darken it’s door and thank goodness for that! Brazil has almost 8,000 kilometres of beaches in it’s lands but I was continually being surprised by the breadth, variety and amount of care that had been taken to preserve what makes these beaches so magical. 

Funnily enough by the time we got to Arrial’s beach, not only were my feet utterly destroyed, and I was so overheated that I was literally dripping sweat from every orifice looking like I’d just taken a dunk in the sea, but in comparison to our beach (Nativo’s), and the other 2 that we had passed through, this beach was far inferior. Oh it was more swimmable sure so perhaps more “family friendly” as the water was shallow and there were less waves here but it was also overdeveloped, with lots of resort hotels offering family package holidays no doubt packed together one after another, and there was tonnes of people. Infact, we’d never seen so many people on a beach in Bahia – shouldn’t they be back at work? Josh and I asked one another with a little humour. 

There was also lots of seaweed that had washed up on this beach – the others had none whatsoever. And you know what it’s like when there’s alot of seaweed on a beach – it has this “raw” smell that I don’t find pleasant at all. There’s no way that even if these people weren’t crowding this beach like it was the first time that they’d been on a beach before, that I would have wanted to go in. I don’t want to come out smelling like a creature of the deep.

Our first attempt at making Tapioca Pancakes 

Even though both of us had dead legs from all of the walking we had done we didn’t fancy staying on this beach for much longer so we went in search of the town. What we hadn’t bargained for however was that in our effort to walk into town we would have to traverse up a killer hill – so steep that it really wasn’t funny, and in our current state of dead legs, pouring sweat and energy depletion it almost sent us over the edge. Thankfully we made it up (albeit by this time I was looking like a drowned rat) and as soon as we did we came upon a man selling coconuts on the side of the road. Thank goodness!!!

That drink of Coconut Water surely saved our lives. The town was as special as we had been promised, with lots and lots of colourful little hippy-ish shops, which had a real beachy vibe. We were starving and on the look of food but unluckily for us even though it was before lunchtime (alot of restaurants close at lunch which will never make any sense to me), every single shop bar one was FECHADO’D (aka closed). So we went in there and had a coffee and later on we  through sheer determination in looking we managed to find a place that was open (a buffet restaurant surprise surprise) as every other shop was still closed and I had absolutely no idea why especially with the amount of people that we saw on the beach!

Whilst we were there, walking through the adorable little palm tree lined streets we found a Havaiana shop, and since my beloved crocs had decided to die on me that very same morning Josh bought me and him both a pair. And I had mine customised! They are gorgeous and the best thing is that we bought them from the place where they’re made so they’re also something of a momento of our travels in Brazil 🙂

My brand new Havaianas

On the bus back we met a guy from Israel – as with most people who live here he was very friendly and we’re going to go for a beer with him before we leave here. 

Favouritto’s Decor

I have learnt so much in the 3 months that I have been travelling in Brazil. So much more then I ever could have imagined and none of it has to do with travel. In the quest to attain the perfect life balance the people that Josh and I have met along the way have taught us both an unforgettable lesson: that life is what you make it and life is enriched when you extend the hand of friendship, openness and generosity towards others.

Also, our style of “slow travel” has allowed us to not only fully experience the culture, traditions and customs of the Brazilian people but also to make these human connections that we wouldn’t have otherwise made.

Our experience here in Brazil has been greatly enriched by the people that we have met and our experience here has really made an impression on us. We intend to stay in touch with everyone that we have met here and meet up with them if they come to Europe or see them when we get back, because we will definitely be back.

We ended our time in Brazil with a farewell sushi dinner with all of our Brazilian friends and then awoke at 4:00 pm the following morning to catch the sunrise and go for a swim whilst the sun came up:

The stuff of dreams in the place of dreams.

Sunrise on Nativo’s Beach

Wearing Havaianas and a Brazilian Biquini, whilst eating Acai bowls and drinking Bohemia beer, washing with scented Soap, dancing to Bossa Nova, meeting new Brazilian Friends, making Tapioca Pancakes and saying Bom Dia!  I think that I might just be a little more Brazilian then when I arrived. Thank goodness 🙂

Brazil: You had me at beach. 

You have mesmerised me with your natural beauty and delighted me with each sunrise and sunset. Your people have humbled me with their warmth and friendliness, your music has moved me. I have danced and I have smiled. Your traditions and rituals have intrigued me, your beaches have left me breathless, your ancient trees have humbled me. Your Acai has addicted me whilst your native monkeys made me laugh. I have marvelled at your depth, at your simplicity and your natural magic.

Thank you for 3 unforgettable months!

Lazy Days 

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly:

The Good

The Brazilian People

I thought that the people in Turkey were friendly but the Brazilians have to take the top spot for friendliness. I have been simply amazed at the warmth and friendliness of the people here. Largely  we have experienced nothing but good energy (including in Rio), and generally people have been very open, genuine and warm towards us. We have met so many different people whilst we’ve been here that we never would have met otherwise, many of them are not Brazilian I’ll admit but who they have all lived here so long that they have adopted their way of life and Brazilians are very sociable people. They also love to party, are very close to their families, are proud of their traditions and enjoy music – my kind of people! 

The Starlit Sky

I’ve never seen stars so bright, or as numerous as I have here. The moon too I have seen in so many different ways, all of them glowing and hauntingly beautiful, and the full moon on the night of my Aunt’s memorial 12.12.19 was especially memorable. 

Safety

Contrary to popular belief about Brazil being dangerous and/or crime ridden we have been here for 3 months and haven’t experienced even a hint of danger. This very well maybe in part (particularly in Florianopolis), due to it’s status as being one of the safest parts of Brazil but either way the longer you stay somewhere the more you expand your chances of something bad happening to you but thankfully I’m glad to say, nothing has happened to us.

Caipirinha’s (with Cachaca)

Usually made with Vodka back in the UK – the Caipirinha’s in Brazil are the real deal and after having almost a #Caipirinhaaday I can say that the quality and the quantity of alcohol has been pretty consistent. It’s a really refreshing drink that’s perfect at any time of day. I will definitely be continuing making Caipirinha’s when I get home. 

Tapioca Pancakes

I had heard about this product before – a kind of starch like substance that comes in the form of flour that Brazilians use to make these quite dense, gritty white pancakes. They’re especially good because they’re not sweet and they hold together well so you can put any filling you like on them. They’re not particularly nutritious but they do make an excellent alternative gluten free pancake/crepe option. We tried to make our own for the very first time the other day and it was a success so I’m going to see if I can find the flour online when I get back and make them as a quick and tasty snack.

Acai

Superfood or not, this Amazonian berry is super. Since discovering it we have had it pretty much everyday. And on a few occasions we’ve had it for breakfast, lunch and dinner, lol. That is because it is extremely refreshing. Like the most refreshing drink you’ve ever had (even better then water), it cools you right down. It isn’t sweet – it’s perfectly balanced, a very hard thing to find in this age of super sweet foods. It is versatile – you can have it as an ice cream (which we do mostly), with fruits, nuts, granola and coconut or whatever you like, you can also have it as a savoury accompaniment. Or you can have it as a smoothie, on it’s own or mixed with other fruits. And lastly, it never gets boring. I mean literally never. Every mouthful is hugely enjoyable so much so that it’s almost addictive but, and here’s the best thing: Acai is actually good for you! It’s full of antioxidants, so I say bring on the Acai. Needless to say I will be looking for it when I get back and making sure that our freezer is fully stocked. 

Bohemia Beer

I’ve never been a beer drinker. Infact I’ve never even bought a beer before. I have had beer before obviously but it has just never really appealed to me as an alcoholic drink option. That is perhaps in part because of the “laddish culture” that surrounds the drinking of beer back in the UK. And partly because some small part of me believed that beer was a man’s (or an emasculated women’s) drink, but drinking beer here in Brazil is just a way of life for men and women alike. It’s a social drink meant for sharing – it’s usually sold by the pump to a group of people which they have on their table and share amongst themselves. It’s doesn’t accompany football chants, lifting up ones t-shirt to show one’s bra, or verbally abusing passersby, it’s just a perfectly civilised way to spend ones evening. And they had such a variety of beers here but I found my own one that I quite like and it’s called Bohemia. Tasty and with a great name and branding – bonus!

Brazilian Biquini

I took the plunge after weeks of deliberating and went and bought myself a Brazilian Biquini. Once I had seen that most Brazilians over the age of 17 were wearing one, including the grannies who seemed perfectly content to have their buttocks on full display whilst they sashayed down the beach, I decided that I didn’t have much excuse not to wear one myself so I went ahead and bought myself a biquini and have been wearing it on the Brazilian beaches ever since. And I have to admit: there is a certain freedom that I feel when wearing it, and of course it also helps that I’m not the odd one out, as why would anyone look at me when every woman wears one here? – I’m not sure whether I will be brave enough to wear it in Europe but we’ll see how it goes! 🙂

Fluffy Pedigree Dogs

There are lots of pampered pooches here and rather then put me off the idea of having one it has made me want one even more, lol. Alas, Josh’s Mum aswell as his Uncle who had a dog for a longtime up until just recently has said that they do not think it’s a good idea as it will spoil my life. They mean with regards to our passion for travel and autonomy as dogs require almost as much care as children. I do understand what they are saying, and of course I don’t particularly want to pick up poo either so getting a dog is going to have to be put on the back burner for now.

Restaurante Vitoria

Not just my namesake but a very nice restaurant too that is perfectly positioned on the Quadrado to make the most of people watching in a beautiful and super relaxing setting. The Moqueca that we had there is still the best one that I’ve had here. 

Brazilian Clothes 

Brazilians are the original beach dwellers. You can find them on the beach even when it’s overcast and chilly and naturally they have the beach resort clothes to match. Beautiful, floaty dresses in light materials that drift effortlessly behind them as they walk. Dresses in light knit, crochet, linens, light cottons, silks – gorgeous beach luxe styles with soft, feminine materials that I really love. They also love to wear bright colours and as they are typically bronze or brown skinned and the vibrant colours look really good on them.

Coconut Water

Abundant, fresh, delicious and refreshing! Even better then water aka agua com or sem gas (especially when it’s been put in the fridge to make it ice cold)

The Lighthouse Cafe

This coffee shop was pretty cool. They make and package their own coffee beans on site and have a long and impressive list of coffees that i’d never heard of before. The coffee was pretty good too!

Uxua

Though we’d never been inside we did dine there and it was a lovely experience. Uxua is the place that summarises what Trancoso is all about: Laid back bohemian luxury. Wilbert Daas, the guy who owns Diesel and this boutique Bahian hotel, also designed Anderson Coopers rustic Brazilian home which is unsurprisingly very chic.

Casa Clube

This beach club was a 40 minute walk down the beach from our chalet to get to it but thankfully when you got there it was well worth it. In a prime position on an isolated part of Nativos Beach, the food was good (the burger especially), the waiters were good and good looking (and went for a swim in between serving – the women too, for all you lady lovers out there), and the chilled out dance music was great too. 

French Crepe Lady in Trancoso

Out of all of the restaurants we had to choose from in the Quadrado this one was our favourite. Just a small restaurant/creperie next to a library with bar stools out front that you would almost pass but the crepes (both savoury and sweet), made for the perfect dinner if you weren’t feeling all that hungry or you just wanted something a little more informal. The french lady who owned the restaurant along with her brazilian husband, made all of the crepes herself and they were good each and everytime!

Moqueca

A typically Bahian dish, Moqueca is made with seafood (and you can also have a vegetarian version), with vegetables and coconut milk. It has a delicate flavour but it’s also very tasty and is usually served with rice, farofa and beans. It was the closest thing to a Green Thai Curry I’d had since arriving in Brazil and I was yearning for a Green Thai Curry but they don’t really have Asian food here apart from Japanese (aka sushi) as there’s lots of Japanese people here.

Capim Santo Restaurant

Capim Santo was the restaurant where we spent NYE for a private friends only dinner that we had the honour of being invited to. Not only is the restaurant itself stunning, with the distinct feeling of being in some kind of a tropical oasis with it’s beautiful tree lined gardens when you walk in, but the staff who worked there seemed to be as happy as I was to be in such an exceptionally tranquil environment. The food was very good and the live musician was too. Capim Santo just has an ambience about it that is hard to describe. I will definitely be returning. 

Farofa

Though it looks like sawdust and to the naked eye it IS sawdust, a good farofa is actually worth it’s weight in salt (or sawdust or whatever). It gives some interest to an otherwise dull meal (which I’m afraid to say the Brazilians have a lot of), and additional flavour and texture. 

Santo Antonio De Lisboa

Beautiful quaint little place. A maze of little streets beside the bay with lots of boutique shops, restaurants and bars to choose from. 

Forneria Paulistana

This pizzeria in Jurere was a great find. With modern rustic decor, an open kitchen and excellent pizzas we went back there a few times and it didn’t disappoint.

The Quadrado 

As soon as I had read about this place, described as Brazil’s best kept secret I knew that I had to come here. Trancoso: A haven of peace and tranquility with a natural charm, beauty and atmosphere that had to be experienced to be believed but now that I had experienced it for myself I could attest to it’s simple yet magical allure. The grassy green square filled with bountiful trees and vividly colored flowers had a simple white church at the heart and lots of colourful stone pousada’s. Each night the square would come alive – the restaurants strung up fairy lights and lanterns turning this charming square into a magical wonderland. It was in this unique place that we met new friends and old friends for spontaneous evenings out, watched an impromptu native dancing ceremony and attended the classic film on the square event. Bumped into a very famous Brazilian singer there, danced to live music outside the restaurants there and spent many nights drinking Bohemia underneath the stars. The Quadrado is a special and very romantic place indeed.

Samba Dancing 

On the very first day we arrived we saw Samba dancers, wearing their traditional Afro Brazilian clothes on the square. The fact that this was a local event for local people just made it all the more special and there was an old matriarch right there in the middle of it dancing along with them who looked very good for her age but who was probably in her 80’s, maybe even 90’s. Impressive and very authentic, which I loved!

Beach Body Ready

I don’t know who came up with the saying “beach body ready” but whoever it was must surely have been talking about Brazilians. They’re not just beach body ready because they are beautiful (though many of them do indeed have incredible figures), but it’s because they are body confident. They are very happy in their skin and it shows. 

Capoeira

We have had the absolute pleasure of seeing this a few times spontaneously whilst we’ve been here and it has definitely been one of the stand out moments of our Brazil travels. The dance itself is incredible to watch, but so was the easy affection these Capoeira dancers had for each other. Such respect and camaraderie in a sport that they say is violent (its not) was lovely to see, and the artform itself is actually very beautiful – more like a slow dance then a physical fight. I loved their outfits too – white tops and slightly flared track bottoms with a colourful hanging belt and the african drums that they played whilst they danced got you really moving. Watching the Capoeira was one of the highlights of Bahia for both of us. It’s simplicity, authenticity and grace really touched us. 

Tour of Rio De Janeiro (including Christ the Redeemer, Football Stadium, Samba Stadium, Escadaria Selaron, Sugar Loaf Mountain and Buffet Lunch)

I confess that I expected a lot less from Rio De Janeiro before we visited it, but after the 4 days that we spent there visiting both Copacabana and Ipanema beaches and going to an amazing Bossa Nova club aswell as the 8 hour tour we did I was left impressed. Vast and sprawling (and yes in parts a little edgy too), it is a beautiful city, a combination of mountains, forest, city high rises, beaches and so i’ve heard only recently, stunning islands surrounding it. It also had an distinctive energy about it. The Brazilian people are a riot of colour and sound and Rio shows newbies to Brazil what it’s all about and I doubt that anyone is disappointed when they arrive. 

Our trip to Sugar Loaf Mountain showed us a panoramic aerial view of the city that I will never forget – it was simply breathtaking.

The Christ the Redeemer statue was big. There’s nothing really more to say about this obscene display of fictitious nonsense. However it WAS big. I’ll give them that.

Bossa Nova Music 

Beco Das Gerrafas was a great find. It does seem as though that only around 50 Bossa Nova songs have ever been recorded and they performed all 20 of them, lol, but nonetheless the music is great. I had a great night and should you be into Bossa Nova music and find yourself in Rio then it’s definitely worth checking out. 

The Nature

Nature is all around and all around is nature. I have seen some of the most incredible landscapes ever to clap my eyes on here in Brazil and I have been humbled by the abundance of nature there is here. Green, lush and mountainous with the most unspoilt and beautiful beaches that i’ve ever seen, many of the places we visited were protected sites and so we really have seen nature in action. It’s not a rich country so it can be a little rough around the edges and even a little rough in the centre, but if you are prepared for a little challenge then you can discover some of their best kept secrets which are incredible to behold. Brazil is such a big country and most people don’t bother to venture anywhere outside of Rio but after seeing what I’ve seen it gives me the confidence to know that there are many hidden gems here in Brazil just waiting to be discovered and I for one would love to see more. 

Favourrito Restaurant

I really loved the beach boho decor in this place and the shrimp risotto was definitely the best that I’ve ever had.

Bohemian Decor

I have always loved the rustic chic of the boho look. That communion with nature, an expression of luxury through simplicity and the use of natural materials has always appealed to me as an architectural and interior style (think greece) and here they have managed to keep a consistent theme throughout. Along with the boho vibe Bahia also has a beachy look and feel to it too aswell as the distinctive look of being in the tropics. Houses are made with stone and painted bright colours, with gorgeous stone tile roofs that compliment them perfectly. They are mostly open, inviting nature in, surrounded by the exotic trees and flowers of the forest which provide shade and lots of character. Elaborately crochet hammocks can be found on every street corner 🙂

Jay’s Bistro Restaurant 

The food at Jay’s Bistro was of fine dining quality which seems to be somewhat of a rarity here. It came as no surprise to learn that the chef (whose name isn’t Jay), trained in Europe. 

Monkeys

Monkeys along with Elephants are my favourite animals and there are lots here in Brazil just roaming freely about and they are so cute! One even came to see hi to us on our balcony which just made my day!

The Bad 

Marisqueira Sintra

Bloody horrible.  I still cannot understand why for the life of me that this place was rated #12 in the whole of Florianopolis. Are they having a laugh?! The worst thing about it was the fact that they are describing themselves as a seafood restaurant and they are located on the seafront yet they cannot cook seafood to save their lives! Both Josh’s and my meals were woefully underwhelming and Josh’s fish was actually raw in places too. Disappointing is an understatement!

Toilet tissue in bin (Sanitario’s, Banheiros)

It’s not nice and it’s not pleasant that after doing ones business one has to throw the tissue in the accompanying bin (which is often overflowing if it’s in a public place), otherwise you will block up the toilet. The luxury of using the toilet as it’s supposed to be used (i.e flushing away the tissue in the toilet), is not available here in Brazil as the plumbing hasn’t been upgraded. I’d like to say I’ve gotten used to it but I haven’t really (alas I always use the bin as required).

Buffet or 2 personas

The Brazilians sure do love a buffet. You can find a “price per kilo” buffet restaurant on every corner. It’s just the thing they do here. I guess it’s a pretty good idea (even though I am not personally a fan of the buffet concept), but as with most things here they like to make the process much more complicated then it needs to be and the buffet food here hasn’t been as good (or as hot) as I’d like. Alternatively to the buffet offerings was the good old “share the same meal with your partner” menu option which not only discriminates against single people but also assumes that you want to eat the same thing as your partner. Not so good if one of you has an allergy, mind you they don’t really cater for people with allergies much here!

The Portuguese Language 

Out of all of the challenges we have had to endure during this trip (and contrary to popular belief we have had some), the language barrier has been the most significant barrier. Of course Brazil gets tourists, I mean who hasn’t heard of Brazil? But most “tourists” in our experience were from the other surrounding parts of Brazil or possibly from other Latin American countries so they were somewhat familiar with the very challenging Portuguese language. We however, were not. 

And no amount of Duo Lingo was going to save us from the very questionable sounding words in the Brazilian vocabulary that we had never encountered before in our lives. Oh of course it sounded great when they said it but when we tried, it simply didn’t work for the most part. Take us asking for water for instance. A very basic (and quite pride filled achievement in our limited lingo experience). Asking for water should simply be:

“Posso ter dois aqua sem gas por favour?”

Translation: Can I have 2 still waters please?

But everytime, no not everytime but almost everytime they brought us just 1 bottle of water or they brought us 1 bottle of water that was sparkling or they brought us 2 bottles of water that were sparkling. What are we doing wrong? we sighed in frustration. 

It clearly must have something to do with our pronunciation of the words that threw them but surely “sem gas” translates to mean without gas and dois means 2. Dois has never meant Um (one)! However since we were the ones without adequate knowledge of reading and speaking the language (reading menu’s was a particularly challenging activity), we couldn’t really complain. Only we could when they seemed to make things even more complicated then they needed to be making us look and feel like utter idiots. If I could speak the language fluently then i’ve no doubt that our experience in Brazil would have been that much richer but unfortunately Josh was as bad at it as me so we were both just bumbling along trying to get by on the basics that we did have. 

When we read words in Portuguese without hearing how it was supposed to be pronounced people looked at us with quizzical expressions on their faces because Portuguese pronunciation of words is not phonetic. It’s not like reading English, German, French or Italian at all.

I’m not very good at languages anyway but what I cannot do is learn Portuguese for Brazil, Spanish for Colombia and French for France. It just ain’t gonna happen!

Chips and Rice with Filet Mignon and beans does not a meal make

When I first came to Brazil I wasn’t sure exactly what I was expecting with regards to their culinary prowess but I’ll admit I was expecting more. Rather then the bountiful harvest of fresh and exotic fruits and vegetables that I was imagining that I would encounter, I was offered beef, chips, rice and beans on more occasions then I could count. 

It seemed as though the Brazilian diet only consisted of beef aka filet mignon, chips, rice and beans (oh and the occasional salad). Now, not only does chips not even go with rice (as far as I’m concerned it’s one or the other), but it is just dull. Extremely dull. So on my travels in Brazil I have had much more beef then I would normally like to eat. Of course they do have seafish too but many of the fish offerings I’d never heard of and I didn’t want to have anymore nasty surprises (hint hint Lucila’s Bistro and Marisqueira Sintra). But to be fair to them, the shrimps are really good and there have at least been alot more food options in Bahia then in Florianopolis which we felt was like a wannabe Europe or something. In comparison Floripa was far too sanitised for Josh and me. It had almost completely removed the Brazilian culture that makes Brazil a unique place to visit in favour of a more synthentic Westernised version. Bahia, both the people, the food and the way of life was much more of the kind of cultural and authentic experience that I had been hoping for.

The Education System

Brazil has a terrible children’s education system apparently. One of our friends, a teacher who has just opened up a school here, told us how shockingly bad it was. And it can be very elitist, so if you have a child here, and you’re not wealthy or well connected then you best believe your child is getting an inferior education that sets them up to fail. Disappointing.

Crabs at the front door

I’m not a fan of having crab holes at my front door and the scurrying to and from by the family of crabs who live there, alas I have learned to live with it, because well frankly, there is absolutely nothing that I can do about it. This is a very wild environment and I really think I am due some credit for remaining in it as long as I have with such calm.

The Ugly

Condom Fish

A very condom looking jellyfish naturally occuring on Florianopolis beaches. It wobbled, it vibrated and it had a liquid like substance in the tip. Really not very pleasant. Really not very pleasant at all.

Centro

I will never forget the look and smell of the place – twas rundown and very smelly. Don’t get me wrong it wasn’t all bad, the park for instance was nice as it had a beautiful ancient fig tree in the centre of it but the area surrounding it was a total letdown, filled with vagrants and people selling fake trainers for £5. Plus there was the smell – that sweaty, frowsy, cheesy smell of an overflowing bin in the heat.  There was nothing redeeming about the place – the shops were full of cheap tatt and besides, they all looked the same. For a “historic centre” it was a pretty poor show, particularly when Florianopolis as a whole has much to offer.

Canasvieiras

Aka Doo Doo Beach. We should have known that it was going to be disappointing when we walked through the rundown and very sketchy looking neighbourhood but of course how were we to know that dogs would have free reign to doo doo on the beach and that their owners would leave it there for some unsuspecting beach dweller to sit on (aka Josh). Horrible beach!

Barratas

I don’t think there is any circumstance in which I could “get used” to cockroaches aka barratas roaming about my immediate vacinity. It’s bad enough when you see them scurrying across the pavement but in my abode? – COMPLETELY UNACCEPTABLE. It is simply OUT OF THE QUESTION for me to remain in an environment in which a cockroach is venturing about like it lives there. They make my skin crawl! 200 MILLION YEARS of evolution in a crispy outer layer, questionable looking tentacles and a penchant for filthy environments, no thank you! Alas not only did we see the roaming barratas in our Jurere Apartment which we promptly killed with a generous spray of insect killer but we have seen far more then we cared to in the extremely “jungleist” environment of Bahia, with it’s abundance of nature aka creatures that lives outside and occasional come in.  

Brazilian Politics

Everyone we have talked to here, from Florianopolis to Bahia dislikes the current President Bolsanaro very much. He has been nicknamed as the “Brazilian Trump” and if you thought that was bad then you need to hear the kinds of things he has said about black people, women, gay people and the indigenous community. Just a regular racist, sexist, homophobe then!

Mosquitoes 

They have been on me like a rash ever since I stepped foot in Bahia. It is much hotter and much more humid here and we have the unfortunate luck to be situated just behind a vast mangrove which I’m sure is breeding them like no tomorrow! Since I am allergic to them and come up in a heated bumpy rash immediately that is extremely uncomfortable and painful it isn’t the greatest experience I have to say. but this is the price you pay for living in such a tropical environment I guess. Shame my 50% Deet Jungle Formula and Avon So Soft Oil Spray doesn’t keep the bloody buzzards at bay!

Road Infrastructure

Goodness gracious me the roads in Bahia are bad! On our extremely bumpy journey to Caraiva I was left drenched from my drink spilling all over me, a headache and a bruised leg from the incessant jostling about. The 2 hour long tumultuous bus journey required nerves of steel and  anti-bruise pads to match. Awful beyond comprehension.

JW.ORG

Unfortunately JW.ORG aka the Jehovah’s Witnesses (which I unfortunately used to be a part of), have made themselves very much known in Brazil. Standing outside bus stops, restaurants and even at the entrance of the local Supermarket, they stand feebly by trying to tout their wares to anyone who may listen (which incidentally is noone). Needless to say I think the whole thing is an utter waste of time (and therefore, life).

Brazil’s Best Beaches

Campeche (Floripa), Nativo’s (Bahia), Taipe (Bahia), Rio Da Barra (Bahia), Jurere Floripa), Lagoinha Do Leste (Floripa), Barra Da Lagoa (Floripa), Caraiva (Bahia), Copacabana (Rio De Janeiro)

Campeche: A gloriously wide beach backed by sand dunes with powerful and icy cold waves. 

Nativo’s: Magical. Versatile. Charming.  Palm trees and the characteristic and well preserved mangroves lead you to the warm, clean sea with a thick and golden sandy beach that connects to a purple hued lake. 

Lagoinha Do Leste: Wild and beautiful. We trekked for almost 2 and a half hours across the mountain to get to it but it was worth the wait. The very definition of a deserted paradise beach.

Jurere: Soft powdery white sand and shallow waters with the most incredible sunrises. Lots of fancy beach bars too (only open in the high season)

Taipe: A long, wide, sandy beach that is overlooked by dramatic coral pink cliffs and palm trees. Such character and beauty! 

Barra Da Lagoa: The beach is lovely here but what makes it especially beautiful is the fact that it has a lovely emerald green lake on the other side and if you cross over the bridge you can get to the piscinas naturais, a natural lake amongst craggy rocks that jut out from the sea.

Caraiva: Everything about Caraiva is magical. The lake, the sand filled streets and the magnificent beach.

Copacabana: Copacabana beach showcases the energy of Brazil. It is colourful, dramatic and beautiful.

So, did we get to do and see everything we wanted to? – for the most part, yes. The only thing I regret is that I didn’t get to visit Salvador, the capital of Bahia – “the most African state outside of Africa” for it’s largely Afro Brazilian residents and African culture. But I had naively assumed that as Trancoso was also in Bahia that it would perhaps be an hour or two drive away but clearly I underestimated the size of Brazil as Salvador was more then a 10 hour drive away! So it wasn’t to be this time round but when I’m back (and I will be back), I will make sure that I get to visit Salvador. 

Josh wanted to try his hand at Kite Surfing whilst we were in Trancoso but the guy who was usually posted up at the beach offering lessons went missing all of a sudden and isn’t answering messages on his Facebook page (typical), so he’ll have to try and get lessons elsewhere. Thankfully kite boarding is pretty big now, particularly in parts of Europe such as France and Portugal so he should be able to take it up there no problem.

Tomorrow we leave Brazil in search of a new discovery: Colombia.

Week 5 in Trancoso, Bahia

Week 5 in Trancoso, Bahia

It’s NYE 2019 and what a completely crazy year it has been:

I left my job of 12 years. Learned to drive. Had an operation, as did both my Dad and my Mum. My Aunty, my Dad’s younger sister died. My little brother returned from Spain. My sister took a sabbatical and is also travelling around South America. Josh’s niece and 2 of my brothers all had children – my very first niece and nephew! And I went travelling for 6 months in South America: first stop Brazil (where I am now!)  

So yes, for me, 2019 has been a year of relentless and fundamental change. But 2019 has also definitely paved the way for a very exciting 2020 that is possibly going to be the most memorable and the most fulfilling year of my life thus far. 

There is a tradition here in Brazil that on NYE everyone wears white.

Not wanting to be outdone by the glamorous Brazilians and their yearly traditions, Josh and I rustled together some white outfits and looking and feeling fresh, picked up our chilled bottles of Champagne that we had been requested to bring with us and went to meet our friends for the event to top all NYE events in Bahia: A private dinner party at the best restaurant in Trancoso: Capim Santo.

Capim Santo had decided to close the restaurant on one of the most important dates of the year where they could have made an absolute fortune and do what many others were doing and charge thousands of reals for people to get a reservation there, in order to put on a private “friends only” dinner for some of the most wealthy and well connected people in Trancoso, which included some of the wealthiest people in the whole of Brazil. And us! Josh and I had been invited too!

Just how on earth we had managed to blag our way into an intimate private party for the elites and high society of Trancoso was beyond my comprehension. We had only been here for a couple of weeks and hardly knew anyone really but the people that we had met were obviously an influential and treasured part of the community and they liked us enough to bring us along as their guests! Unfortunately, our Dutch friend couldn’t make it as he had come down with the flu the night before, so it was just going to be the 4 of us. Not even the longterm residents and friends of these guys had been invited to this special New Years celebration so this was some honour.

Not being a native Bahian (who were always characteristically late so I’d been told), we were naturally the first ones to arrive so we went for a few drinks on the Quadrado first instead before rocking up to the place ravenous and ready to enjoy some true Bahian cuisine!

The huge bamboo doors were firmly closed to the public, displaying a prominent white sign on the door telling everyone that they were holding a private party so it was with a great deal of pride that I strolled through those doors and into the restaurant to join the awaiting party. As soon as we walked in both Josh and I were greeted warmly by the hostess who wore an elegant white dress, smiling widely at us and welcoming us in, saying that she remembered us from the last time that we were there. It was nice to be remembered especially since we had only dined there once before. 

I remembered being impressed about this place when we came before but tonight it was in a class of it’s own: walking through it’s maze-like tropical gardens, the cool breeze carried with it the sweet scent of fragrant Bahian flowers, handmade lanterns made from rattan swayed lazily between the trees and white balloons adorned the restaurant whilst fairy lights cast a soft romantic glow illuminating the faces of the beautiful people who all wore white to commemorate the occasion. It was simply magical.

I felt as though I was gliding in this exotic oasis as I took in the sights of people sitting at tables, standing up, talking and laughing with one another, impeccably dressed in the perfect colour for a fairytale wedding or summer party. The relaxed ease with which people conversed with one another and the intimacy and naturalness of the place made me feel as though I was at a wedding party, as if I knew everyone and everyone knew me, though of course this were not the case. Not long after arriving and handing our bottles to the staff we were being plied with flutes of perfectly chilled champagne.

We were introduced to “Mrs Trancoso” herself, THE woman who was largely responsible for the development of Trancoso into the characteristic and beautiful place that it is, before a glass of champagne magically appeared in my hand again. 

We ended up sharing a table with this lady, who seemed to know everyone in the entire restaurant, which I guess would be the case when she was the one who built it. She told us that she had arrived in Trancoso back in the 70’s (though she didn’t look a day over 45), and along with a handful of other people she turned this place into one of the most memorable locations that I’d ever had the pleasure to visit.

Through her intense desire to preserve not just the nature that Trancoso was a part of, but also the native culture and the glamorous simplicity that this place exuded in a sustainable and eco friendly way she had (and was still!) battling the big corporations and big money in order to retain that which makes it what it is. I was impressed with her commitment and what she had managed to achieve.

I couldn’t imagine how it must have been to arrive here when there was “literally nothing but jungle” and turn the place into this amazing travel destination that people were literally tripping over themselves to visit, especially when after 5 weeks I was still battling the “wildness” of the place, so to think that it was 100 times worse then this doesn’t even bare thinking about! Yet here she was, telling us stories of how it was back then, when you had to use a machete just to see a metre in front of you. Can you imagine the beasts that lurked within the jungle then? Never mind the albino gecko – that hungry leopard had his beady eye on you! 

The guy that was with her was an actor apparently, though our Airbnb host seemed to think that he was more of the struggling variety as she said that she’d never heard of him, and he couldn’t speak very good English which in comparison to this woman, who seemed to be very worldly and confident seemed a little odd. He didn’t appear to be very comfortable in this extremely moneyed environment as he told us that he didn’t know any of these people as they were from “her world” whatever that meant. No idea what he’s doing with her if he feels so uncomfortable around her circle of friends as it was very obvious that this was her life.

I could almost smell the money in the place but the people who were present, wealthy or not, seemed perfectly friendly to me and according to our friends I had again been receiving lots of nice compliments from the guests, who were curious as to who I was, including from the Trancoso woman and her partner. Naturally I was flattered, but also a little surprised as at a private party such as this if it were held in London, people wouldn’t usually give a flying fig who was present, attractive or not unless they knew exactly who they were or it was someone that they could perhaps get something from. Just goes to show you how different some cultures are.

Dinner was a buffet affair. I know I do not like buffets but thankfully this was buffet of the elegant kind. The food, a variety of local dishes, had been prepared beautifully and displayed on a large smooth stone table in an enclosed bamboo hut in the middle of the restaurant. Just walking towards it, amongst the towering trees and sweetly scented flowers, a wonderful Brazilian singer creating the perfect ambience in the background, the diamond stars twinkling away in the night sky was such a magical experience. None of it felt real really. I almost had to pinch myself that here I was in Brazil with all of these lovely people all wearing white, in such a magical environment such as this, floating towards a table full of lovingly prepared Bahian cuisine, Josh and newly made friends by my side, chilled champagne in hand, and about to bring in a new year in such spectacular style.

To top things off, as we had been invited as guests, the NYE dinner was 100% free! We weren’t required to pay anything at all – the whole thing, the food, drinks and entertainment was all complimentary. Yes, we did have to bring a bottle of champagne with us but our bottle had long finished – we were now drinking flutes from the champagne “reserves” that they seemed to have an unlimited supply of. Considering we were thinking about going to El Gordo for dinner where they were charging diners a cool £300 for NYE dinner (minus unlimited Champagne), I thought that it was quite impressive that they were prepared to do that.

We didn’t stay for dessert as we had arranged to meet some other friends on the Quadrado and then we planned to go back our Dutch and Brazilians friends home to bring in the new year. I could already see that the Quadrado was getting full of people and I didn’t particularly want to be there when the countdown to the new year began. I much preferred the idea of bringing the new year in with our small group of friends (and 3 dogs) in the rooftop of their lovely home where we could watch the fireworks above us.

Surprisingly though, back at the house, when the time came to say Happy New Year, the floodgates opened up and it rained down. Torrential rain just in that moment that was both sudden and intense. After getting soaked and my dress ripping in the process of jumping on a motor taxi to get there, I changed into one of my friends gigantic white t-shirts (perfect for his 6’5 frame, not so flattering on my 5’5 frame), and continued the festivities from the comfort and safety of their balcony. Alas, nothing (not even torrential rain) could dull my happiness after such an incredible night.

My mind swiftly went to the thousands of Trancoso revellers standing around on the Quadrado which has no protection from such an onslaught,  while it rained down on them relentlessly as they brought in the new year and I was thoroughly relieved that I was where I was, bringing in the new year with my new friends. It was certainly a New Year’s celebration that I’m not likely to forget anytime soon!

Josh and I at Capim Santo on NYE (before my white dress got completely soaked!)

Brazilians love a party. Unfortunately for us their eagerness to throw a bash coupled with the time of the year we arrived here meant that the villa’s around Trancoso, including those next to ours, were being rented out and people had been having parties ever since they had arrived. Normally this wouldn’t bother me if said people had the decency to notify us of their intention to have an allnight party but they didn’t and it was LOUD. And I mean LOUD LOUD. Not satisfied with listening to music at a high volume on a normal stereo our neighbours had taken to providing a full on professional sound system and were blasting out tunes all hours of the day at volumes that were designed to compete with the beach club located over 200 metres away. The music was so loud that our chalet was literally vibrating from the noise.

One morning in particular, I was rudely awoken at 5:00 am from our beloved neighbours, who decided that it was the perfect time to start a full on rave. They had clearly just returned from a party and now they felt the need to continue the party back at the house (which is not in an isolated location) at 5:00 am in the morning, waking both Josh and me violently from a deep and very satisfying sleep. How bloody rude! Thankfully I heard the music go off shortly afterwards and some yelling ensued so I expect another neighbour went around there and gave them what for!

#paradisefound at Rabanete Restaurant

We’ve tried most of the restaurants here now (well the ones I’ve wanted to try anyway). We haven’t ventured much outside of the Quadrado for food though as there is enough restaurants to choose from here and though I have been made to understand that the food is much cheaper at the local establishments, I haven’t been encouraged by what I’ve seen when I’ve walked past them.

Many of them outside the “tourist friendly” area always looked very dark and dingy, had questionable smells emitting from them and had an open front leading out onto a busy main road making me worry about the barratas that may be lurking within. I know I should “eat locally” and usually I do but price isn’t the only factor to take into account – eating locally for me is on a case by case basis as I cannot deal with dirty establishments, unpleasant food smells and the look and feel of a place matters – there are enough barratas here as it is!

Our friends (the English school teacher and her Brazilian husband), invited us to a restaurant near where they lived. This we knew would be outside the Quadrado as they had told us that where they currently lived and where they were building their new house was a scooter ride away. They said that the restaurant was a new one and gave us some directions to explain to the taxi driver – we didn’t want to chance trying to find the place on foot. However the restaurant had no name so we knew that this was going to be fun!

We walked down to the taxi rank, but it being New Years Day and everything, there were absolutely no taxi’s to be found. So we had no choice but to walk to the next taxi stand but again, there was nothing. Also there were hundreds of people milling about and the traffic was at a stand still. There was no way that even if we managed to miraculously find a driver who wasn’t ferrying people to and from the variety of extortionately priced parties that were on tonight, that we would get to the restaurant anytime soon, especially when the restaurant didn’t even have a bloody name and we couldn’t communicate all that well with the driver to give him further directions so after a little hesitation we finally decided to take the plunge and walk it there instead.

As we walked past, we said happy new year to our friends at Tao Cho and I couldn’t help but notice how especially disappointed his wife looked tonight. I mean she always had a disappointed look on her face but it was especially pronounced tonight. Perhaps it was because the full was packed full of happy faced revellers, on their way to party, to dinner or to meet up with friends for drinks, and again they were stuck there in their tiny little vegan restaurant working. Remind me never to open a shop! 

Because it was especially busy tonight night, our walk to the restaurant was slow going whilst we dodged in between all of the tourist who were piling into the square. We weren’t using data whilst we were travelling so we were essentially relying on a map that didn’t update which was a bit of a challenge. We had been told by our friends that the restaurant was past the large Supermarket and the Praca Da Independencia which is where most of the locals hung out. We had infact never walked past there before, and with the sketchy looks that some of the locals were giving us as they were not used to gringo’s (Josh not me), walking this far out of the Quadrado, we were keen to find this place soon. Eventually after some searching we found the turn off that we were looking for.

The local shops in the area didn’t inspire much confidence as they were rundown and dirty looking with sweaty men in old vests leaning against the door entrance. It was then that I remembered that we were still in a second world country which I had often forgot in the bubble of living near the Quadrado. Oh absolutely, many people in Brazil were doing well (especially in the large cities like Sao Paulo and Rio), but that was only for a very small portion of the population. Most of these locals would never see the kind of money that was being frittered away in the high society establishments of the Quadrado. And in many ways that small area was not just becoming a victim of it’s own success but was the indicator of the inequality that existed. Even I knew that it was expensive here, but for me coming from the West I guess I didn’t fully grasp just how expensive. For the people who lived here, whose families grew up here, staying at the pousada’s or dining in the restaurants was simply out of reach. And it was only through leaving the quaint square that you could fully appreciate this stark reality. 

The road that we were told this unnamed restaurant was on was dark, with minimal lighting and hardly any infrastructure that we could see. Also, we weren’t entirely sure how far down the road we would have to walk to find it as we hadn’t been given a proper address. We had now walked for almost 40 minutes and both of us were feeling very hot and bothered and we were hungry and frustrated with the extremely lackadaisical way of doing things here. We simply couldn’t understand why Uber didn’t operate in Trancoso, why Taxi drivers couldn’t pick us up from home, why many people had absolutely no knowledge of the English language whatsoever, or why our friends couldn’t just give us the name and address of the restaurant that they wanted us to meet them at.

Instead we had to play this constant guessing game and everything just seemed far more (unnecessarily) difficult then was appreciated. I didn’t particularly want to be skulking about under the cloak of darkness amongst the locals who loved to stare, making it abundantly obvious that we didn’t know where the hell we were going. After walking down this dark and indescript road for about 10 minutes and seeing no sign of life and no end to the road, we turned back around, stood outside a shop that actually had some lighting and pondered our next move. How would we find this place when all we were told was that it was behind a huge bamboo door? – there were LOTS of bamboo doors on this road. And we didn’t want to turn on our data to call them so we decided we’d just have to walk down the road again and prepare to really look (in the dark) for this bloody bamboo gate.

Thankfully as we entered the road again we noticed a very inconspicuous sign with markings on it as to how far down the road certain establishments were and then we saw one called Primitivo which said it was an open fire restaurant (which our friends had mentioned), so we figured that must be it! 

Finally we arrived at this restaurant which was very cool with a huge open BBQ, situated amongst lots of wonderful trees with hammocks, benches where large groups of people could gather together and even a musical duo strumming along on their guitars, sitting on a patterned blanket underneath a tree. It was all very hippy, very bohemian here. But not the “off your face”, “I don’t wash very often” and “I wear the same tie-dye clothes everyday” kind, but the floating linens, large sunglasses and mysterious perfume kind. 

We were the first group to arrive but soon after lots of other people turned up and we didn’t really even notice them as we were too engrossed in our conversation. The food was really tasty – much more creative then the other food we’d been having, though the plantain with bacon pretty much burnt the roof of my mouth completely off it was so hot. The restaurant was new which would explain the lack of customers and the lack of signage I guess but it made a nice change and we thought that the place had real atmosphere. Shame about the musical duo though, they really weren’t very good yet they had the cheek to come around the tables asking for a donation for their efforts! 

The following day after both Josh and I lost our sunglasses in the rough seas while swimming we went to my restaurant namesake #Vitoria where I was FINALLY able to convince Josh (who isn’t keen on trying things he cannot easily identify) to try the typically Bahian dish Moqueca.  

On almost every menu where they served Moqueca here in Brazil, they served it in the buffet establishments or the serving was meant for 2 but Josh wasn’t convinced when I told him that all it was was a kind of mild seafood curry, alas today he said that he was prepared to try it.

The Moqueca served at Vitoria was made with Coconut Milk and had tomatoes, onions and other vegetables in amongst very moist fish and prawns. As with many Brazilian dishes it didn’t have a very strong flavour, and neither was it spicy hot but it was surprisingly tasty and comforting. It reminded me of a good old home cooked meal. It was served with farofa, that sawdust like accompaniment the Brazilians love that I had recently had a change of opinion on after having it at Oxe served with (seasoned) grilled chicken, black beans and rice.

After having it with that combination where everything had been properly cooked and was hot, I could well understand why the Brazilians loved it so much. I set about devouring the stuff until there was literally only crumbs left on the plate. Similarly, the farofa here at Restaurante Vitoria was also very good and so was the Moqueca which thankfully Josh also enjoyed! It was not blow your mind good but it was hot, hearty and flavoursome: proper comfort food that along with the farofa was really quite enjoyable.

It was especially pleasant because for the first time we had left the house early and grabbed an excellent table in the restaurant so we were able to people watch whilst drinking a #Caipirinhaaday whilst the sun went down and it was not only extremely comfortable and relaxing but it was very romantic too. 

Bahian Cuisine at Restaurante Vitoria: Moqueca with Arroz (rice) and Farofa (that sawdust/powdery looking substance that’s actually really good!)

People here really dress up in the evening. There are lots of boutique shops in and around the Quadrado selling beautiful little dresses that I would love to own if a) they weren’t so bloody expensive and b) I didn’t live in England. These kinds of dresses and skirts, floaty, feminine and brightly coloured, simply do not work in cold countries, but here they work very well. On the beach women wear biquini’s with brightly coloured, patterned sarongs tied around their hips. This is very much #beachliving, which I believe Brazilians with their almost 8,000 kilometres of beachline, are made for.

We keep on seeing the “Cashpoint Pataxo” around town, and there’s another annoying character, who Josh has named “The Thespian” as he wears these baggy hippy like pants, has straggly brown hair and a very effeminate gait and body posture. Unfortunately our friends also know him too so we were introduced to him at some point but he can only speak Portuguese thankfully so he doesn’t attempt to converse with us. He has a big banana shaped head with hair that looks decidedly unwashed and this annoying soft and wispy looking piece of hair underneath his chin (aka bum fluff), that hasn’t quite made it to be referred as a beard and he prances about the place, selling cheap looking cotton bracelets with emblems on them which is all a little too Shakesperean for my tastes. Josh really doesn’t like him, so when we see him we usually hide, lol.

Most of the locals here assume that I am Brazilian so even when I tell them:

“Noa Falo Portugues” (which just means “I don’t speak Portuguese”) they still go ahead and talk back to me in a speedy torrent of Portuguese – they simply cannot comprehend the fact that I’m not from there and do not understand what they are saying!

Another day, another #acaibowl with kiwi, granola, coconut, nuts, strawberries and banana! Deeelish!

We’re getting to the end of our time here. Would you believe that it’s been almost 3 whole months that we’ve been in Brazil? – that’s almost the entire time that we went away to Thailand and Bali which is completely insane. I don’t think that I will love Colombia as much as here but I will of course leave myself open to being pleasantly surprised. I do think that Colombia will be very beautiful and much easier to live in perhaps especially since there are alot more expats there and many people doing what Josh and I now do: Digital Nomadism, however it remains to be seen whether the people will be as friendly, the country as beautiful or it feel quite as magical. Our first stop in Colombia: Medellin has no beach so we need to make the most of the time here in Brazil as far as the beaches go as I know that I am going to miss them.

But I guess that is the beauty of travel:

Every day is an adventure!