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!