Week 5 in Medellin, Colombia

Week 5 in Medellin, Colombia

Medellin is a Latin American shopping mecca. A shopping lovers paradise. With literally tonnes of malls, markets and designer outlets, Medellin satisfy’s even the most ardent shop-a-holic. Being primarily an online shopper myself, as I have no desire to go trekking the streets searching clothes racks, carrying heavy shopping bags or elbowing militant grannies out of the way, seeing all of these venues for shopping enjoyment was a little overwhelming. But I had decided that I wanted to find a good pair of jeans so we planned to go to an area with lots of designer outlets to see what we could find.

First we took a taxi to Mercado Del Rio, a food market that was nearby. The market was huge, located in a warehouse like building in the middle of a busy business district. Inside the gastronomic market there were lots of restaurants and bars offering a variety of different cuisines such as Indian, Italian, Asian, Peruvian, Mexican etc.  I really fancied Greek or Lebanese food but unfortunately they didn’t have any so I settled for Indian, which I hadn’t had since I’d left England. The food was good, especially the chicken, which was tender and well seasoned and slightly blackened just how I like it, I couldn’t say that it was authentically Indian per say, however it was tasty.

After we had sufficiently stuffed ourselves, we went on to the outlet region, where an abundance of designer outlet shops such as Tommy Hilfiger, Diesel and Superdry beckoned to us to part with our hard earned cash in exchange for their wares. Eventually I came across a shop called Studio F, a Colombian womenswear brand that had lots of clothes that I quite liked. Contrary to popular belief, despite the low prices of most other things in Colombia (transportation, restaurants, accommodation etc), the clothing there wasn’t necessarily cheap. In the end I managed to find a pair of flared black jeans that fit nicely and being that Valentine’s day was coming up, Josh bought them for me as an early Valentine’s present 🙂

Afterwards we ventured towards an outlet mall where Josh picked up some clothes from one of his favourite shops Superdry and then we all went and had lunch at a steak and rib restaurant in the mall. To be honest the ribs weren’t all that great and they certainly weren’t as tasty as Bodean’s ribs which I absolutely love but we were all pretty starving at this point.

The following day we had booked another tour, our fourth one in Colombia, to Guatape.

Guatape was a popular resort town approximately 2 hours from the centre of Medellin. It was especially well known for it’s traditional Colombian feel and the brightly painted colours of the buildings. In Guatape, all of the homes, businesses and shops were painted in a variety of different colours and included hand painted emblems representing their trade or family crest.

The tour that we had booked commenced at the obscene hour of 07:00 am and we were told to meet the tour group at the front of the church in El Pablado at no later then 06:50 am. In some respects I couldn’t believe I was even contemplating doing another tour, let alone one that started so early in the morning and lasted for approximately 12 hours, but I was determined to see Guatape before I left Medellin and this tour sounded pretty good – it included breakfast and lunch aswell as a boat trip and a visit to Guatape and it was pretty reasonably priced too.

Our first stop after jumping into a big coach with a large group of mainly European tourists, was breakfast. We were taken to a local restaurant where we were served a hearty and traditionally Colombian breakfast of fried Arepa’s with locally made cheese and scrambled eggs. You could have it either with traditional hot chocolate (which I was told would be very sweet), or coffee. I opted for the coffee which was pretty good.

Afterwards, we went on a visit to Roca del Penol Church, needless to say I wasn’t particularly interested in seeing a church but I probably would have been if it were one of magnificent beauty alas this church was basically a huge rock with a few doors and windows on the side. It wasn’t exactly an architectural marvel and didn’t inspire me to leave the vehicle in order to take a picture of it.

After our horrific Americanised-Canadian encounter a few weeks ago I had made certain that I didn’t book with the same tour group that we had taken to do the Colombian Coffee Tour and thankfully the people on this trip seemed a little more self aware and kept their conversation levels to a minimum. After passing the rock church we then moved onto the Fenix Bird, a huge statue in the middle of the town which represented it’s history of arising from the ashes. As with the fenix bird, the story of the town of Penol Village consisted of it being burnt down to accomodate a new town, including a man made lake, that we would later visit. We got to walk around the village and checked out a few of the many gift shops (where my sister bought Josh a lovely Colombian pen) aswell as having some strong Colombian coffee at a twee coffee shop with the best view in the village overlooking the Penol Reservoir. Thankfully the day was overcast which worked very well since the visit to Guatape Rock aka Penol Rock required a hike to the very top of it in order to get the best views of the surrounding countryside. I really couldn’t imagine doing it in 30 degree heat!

Coffee with a view at Penol Reservoir

 

I knew that the hike up 700+ stairs would require a bit of extra energy but I figured that nothing could compare to the trek through and up the mountain in Brazil to get to the isolated beach Lagoinha do Leste, the intensity of which shocks me til this day!

Following a leisurely walk around the town we jumped back onto the bus to be taken to the reservoir for the boat trip around it. Many of the tours included a walk around the colourful town of Guatape but they did not include a boat tour so I was really looking forward to it.

I had imagined that the boat trip would be on a small boat and that we might do it in little groups but when we got there we were piled onto a huge double decked boat along with a number of other tour groups and then “party music” was cranked at its highest volume so that we could get the party started right. It was still horrendously early and I was in no mood to party. The weather was overcast making the skies look a little dull, but it was still a beautiful sight as we cruised past luxurious looking villa’s and mansions built on either side of the lake with dramatic green hills and mountains in the background looking like it was straight out of a travel magazine ad.

One of the tour guides decided to take this time to use the extremely poor quality tanoy, to talk about what we were looking at but the sound was so muffled that we could hardly hear him. After awhile of hearing him bleat on incessantly I really wished that he would just shut up and let us enjoy the views. Soon we came to a sprawling windowless property on the banks of the lake which looked as if it had been set fire to or something. I could see that the building was blackened, with smudges of black smeared onto the stone work. We were soon told by the guide that this property was an iconic property in Colombia, as it was the former hideout of the infamous criminal Pablo Escobar, the lavish estate covering 20 acres of land in this idyllic location, was named La Manuela Hacienda, after his daughter. One of Pablo’s favourite properties (who at one point was the richest man in the world), it featured a heli-pad aswell as pools, stables, a seaplane dock, tennis courts and even a disco tech. This was a place where Pablo stashed his ill-gotten gains such as cocaine and cash. Eventually, at the height of the drug wars with the Cali Cartel, it was bombed by Las Pepes where it has remained derelict and empty ever since.

I’d never wanted to do a Pablo Escobar tour whilst in Colombia as I knew how much the locals detested the mere mention of the man, and also I had no real interest. To me it was bordering on tacky to take the experiences for which we outside Colombia have no real knowledge about (and even less if you’re going by what’s portrayed in Narco’s on Netflix), to make light of it and find some kind of entertainment value in seeing the places for where tens of thousand’s of people died and many more were displaced. And I had no idea that on this boat tour we were going to sail by one of his prized venues, the place where he done alot of his criminal activity’s and no doubt the scene of many a murder but I was glad that I had seen it nontheless. It showcased Colombia’s willingness to leave their questionable past in the past. They didn’t even wish to honour the building with a regeneration, they just wanted to leave it just how it was: empty.

Pablo Escobar’s Residence La Manuela Hacienda

 

 

I’m sure the boat tour would have been slightly better if the weather was sunnier but I thought the fact that we were on such a big boat which surely must have had about 300 people on it was a bit of a let down. I would have much preferred a smaller boat with less people and less of the tanoy-action. After exiting the boat we then went on to the main event: Penol Rock.

 

Penol Rock, Guatape’s Giant

 

Ten million tonnes, this goliath was a granite rock remnant that jutted up from the earth with an unbelievable view from it’s summit. To get to the top though it first required a bit of a climb. The first climbers of this giant monolith, climbed it in 5 days but it has since been made into somewhat of a tourist attraction with the addition of a 700 + stone staircase built into the side of it. To climb it you have to pay, and the climb was knackering, but the views at the top was well worth the inconvenience and the price.

Astoundingly beautiful, all around we saw a view of the surrounding countryside, and the lakes that surround them as far as the eye could see. It was such an incredible sight that I hardly wanted to leave at all but it being a popular tourist attraction meant that everyone else and their dog was there too: No thanks.

 

We made it to the top of Penol Rock!

 

After descending from Penol Rock we then went onto lunch at a restaurant nearby for a really good (and neccessary!) lunch of avocado, chicken breast, rice, beans and eggs all washed down with a local drink that reminded me a little of Starburst. It was really good and just what I needed after that exhausting trek to the top of Penol Rock.

After lunch we were then taken to the last point in our tour which despite it’s long length was actually going pretty quickly now that we’d done the climb: Guatape Town.

Guatape was Colombia’s most colourful town, possibly even in the world! Every house, building and shop in the town had been painted in all the colours of the rainbow and then some! and featured hand painted emblems (also called zocolo’s) to represent them.

Cobbled, windy streets with everything from the local bakers, to restaurants, coffee shops, jewellers, gift shops, shoe menders and florists, each with their own rainbow coloured zocolo’s to announce what they were shouted out at you in the most adorable of ways. Meandering through these streets, even when full of tourists and whilst the strength of the summer sun was beating down on you was possibly one of the most enjoyable activities to do outside of Medellin. Seeing the painted butterflies, flowers and sunflowers on the sides of the buildings just makes you smile. You can’t possibly be miserable in Guatape and it’s clear why:

After ending our tour back at the starting point, and being given a lovely little gift from our tour guide: a hand made yellow, blue and red bracelet to represent Colombia, and not feeling at all like we had just spent 12 hours with her, I could say that we had definitely had a most wonderful day. From seeing Pablo Escobar’s Hideaway La Manuela Hacienda, to the view at the top of the reservoir, to climbing to the top of Penol Rock to have my breath taken away by the most astounding natural beauty of the landscape, to the simple but tasty traditional meals we ate, to the unforgettable town of Guatape, which was possibly the most colourful town in the world, I could say without hesitation that we’d had the most amazing time.

 

Tuk Tuk Time!

The beautiful painted buildings of Guatape

It’s true 🙂

It’s a hard life: Josh contemplating the hard question of whether or not he should eat this ice-cream

Going in for the kill!

Hair Problems

I contacted the hairdresser about coming back to do both mine and my sisters hair and can you believe it’s been 5 days of communication just to get this booked in? – it’s bad enough that I’m having to communicate with her using Google Translate but she doesn’t seem to understand the basic questions of when are you coming and how much are you charging? – Seriously, these are basic questions. Basic! 5 days I have been back and forth with her and I am still no further forward! Hmpf.

Valentine’s Day Prostitute Watch

Though we generally do not celebrate Valentine’s Day on Valentines Day back in the UK, knowing as we do how much of a commercialised non-event it generally is, Josh had instead booked a romantic meal for us at one of the top restaurants that I had been wanting to go to: Carmen a few days AFTER Valentines Day. We did not wish to be rail roaded into having one of their “Valentine’s Day set menu’s” complete with single red rose, pathetically cheesy crooner and a fight to get the best table in the restaurant: no thank you.

Being that my sister was still staying with us, we figured that it might be a little strange for us this Valentines Day being that we were essentially operating as a three-some, but since we didn’t plan to do anything particularly special on Valentine’s Day anyway we decided that we’d all go shopping instead! We decided to go back to the area near Botero Square where all of the discount shops were. I decided that I wanted a sporty zip up top that I could wear with anything, one that wasn’t too thick, just something that I could wear if it got a little chilly.

In Medellin, people wear alot of sportswear and trainers so I figured that it wouldn’t be too hard to find what I was looking for.

Queue Colombian Harrassment: The problem is that unless you are a local I guess you don’t really venture into these sorts of shops. But we did, and we do, and thus the Colombians, probably thinking that we didn’t know what we were looking for and thus could be persuaded to purchase whatever it was they were promoting, proceeded to hound us if we got anywhere near there shop. Baring in mind the fact that that they were standing outside the shop just waiting for someone, ANYONE to walk by, and here come 3 tourists clearly looking for something, and they went in for the kill. Worse yet was when we went into the former Palace of Justice which clearly nobody whatsoever ventures into as these shop owners looked as though they hadn’t seen anyone step foot in there for years and they were literally following us around the mall as if we were their last chance at survival! It was horrible. And very aggressive.

I understood perfectly that they were not meaning to be aggressive but their style of communication came across that way and rather then make me intrigued as to see what they had in their shop (when I didn’t even glance in the direction of their shop at any point!), they just made me wish to get the hell out of there. I simply couldn’t take it. All of the yelling in our direction by multiple Colombian shop owners was too much to take and it was giving me a headache. I had absolutely no idea how they were making any money since I didn’t see anyone else going into their shop and they were basically all selling the same thing: sportswear and trainers.

After emerging from the mall out into the open air where I could finally breath we were then approached by another guy who wished to know what it was we were looking for (seems they don’t know the concept of browsing in Colombia!). Through broken Spanish and sign language we were eventually able to describe to this man what we were looking for and then he told us to follow him.

He then proceeded to take us to 3 different shops to try and see if he could find something that matched my description. I was impressed. It was like having my own personal Colombian shopper. Eventually I was able to find a pale grey Adidas tracksuit that I quite liked. It wasn’t exactly what I was looking for and the jacket was bigger then I would have liked but it was pretty close to what I was looking for and I didn’t wish to put the poor guy through any further distress as I could see that he was clearly doing the best he could to find me something I would be happy with and frankly I couldn’t bare the idea of going into anymore shops. So we bought it and then we went in search for somewhere to have a drink. All of this personal shopping lark was making me very thirsty!

In the end we decided to go back to the Hari Krishna restaurant Govinda’s that we had been to before for lunch. I had no intention of eating there since the food we’d had there last time (especially the mushrooms which tasted as though they had just been plucked from the earth, soil and all), left alot to be desired, but the restaurant had without a doubt the best people watching viewpoint in possibly the entire city.

Down the road from Botero Square and adjacent to the shops, Govinda’s was located directly opposite the church, which coincidentally was also where Medellin’s most hardworking prostitutes went to promote their bodily wares. It did seem a bit of an unbelievable contrast to see people entering and coming out of the same church where scantily clad prostitutes (one with her naked boobs blatantly on show) were negotiating their hourly fee from the questionable looking men who approached them. But try as I may, on this Valentines day, I just couldn’t look away!

The entertainment value of sitting in a religious establishment such as we were (Hari Krishna), to look upon another religious establishment which was the location of the most obvious prostitution activity I think I’ve ever seen in my life, was spell binding. It was simply too enjoyable to watch! lol

We saw women redoing their hair and makeup on the church steps, hiking up their skirts to show a bit of leg, taking pre-payment from clients, giving men they didn’t wish to “do business with” dirty looks, posing to catch the attention of potential clients, looking bored, checking the time, gossiping with the other prostitutes and even walking off with a client to get down to the business at hand.

I couldn’t believe that I was spending Valentines Day on the rooftop of a Hari Krishna restaurant in Colombia with Josh and my sister  overlooking high traffic prostitution activity besides a church, but I was and it was bloody brilliant, lol.

Week 4 in Medellin, Colombia

Week 4 in Medellin, Colombia

Uber is now illegal in Colombia, which is a shame as we were using them on the regular to get about the city!

Even though the public transport is generally pretty good here (and super cheap!) I really don’t see the point in traipsing to a bus stop to hail a bus for the equivalent of a few thousand peso’s which add’s up to literally pennies, when I can just jump in an Uber which will pick me up directly from home and take me directly to wherever I want to go in air conditioned luxury for just a few pounds. Uber is crazy cheap here. Sometimes I felt really bad after taking an Uber (or the now equivalent local taxi app called Beat) as I just couldn’t understand how these drivers who were sometimes only getting £3 to do a 30 minute journey could possibly survive on such pittance. I gathered that the petrol was seriously cheap here as I found out that petrol is actually Colombia’s biggest natural resource, but is petrol cheap enough to guarantee a good life on less then £2 a journey to their drivers? – I wasn’t so sure. Still, the Uber crackdown in Medellin is real, and now the app won’t even work so we’ve had to resort to using Beat, an inferior alternative, which was not only adding unnecessary minutes onto our journey, but often the drivers would ask us where we were going despite having the full address on their system, they would cancel journeys out of the blue, the app would crash’ and there aren’t as many drivers available, so all in all a pretty shoddy alternative.

I’ve no idea whether this Beat app was a Colombian invention or from somewhere else, all I know is that I didn’t see the point in them getting rid of Uber only to replace it with an almost identical service that wasn’t as good. No point whatsoever.

Unfortunately for me, my tan, which I had been cultivating with such pride in Brazil is beginning to fade. The temperature here, though steadily remaining in the high twenty’s/early thirty’s is simply not powerful enough to keep it going, and thus I have had the unfortunate experience of having to exfoliate the dead skin away with my exfoliating mitt, reminding me that soon I will be returning to cold, grey, rainy London Town. I can acknowledge that most of the people back in the UK, currently battling the latest storm: Ciara, don’t feel very sorry for me but I feel sorry for myself, lol.

Talking of London, there are lots of things that I have missed out on whilst I’ve been away. Things such as the general election, where the British people, so obsessed with enacting Brexit, voted for Boris Johnson, who was seemingly determined to provide it. And as of the end of January he got his wish as we were officially separated from the European Union with the terms of the divorce to be agreed upon within the next year so I’ve heard (I haven’t been watching tbh).

And then there was the Streatham terrorist attack which happened in January. Aside from my obvious disgust and repulsion at hearing about someone who would just randomly go around stabbing innocent people because of his ideological rage here in the form of extreme Islam and possibly a great dollop of mental health issues too, I was also horrified to hear that he had decided to do this where I reside, in sleepy residential Streatham, where nothing much happens at all. I was offended that he chose to do his insanity rampage near where I like to go for a coffee and a slice of carrot cake on a Sunday afternoon. Why Streatham for goodness sake?!

Yes I know, I know, why anywhere at all? – well to be perfectly frank with you, whether it was some kind of twisted ideology, religious, political or otherwise, we all are and will all continue to be at risk from people who believe things without evidence.

All of these extreme behaviours and actions come from someone’s sincere belief that they have some kind of mandate from God (or some other figure who claims to be God-like) that give them just cause to do what they want and all of the motivation they need to justify their actions. And who are you to tell them that they are mistaken? – Since one cannot argue with God (as anyone of us can conveniently claim his existence and that he “talks to us”) without having to provide evidence of it, and since society has mandated that belief itself is enough, who are we to argue against his conclusions??

 I think we are going to start to see more tragedy’s such as the one that happened in Streatham and the one that happened in London Bridge in November much more. And there is absolutely nothing that any one of us can do about it.

Saying that though, I am very relieved that I wasn’t at home in Streatham when it happened. The funny thing to me is that when I told people that I was coming to Medellin in Colombia, the birthplace of one of the world’s most notorious criminals which was at one point the murder capital of the world, many people expressed concern. They had heard so much about all of the crime that went on here, the murders, the shootings, the gang warfare but in the month that I have been here I have lived a charmed and stress-free life with no indication of crime, no coronavirus (which is presently making it’s way throughout Asia and Europe at an alarming rate), or any terrorist activity whatsoever! So for all intents and purposes, I feel very safe here, and infact I feel much safer then I would do in England right now.

Talking of the coronavirus, it has has been spreading and they have even quarantined some cruise travellers on cruise ships in Asia. Josh and I are going to be doing a cruise around the Caribbean to end our epic travels, so I’m very much hoping that they have this virus thing under control by then as I do not wish to be inconvenienced. I shouldn’t think it will affect us too much though as we haven’t been in Asia, nor are we going to Asia. From Cartagena in Colombia we then fly to Miami and pick up the cruise from there, and the Caribbean haven’t had any outbreaks yet. As for the cruise line we are going with – well, they seem to be taking the whole thing very seriously. We have already received a few emails from them telling us that they won’t be allowing any travellers who have come from or through Asia to board, and they will be testing all passengers with a Chinese passport before they board. They have also said that they will quarantine anyone who looks like they have flu-like symptoms so Josh and I need to make sure we look lively! lol

Before I left to come travelling I was in a bit of panic about how I would manage to maintain my skincare routine, hair and eyebrows for 6 months in Latin America. I hardly wear makeup anyway and it was certainly not required in a humid country like Brazil, but my hair was a real concern. I thought I’d made the right moves, packing reserves of my most important Liz Earle skincare products, my haircare products and a a tweezer for my eyebrows, and now that I can see that I am coming to the end of my time I think I’ve done pretty well considering. I have been plucking my own eyebrows, doing my own nails when I can be bothered to and I still have enough of my skincare products to last me to the end. To make my haircare products last longer I’ve mainly been using the local Coconut Oil rather then my own stuff as when that’s gone that’s gone and I haven’t seen any alternative products for afro hair in any of the shops.

But there is one thing that I cannot do without that I’ve had to order from Amazon and my Mum has posted on to me and that’s my Carmex. For some strange reason these Latin Americans don’t believe in having well moisturised lips. My lips have never felt so dry! All of the shops I have been in and trust me I’ve been in many, do not have Carmex or anything like it. They only have wax like lip balms and I want moisture. Carmex is brilliant because it has great natural ingredients in it such as cocoa butter and beeswax, which seals the lip balm aswell as provides sheen and it has sun block in it too. But I can’t get the bloody thing anywhere here or online and I can’t go without it much longer so I had to buy it on Amazon.co.uk and had it sent to my Mum and she has posted it on to me. I can’t wait for it to get here so that my lips can feel properly moisturised again! I made sure that I bought 4 too just to be on the safe side. As for my hair situation, it’s not so bad and could possibly last me until I return to the UK but I’m still going to get that Colombian girl who done my braids the last time to redo it before I leave here.

Ceviche Virgin

We went back to that Peruvian restaurant the other night: Rocoto. I had been dreaming of that food ever since we tasted it the first time and we all agreed that after days spent working at home, we deserved a nice slap up meal, and that was just the ticket. There are so many great restaurants in Medellin that we are literally spoilt for choice, and many of the the best ones (such as Rocoto, Malanga Tropico and OCI), didn’t even require a reservation – we just rocked up. As soon as we got there they told us that the menu had changed slightly (including the prices), so we knew then that the cheap as chips meal that we had there the last time would no longer be cheap as chips (by Colombian standards, which is still pretty cheap tbh). I had the same cocktail as last time: A Pisco (which I’d never had before until now), with a cool name like Mahala Ancestral.

Shamelessly I also ordered the same main course that I had been blown away by before: Causa – a potato dish made from red peppers with avocado, breaded chicken and what they liked the call their “dynamite sauce” – it also featured an ingredient that is not often used in cooking: Limon aka Lime. Limes of the Peruvian persuasion are used in most Peruvian cuisine, including as a key ingredient in their national drink Pisco Sour, in Causa and in the cuisine they are most known for: Ceviche. As I hadn’t tried ceviche yet, skeptical of it’s authenticity coming from a country that I didn’t think could possibly be capable of producing an authentic enough version of it (I’m talking about you UK), I had decided that my ceviche tasting days were yet to come. But now I ordered it as I starter as what better place to have ceviche then in Latin America?

From what I had understood, ceviche was basically raw fish that had been marinated in lime juice, so that the acid in it essentially “cooked” the fish (as much as you can cook raw fish without fire that is), and it was accompanied by onions, spicy pepper and cilantro. It’s a dish that is simple in ingredients but massive in taste. From remembering the mind blowingly complex flavours I’d had the first time, I trusted that this place was where I would finally end my ceviche virginity. And I wasn’t in the least bit disappointed. The tanginess and freshness of the lime, coupled with the delicate texture of the fish, which through it’s marination process had not only taken on the flavour of the lime which was illuminating the delicate flavour of the fish but was essentially changing it’s texture too, making it more juicy, and much more succulent. Then came the sweetness of the red onions, which in their very important way, provided a sweet crunchiness to the dish, which was balanced out by the addition of the cilantro, with a little chilli to provide some heat. It was an incredibly delicate balance of flavours that really encompassed a little of everything: Sweet, sour, heat and texture. I loved it. I only wondered: How on earth had I managed to miss this foodtastic experience before?

People drive crazy here. Medellin being shaped like a bowl, and very mountainous, had encouraged most drivers in the city to turn into wannabe F1 drivers as the whole city is essentially one big racing track with twists and turns everywhere, and they don’t seem to pay too much mind to the traffic lights or using car signals, they just put their feet on the acceleration and drive like their lives depend upon it swerving in between lanes crazily. The po-po, who are still very much present, don’t seem to mind either, indeed they probably drive just as dangerously.

There has been talk of the glamour of the Colombian women in Western countries, and being here now I can attest to the fact that they are indeed glamorous and do like to dress up. The ladies love wearing tight jeans here that accentuate their “generously sized” nether regions, and the men clearly approve. They take full advantage of the many malls at their disposal to shop like crazy and make sure that their hair, makeup, and tight clothing quota are looking on point. But it’s really hard to pin down just what a Colombian woman looks like. Generally, the typically Colombian women that I had always imagined were of a darker hue with long shiny black hair, but here you can see women of all complexions and all features, and they are also very much Colombian, so the idea that they have a particular look is a little false since they themselves (much like the Brazilians in some respects) are comprised of a combination of many different ethnicities so naturally they have different hair textures and skin tones. Of course they are very attractive, and in terms of attractiveness in comparison to the men, the women of Colombia it has to be said are more attractive. I personally haven’t really seen many attractive men here in Colombia at all (and before you ask of course Josh knows that I’m keeping my eyes peeled in this regard, lol), whereas in Brazil I would say that it was almost 50/50 with the men just taking the lead in the looks department.

Anyway, enough about such superficiality’s as looks! lol

Contrary to popular belief, we have actually been trying to work here. When we were in Bahia it was increasingly difficult to get down to doing some work as the heat and the humidity coupled with the lack of available work locations, was a challenge. I remember sitting in our apartment trying to make some important phone calls with two fans pointing directly at us, closing the balcony door so that we could get some peace and quiet from the noisy, dust filled road we lived on and it was pretty disastrous. We regularly ran out of water, as unlike here in Medellin, we couldn’t drink water directly from the tap and we were drinking much more water then because we were always so dehydrated, and to make matters worse getting said water was physically and mentally exhausting. Simple necessities such as these cannot be taken for granted.

Obviously, now we are living in a very modern apartment with multiple supermarkets within walking distance and everyday here is like a beautiful spring day. We hardly ever sweat. The convenience of this cannot be overstated since in Bahia they didn’t even have such a thing as Uber which meant that like it or not whenever we ran out of emergency food supplies or water we had to do the painful trip up the hill in the ridiculously hot heat that seemed to just radiate from the floor and from the sky in order to get whatever we needed and then go back again. Many times just doing this would take us allday as first we needed to somehow garner the energy to do the walk in the firstplace! And as always, we needed to make it there and back by 18:00 because by 18:15 it was pitch black out there and we required a torch just to see where we were going.

The contrast to that place, and where we are now in San Lucas, Medellin is like night and day. In Brazil I was mostly panicking about what I could wear that would keep me from looking as though I had just had a dip in the sea so sweaty was I when I walked about. Here, all of my summer clothes has been left untouched in my incredible, spacious walk in wardrobe, as being in a city I don’t really feel like floating around in a summer dress, I require practicality. Even though we are on the 13th floor and feel uber safe here, we also have a security guard who is posted in our building 24 hours a day. And then there’s the distinct lack of creepy crawlies. Despite the odd fly here and there, there has been nothing: No cockroach, no spider, no mosquito. I still, 4 weeks in haven’t been bitten at all apart from on our trip to the coffee farm.

The crabs that I encountered each time I left our chalet in Bahia have been mysteriously swapped for an immaculately clean lobby, a working lift and even a bin shaft so that all of our rubbish doesn’t have to remain in our apartment and can instead be sent down the bin shaft to be disposed of by somebody else.

But we have found it hard to work here despite this being the easiest place to work out of all of the places that we have stayed so far in our travels, mostly because my sister is still staying with us and it’s hard to be regularly disciplined enough when she is here to put the necessary  time aside for work when there are other (easier) things that we could do.

The ingredients for working online is a little more complicated then it would at first seem. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not simply about having a good internet connection and a laptop. For me, the perfect working environment means that I need to have an ambient temperature (as I cannot work in extreme heat), which was why it was almost impossible for us to work in Bahia.

When it’s that hot you just can’t concentrate – it frazzles your brain and you can’t think properly. Then there’s the wifi situation – it needs to be stable and it needs to be fast. Those things don’t always go together, and indeed in many cases (even in coffee shops), they haven’t had any wifi at all! So annoying.

Then we need to have comfortable chairs. I personally need a chair with a back because I tend to lean forward when I’m working and that’s not good. A chair with a back allows me to maintain a good posture while working which means that I don’t suffer afterwards.

Then there’s the space itself – I don’t like a place that is too oversubscribed, such as the gringo heavy Pergamino’s in El Pablado. Pergamino’s had previously been identified as a good place for digital nomads to work as it had good wifi, good coffee and lots of places to work, but when we went there all I could see was gringo’s galore and that for me is not appealing. I didn’t come to Colombia to see Americans, Germans, Swedes and people from the UK thank you very much, I came to see Colombians.

But then if you decide to shun the relative ease of working in somewhere like Pergamino’s then you have to choose a local establishment and that can also be a bit of a problem as a) they are usually quite small and don’t expect to have people working there so you are taking up vital space that another customer could have and b) the coffee is usually pretty bad.

Thankfully, the last couple of days we have been strict and either left the apartment in search of a coffee shop in order to get down to some work or told my sister that we’d be busy working for the next couple of hours and it’s been fine.

It still seems hard to believe that this is my life now, and not some kind of a fantasy life. I keep on thinking that it’s going to come to an end but it doesn’t, it just goes on which is pretty awesome. To think that when I return to the UK my life will be my own to do with as I will as I will have no office to report to on a Monday morning to put in 7.45 hours of my time any longer is fantastic. I feel like I’ve just bought time itself!

Of course all of this city living convenience comes at a bit of a loss. We have no beach here, and Nativo’s Beach in Bahia is certainly one of the finest I have had the pleasure of sunbathing on. And then we have lost the nature, as when we were living there, monkeys came to visit us and our teacher friend in Trancoso even saw a sloth! True, the view from our apartment is second to none. From here we can look out to a panoramic view of the soaring mountains which surround the city and to the towering high rise apartments that are everywhere, and which twinkle with bright yellow lights at night – the best city view I’ve ever seen. But we also miss the simplicity of the sunrise and sunset from our chalet on the beach.

I miss the rustic simplicity of Trancoso: the quadrado, the friends we made there, the music and the colourful and charming beauty of the pousada’s, but we have gained the greenest city I have seen, with magnificent trees, plants and flowers everywhere alongside the hustle and bustle of a city on the up that never sleeps.

But this is what this experience is all about – contrast. I’m sure it’s hard to know at times just where you’re heart will lead you or what you might discover on your travels. And that’s why we like switching it up – a beach here, mountains there etc.

I guess for me, I’ve always known that cities offer alot but cannot offer everything. And sometimes it’s the simple things that melt your heart, such as the sound of the birds in the trees, the way the light reflects the moon onto the ocean, the look and the smell of that particular flower on a dusty road. It’s what I live for: the discovery of the simple things.

Talking of discovery, I have just finished watching a Brazilian period drama on Netflix called Most Beautiful Thing or Coisa Mais Linda in Portuguese. Based in Rio in the 1950’s it tells the story of a woman from Sao Paolo who dreams of opening a Bossa Nova club in Rio De Janeiro. The main actress is beautiful she looks a lot like Audrey Hepburne actually and she has the most amazing clothes. Considering I’ve just spent 3 months in Brazil, including spending some time in Rio, I LOVE Bossa Nova music, the glamour of that era and it’s all in Brazilian Portuguese, it was the perfect thing for me to watch. They are making a second season but it has no release date as of yet – I really hope it comes out this summer!

Coisa Mais Linda

Arvi Park

One of the supposed highlights on my Medellin things to see list was Arvi Park. Located at the top of the mountains, with a commanding view of the city, we would not only get to see Colombia’s ecological nature reserve, but also get the chance to experience the city’s cable cars to get there, which took us from the heart of the city through the clustering of Medellin’s famous barrio’s up to the highest point where Arvi Park began. A girl that my sister had previously met on her travels through Ecuador, had messaged her to tell her that she was now in Medellin and wanted to meet up with us for the trip to Arvi, so we jumped in a taxi and met her at the station.

Unlike my sister, who since staying with us at our apartment in San Lucas, was now living in relative luxury, this girl had been moving from hostel to hostel, with some questionable experiences along the way, such as having a drunken guy who was staying in her dorm (as you know these hostels have mixed sex strangers sharing the same room), trying to get into her bed and start feeling her up in the middle of the night!!

Can you believe such a thing? And then that same night another guy weed on the dorm room floor! Imagine that-  urine and drunken urine no less in the area where you sleep! Bloody awful. But these kinds of things, such as a guy trying to take advantage of a single girl travelling on her own, surely must happen quite regularly in these kinds of establishments. What I want to know is what they’re doing to prevent it from happening or to deal with it afterwards. If I was them I would have chucked this guy out on his ear! Nasty buzzard.

Anyway, the girl seemed very nice. She was originally from Germany and could speak both perfect English and Spanish which was just aswell because the journey for Arvi was a little more complicated then I expected it would be! We first had to get to Acevedo Station where we needed to buy tickets for the cable car which took us up to Santa Domingo Station, and then change onto another cable car to take us to Arvi. The journey took around 25 minutes in total – the longest cable car ride that I’d ever done, but the views of the city were worth it.

We had been told about another walking tour by the guide of the coffee tour we had done and by my sisters friend who we’d met up with a few weeks ago, but I didn’t like the idea of it and here’s why..

The tour that we had been recommended to do was a graffiti walking tour in the heart of the Colombian ghetto.

The city of Medellin, much like Rio and it’s Favela’s, was a highly populated area in the city where the most poverty stricken people lived. Typically, ram shackled homes which looked as though they had been built very precariously with cheap building materials and no building regulations were located. They were on the outskirts of the city and in the case of the Barrios of Medellin, were high up in the mountains with no access to transportation. In 2010 the Colombian government decided that the people of the barrios who made up the highest population in the city (with tens of thousands of homes there), put in a cable car system after deciding that the people of the barrios should have access to the city and therefore access to new jobs. In another surprising twist for the city of Medellin, they now had one of the most sophisticated public transportation systems in Latin America, which served the thousands (I still can’t find any official figures on just how many people live there) of people who lived in the barrios.

But I could find no enjoyment in “poverty porn”. Walking around the barrios just to gawp at the people who resided there didn’t sound like fun to me. I didn’t want to do it in Rio and I wasn’t going to start doing it here. There was something about it that seemed a little distasteful especially when in most cases on these tours I would have been accompanied by other gringo’s thus making it even more apparent that I was there to stare. I understood that the point of the tour wasn’t merely about staring at the poor Colombian people as the tour guide also took people to see the graffiti art and told them the story of the city, but I just didn’t feel comfortable with it.

Thankfully now that we were going to Arvi Park, I was able to get a birds eye view, and undoubtedly the best view of the barrios without having to actually go there. The houses, a sprawling mass of small makeshift brick houses with metal roofs, perching precariously on the mountain seemed to go on forever. Crammed together with no outside space or doors and windows on steep, windy streets that were surprisingly well paved considering, this part of the city was a whole city in itself: the one that nobody talked about, and if you didn’t live there you certainly never visited.

Despite my acute horror at seeing so many people living in such poverty, I also saw a sense of community there. Being so cloistered together, the forgotten part of Medellin’s growing elite, they seemed somewhat oblivious to the speed and level to which their city was growing. Children ran in between the houses, giggling, playing hide and seek. Of course they were completely unaware that they were essentially at the bottom of the heap as far as Colombian society was concerned. Children never really know do they? – so long as their parents are able to provide a roof over their heads, clothing and food, and have friends who were never too far away, they could be happy and stress-free.

How would they know their parents wished for a better life? one where they wouldn’t have to beg, steal and borrow to provide for them. A life where they were unable to get employment in the big city because of where they lived? and one where it was a struggle just to afford the transportation to get them there in the firstplace. I noticed that the cable cars that had been promoted as a way to connect the barrios to the city but there were huge distances between the stations. And were they free for the residents? – I certainly hoped so but didn’t think so.

Keeping the children safe from the crime in the area I’m sure was neigh on impossible for parents as such a level of extreme poverty essentially bred a survivalist mentality. And don’t get me started on medical care as surely that was simply a luxury for these people. These were the stark realities of life in the barrios and though I had never been there I certainly had an understanding of what it must be like and I had a deep empathy for them. Those people didn’t choose to live there, they certainly didn’t choose to be poor, but the reality was that for most of the people, they would never leave.

They were luckier then most residents of Medellin in one respects though: they had the best view of the city: A 360 degree view of the city, with a backdrop of the towering Andes mountains: Spectacular.

Medellin’s Barrios from the Cable Car

 

 

When we arrived at the top of the cable cars we went first to the information desk to see if we could get a map of the park. Considering it had taken us so long to get there we figured that it must be a gigantic park with lots to see but when we asked for a map we were told that they didn’t have any. This I couldn’t understand. An ecological park of this scale with no map, and scarcely any information? Sure, our lack of Spanish speaking skills wasn’t a bonus but my sisters friend could speak it fluently yet even she had no idea where we needed to go or what highlights the park had to offer. There was also no promotional material around explaining so it was hard to know.

In the end we just started walking and before long we came to an area where some buses were parked. We asked one of the bus drivers where he was going and he mentioned a lake so we said sure, we’ll go there. Seeing a lake can’t be at all bad! I thought.

When we started driving further up the mountain we realised that it really must be a big area if they were having to get people to take a mini bus to take them to different parts of the park but after we jumped out and paid to enter we came to a large grassy area that looked almost completely empty. There was a part where it looked like people could picnic and/or camp, a stage, a restaurant and yes, in the distance the lake, but there was hardly anyone there and there was nothing particularly inspiring about the place it was just an empty grassy field. Was this it? We looked around and it appeared as though, yes, this was it.

There was a butterfly enclosure, so we went in there and, after my sister stopped screaming at them for fluttering too close to her, we walked around looking at the gorgeous coloured specimens. Afterwards we went in the direction of the lake where we saw a few ducks, but apart from that there was nothing. Like, was this what this park was all about: a basic looking lake, a few butterflies and a duck??

The Butterfly Enclosure

We walked in the only other direction that we could without going back on ourselves and soon we came upon a sign for a hotel so we went towards it. We climbed the steps towards the direction of the hotel which advertised having lots of exotic animals such as armadillo’s and sloths but we didn’t see a thing. We didn’t even hear any birds. How can you not hear any birds in an ecological park?? We still didn’t have the foggiest idea where we were going but we figured that if anything we could at least get a nice view of the lake and perhaps a drink while we were at it but when we got there we saw that the hotel too was like a ghost town.

The whole thing was starting to become a bit strange.

We walked around the hotel which was eerily empty despite it being high season until eventually we decided to get back on another bus and go back in the direction we had just come from. We still didn’t know just what we were looking for, or what we would see when we got there and the surrounding town that we had to walk through also seemed weird – people were just sitting about doing nothing and staring blankly into space. Eventually we were told (by a fellow traveller no less), that there were some waterfalls nearby which sounded great but by the time we got there after walking around aimlessly for hours and seeing nothing worthy of note, we arrived to find the gates firmly closed.

What a very peculiar place!

“Nothing to see here” at the lake in Arvi Park

 

Week 3 in Medellin, Colombia

Week 3 in Medellin, Colombia

We had really enjoyed the city tour that we done in Rio. Visiting some of the most iconic sites in Brazil such as Escadaria Selaron, The Sambadromo, Sugarloaf Mountain, Rio Olympic Stadium and the statue of Christ the Redeemer, had been a thoroughly entertaining, aswell as fun activity to do in Brazil. Usually Josh and I took a dim view of what we liked to call “organised fun” which included doing day trips with random strangers but since we had enjoyed our tour in Rio so much we decided that it would be a good idea to find another tour to do whilst we were in Colombia.

Tour with Tor’

A walking tour that had been recommended on lots of online blogs was one by Real City Tours. It was a free walking tour that promised to take us around the centre of Medellin to explain the transition of this most formiddable city. We weren’t sure how many people would turn up but as it was a free tour we figured that it would be quite a few. When we arrived we spotted the other participants immediately because they were: Gringo’s. And there wasn’t just one or two of them but a very large (and growing) group of pale skinned Europeans who looked as if they had just stepped off the boat. The realisation that we were going to be doing the tour with so many people didn’t fill me with much enthusiasm as I had no desire to make small talk and worst of all, they were the “backpacking types”.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against people who backpack (indeed my own sister isn’t a “backpacking type” per say but she had been backpacking so I know that there is a difference), but what I mean when I refer to someone as being a backpacking type is the type of person who goes from hostel to hostel, looking for the cheapest accommodation going, a person who is happy to wear the same frowsy clothing day after day, or to live in squallor as a kind of small temporary inconvenience because it allows them to do what they love: travel.

Now of course I also love travel so that isn’t the problem. Alas I am not willing to forgo certain creature comforts in order to do what I love.

Unfortunately, such people who do not care for comfort or cleanliness also occasionally have something else in common: Stench.

They have body odour because they have a limited rotation of clothing and those clothes are not washed very frequently, and because they have become used to not having private access to a shower they probably limit their wash days too. Usually in these type of hostels that attract long term travellers, people not only share the communal areas, including the kitchen and lounge, but they also share the bedroom itself (with randoms of BOTH sexes), aswell as the bathroom. I don’t find the idea of being in such close proximity to bio bodies to be particularly appealing, alas I also know that travelling isn’t cheap. Especially when you’re doing it for a reasonably long amount of time and require certain accomodation standards (as I do).

Some of these people who had turned up for the tour had the unfortunate odour of infrequently washed bodies and clothes. The men looked dishevelled, as clearly they hadn’t been able to shave and their clothes were crushed and dirty. I wrinkled my nose and moved to the back.

The tour guide’s name was Hernan. He had a very strong Colombian accent but could speak perfect English. He told us that his name was Hernan and not Hernando as many people had assumed and that he had been born there in Medellin. He said that he used to be a teacher but that for the past 10 years, after becoming disillusioned with the lifelessness of work with no creativity, he decided to give it up to become a tour guide for his city, which he felt was in need of a sympathetic but genuine account of the history of his city, Medellin.

There were around 20 people in our group. Before we began to walk around he asked us to fill in a form which would tell him our names and which countries we were all from. After we filled it in he asked us to take a seat (on the ground), where he proceeded to welcome each of us individually BY NAME to Medellin. I think we were all gobsmacked because he had remembered each of our names, including the correct pronounciations of them perfectly – it was as if he had a photographic memory or something.

He went on to tell us about the history of Medellin, including a timeline of it’s progress up until this point. He included of course, the story of what he chose to call “the infamous criminal”. He refused to say his name he told us because Colombian people were very nosey (as I had already noticed), and they would come and stand next to you or behind you out of curiosity to try and hear what you had to say (and butt in if they didn’t agree!). When it came to matters regarding the “infamous criminal” people in the city were still very touchy about it. Many of them, particularly those who were around when he was causing mayhem on the streets, still didn’t like to talk about him or hear his name being mentioned in public. They had a very dim view of his “legacy” where over 38,000 Colombian people had died as a direct or indirect consequence of his drug wars. He told us that more people had been displaced then in any other country in the world (bar Syria) as a result of this tragedy, so for the locals, knowing that people around the world were celebrating him like he was some kind of humanitarian via the popular Netflix show Narco’s, when many of them had had friends and family who had died in the conflict made them angry.

The Colombians were relieved now to see that people were starting to trickle into their country on the quest to discover the real Colombia, a country that had long been forgotten in this tale of misery and violence. I sensed their curiosity and enthusiasm when they discovered that we had English accents and at many points in our tour (where it was clear that none of us were from there and were all there to learn more about the city), we had lots of Colombians coming up to us either to stand and patiently listen to what we were being told (no doubt to ensure that the city was being represented properly!), or to actually interrupt us to tell us how happy they were that we were there, ask us whether we were enjoying Colombia and/or welcome us to their city.

The highlight of our tour was when a thoroughly wrinkled granny (who couldn’t have been less then 80), came up to us to express her thoughts on what we should do next after doing our tour (taste some real Colombian food). Alas, we had already looked into the Colombian cuisine and we had found it wanting. On the menu of one of the highest rated Colombian restaurants in the city was a menu that included things like: tripe, porcupine, a dish called”sweaty chicken” (which as I chicken lover I just couldn’t justify eating), and other questionable sounding things. But other then that I found her to be adorable.

I loved the way that the locals felt free to express their curiosity, admiration, give suggestions or advice to tourists. I knew that such a thing would never happen in England in a million years as butting into peoples private conversations was generally considered rude and I could tell that our tour guide Hernan found it to be a little off putting, but I found it quite endearing. I thought it was lovely that they cared so much.

He took us around the city walking around the busy and traffic heavy streets, past the streets filled with every conceivable (counterfeit) product you could imagine. Unlike in Thailand, these people weren’t just selling fake designer bags and accessories, they were also selling blatantly fake clothes and trainers. So many trainers! Nobody had bothered to even try being authentic – each shop was packed to the rafters with every brand of trainers imaginable, so much so that every shop was starting to look identical. What was the difference between that shop full of trainers and the one either side of it? – Nothing much, as in both places you could haggle on the price for the merchandise. But the scale of the shopping area was seriously impressive. I had already noted how much it seemed the Colombians liked to shop as there was seemingly a shopping mall on every street corner but this obviously was for people who were looking for a bargain.

Papaya Level 5

After taking us around the shopping area he took us to a place which looked familiar to me. I wondered whether we had been there before without knowing it but before long he stopped walking and told us about this thing called the “Papaya Level”

Nothing to do with the fruit papaya, but a scale of awareness for safety purposes, we were constantly reminded of the danger still posed by many of the cartels who operated in this area. Despite the police presence being extremely high in Medellin, there was still alot of crime in this city, most of all robbery. Being pick pocketed or just being outright robbed was something that I was very mindful of in Colombia. I had heard so many stories of people who had gone there, most of whom had had some kind of robbery experience or another. Thankfully for us, we were 3 weeks in and we hadn’t had any such experience but I did sometimes sense the low level energy which let me know that it was still very possible so to remain vigilant at all times. Naturally, being the drug capital of the world, it was also still full of people dealing with (and addicted to) drugs. Josh had been approached many times already and though I had noticed each occasion that he had been approached, I still thought that the guys who approached were pretty slick when doing it.

According to our tour guide, we were now approaching Papaya Level 5, the area where we needed to take the most precautions as this was where the criminals targeted unsuspecting people in order to pickpocket them. He said Colombians being Latino’s had a habit of coming close to you as they didn’t understand the concept of personal space as we do in Europe and it was with that that strategy that they were able to take your wallet, phone or whatever. The thing that Josh, myself and my sister found amusing as we walked around was all of the areas that he took us to where he proclaimed that it was a Papaya Level 5 was all of the same areas that we had walked just a few days before. Indeed, the area which he told everyone in the group to simply not go to as it wasn’t safe was the area which I had been so shocked and dismayed with on our visit to Botero Square: the area that had been filled with vagrants, the homeless, drug abusers, the mentally ill, prostitutes and refugees with babies in their arms. The place where people looked so poor and in need of help that I had been simply shocked to my core. I  couldn’t believe that all of the transformation that I had seen with my own eyes had not yet been extended to these poor, destitute people. I wasn’t surprised that he considered that to be a no-go zone as I too felt that it was no-go. It was a no-go zone for them too!

We passed by the Palace of Justice and Botero Square where an incredible mural had been drawn of the timeline of the city. But it was Hernan and his thoroughly captivating way of telling the story of his city that I found to be most appealing. He went into great detail to talk about how the city was rebuilt after the “infamous criminal”, he spoke of Colombian politics and he was candidly frank about the unfortunate realities of crime, prostitution and the rights of the indigenous community (which is basically so minimal as to be almost nonexistent).

As prostitution was legal in Colombia this explained why we had been seeing so many scantily clad ladies standing around on the streets (and outside the church!) obviously touting for business. Many of them looked down and out and so it wasn’t a pretty sight seeing them standing there in their suspenders and crop tops with flabby stomachs hanging out over neon coloured mini-skirts advertising their availability for sex.

We asked Hernan about all of the signs we had seen around the city warning people that sex tourism wasn’t welcome. But when probed our guide admitted that there had been a sickening development: The prostitution of minors had been happening on the streets with disturbing frequency. Apparently people were actually pimping out children! He asked us to report it if we saw anything like that straightaway. I felt sick just hearing him admit such a vile thing was happening here in Colombia but of course I promised to report it if I saw it without hesitation.

There was a road renowned for porn too. Not that people were actually making porn on that road (though they were probably doing that too considering the amount of available prostitutes),  but that you could openly buy porn DVD’s on this particular street. For amusement he took us there. On the one side there was fake merchandise for sale, including watches, trainers, jewellery and bags etc, and on the other in a kind of “Deptford market” type setting, with men sitting under partially covered tables and when I looked what was on those tables I got the shock of my life:

Bad Booty 1, 2, 3 and 4, Latino Da Dunk a Dunk, Women who Blow and every other imaginable porn DVD combo and offensive title going was available ON THE STREET with seemingly no amusement or attempt to be discreet by the sellers whatsoever. And this was with the po-po walking around with gigantic sized guns that could blow anyone they saw fit away. The guys were advertising Cum Quest 1 like as if it were the latest best selling Harry Potter book – with complete indifference to the graphic imagery on the DVD’s. Unbelievable.

And this was all despite Colombia being 87 percent Catholic. Which just goes to show you that religion is no guarantee of morality. But then again, you already knew that!

Before we left, Hernan took us to the a place with more Botero’s sculptures that we hadn’t been to before. One sculpture was of a bird, a voluptuous bird of course which was his signature. And the other one was of the same bird but one that looked like it had been blown up. He explained that the other bird had indeed been blown up by one of the drug cartels but that the artist had insisted that rather then remove the statue as if to pretend that it had never happened he wished to keep the statue in exactly the same position as it was left, in order to remind people of Medellin’s dark history with the hope that they could look to the future.

Afterwards, my sister and I bought some earrings from an American lady who was there to help the indigenous peoples who had now been relegated to dancing on the street to earn money to feed their families despite this being their country, one that was colonised by the Spanish pushing them to the margins. The earrings were lovely but most of all I was happy to just be able to give back to these sweet, gentle people who seemed to have gotten the raw deal.

We were happy to give Hernan a generous tip for his efforts as a tour guide as we felt that the tour was not only informative but comprehensive, entertaining and it put many things in context for us, such as the grandad’s that we’d seen standing around everywhere with a gormless look on their faces. He told us that they came there to escape doing chores at home!

We had lunch at a Vegetarian Hari Krishna restaurant (which wasn’t very good), then we walked around the shopping area – a riot of shops and merchandise and I picked myself up a pair of bell bottom jeans and some fitness wear clothes (and before you ask no I do not have any intention of going to the gym, lol), I just thought it might be nice to walk about in as many of the Colombians do. The brand of fitness clothing I got (a black bra top and leggings), are a popular Colombian brand from here in Medellin so I thought it would be nice to have a bit of Colombia to take back with me like I did with my Havaianas from Brazil!

Interesting architecture in Medellin designed by a Belgian architect

A restored Colombian Building in the centre of town

The inside of one of the shopping malls – one of the oldest buildings in the city

 Botero’s famous “derriere” sculptures

The sculpture that aims to spark a conversation

The back of Botero’s sculptures, with and without terrorist attack

Joaquin Antonio Uribe Botanical Gardens

We had to leave the house as the cleaner was coming that morning so we decided last minute to go to a place that I had on my list to visit here in Medellin: Joaquin Antonio Uribe Botanical Gardens. Only around 20 minutes by car from our apartment was these serene and beautiful gardens which had been thoroughly manicured to represent the very best of Medellin’s flora and fauna. In this tranquil gardens filled with mesmerisingly beautiful trees which surely much have been hundreds of years old, we passed by a collection of plants including an abundance of cacti in the dessert gardens, palm trees and one of my personal favourites: bamboo trees. Reaching higher then most of the other trees in the gardens these slim, green reeds reached high over my head, swaying gently with magnificent strength and silent beauty creating a most wonderful green cocoon.

We ate in a restaurant inside the park, where we had the misfortune to witness a couple sucking each others faces off for the entire duration of our meal. It wasn’t that I didn’t understand raw unadulterated passion but I just didn’t understand why a restaurant whilst people were trying to eat their lunch was the place where they would choose to display it. Talking of lunch, mine was a disappointment. I fear my lack of language skills are allowing people to get away with producing badly cooked food as I cannot properly complain!

On this occasion it was Tilapia, which had been described as coming with a side of salad, plantain and coconut rice. So far so good eh? Well, this tilapia had been fried to within an inch of it’s life. No longer the meaty and flavoursome fish that I was accustomed to, this one had been fried so much that it had shrunk and no amount of digging into it’s encrusted flesh with my fork would release it from it’s crusty crutches. And as for the plantain? Well that was just a joke. A flattened, hardened, fried mess of a joke. I couldn’t saw into it with my knife for love nor money and I was afraid that if I did just pick it up and bite into it then my teeth would fall out. It was a seriously shoddy meal indeed.

Despite it’s lack of historical architecture, a violent past that it’s residents no longer wished to remember, and the severe poverty that lurked within the city, I could still see that Medellin had a lot to offer. A small city, which looked huge to me because from the balcony of my apartment I could see it in it’s entirety, it offered an easy life if you knew where and how to live. Buying property here for foreigners was still very cheap and you could live very well because of the low cost to buy, the price of transport and the standard and abundance of quality accommodation. And then there was the infrastructure, though I could surely attest to the insanity of the traffic, with Colombians driving just as bad if not worse then Brazilians taking serious risks with their lives and others, the abundance of options when it came to getting about the city was impressive. With trams, a metro system (which they are very proud of), lots of buses and even cable cars, it offered a lot of transportation variety and at low cost.

And then there was the weather: Perfect really. They don’t call Medellin “The city of eternal spring” for no reason!

Yes, living here could be easy. If you had good Spanish (or were willing to learn), I think for city living you couldn’t go far wrong, especially since for just a longer drive outside of the city you could have the countryside within easy reach. Alas, danger was still of concern. Many of the people in the countryside had moved from the countryside to the cities to escape the grip of Left and Right wing groups determined to make money from the land that they owned. Many were killed and still many were displaced and there were still many places that we were advised not to go which for a Londoner confident that I could go anywhere in my city, was a bit of a concern.

Thankfully I have managed to improve my hair situation somewhat. I am still debating whether I am going to get it redone as I don’t want her not doing it how I want her to again, and then of course I will have to take this hair out and pay her again too. So we’ll see. But my sister has said that she is planning on getting her to redo her’s so I might talk to her when she next comes (using Google Translate of course!) and see if we can come to some sort of arrangement. But my hair does look better now – and this is for a few reasons:

Time – its not shedding as much now

Braiding – I like to have the ends of my hair out but in order to make it less frizzy I braided a few individual braids all the way down and that has seemed to make it look a little neater

Dipping – Having braids requires the hair to be dipped on completion into a bowl of boiling water to seal the ends. So I plaited it again and dipped it again and now it looks more defined and less voluminous.

However the thing that I cannot improve about my hair is the blonde highlights that are in it. I fear that the blonde may just be a little too light for my personal taste. I wanted it to be subtle but it’s not really and there’s so much in it that it really stands out.

The entrance to the tranquil gardens

 

 

 Joaquin Antonio Uribe

In Situ Restaurant

Look at the size of this banana tree!

The Coffee Plantation Tour

The one thing about doing tours that I was adverse to was this idea of spending the day with randoms and of course the longer the tour the longer time spent with people you otherwise had no interest in knowing. And the more people in the tour the more the chance of annoyance. So far we’d had a pretty good experience with no overly annoying people accompanying us.

But there’s always a first..

The Toucan Cafe in Medellin was a centre where expects could meet each other, work digitally from their cafe that was open 7 days a week or even do one of their tours (such as the coffee plantation one that we had booked), learn Spanish or how to dance salsa. So it was a great hub of activity and the ideal way for travellers to Medellin to get to meet other travellers. For us, this idea of going to a centre full of gringo’s didn’t really appeal as

1) We already had a pretty awesome place to work from: our beautiful apartment and 2) We weren’t single travellers so didn’t feel the need to “socialise” with other expats. I had decided that I wanted to do a private salsa class but I wanted to do it somewhere that I felt was a little more authentic so I decided that I was going to wait until we got to Cartagena.

The coffee plantation at Cafe De La Cima sounded appealing. We had looked at a few coffee tours online but this one stood out because it had been recommended by the tour guide of the walking tour that we had done, it went further into the countryside and therefore was in a more untouched and beautiful location, was a family run working coffee farm and it included breakfast aswell as lunch. The price was pretty good and we really wanted to have an authentic Colombian coffee experience so we went ahead and booked it. The only problem was that the drive to get there and back was a long one.

We arrived at Toucan Cafe just on time (8:30 am) and before long we were being ushered into a mini van with 4 other people to begin the hour and a half long drive to a town where we needed to pick up another car (a jeep because it was too steep to get there in the mini van), to take us to the farm.

No sooner had we settled down into the clean, air conditioned vehicle then the incessant talking ensued…

Of course I understood the politeness of getting to know who you were travelling with (though that in and of itself is not necessarily important), but what I did not understand was the volume or the length of time that the talking went on for. The 3 in the back (2 Canadians and an Indian girl), yapped on and on and on and on for the entire duration of the drive. It didn’t seem to matter one iota to them that nobody else was doing so, or that the American-like volume that they were talking at was annoying and unnecessary. I was still feeling tired after having a late night and an early morning – I mean it wasn’t even 9:30 am yet, why all of the verbal diaorrhea?

I’ll admit that there is generally a difference between how Canadians and Americans speak – I find Americans to be almost unbareable because they speak so loudly, have an annoying pitch, they love the sound of their own voices, their conversations are usually very base and superficial and they don’t take social cues, but I had no idea that Canadian’s could be quite this annoying.

When I found out that the Canadian guy actually spent most of his life in San Francisco then it made much more sense. These individuals were INTENT on yapping for the entire duration amongst themselves (they didn’t even try to engage anyone else in conversation), and at the end of the drive there I was mentally exhausted by what I had been forced to witness. The Canadian guy had an annoying high pitched voice that made him sound very effeminate but unfortunately for me, because I was unable to block out anything that they said I knew that he was very much hetero. His high pitched cackle which came in 2 second intervals was unbelievably irritating. I honestly didn’t know how I was going to survive the next 6 plus hours with these people. I came here for a coffee tour not nonsense chat!

Once we arrived in the town we transferred into a bright yellow jeep and then began our descent up the very steep, narrow and extremely bumpy mountain paths. Even though it felt uncomfortable to me to be in such close proximity with people and not say a word to them I was so pissed off with the fact that my sitting back relaxing and enjoying the surrounding countryside as we drove through Medellin had been spoilt by their constant yabber. I was at a loss as to why they couldn’t pick up the body language of the 3 Brits (me, my sister and Josh) and the softly spoken Belgian guy who were quite capable of having conversations without broadcasting it to the entire van, to act accordingly.

What is it about that part of the world and their need to be heard??

The Indian girl should have known better as she was from India, currently living in Switzerland and claimed to have many European friends and so should have the girl from Montreal as she had actually been born in France but unfortunately she moved to Canada when she was 6 and Canadian culture like it or not is more similar to US culture then to European and it shows!

Soon we were told by our tour guide that we were going to have to walk the remainder of the way to the farm as there was road works so we got out of the vehicle and along with the Canadians, the guy from Belgium and the Indian girl we began our trek up the mountain in the 30 degree plus heat. Thankfully we had been warned of the heat previously so I had brought a hat with me as I didn’t wish to get sunstroke.

When we got to the farm we were all pretty knackered and we hadn’t even started yet! The family welcomed us warmly to their home, which was located on the precipice of the impressive Andes mountains which surrounded the city. The views stretched out for kilometers with densely covered forest, mountains and the valley below. It was an incredible sight, just what I had imagined Colombia would be like.

Here everything was quiet apart from the sound of the animals that lived there as aswell as being a coffee farm it was also a working farm with cows, pigs and chickens. The son of the coffee farmer Humberto, was very friendly and extremely knowledgeable about coffee, but he couldn’t speak a word of English so the tour guide that was with us translated his words. Before taking us around we had breakfast, which consisted of Arepa’s de Choclo which was basically corn that had been fried and a type of Colombian cheese that was produced there on the farm. To drink: Coffee. I loved the idea that we were eating produce that had been made there on the farm and it was all pretty tasty.

Afterwards Humberto took us around the farm, showing us the full process from seed to bean of how the coffee was made. Not only was it very fascinating, but it was educational too. I never had any idea the level of labour and processes that were involved in making the coffee that we enjoy everyday and most surprisingly, I never knew how little these farmers were getting for their efforts.

Colombian coffee is well renowned the world over for it’s body and taste yet these farmers get next to nothing in return. I couldn’t believe it when Humberto explained how one bag of coffee produced by them would only yeald around $20 US dollars profit. Considering how much we pay for a cup of coffee, it seemed criminal to me to think that this mans work for the year, taking into account how many bags of coffee beans he sold in the year and the profit he made on each, would come to less then $1,400 dollars. No matter which way you look at it ,that is OBSCENE.

After explaining to us the harsh realities of the coffee business, which was becoming more and more competitive because of the highly competitive and big commercial coffee corporations (like the dreaded Starbucks for instance), he and other Colombian coffee producers were being squeezed and many had decided to stopped producing coffee altogether because there was no longer any profit in it. Hence him doing these tours: To educate tourists and to make some money from the coffee that they could sell at the end removing the middle man.

He took us onto the farm located on a very steep incline on the mountain and then he asked us to pick the coffee beans. Though it technically wasn’t picking season he told us that we would still found some beans. We were told to pick only the red ones. This coffee bean lark wasn’t as easy as it looked. For starters, it was bloody hot. Soaring well beyond 30 degrees, not even my sunhat could protect me from the intense rays. And then there was the mosquitoes. 3 weeks in and I still hadn’t been bitten once yet here mosquitoes were everywhere and they were seemingly ravenous – biting me on every piece of exposed skin available. Then, the terrain: Dangerously steep. And we were required to stretch up on this steep mountain in order to pluck the red berries from the trees. After having a little slip in my determination to get the most berries from a tree that was located in a very awkward spot on the mountain, I set about my task of picking the red berries for around 20 minutes until Humberto told us that our time was up. I was quite pleased with my little coffee bounty but I was left in no doubt of just how physically exhausting this work was. He told us that a coffee picker could expect to earn around $2 per basket they filled up which seemed like pittance to me when you considered how long it would take to fill up a basket.

He then showed us how to remove the fleshy skin from the seed which we did to find a slimy, honey like syrup underneath. Once the skin had been removed you would then need to wash the honey from the seeds and leave them to dry. They used a kind of drawer that could be pulled out and be exposed to the sun to dry them quicker. The drying process took around a day. Afterwards the outer shell for the coffee bean needed to be removed (goodness knows who and how this process was worked out btw), and then usually the beans were selected for their grading based on colour and condition and then sold oversea’s. Apparently the Colombians themselves didn’t yet have a taste for the coffee they produced (even though Colombia is the third largest producer of coffee in the world after Brazil and Vietnam), so all of the “good” beans were shipped oversea’s where they were roasted to their preference and then sold.

Since the whole process was so time consuming and most of the farmers didn’t know how to, the Colombians didn’t do the roasting process themselves. They were just in control of growing the beans and then preparing them for sale. However Humberto’s Dad, who was a bit of an entrepreneur, had seen a gap in the market and had recently started roasting them and selling them himself, keeping in control of the entire process from seed to bean. They showed us how the roasting and cooling process was done too which was pretty cool.

After having lunch we had a tasting session with some of the grades of coffee that the farm produced being offered to us. Humberto explained to us how we should all, now that we know what was involved in coffee production, be more mindful of where our coffee was coming from and only purchase good quality coffee from official fairtrade companies like themselves.

Knowing what I know now I will never see coffee in the same way again!

We said goodbye to the family and thanked them for a really enjoyable day and we went on our way to commence the almost 2 hour drive back to the city.

In the van on the way back, utterly exhausted from having to walk again down the mountain in the heat to get to the local town and then do another 25 minute ride down the bumpy, narrow, pot hole filled roads in the jeep, Josh, my sister and I were ready to relax on the way back, maybe even get some shut eye. My body was feeling drained from physical exertion after a day spent listening to the laborious process of coffee making in the heat.

And what I was certainly not expecting, but what I received much to my utter horror, was a continuation of the conversation that never ended at full volume and with complete disregard to anyone else being present, of the 2 Canadian’s and the Indian girl, who waffled, gossiped, prattled, babbled and cackled their way for the entire duration of the ride back. I was absolutely fuming.

They spoke about:

Operations: The Canadian girl had had an operation on her shoulder. The Canadian guy had had an operation on his arm after an accident in a snowboarding session where he developed concussion a few days prior and couldn’t remember anything . He had to have physio for a year a half after hurting his arm and it’s still not 100% better.

Relationships: The Indian girl was single and wasn’t currently looking for a relationship right now. She wasn’t even on Tinder, and she didn’t have Instagram. The Canadian girl was divorced but was now dating a guy called Max, who was friends with the Canadian guy, which was how they met. The Indian girl said that she did not care for the institution of marriage.

Work: The Canadian guy had been running a startup and was now just travelling around. The Canadian girl worked in the medical field and gave the Indian girl advice about the growing, painful corns that she had on her toes. The Indian girl works for the UN in Geneva, Switzerland.

Health: The Canadian girl had some stomach problems but it wasn’t so bad today.

Politics: The Indian girl does not like her current president but she doesn’t think that he will ever be voted out of office.

Travel: The Indian girl was here for 10 days in total staying on her own after visiting Bogota and she had previously been in Goa (where she was born). The Canadian girl was here with her boyfriend Max but had not long come back from Katmandu, Nepal which she found to be unbelievably noisy and busy. The Canadian guy had just been in Thailand and was planning on moving to New York after his travels in Colombia.

Family: The Canadian girl’s family were originally from Algeria and she was an ethnic minority in her country. Her family were very conservative as was the Indian girl’s. The Canadian guy had previously lived in San Francisco but his Mum and Dad (who were of Irish descent) spent most of their time in Trinadad.

Countries of Birth: The Canadian girl was actually born in France so she has a French passport but her sisters do not have a French passport as they were both born in Algeria.

Languages: The Canadian girl can speak French because she was brought up in Montreal, a French speaking city in Canada. She can also understand some Spanish and of course she is a fluent English speaker (as are they all).

Drugs: They have all tried drugs especially the Indian girl, who has had marijuana, mushrooms, ecstasy and acid. Acid is her favourite because everything seems more vivid, like colours, shapes and sounds and the high lasts for a longer time (around 6-7 hours).

Brexit: They all had an opinion on Brexit which they didn’t bother to consult the only actual Brits in the vacinity on (us!)

Harry and Meghan: They all had an opinion on that too.

In short: If you are as shocked as I was to learn that all of this very personal and intimate information was exposed in the course of a few hours then you will understand how absolutely furious I was to have been subjected to such low level nonsense against my will.

To think that people can talk incessantly like this with no awareness whatsoever of their surroundings is quite a shock to the system. No, Canadians aren’t as bad as Americans but after that mind numbingly dull episode I think that I might be growing an aversion to them too!

P.S Once we’d left the vehicle (and I was far too vexed to say goodbye to any of them), the 3 of them then went on to yap some more at a local sushi bar.

Goodness gracious me!!!!

The beautiful surroundings of the Cafe de la Cima residence

Getting ready to pick some coffee!

My and my sis working hard on the plantation!

 

Josh earning his keep 🙂

Views for days

 

 

 

The process in stages to make Colombian coffee

A small coffee seed

The flowering coffee plant

Josh imparting his “expert coffee knowledge” to Humberto

Drying the seeds in the sun and removing the bad ones

Grinding the seeds to remove their outer shell

Grading them by size and colour

The roasting process

The end result: Delicious Colombian Fairtrade Coffee!

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!

Week’s 3 & 4 in Trancoso, Bahia

Week’s 3 & 4 in Trancoso, Bahia

There’s an albino gecko in our bathroom.

I’m not a big fan of gecko’s to start with, but I’m especially not keen on ones of the albino persuasion. Call me prejudice all you want but  seeing a big gecko with almost translucent skin suddenly scurrying across ones bathroom walls is not something that I wish to get used to. In contrast however, I have to say that the gecko’s here are not as numerous nor noisy as I thought that they’d be. When we were in Thailand there were lots of them in our villa and those ones were noisey, especially at night when we were trying to sleep. They would creep into our bedroom and begin making this horrible clicking sound on the ceiling above our bed and coupled with the intense heat that was already making it hard for me to sleep, I couldn’t help but worry that at any moment one of the crusty cretins would drop from the ceiling onto me!

In contrast, the gecko’s here seem to keep themselves to themselves (albino or not). They hide during the day and the only time we really see them is if we suddenly come back from being out allday and go straight into the bathroom or they appear during the night when we get up to go to the toilet. Other then that we don’t really see them during the day at all and aside from the occasion baby gecko that we’ve found in our bathroom, they keep themselves pretty well hidden and they tend to stay out of the bedroom. Also, we haven’t seen a barratas aka cockroach in our apartment for a couple of weeks thank goodness. So it’s just the mosquitoes we’re battling now…and they simply will not let me be!

Our chalet is located along  the beachfront, seperated by the dense mangrove trees, the perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes. 

Slow Living

The art of slow living can be found here. When we first arrived I remember feeling immediately relaxed as I strolled along the leafy, picturesque Quadrado. The people here don’t rush much, don’t fuss much, life is simple and they really take their time living it. As we’ve found out, living here is very spontaneous affair and we really got to experience this spontaneity on our way to dinner one evening.

We had planned to go to the plant based restaurant Tao Cho but it was closed so we walked down to the Creperie with intentions of having a savoury crepe there instead but as we passed the Supermarket we bumped into one of our newly made local friends, the Dutch Viking looking friend,who was the husband of the Brazilian man who had invited us to celebrate this birthday with them the week before at Capim Santo. We soon got into conversation with him and before long, 5 minutes turned into 10, turned into 15, and then along came our Airbnb host who was also passing by on her way to dinner somewhere, and then the Brazilian guy arrived and other locals either joined in the conversation or came over to say Hi. Before long there was a large group of around 8 or 9 people congregating outside the Supermarket (and probably blocking it too!) laughing and making merry and none of us had planned to meet at all – it was completely random.

The guys were planning on going to the Sushi restaurant and invited us to join them. This was the norm here. You’d walk down the street (to be fair it was the only “main street” in Trancoso), and in doing so you would bump into people you knew (or didn’t yet know) going about their leisurely business and so you’d join them for dinner or drinks or a dance. You could never be bored or lonely here. 

I thought that it was great. People seemed to be friendly and tactile, there was lots of kissing and hugging between friends and family and a natural warmth and openness between the locals that I really liked. And the environment was very conducive to this way of life. For a start it’s small village like feel had a feeling of intimacy, the environment was very laid back and of course it didn’t hurt that it was beautiful at all times of the day.

In the morning you could walk along the Quadrado and see only a handful of people walking around, usually people selling fresh coconuts, handmade jewellery, chocolate and dream catchers as the sun came up. The cloudless blue sky, the piercing green vibrancy of the trees and the colourful pousada’s lining it was picture perfect. In the afternoons the restaurants surrounding the square would be open and lots of people would be milling about eating outside in the sunshine whilst beautiful well kept horses strolled on by enjoying their exceedingly good life.

In the evening, lanterns and fairy lights would be strung up in the trees providing a romantic glow to the atmosphere, and if you were lucky to get there just before the sun went down then you could have the best of both worlds watching local musicians strumming traditional Brazilian songs on their guitars.

 Of course this place was catering for the tourists, that was undeniable, but it was also undeniable that this place had an authenticity and beauty that made it unique and it had a tranquility that was very hypnotic. Brazilians considered this place to be the secret jewel in their crown and they came from all over the country to experience it. We felt very lucky to have discovered it!

Life on the Quadrado

We were flattered to have been invited out for a very impromptu dinner with our new Brazilian friends after randomly bumping into them in the street but we didn’t fancy having sushi that night so we thanked them and went on our way. Unfortunately for us Tao Cho was closed so we went onto the Creperie where we had another amazing crepe, we then passed by the Quadrado on the way home to pick up a Tapioca Pancake for dessert which we had with banana, coconut and chocolate! The combination of having a savoury crepe for dinner and a sweet tapioca pancake for dessert was great but unfortunately they put WAY too much chocolate sauce in the Tapioca pancake which spoilt it.

The following day we went back to Tao Cho and this time it was open. We had a long conversation with the owner and his wife who had a constantly disappointed expression on her face. Judging by how she responded when we enquired about their plans for the Christmas Holidays, I figured that the disappointed expression on her face had alot to do with her probably being overworked, overheated and underpaid. Both originally from other parts of Brazil, she told us that she had spent some time in New Zealand which I knew was known for having a pretty good work life balance. Yet here she was in Brazil, in one of the most hot and humid parts of the country, working her ass off (she was the main cook in the restaurant as they hadn’t found a fulltime chef yet), doing very long days to realise what was soon becoming clear was her husbands dream of living somewhere beautiful and hot whilst owning a vegan restaurant. She seemed to be doing all of the hard work, cooking in the hot and very small kitchen whilst he went around conjuring up elaborate vegan recipes and making small talk with customers like us!

They were not getting to experience the “slow living” that this location was all about. They were working and working hard in extreme heat and humidity that was at times too a little too much even for us and we were living the slowest life possible, lol. Also, their “restaurant” was far too small. It was more like a hut really. How she could be cooking these elaborate plant based meals which required alot of imagination and ingredients prep in that tiny kitchen in the intense heat was beyond me. And that probably explained why whilst we were sitting there talking to the owner and drinking our cups of Kombucha (another favourite drink of ours that we first had in Bali), we saw a cockroach scurry underneath the floorboards. And then we saw another one that had earlier been squashed on the floor! 

It was so humid in that restaurant that it probably attracted those horrid barratas like noone’s business! Alas, the fact that I was able to still remain sitting in the restaurant where I had seen a cockroach is a testament to my tolerance level increasing with regards to encountering these horrible beasts.

It of course also helped that I didn’t see the thing inside the restaurant, it was outside in the seating area. When we saw a cockroach/barratas in the pizzeria in Florianopolis, we never returned there again. But to be fair, the people making the pizza’s in that restaurant looked questionable anyway. We figured that if they had seen one in the kitchen they would probably let it roam free whereas this man saw it at the same time that we did and tried to kill it immediately afterwards.

Oxe Club

We didn’t want to go back to Fly Club again because despite the fact that it was in a good location next to the stunning purple lake and characterful mangroves it was difficult to get to unless it was low tide, and the playlist that they had at Fly Club which we initially thought was great, seemed to be the only one they had! We could hear the music from our apartment balcony during the day and we heard them playing the same playlist over and over again and guess what? – it wasn’t THAT good. I couldn’t bare going there to hear the same tunes playing over and over again and by this point I was getting to know the order of them too which really wasn’t good at all.

So we walked in the opposite direction and we came across Oxe Club, which was next to Uxua (the hotel owned by the owner of Diesel) and it looked very similar but was perhaps a little less posey. The waiters there were very friendly and the food was good. I ordered a fresh Coconut which surprisingly would be my first in Brazil! Despite the fact that fresh Coconut was sold everywhere I hadn’t been in the mood for one before now but thankfully it was as good as I’d hoped it would be. When I’ve had fresh Coconut before (apart from the one I’d had at Finn’s Club in Bali), it was always warm and watery but this one was actually cold, fresh and had a lovely delicate coconut flavour. This one was definitely the best coconut I’ve had and it was so refreshing! We swam in the sea here too which was much easier to do as the waves weren’t as high. The water was clear and so so warm. Simply divine. For me, the wildness of the beaches here, and the abundance of them make them so attractive. Brazil has a beautiful beach for every day of the month!

The heat is in the early thirties everyday and I’ve kind of gotten used to that, but the humidity I cannot. Even when it’s overcast the humidity is crazy and just getting to the shops is a massive effort. I realise that I perhaps shouldn’t complain as if I was asked if I wanted to trade it in with the climate of England then I would say HELL NO, however, getting up and ambling up the hill to go the shop in order to get food supplies doesn’t count as a very productive day in my book, lol.

My braids need redoing. They have lasted pretty good thus far, but I always intended on getting them redone at the halfway point and as we only have another 2 weeks her to go we are getting to that point! I asked one of our friends if they knew where I could get them redone here (since I haven’t seen any Afro hair salons here in Trancoso and I couldn’t find any when I looked online), so they gave me a number of someone they said done braids and I sent the girl a WhatsApp message but she didn’t bother messaging me back. I tried to message her again but again she didn’t respond so I’ve given up. Looks like I’ll just have to get it done in Colombia! 

We’re loving the coffee here. We drink it everyday (espresso), and sometimes I even have it as an after dinner palate cleanser. Also beer. I’ve been having lots of beer which I normally wouldn’t really drink. The Brazilians drink a lot of beer here so I’ve been joining them alas I’m going to give it a rest now as I don’t want to return to England with a beer belly! Lol 

We haven’t left Trancoso yet but that’s partly because of the time of year (Ian’s birthday is the day after tomorrow, and then it’s Christmas and New Year), partly because we’ve been working, and also because tbh we haven’t really wanted to. Trancoso is afterall the main event in Bahia! However we have identified a few places that have been recommended to us that we would like to go to before we leave but again, we’re in no particular rush to do them so we’ll probably go after New Year.

Nativo’s Beach

Moonlight Dancer

We were invited to a music festival with our “Brazil Family”. Apparently it’s a house music festival in celebration of an African deity (aka mythological spiritual being) called Orisha Oxala that was brought to Brazil with the religion of the African Slaves. Oxala is one of the 12 God’s who the locals worship and like many other supernatural beings that human beings conjure up in their minds, it still retains followers/believers because of course, you cannot disprove what does not exist therefore the belief persists. Despite my skepticism about the existence of this deity I liked the fact that it was an authentic tradition with such a long history so when our Airbnb host friend told us that it was an event for the locals that the tourists weren’t really interested in attending then Josh and I told her straightaway that we definitely wanted to go!

Oxala festival was their Midsummers night celebration, which commenced at sunrise and ended at sunset. Apparently it was to go on until around 6:00 am the next day (Josh’s birthday), but I had plans for that day and I didn’t want to be destroyed as a result of partying too late so we agreed that we would leave the party around 1:30 am.

I really wanted to make Josh’s Birthday special. He deserved it but it had been much easier to organise something special for his birthday when we were in Thailand partly because of the ease of finding out what was going on in the area and because language had not been a barrier: most places in Thailand spoke at least a little English, at least enough for me to make a reservation. But here I had limited ideas because there was no centralised place to find out what events or activities were going on in the area, plus Josh was still suffering with a bad back since the first night we’d arrived here so I knew that he wouldn’t be able to do anything too strenuous. And then of course there was the language barrier. Many places in Trancoso and in Florianopolis didn’t have a way for you to book on their website (where at least I could use Google Translate), they only offered telephone numbers and many of them didn’t have a website at all, only Facebook! I mean I know that they’re laid back here but really this is a little too laid back!

I couldn’t find any birthday cards or candles in any of the local shops and most of the time Josh and I went shopping together which made it doubly hard to look without him finding out. Also, there were no cakes! Well not whole cakes anyway and I didn’t want to get a shitty Supermarket bought one. So I was in a bit of a pickle. I knew that he wouldn’t really appreciate a “thing” as he much prefers experiences as presents and in any case Amazon was only a recent thing here in Brazil, and the selection of things on Amazon.br was pretty poor. No, I wanted to take him for a nice dinner in the evening instead which thankfully I had managed to secure in the best restaurant in Trancoso, El Gordo. And before that my plan was to take him to a beach club called Casa Clube in the afternoon which had been recommended to me by my Brazil family, where I had organised for them to meet us for surprise drinks and lunch. 

Josh had mentioned that morning that he still wanted to do the Wind Surfing that he had previously expressed an interest in so I told him to book some lessons and I’d pay for it. I was very relieved that I hadn’t gone ahead and paid for the lessons before he had confirmed that he was well enough to do it but after discussing with him that that’s what he would like to do, I was happy to know that we had been on the same page!

Deciding what to wear for this party tonight was a lot harder then expected. On one hand I didn’t want to just go in shorts and a vest as it was a party afterall and these were Brazilians: they looked good in anything. But at the same time I wanted to be comfortable (meaning not too hot), so in the end I decided on a strappy black dress which wouldn’t be too casual, was suitable to wear to a party but not too fancy and was skimpy enough for me to dance and therefore, sweat in. Of course I didn’t want to sweat at all but unfortunately I didn’t have a choice in the matter as this place was just too bloody hot!

The party was being held on a farm just outside of Trancoso about a 40 minute drive away. The organisers had put on vans so that the party revellers could get there and back with no issues. We went to a local bar in the afternoon to pick up our tickets. Ours said VIP on them which did make us wonder what extras were included but apparently that was just for the van there and back and a free alcoholic drink each. This wasn’t a party for the roped off VIP crowd party types, this was an event for the locals who just wanted to watch the sunset and sunrise in a beautiful, natural environment whilst listening to great music: It sounded like the kind of party that was made for me!

Very concerned about the fact that it was being held on a remote farm (with limited toilet facilities so I had been warned by our friends), I made certain that I coated myself heavily in the supposed insect repellent Avon’s Skin So Soft Oil Spray and a heavy dose of 50% DEET Jungle Formula for good measure. I seemed to be the favourite meal of the day for these abominable mosquitoe beasts and I was not going to be destroyed by them again tonight if I could possibly help it!

Our Airbnb host said that she also wasn’t planning to stay until the very end and as we were leaving to go to the party at 8:00 pm I thought that 5 hours of partying was quite enough. I had spoken to the Brazilian and Dutch couple earlier that day and they had confirmed that they would not be coming to both the party that night and Josh’s birthday lunch at the beach club the following day and I told them that I wasn’t aware that they were planning on coming to both and that if that was the case then I would much prefer they come to the lunch as that was on Josh’s birthday afterall but when I went to the bar to meet our other friends there they were at the bar. However they went onto dinner first though and didn’t end up making it.

When we arrived at the party venue after an extremely bumpy and dusty journey to the venue which was much quicker then the 40 minutes I had expected, we soon realised that we were literally the only ones there. Located in a huge expanse of forest between beautiful tall trees and overlooking a valley with a winding lake a few metres below, I could hardly see anything it was so dark but what I could see I could only imagine would be breathtakingly beautiful during the day. The place certainly had alot of atmosphere and was quite magical really.

They did have some lights but nowhere near enough to illuminate the darkness of the surrounding woodland. When I was told that the party was going to be on a farm I was imagining the worst: long, unkempt muddy grass and lots of bushes and trees but it wasn’t like that. It was more flat dry soil then anything else, the trees were very spread out and there were a variety of places to dance and sit. And there were even proper toilets (not portaloos as I was imagining!), infact I had been warned previously that there might only be 1 toilet which would undoubtedly be too disgusting to use so I was preparing to wee in the bush! Now I didn’t have to. Hurrah!

The sound system was loud and bumping and from what I could hear they were playing some good, deep house music which is exactly what I was hoping for The only problem was that we were the only ones there, and I couldn’t work out why as we weren’t the first to arrive – this party had started at 5:00 pm and it was now 9:00 pm so we weren’t being “too English” by turning up too early. Alas, it didn’t bother me too much because the place had food in the form of a food stand around the corner, toilets for men and women, a bar, lots of places to sit down and most importantly, good music that seemed to just get better and better as time went on.

After holding it for as long as I reasonably could I finally made my way to the ladies toilets. Modern they were yes, but free from creatures they were most certainly NOT.

As soon as I approached the bathroom I could see that it was teaming with these big ugly looking black beetles. They were crawling everywhere both inside and outside the toilets, on the walls, the floor and even in the sink! The beetles looked as though they may have been dying as the ones on the floor and on the sink were twisting over and over. Perhaps the organisers had sprayed the place with some kind of chemical to get rid of them or something but either way, alive, dead or dying they were vile. Big, shiny, black and too many to count, I felt quite ill looking at them but I really needed to go to the toilet so I took a deep breath and went into the toilet cubicle accompanied by 2 juicy black beetles writhing around on the floor.

As I was doing my business I kept my eyes on them, watching them closely as they writhed around on the floor, opening and closing their wings as if they would fly at me at any moment. Bloody horrible.

When I went to the sink area to wash my hands I was shocked to find that it was even worse – the entire sink area including the floor, wall and the sink itself was infested with them. I realised that I was either intoxicated (and I hadn’t had that much to drink), or I had turned some kind of corner with regards to my tolerance for creepy crawlies as I was able to put my hands into the sink with 8 shiny black beetles (who were still alive) and wash my hands whilst they were crawling around in it frantically.

Afterwards I left to join my group of friends and Josh who were on the dancefloor dancing to a really good deep house tune and before long I found the flow that I had hoped to find as tune after tune after tune came on in rapid succession, until I completely forgot that anyone was was there.

I was totally in the vibe. 

A soft breeze kissed my skin under the moonlight, I loved the feeling of being so free in this open and vast natural environment, it had such a magical, special energy about it, surrounded by all of the ancient trees in the middle of nowhere overlooking the winding lake below. There were so many beautiful places like this is Brazil and I was always being surprised at the depth of beauty it had. The sound system was excellent, the music had a deep, raw tribal sound that accompanied it perfectly. I felt so alive it was as if I could fly. I was completely immersed in the vibe, feeling every beat of the music completely unaware of who might be watching.

About an hour into dancing I was approached by a Brazilian girl who was as beautiful as many of them are, talking excitedly to me (in Portuguese). Naturally, I didn’t understand a word of what she said but the expression on her face seemed so earnest that I grabbed one of my friends who could speak and understand Portuguese and asked her to repeat it. When I found out what she said I was beyond flattered. The girl said had she had come up to me because she said that she had felt compelled to tell me how beautifully I danced. She had thought that I was a native Brazilian and had been so impressed with how I moved that she wanted to know if I was some kind of a dancer! Me? A dancer? And a BRAZILIAN one at that?! – well I have to say that compliment tops them all! lol.

Turns out the girl could speak English afterall – she was actually pretty fluent, she just didn’t realise that I wasn’t a Bahian. So we began talking and I found out that she was originally from Sao Paulo but was in Trancoso until the beginning of January. She told me that she loved Trancoso so much that she couldn’t help but keep on coming back (a sentiment I thoroughly understood). We talked about other travel destinations that we’d both been to and she told me what she did for a living (she was a digital marketer for the Brazilian equivalent of Amazon).

She was really sweet and genuine and we swapped numbers and said that we’d try and meet up whilst we were both still there.

I perhaps should be used to it by now, but the openness and friendliness of the people here is very surprising. I have never experienced anything quite like it before. Unfortunately, the food at the venue left alot to be desired. We had banana with farofa, which is like a root which looks and tastes like a root (or sawdust!) that the Brazilians like to put on meat or fish usually. Since it has the look, texture and taste of sawdust I’m not entirely sure what the benefit is of having it on ANY food but it seems to be a Brazilian staple. Perhaps it’s for the purpose of making people feel more full? Or maybe it has some nutritional benefits that I’m not aware of? either way they served the sawdust with cubes of fried banana (which was COLD) and my new friend Luciana was perhaps even more disgusted with it then I was. She said that it was the worst farofa that she had ever tasted. So, pretty bad then, lol.

Despite the music being excellent, with a stream of DJ’s waiting to play until the early hours when the sun came up, the place remained empty. No party is great without people being present but I didn’t care all that much because I was just enjoying the music. According to our friends the advertising of the event hadn’t been very good and most people had only found out about it a couple of days ago. Also, Brazilians are renowned for not turning up for events apparently. Whether it’s an event that they’ve previously paid for or a dinner party at someone’s house it doesn’t matter, if they don’t feel up to it they simply won’t show up, and coupled with the unprofessional/extremely lazy way I’ve seen them advertise events here I figured it was inevitable that the organisers wouldn’t have the numbers they were hoping for.

But the promoter (who seemed to know Luciana) seemed VERY upset that the party was so empty. Despite us being there for a good 6 hours when we left to go and get on the awaiting van to take us home at 2:30 am in the morning he came and addressed the entire van (which was pretty much the entire contents of his party!), to try to explain why it had perhaps been such a disappointment and said that he was sad that we were leaving. But all I was thinking was that we had planned to leave at 1:30 am so we had stayed an extra hour, partly because the bloody van that was supposed to take us home hadn’t turned up and partly because the music had been too good to leave and I still had some dancing to do. But now it was definitely time to go!

Midsummers Oxala Party 

At the party earlier on in the day

The next day (Josh’s birthday), the girl I met the night before text me suggesting that we meet up for lunch! I mean such a thing simply doesn’t happen in the UK, small town or not. These people are unbelievably friendly! I apologised to her, telling her that it was Josh’s birthday and I actually had plans for the day but that I would be happy to meet up at some other time.

Needless to say after getting home after 3:00 am Josh and I was feeling pretty destroyed when we woke up. I cooked him breakfast with the limited food supplies we did have and then I set about trying to make his day as good as I could despite having no actual birthday card to give him (I had sent him an e-card instead), no birthday cake or candles and no present! Also, I was still feeling a little hungover from the night before and I had woken up with a fresh load of mosquitoe bites no doubt a present from the mossies who were ecstatic to find me bare fleshed and ripe for the sucking dancing wildly in the middle of the jungle. Alas, Josh wasn’t to know all this and he certainly deserved to have as good a day as was possible.

Afterall, despite all the things that I had wanted to get to make the day perfect, we were already in the most glorious of locations in beautiful Brazil, we had lovely friends to meet, drinks to drink, food to eat, and we had the sun, sand and sea on our side! So, we weren’t doing too badly at all!

I still didn’t want to tell him what I had planned so I just told him that we would spend the day on the beach relaxing. It’s what I had planned anyway but we both REALLY needed a chance to relax now as we were feeling a little worse for wear. The only thing was that I didn’t know exactly where this beach club was but from what I had understood it was quite a walk away. After about 20 minutes of walking Josh, who was still very much hungover so in a worse state then me, started to enquire why on earth we were walking so far on the beach, where we were going etc and it took everything in me to keep it a secret as I my legs felt like lead too and walking along this beach with it’s extremely thick sand that sloped into the sea, was no easy task. The sun also couldn’t have been more intense. It was knackering!

The more I looked over at Josh, who looked exhausted and bewildered the worse I felt about making him walk all this way just to get to a specific beach club but I told myself that it would be worth it in the end. All of our Brazil Family planned to meet us at Casa Clube which was all the way at the other end of the beach and in a secluded location, and today they had a DJ playing chilled out music for what they liked to call their “Sunday Sessions” so I figured that it was probably the right place to take him for some proper rest and relaxation on his birthday with friends before our big dinner later that evening.

After 40 minutes of walking down the beach we finally made it there and when we were taken to a large table with “proper” wooden chairs and a beautiful hand carved wooden table I knew that we had come to the right spot.  Soon after our friends turned up to surprise Josh who was definitely operating at only 50% but who was happy and pleasantly surprised to see them nonetheless. He did however ask me (worriedly) whether they would be joining us this evening too and I assured him that no they would not, it would just be the two of us. 

Even I understood that this meeting up thing was getting to be a little too regular, but of course it was still lovely to be invited!

The lunch was wonderful. Many of the other Brazilian beach clubs (and restaurants) were so close to one another that they had competing music. Rather then them agree between them a time to play music so that they didn’t clash with each other, they each played their respective music at full blast and it sounded horrible. But this place was so far away from all of the other beach clubs that they could play their music as loud as they wanted to and not disturb anyone else. They also had a prime position on the beach that made the most of the surrounding landscape. The waiters (many of whom surely must have been gay), and all of whom were very attractive, walked around wearing ONLY swimming trunks (the teeny tiny kind that shows everything), and some swim boots, and I was surprised (and elated), to see that whenever they felt like it in between taking orders they would simply dive into the sea and go for a nice swim in the sea! The girls were wearing swimming costumes too but they didn’t look as good somehow, lol.

During the lunch, suddenly a group of waiters appeared with what at first looked like a cake (with candles on!) singing happy birthday to Josh! I really wasn’t expecting it at all and when I asked around I found that one of our friends had organised it knowing how hard it was for me to find a birthday cake in Trancoso (it was a sticky grated coconut which was very delicious). I was very touched that they had gone to such effort for us.

Afterwards one of our other friends called El Gordo, the restaurant I had booked for his birthday meal, and changed the time of the reservation for us as Josh was insisting that he needed a nap before we went out that night as he was feeling so destroyed from the night before and we couldn’t converse with them in Portuguese in order to change it. Despite me booking it early so that we could see the beautiful views surrounding the restaurant before it turned pitch black as was the norm at around 7:00 pm,  I wasn’t going to argue with him as I was feeling pretty destroyed myself! I thanked all of them very much for being so awesome and we left them to go for a snooze before the main event!

As we walked back to our apartment we spoke about how how lucky we were. 

How easy it would be to get used to this and forget how good it was for us to be able to have this experience. To be in such a beautiful place as this. Just watching the way the light hit the water was a joy, the unbelievable blue of the sea that was always so warm, clear and ready to swim in, happy people playing beach games and all of the lovely people we’d met on our journeys so far. To be able to not just sample this new culture but to really immerse ourselves in it us such a special priviledge. To taste the food, drink the drink, hear the music and go where the locals go. And all without rushing! without being on a timescale. Without worrying that we had a flight to catch or anywhere in particular to go. What a sweet and wonderful thing this is. And how very lucky we are. No, we didn’t want to take this for grated at all!

Feeling refreshed and ready to have a great celebratory meal in a lovely location we got dressed and went to the restaurant. Again I hadn’t told Josh that we were planning on going there so he was pleasantly surprised when we walked into El Gordo. 

It was a very classy restaurant, which had a prime position on the Quadrado where the colourful wooden tables decorated with flickering lanterns overlooked a beautiful pool area with elegantly white drapery and a panoramic view of the valley and the picturesque beach below. Through the reflection in the window I saw the exceedingly handsome American news anchorman Anderson Cooper, who I knew had a home built here in Trancoso. Sitting in the same restaurant as us with his husband, there he was in a private room decorated as a treehouse connected to the main restaurant, wearing his trademark black rimmed glasses with those distinctive piercing blue. 

After weeks of Josh and I listening to the Trump impeachment saga play out and watching Anderson’s increasingly more apparent exasperation about this diabolical and utterly hideous president being able to do and say whatever he wants and more then get away with it, he looked very much at home and relaxed here in this tropical and unassuming environment. Good for him I thought, he deserves it just for being an American! lol

Thankfully Josh’s dish was good according to him but unfortunately mine was not. For my main I tried one of their “Portuguese dishes” – a codfish gratin which was not nice at all. I was a little suspect about how good it would be when I ordered it since when (apart from Nando’s) do you ever see Portuguese food on a fine dining menu? I rest my case.

And unfortunately for me it was not only not very nice – it was far too salty (they seem to LOVE their salt here), there was too much fish in it which had no flavour and was too dense, and the cheese as with most of the cheese that I had tasted here, simply wasn’t up to par. The cheese here has no flavour! None. Even the Parmesan is mild. And I do love me some cheese so this is a huge disappointment.

Josh had a steak, which came with risotto and he really enjoyed it so I was happy about that at least. For dessert I ordered the Tiramisu, but it was perhaps the worst (or one of the worst) Tiramisu’s that I have ever tasted. I mean I’m even comparing that to the delivery Tiramisu’s that I’ve had on occasion. Really. It had no body – it was almost completely flat, the cream wasn’t creamy, and I couldn’t even taste any sponge or the alcohol in it – infact the only thing I really did taste was the coffee powder sprinkles on top! Bloody awful I tell you. I couldn’t believe that this was the kind of food that they were serving celebrities and the like and this was supposed to be Trancoso’s best restaurant? Get outta here!

On the other hand Josh really enjoyed his dessert. So who knows what’s going on in that kitchen!

Josh and I at El Gordo

Christmas Home from Home

We had been invited to spend Christmas day at the home of our newly friends, the gay couple who had a home in the hills. The Brazilian and Dutch men had built their home themselves with the help with another local builder, the Brazilian husband of another British woman we’d met. The British woman, like Susan, arrived in Trancoso a number of years ago and fell in love with the place and after meeting her Brazilian husband a few years ago they set up home together, bought some land and are also planning on building their own home here. We were reliably told by our Brazil Family that our hosts home was beautiful and judging by how highly creative and passionate they both were we could well believe that this was true. They were artists. The Brazilian was a great painter with a dramatic flair for colour, and the Dutchman who was a school teacher back in Amsterdam where he still spent half the year, liked to paint too. Together, they were commissioned to create 1,000 paintings inspired by Trancoso in Europe, which is how of course they discovered the place only to decide promptly upon arrival that they were moving here!

Being in an exotic location on Christmas day was definitely a bit of a treat. Though we had spent Christmas in a foreign country a few times before, it had always been just the two of us which had been perfectly fine with us but it was also nice to do something different this year.. Christmas back home was always a joyous and noisy affair spent alternating between my adorably loud and boisterous family and Josh’s quieter but also very lovely, fun family. So to have Christmas away from the over commercialised, cold and gloomy environment of the UK on occasion was very refreshing indeed, especially now that it was essentially a Brexmas Christmas! In other non European countries like Brazil, Christmas wasn’t really a thing and so we put our time to best use by spending the day on a glorious (and largely empty) beach.

All of the dinner guests had been asked to bring a dish along with us so I set about making some Spaghetti Carbonara and Spicy Portuguese Rice to go with the rest of the dishes that people were bringing.

Since it didn’t feel anything like Christmas day I decided that I wasn’t going to bother making anything typically Christmassy and in anycase we were in Brazil, not England – they probably had never even heard of pigs in blankets or onion and sage stuffing!

Getting to their villa was no easy task. Indeed, shopping for the ingredients for the dishes I planned to make was no easy task. We had to go to the Shopping Centre, which was located a knackeringly 25-30 minute walk away in the intense Bahian sun, to do our shopping and then try to explain to the people who worked in the Supermarket in broken Portuguese that we needed them to deliver the shopping to us at our residence which had no actual address. 

Yes, these people liked to do things the hard way. Rather then providing a proper address like any other normal person would, they liked to operate within this vague zone of describing where things were using landmarks. In this instance the landmark we had been told to give them by our Airbnb host was the pousada on the corner of our road “La Refuge” but the shop workers only looked confused when we told them this and we were finding it increasingly hard trying to communicate to them where it was.

In the end after 10 frustrating minutes of trying to describe to them just where our place was, we gave up and called our Airbnb host. Thinking this would be easily resolved by someone who could speak the native language fluently, we were surprised when even she struggled to communicate with them. After around 20 minutes of waiting around whilst the shop workers passed the phone around to each other with confused expressions on their faces, we finally got a thumbs up from them, meaning (we hoped), that they knew where to bring our shopping. 

We were completely out of food in our apartment but that wasn’t what worried me the most. What worried me the most was that we were out of water, and since we couldn’t drink the water from the tap, that was a very big problem if they didn’t deliver it to us later that day. To make sure that we didn’t miss the delivery we told them to give us 30 minutes to get home which was just about how long it took us to navigate the steep, dusty, uneven streets in the heat.

Another cause of concern for us, and a major one judging by how much of it we went through because of it’s highly addictive nature, was Acai, which we bought multiple tubs of but now every single one of the Supermarkets in the area had completely sold out of! Neither one of us could live without Acai we had decided, and now that we had discovered it’s fresh and tasty delights, we were completely hooked. We had even started searching for it back in the UK so that we could be fully stocked all year round. 

This delightful Amazonian berry was delicious and went with everything. It was sweet (but not too sweet), and people here had it both to accompany savoury and sweet dishes. We liked to have it as a smoothie, or as a bowl, with banana and other fruits, granola and coconut flakes. Alot of places served it with honey but it didn’t need to be sweetened anymore, it was sweet enough. Perfectly sweet actually. We had bought another brand of Acai recently (before seeing that it was made by the quite dodgy Nestle company!), and in comparison to the other locally made brands that we’d had, concluded that it tasted horrible. It was far too sweet and it tasted almost synthetic. It was nothing like the natural Acai berry.  I knew that we needed to find some proper Acai soon because Joah and I had already started to get withdrawal symptoms, lol.

Thankfully, after about an hour someone turned up at our place with our shopping, but because of the extremely vague nature of the directions (and despite him talking to a local to refine it), the driver still went past our place TWICE. Just shows you how impossible the task would be if we would have to give the directions ourselves, as if the owner of the property, a local who can speak the language cannot do it, then how the hell could we be expected to?

Coconut Chips and Acai – a few of my favourite things

Now here we were in one of the most exotic of locations in the world about to spend time with new local friends we’ve made in their beautiful home on Christmas day!

We felt very honoured to have been invited and were excited to see their home. Since it was clearly a mission to get a taxi here since nobody knew where anything was, in order to get a taxi one was expected to walk to the taxi rank in order to hail one (which kind of defeats the purpose of getting a taxi does it not?), alas as I’ve said, things can be a little backward here! Our Airbnb host actually had to go on her scooter to the taxi rank in order to get a taxi driver to follow her to our apartment to pick us up and take us to our friends home. I hope you’re following! To me, such a thing was utterly ridiculous alas this was the reality of living in this location. Despite it being a very small town and people knowing each other, the taxi drivers used landmarks to find peoples homes, most of which were built from scratch and had no door numbers so were almost impossible to find.

Once we had been picked up (food and drinks and a Panettone in tow), we were taken up the ridiculously bumpy and steep hill to their villa which was hidden amongst the densely packed tropical jungle. As soon as we arrived we started hearing dogs barking behind a HUGE ornately carved wooden door so we guessed that we had arrived as we knew that they had 3 dogs. A couple of seconds later out came our friends greeting us with huge, welcoming smiles on their faces. They were still dressed in their day clothes though and despite us arriving much later then we said we would they of course told us that we were early! We followed them in, through the utterly stunning tropical gardens which felt like a sanctuary away from the hustle and bustle of the busy and getting busier town. A stunning variety of exotic, colourful flowering trees and plants adorned the gardens, with coconut and palm trees planted throughout. It was hard to believe this was not a hotel/pousada let alone the home of just 2 guys (oh and 3 dogs and 29 chickens, we can’t forget them now can we?). But it really was something. Like an oasis of peace.

When the guys had originally told me that they had 29 chickens the very first thing I asked them was did they smell as I know chickens to have a distinctively “off” musty smell and I could imagine that the heat only intensified it, but when I asked them if they smelt, they said no, they did not. They told me that because their grounds were so big (their plot was 3,000 sq metres!) with no nearby neighbours, the chickens truly were free range. These chickens could roam and range til their hearts were content and now that I had seen it for myself (the chickens did have a pen but it like the whole property was huge), I could now confirm that not only did these chickens not smell at all (I couldn’t even detect a whiff of an unpleasant smell), but they were infact living a very good life indeed! Not to mention the dogs, who were roaming around the stunning property like they owned the place, and perhaps in some ways they did, lol.

The house also was stunning, it had a panoramic wrap around ground floor balcony which housed an abundance of beautiful artefacts, vintage chairs and tables (many of which they’d made themselves). A long stone bench with decorative throw cushions and an abundance of hammocks tied up between trees and hanging lazily from the ceiling completed the homely, colourful and bohemian styled home. It was gorgeous. The kitchen was large and open, perfect for entertaining, featuring lots of paintings and artwork hung on the walls which they told me that they had made themselves. The home felt very personal and intimate,and felt very comfortable, and they had spent many man hours not just decorating it themselves but actually making things there such as the gigantic wooden door we had come through when we arrived. Like most of the houses here, it was outdoor living to the extreme. It was both inviting nature in and incorporating nature into the design.

The shower room and sink was located in a beautiful outdoor tropical rainforest area that they had made themselves with a beautiful stone freestanding sink. It was both natural and elegant. I wasn’t surprised at all when they told me that they occasionally had the odd frog in the bathroom area as it looked like it was an environment where a frog would be very much at home! I wasn’t sure how much I would be able to take of this “outdoor living” as as beautiful as it was I wasn’t well equipped enough to deal with the abundance of wildlife that such an environment attracted. But I did acknowledge it’s beauty.

I never forgot the Balinese styled home we stayed in in Bali, that we eventually had to leave after being under siege by every and any unwelcome creature in the natural world. Bats, giant snails, worms, geckos, mosquitoes and cats made their way into our “open living” home with a casualness that neither of us were feeling. We had no choice but to leave – they had taken over. 

Their home had no doors and or windows, just holes cut out of the concrete providing a stunning view of the surrounding jungle. On the first floor was their King sized room complete with mosquitoe net (it wasn’t just us getting bitten then), and then the piece de resistance: A roof top lounge area where they’d put some blankets and pillows down for us to watch the stars later. 

The stars here in Bahia, were a thing of beauty. They were close and bright enough to see flickering in the night sky each night and it was a beautiful and magical thing to behold. This was where we had also been invited to spend our New Years Eve, bringing in the end of the year with our new friends whilst watching the surrounding fireworks from the whole of Bahia. What a joy.

Dinner was a wonderful affair though it being so hot none of us ate very much. We didn’t even touch the spicy rice that I’d made as we were all so full even after hardly eating anything at all. Dessert was a refreshing and delicious caramelised banana with ice-cream. We had fresh Caipirinha’s made by Fernando, and too many beers to drink. Being there, listening to traditional Brazilian music, on a Christmas night that didn’t really feel like Christmas, with such friendly and welcoming people in such a unique and beautiful environment felt very special to us. That night will stay in our memories for a long time.

The following day was the UK Christmas Day where it IS a big deal. We got home really late after having a long, leisurely dinner, lots of drinks and then retiring to the rooftop to watch the stars. So we weren’t feeling in the best of conditions when we woke especially early to call both of our folks. We called Josh’s family first, and I was feeling so bewildered and groggy that I could scarcely talk, but of course they were there, Christmas jumpers and all, sprightly as you like because they are 3 hours ahead and it was Christmas Day there, something they had all been anticipating in the UK for the entire year! Whereas we were devoid of energy and it didn’t feel anything like Christmas where we were. Nonetheless they were in good spirits and very much looking forward to the feast ahead.

Then I called my family, who weren’t likely to be eating anytime soon. I enquired about my new nephew (almost 2 months old already!), and my niece, who was now sleeping in her glamorous white bed looking like sleeping beauty herself. I hadn’t seen her (or my nephew for that matter) on Facetime yet but now that I could see her sleeping there I was in no doubt of what a huge beauty she was. She was utterly stunning, looking like a little doll – completely serene wearing a little teddy jumpsuit, delicate features resting with her little balled up fists on either side of her. A beauty indeed. I spoke to my brother and sister in law about how it was having her in their lives so suddenly and they confirmed what I’ve always known: that it’s bloody hard! Alas, I’m sure that they will become accustomed to it. After so long of it being just the two of them, now to suddenly have this tiny helpless being, that they had an indescribable amount of love for, to take care of and care for, must be alot to adjust to. But I was in no doubt that they both had what it took to devote themselves to bringing her up well, and as for me, well I just couldn’t wait to rain down an abundance of kisses and cuddles on her! And I looked forward to doing the same to my nephew too who I’d heard was getting very big!

The following day we woke up and were on our balcony and suddenly we heard some chirping coming from the trees surrounding our chalet and then we saw them: Monkeys! We’d been previously told by our Airbnb host that there were lots of monkeys in the area and they liked very much to jump through the trees, run on rooftops (which we’d definitely heard), and even come into the chalet, but apart from one time where we’d seen a small family of them because food was being left out for them by the tenants below us, we never saw any monkeys. But this morning we saw a big group of them, many of them babies, and all of them adorable, playing and jumping through the trees and one even jumped on our roof and poked his head down out of curiosity to get a better look at us and like the cheeky monkey he was, to see whether we had any food for him – he even put his hand out to request food! What a cheek, lol.

I was simply delighted to get to live amongst these beautiful and highly intelligent animals, our evolutionary cousins and to see them up close and personal without having to pay to see them or make them do stupid tricks like so many questionable people like to do in other countries and places around the world. I can imagine that they might be a bit annoying if there’s a large group of them and they are hungry because they are intelligent and brave enough to go into people’s homes and take what they want but they will find no food left out in our apartment trust me!

Cheeky Monkey 

Pataxo Indians are the indigenous Indians that inhabited Brazil before the Portuguese came to “explore” it, force them out of their native lands and kill and probably rape their women. They have largely gone from the state of Bahia but the ones who do still live here live in their rural lands still in the traditional ways. They have to learn to live here amongst this strange new world though and many of them straddle a life living as a Pataxo Indian and living a modern life, and this is never more apparent then with the Pataxo Indians who walk around Trancoso wearing their traditional clothing including a grass skirt, feather headdress and painted bodies. Of course clothing aside, many of these men (I hardly ever see the women), are stunning looking, with chiseled handsome faces and muscular bodies, primed for hunting. The problem is that some of them (one guy in particular) that I keep on seeing he hasn’t yet decided which way of life he’d like to live. I see him with his red painted body, huge feather headdress, barefooted on the Quadrado trying to chat up foreigners and on more then one occasion I’ve seen him in the cash point in the Supermarket!

I’m not sure why I’ve got such a problem with him using the cashpoint, afterall he needs funds (though I admit I did wonder isn’t he supposed to forage for his food or something?), alas perhaps to me using a cashpoint is the ultimate sign of modern living, even more then him trying in his extremely poor English skills to chat up the foreigners.

A Pataxo Indian should not be using a cash point, I’m sorry. 

Sushi Samba

We decided to go for sushi as I really had a taste for it and most of the restaurants were packed full of diners. I was glad that we had arrived in Trancoso weeks ago (almost 4 weeks), as it was steadily getting busier and busier and the contrast was like night and day. Even during the daytime the Quadrado was packed. And don’t even get me started on the beaches! Now that we knew alot of the business owners in the area as we passed by we would usually wave to them as we went, but now we couldn’t even see them in their establishments it was so busy!

Thankfully we were able to get a table at the sushi restaurant and we had a lovely meal there, and then went to our favourite creperie to see our French lady friend for sweet crepes. The combination couldn’t possibly have been better. Afterwards we were strolling back home through the Quadrado until suddenly I saw our Dutch friend wandering towards a band who were setting up in the middle of the square. As soon as they started playing I saw his distinctive 6’5 frame bobbing up and down with his gigantic arms and hands dangling down like a puppet as he danced (very badly) to the music. Nobody else was dancing mind. But the band was good and he was having himself a good ole time. He was adorable. So of course we went over to him and then in a matter of minutes his husband joined us. It was just like old times!

Soon they had us going over to the singer who was about to perform outside The Coffee Bar telling us that she was a very famous singer in Brazil. Neither Josh nor I knew ANY Brazilian singers let alone ones who were famous, but apparently this woman was the real deal and we could soon attest to that as we saw that once people realised who it was who was singing they starting crowding around her, filming and taking pictures of her. The music was Farro, of which she was the Queen of, a typically Brazilian style of music, that sounded very folky and had alot of hand clapping and dancing that accompanied it. It wasn’t really my cup of tea (I much preferred Bossa Nova), but there was such an amazing energy in the place that I was just happy to be there. 

There was lots of touching, hugging, kissing between people, everyone was having a great time and indeed I felt very much a part of it. Here was a group of people utterly elated to see this star whose name I found out was Elba Romalho, and their happiness was infectious. Our friends starting talking to people, and in turn then so did we and soon we met this lovely girl called Joanna from Sao Paolo who pretty much invited us to connect with her as soon as we visited her hometown!

For the purpose of our Brazilian friends back home, I got a picture with Elba as I knew that they would be super impressed that I had a chance to meet her and then we all floated over to the other live band who had been playing such good music earlier on. We danced the night away, met some other people, danced some more, and I genuinely couldn’t be happier in that moment. The energy was electric, the location resplendent and there was magic, love and friendship in the air.

I couldn’t possibly wish for much more then this. 

Me with the Brazilian Farro Singer Elba Romalho 

Naked (Sweaty) and Afraid

Unfortunately our popularity with the locals has come at a cost.

Wonderful as it was to be able to meet so many lovely and interesting people in our travels that we would undoubtedly remain in contact with and come back to visit, we were now being invited to so many places and events that our bodies simply can’t catch up. If we weren’t meeting up with people then we would bump into them walking down the street and then another late night filled with dancing, music and laughter would ensue and there was simply nothing that we could do about it. However, it’s our Airbnb host that’s the worst.

Seeing or hearing from her was almost becoming a daily occurrence. Despite the fact that she didn’t even live nearby she would turn up for the silliest of reasons and then try and engage us (me in particular), in a long and drama filled conversation, which ultimately followed an invite to this or that event, beach or home. And since we largely worked from home we couldn’t escape the woman, plus she was doing our washing so we couldn’t be rude to her, lol. It had nothing to do with whether we liked her or not (of course we did), but I was getting the distinct impression that she (who was English) was thoroughly enjoying having some English speaking company around as other then that she was largely surrounded by Brazilians who though friendly, could be a little unpredictable. But it was now getting out of control. When we knew we were going to be at home we had began hoping that she didn’t turn up as then she would disturb us whilst we were trying to work and it was very hard to get rid of her!

The morning after our Sushi Samba night we were especially tired as it had been yet another late night socialising with people that we hadn’t planned and both of us really hadn’t had a chance to catch up with our sleep. Our bodies were telling us that we needed some slumber! But sure as not we could hear her fussing outside our door no doubt hoping to wake us up so that she could engage us in a day long conversation. We had already declined a number of invitations for this reason – we were getting “partied-out” and needed some just the two of us time. We were not used to all of this and we don’t like to overdo it – we like to balance the equilibrium and these people (her in particular) were putting it out of whack with their constant social invitations! 

After we realised we could delay no further we eventually went out onto our balcony after having washed and dressed and as expected there she was ready to gossip away. Eventually she did leave though and then it was all quiet again.

She told us that we had been invited to Capim Santo on NYE by the Brazilians, the restaurant we had gone to for our friends birthday dinner, which was also the restaurant that had a “friends of Capim Santo” only invite list of which we were not on because a) we didn’t live there and b) we had only been there once. But since we were friends of people who had been invited a pass had also been graciously extended to us which was an honour indeed. All we had to do was bring 2 bottles of champagne with us.

Capim Santo was definitely the best restaurant that we’d been to in Trancoso. It was located off the main stretch so felt much more intimate and tranquil, was beautifully decorated, the food and service was great and the musician who had played there the night that we went was amazing. To think we would get to eat there on NYE amongst friends was the best possible way to bring in the New Year that I could have imagined!

As Brazilian tradition, everyone wears white on NYE and if you’re close to a beach then you go down to the beach and jump the waves 7 times to bring in the new year.

After dinner, the plan was to go back to their house to watch the fireworks and bring in the start of the New Year on the rooftop.

The Spider-Crab

We had largely gotten used to the family of crabs at the bottom of the stairs leading up to our apartment and who scurried away whenever we opened the gate to leave or enter but what I was not used to, and neither could I deal with, was a spider-crab. Josh noticed what looked like a spider near my suitcase which I had pushed underneath our bed because this place was severely lacking in storage space and I didn’t like clutter. But when he went towards it and it didn’t’ scurry quickly away and disappear into thin air as spiders are want to do he remarked that it looked very crab-like. I surmised that it couldn’t possibly be a crab as how would it have gotten in here and anyway this one didn’t look like the crabs at the bottom of the stairs. This one looked like a spider-crab!

That spider-crab has gotsta go I tell you!

Access All Areas

Somehow we have managed to find ourselves on the VIP list of Trancoso. The gay couple we know are very well established here and after living here for more then 11 years, they know everyone, the schmancy people, the dodgy people, the shop owners and the celebrities who live here and everyone loves them (which isn’t hard to do as they are so much fun and are so loving, sweet and generous).

So if we want to go to an event, much like that “invite only” party that we gatecrashed a couple of weeks ago or the “friends of only” NYE dinner at the best restaurant in the area, we get to go!

Well tonight after only going out for a pizza! we bumped into our beloved friends again, met some new ones and then the night turned into another riotous affair that went on until after 3:00 am the following morning, whereby we over to the Quadrado for drinks, visited our friends at the plant based restaurant, had a dance at the Tapioca stand, listened to some music outside The Three Amigos and then we gatecrashed yet another private opening party just by virtue of the fact that we were with them.

 At the party we were introduced to the owner of Diesel who owns the Uxua hotel and who lives there in Trancoso, we also met the wife of the owner of the restaurant Jacare, along with the owner of a boutique dress shop who was originally from Portugal, but spent 7 years in London and now lives here after finding that when she arrived she couldn’t leave (a very common story!) 

But despite the fun frolicks, it was the experience of how people treated me that night in particular that will remain firmly imprinted on my mind.

Apparently, according to our new group of friends, I am the talk of the town. People are apparently in awe of me and think that I am the most beautiful girl that they’ve ever seen! 

I have had lots of people come up to me telling me this since I arrived here, both in Portuguese and in English (Brazilians no less!), gay and straight, black, white, mixed or trans, whether on the beach, the street or the Supermarket and at this party that I have been left flattered almost to the point of overwhelm. To be complimented by Brazilians for me is the ultimate flattery, and from gay Brazilian men in particular.

 People here in Brazil have a habit of staring. They will just stare at you and feel no shame. At first, I really couldn’t understand what all of the fuss was about and it’s not my “exotic blackness” as I am definitely not the only black girl in town! Brazil has the highest number of people of African descent outside of Africa. Brazil is such a melting pot of beautiful blackness that I’ve ever seen in my life and these Afro Brazilians and indeed most Brazilians are very good looking people. Besides, these are not sexualised compliments being given to me, I know those kinds well, no, these compliments are coming from gay people as well as straight and men aswell as from women. 

Our gay friend told us that he is very much enjoying all of the attention he has been getting in Trancoso since being seen with me.

He was told by an admirer at the party that they thought that I was very beautiful because of the “light in my eyes”, so perhaps it’s not my beauty they are admiring afterall, perhaps what they’re seeing is something much purer then that: happiness.

We’ve got our white outfits and bottles of Moet ready as tonight it’s NYE! Bring on the good times!