Thursday, 10 May 2007

Around Brazil: São Luis

São Luis is a city that I‘d never heard about before arriving in Brazil. Now it is probably my favourite one (after Rio obviously) and I‘m not 100% sure why. While travelling around a new country, every experience you have of a place will be subjective - it all depends on when you arrive, who you meet, the mood you‘re in, and many other factors including luck and what went wrong.

As well as being only three hours drive from Barreirinhas, the gateway to the most beautiful place in Brazil, Lençois Maranhenses, the city has a charm that reminds me of Salvador. Or at least reminds me of what I expected Salvador to be like, but with its roots taking a detour via the Caribbean on the way back to Africa. Every city has a slogan to sell itself and make itself feel important. São Luis is the ‘Reggae Capital of Brazil‘, which isn‘t the worst for me as I love reggae far more than the axé and MPB prevalent in other cities of the North-East. It‘s a very similar city to Salvador, in that it is a big port (but for ores, not slaves) and has higher and lower parts to the centre. The lower part is slightly rundown too, but colourful colonial buildings have been refurbished in places. The people are usually friendly, helpful and relaxed! Which helped us when traipsing around town looking for an emergency dentist for me and a yellow fever jab for Blondie. I witnessed the shaky hands of somebody administering their first injection, and got a temporary filling done all in one afternoon at a dentist factory near the university. Pronto. Now to add to those anaesthetics and vaccines while celebrating my birthday the day before. Lucky too because the day after was Tiradentes day and a holiday Friday, meaning nothing would be open until Monday, delaying our journey north. This also meant that everybody in town was partying that night. It was the perfect night to be in São Luis! The streets and staircases of the old town were packed with people and drums and dancing and colour! The squares had rhythms that I‘d never heard before and dancers swirling in long, bright Caribbean dresses, first one way and the pleated material continuing as the dancer changed direction, a hypnotic effect while the drums were pounding, pounding, pounding and getting right under my skin.

I loved the city for that and also because it is the home of the Cheapest Caipirinha in Brazil. One Real! One Real from a cart in the street. Oh dear. We‘d met a few people there that we‘d played with in Jeri, people who hadn‘t braved the journey to Lençois Maranhenses, the fools, and all went out together. A bunch of alcoholic gringoes and cheap caipirinha is a potent cocktail, and I can hardly begin to describe the carnage that ensued. All the ingredients of a famous night out: fun, fall-outs, dancing, drunken behaviour, illegal behaviour, highly immoral behaviour, highly memorable. Except for my contribution to the festivities. It drew applause at breakfast the next day but I remember nothing. Some time before dawn, I had staggered to the toilet naked. The sun returned before I did. Blondie tried to find me. The porteiro hadn‘t let me out of the locked gates and she couldn‘t find me anywhere. Questioning her own sanity, she woke up others to join in the increasingly frantic search. They looked under beds, in cupboards, in the kitchen and the lounge, everywhere. The porteiro then unlocked an empty room two floors up from ours. I‘d magicked myself into it and was on top of the bed, still naked, curled up and sleeping like I was still in the womb. They found a towel for me and led my back downstairs. I was only 35.

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