Capoeira In Salvador, Bahia, Brazil

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Capoeira In Salvador,  Bahia, Brazil

“It is the paradox of truly perceiving that the more you do the less effective you are, and the more you hide the more you show.”  Kevin Jackson

Capoeira is a springy, close-to-the-ground style of kick boxing, with touches of karate and ballet. It’s more of a dance than a fight. You just get into a position where you could hit the other person if you wanted to. The idea is not only to out fight your opponent but to humiliate him with subterfuge, style, and attitude.

It was brought to Bahia by the African slaves hundreds of years ago. Learning how to fight was illegal for slaves, so they added in bits of dance and music so their masters didn’t get suspicious.  There is a mixture of different African dance moves in there as well. It became its own thing in Bahia and then it spread across the rest of country. The twang of the lute like berimbau accompanies the movements.

 The first  capoeira school  was founded by Mestre Bimba in 1932 which was eight years before capoeira was finally made legal to practice in Brazil.

We were at the school where a capoeira master  demonstrated some of the movements.The Filhos de Bimba Escola de Capoeira (FBEC), is located in the historic centre of Salvador da Bahia, the Pelourinho. It was founded on June 10, 1986 by Manoel Nascimento Machado, known as Mestre Nenel. Mestre Nenel is continuing the work of his father – the famous Mestre Bimba.

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Capoeira is a marketable commodity in Salvador. Many tourists come to take class and watch demonstrations. It definitely helps the economy.

Capoeira seems to be more about perfecting the ritual of the ceremony and performing it well, then actually winning. Wanting to win, not giving up and doing it better than you did before seems to be a lesson of capoeira and life.

Fly safe,
JAZ

 

 

Looking for Jaguars, Pantanal, Brazil

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“Much of human behavior can be explained by watching the wild beasts around us. They are constantly teaching us things about ourselves and the way of the universe, but most people are too blind to watch and listen.”  Suzy Kassem

Spotting a jaguar in its natural habitat is one of those surreal experiences. One of the best places to spot them is in the Pantanal, Brazil. It is easier to find them here because there are less places to hide than in the Amazon. (photo Emilio White)

Oncafari is a jaguar conservation project on the grounds of the Caiman Reserve in Brazil. We set off in our jaguar printed vehicle to spend the day with Oncafari. Victoria is our expert guide.

As in Africa, Oncafari has worked to habituate the jaguars to the sight and sound of the vehicles.Some of them have tracking collars and we can follow them deep into the bush. Victoria points out animal and bird sightings along the way.

This beautiful female jaguar with piercing green eyes is sitting in the bushes. It was not bothered by our presence and eventually strolls back in the brush.

The pattern of a jaguar’s spots is unique to every individual, allowing Victoria to identify this  particular jaguar.

 Later we learn more about the Oncafari project and how they use radio collars to monitor the jaguars. Camera traps are set up throughout the reserve to allow Onçafari to keep track of their jaguars without the jaguars ever knowing they’re being monitored. Jaguar sightings have increased at Caiman over the past seven years due to the success of Onçafari’s habituation program and the stability of the refuge’s jaguar population. 

In the afternoon, we are less successful. But we finally find a jaguar hidden in the bush and track him for a while.(photo Emilio White)

The next day we spot a jaguar sitting under a tree near the water. Four capybaras (very large rodents) are at the water’s edge not moving.

A herd of cows look back and forth from the capybaras to the jaguar as if they are watching a tennis game. The jaguar sprints to the water’s edge.The capybaras dive under the water where they can only stay for two minutes.

The capybaras run out of the water into the brush. The jaguar follows. There is a rustling but no noise. Three capybaras run out of the brush into the water. The jaguar paces at the water edge and makes some noises. Another jaguar appears. It is her daughter..(photo Emilio White)

Eight caiman rase their heads out of the water. Eventually the jaguars leave. The three remaining capybaras run away and the caimans go back under the water. When it is all over, the cows drink the water. A guide from Oncafari goes into the bushes and takes a picture of the dead capybara.

The jaguar had bitten his neck and he died instantly without noise. The jaguars may or may not come  back later and eat. 

The only sound is the jeep and the birds. It the kind of quiet that reminds me that I am a long way from home and it is not a good day  to be a capybara.

Fly safe,

JAZ

The Pantanal, Brazil

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The Pantanal

“I look at it this way … For centuries now, man has done everything he can to destroy, defile, and interfere with nature: clear-cutting forests, strip-mining mountains, poisoning the atmosphere, over-fishing the oceans, polluting the rivers and lakes, destroying wetlands and aquifers … so when nature strikes back, and smacks him on the head and kicks him in the nuts, I enjoy that. I have absolutely no sympathy for human beings whatsoever.” George Carlin

In the heart of South America, the Pantanal is the world’s largest wetland territory covering around 210,000 square kilometers. Less than half of this is in Bolivia and Paraguay; the rest is in Brazil, split between the states of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul.

Part National Park, part UNESCO World Heritage site, the Pantanal boasts the highest concentration of wildlife on the continent. It is home to around 1,000 bird species.

Some of the very rare and endangered animal species that call the Pantanal home include the Marsh Deer, Giant River Otter, Hyacinth Macaw, Crowned Solitary Eagle, Maned Wolf, Bush Dog, Capybara, South American Tapir, Giant Anteater, Yacare Caiman, ocelots and jaguars. (capybaras)

 Most of the Pantanal is privately owned and less than three per cent is under government protection. Cooperation between ecotourism and the landowners in the region (mostly cattle ranchers) has contributed to the sustainable conservation of the environment. 

The  ecolodges and tourist industry pay the ranchers not to kill the jaguars.  The money  ecotourism brings in far exceeds the cash value of the loss of cattle. Jaguars have created a thousand new jobs in Brazil.

 Ecotourism couldn’t have been better for the jaguars. The guides describe them as opportunistic— they don’t just kill when they are hungry. Now they are the protected top of the food chain.

Two days before we arrive, we are told that the fires in the Pantanal affected our lodge and we would have to stay in a different one. There have been many more fires in the Pantanal this year than previous ones – due to both dryness and criminal activity. Firefighters say the cause is likely local people setting fires to clear land of vegetation, a practice also blamed for many of the Amazon fires. Such burning is particularly common among cattle ranchers, who use fire rather than costly equipment to prepare pastures. 

 The fires in the Pantanal this year have been overshadowed by the months-long period of blazes seen in the Amazon region. The governor of Mato Grosso do Sul declared a state of emergency on Sept. 11.

I didn’t know about the Pantanal fires because the News only talked about the Amazon. It clearly affected the  number of birds and animals we would see. But by the time I realized that, I was there.

Fly safe,

JAZ

Beaches In Bahia, Brazil

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Beaches in Bahia, Brazil

“May you always have a shell in your pocket and sand in your shoes.” unknown

What does it mean to be happy? 

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For me, it means to be on some of the most beautiful beaches in Brazil, drinking coconut water from fresh coconuts, picking up shells and rocks.

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I always come home with sand in my suitcase.

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 On our last day we go out to Ilha Dos Frades We Anthony Bourdained it and instead of the crowded boats with live music and people dancing (also fun) , it is just us. I’m the king of the world.

 

Fly safe,

JAZ

 

 

Churches In Salvador, Bahia, Brazil

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Churches in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil

“The places of quiet are going away, the churches, the woods, the libraries. And it is only in silence we can hear the voice inside of us which gives us true peace.” James Rozoff

There are nearly 100 churches in Salvador to explore and some are exquisite examples of colonial architecture. These churches help tell the story of the city, so wander around, visit some of them and hear their stories.

From the outside, Sao Francisco church seems relatively simple, but this eighteenth century church  shines on the inside—literally.

Ornate gilded wood carvings and paintings adorn much of the interior of the cathedral—from the pillars and archways to the vaulted ceilings—while golden foliage, angels, and birds decorate the altarpiece.

Nicknamed “The Golden Church,” São Francisco is also considered one of the best examples of the Brazilian-Portuguese Baroque style of artwork.

Of particular note here are the ceiling paintings in the entrance hall created in 1774 by José Joaquim da Rocha, and Bartolomeu Antunes de Jesus’ azulejo tiles that run along the lower walls of the main chapel depicting the life and times of St Francis of Assisi.

These tiles are particularly notable for their size (they’re much larger than traditional azulejo tiles), and stand out in contrast to gold you’ll find elsewhere. It is believed to be the wealthiest church in all of Brazil.

 Our Lady of the Rosary of the Black People was the first church that African slaves were able to go to. They were not allowed to pray in any of the churches, and they really wanted to have a place  of worship. It took more than one hundred years for them to build it, and they worked mostly at night because they had to be on the plantations all day. I cannot imagine how difficult their lives must have been.

We are lucky enough to attend a party in the back of the church.

The party is in honor of Mestre Moa de Katendê—a capoeira master and advocate for Afro-Brazilians who was killed in a local bar  after saying he would not support then hard-right candidate for president, Jair Bolsonaro.

,His daughter spoke and though I did not understand all the words, I felt her pain. The strength of the human spirit through adversity is really uplifting.

This is a street art painting near the church of her family. 

The Church of Bonfim is possibly the most famous place of worship in all of Brazil. The simple white edifice built in 1754  has long been the juncture of Catholicism and the Afro-Brazilian Candomblé traditions. As in other countries ,enslaved Africans were forbidden to practice their own religion and had to adhere to that of their masters. As a result, Catholic saints and rituals became a cover for African ones.

For many years people have left offerings, or ex-votos, to Nosso Senhor do Bonfim on behalf of the sick and the healed. In a room to one side of the church, wax body parts hang from the ceiling grouped according to which limb or organ they represent, while the walls are plastered with photos of people who are suffering or have been cured.

Outside the church and all over Salvador, people sell multicolored ribbons with ‘Lembrança do Senhor do Bonfim da Bahia’ written on them, which are often seen tied to railings in front of churches dancing in the breeze.Each color represents a different Candomblé god, and they are thought to bring luck.

Julia McNaught Da Silva was our wonderful guide in Bahia. She is smart, funny, super-organized and very knowledgeable about Salvador. It was a great introductory visit to the city and we enjoyed spending our time with her. T.hank you Julia, for a great time in Bahia.

Fly safe,

JAZ

 

Things I Have Learned In Salvador, Bahia, Brazil

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Things I Have Learned In Salvador, Bahia, Brazil

“Wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow.” Anita Desai

Salvador de Bahia was the first capital of the Portuguese Empire and currently  is the third most populated city in Brazil. This city is full of life, culture and music. 

 It was one of the largest slave ports on the new continent and now has  the largest black population outside of Africa.

Daily life still has a very strong African influence –  from food, music, religion (the Yoruba derived system of Candomblé) and martial arts (Capoeira).

 Pelourinho is the old town of Salvador now a UNESCO World Heritage site and major tourist attraction in Bahia and Brazil.

The famous district of  Pelô, as they call it is one of the best preserved colonial settlements in all South America.

Its cobbled streets and colorful houses will impress you as you step into this place full of tradition and history. This is where we spent most of our time. Everywhere there is art, sound and music.

Casa De Amarelindo is a beautiful boutique hotel in a restored nineteenth century building in the old city. The staff are extremely helpful and always smiling.

The restaurant is beautiful and  the breakfasts are amazing. Their attention to detail for each guest is outstanding. The double paned glass blocks out the noise of the city and views of the Bay Of All Saints are beautiful. 

 Julia our guide recommended that we spend our first  night at the Ballé Folklorico which is a one hour show from eight to nine PM in the Miguel Santana Theater in Pelourinho, a block from the hotel. The theatre is simple and inexpensive and reminded me of a theatre outside Havana. The  first part of the show  is a good introduction to a Candomblé ceremony. In the second part they introduce the capoeira, ‘makulelé’ and ‘samba de roda’ dance. There is something very special about this performance and it should not be missed.

The Elevador Lacerda is the most representative Art Decó icon in the city . Built in 1873 to connect the low neighborhood with the high neighborhood, it was the first urban elevator in the world.

The ride costs only a few cents and leaves you in front of Mercado Modelo in the lower part of the city. This market had been Salvador’s former Customs House and “storage” area for slaves not yet auctioned off.  Today, it’s a place to buy souvenirs, check out the  architecture and feel the past.

Feiria De Sao Joaquim is an authentic local market near the port.

Vendors come from all around. Smells, colors, sounds and chaotic movement makes this crazy and authentic market  a great place  to shop.

You should probably go with a local.

The prices are very cheap- especially for tourists and every day I think of more things I should have bought .  We had lunch there as well. Julia said no one will bother me because I had so many shopping bags, I was clearly not there to look.and take photos.

The city’s biggest attraction, though, is Carnival. Beginning in January, Bahia launches into a season of feasts and festivals that, over the course of six weeks, escalates into a rocking, high-decibel street party. Those who know claim that it’s better than Rio’s—that it’s the best in the world.

Safety in Salvador is tricky.. You are in the robbery  capital of Brazil.  If something does happen – just hand it over- your safety is the most important thing. Anything outside of the main tourist neighborhoods of Barra, Rio Vermelho and the Pelourinho is broadly considered unsafe for tourists. Our taxi driver drove through the red lights at night to avoid robberies. We were usually with a guide during the day or friends at night. But, I did see them watching if we wandered off. Don’t pull out your wallet or your cell phone without a friend watching you and definitely not in a crowd situation such as listening to music or a market. Don’t wear large jewelry or carry all your money or credit cards with you. Showing a bit of respect to all those people who don’t have as much as you do is not such a big deal and it will make your life easier. Salvador is a place worth going to in your lifetime and we were fine.

Fly safe,

JAZ

Drumming In Salvador, Bahia, Brazil

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Drumming In Salvador, Bahia

“Life is about rhythm. We vibrate, our hearts are pumping blood, we are a rhythm machine, that’s what we are. “ Mickey Hart

When the 4.5 to 8 million African slaves  disembarked from the hell hole of the slave ships, those who lived, brought with them their belief system, their religion and their gods.Their orishas or deities would retain their African names, characteristics, and functions, but assumed new forms  in Latin America and the Caribbean. Millions came to Bahia, the center of Brazil’s sugar and slave trades, and today more than 80% of the population has African ancestry. In Brazil, the religion is called Candoble.

African slaves believed in a pantheon of protector gods  who not only personify natural forces such as fire, wind and water,  but also animals, colors, a day of the week or a certain food group.

Drums are the heart of this religious tradition which now blends African beliefs with Portuguese Catholic influences.

In worship ceremonies, devotees commune with deities known as orixas through dance, chants, offerings and music rituals in which drumming plays a prominent role. The drums speak to the gods. 

We were fortunate to spend some time with Maestro Macambira. 

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 He explained the significance of the different drums and drum beats.

Offerings are always around for the deities. Each orixa has its favorite drink or sweet.

The beat of tall, conga-like drums, and atabaques, a conical hand drum that comes in three sizes, calls forth the orixas and creates a trance-like mood for encountering the divine.

He demonstrated  some of the beats. It turns out that the Bf is a drummer -who knew? Special thanks to Maestra Macambira for the lesson and the duets.

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The music and dance of Candoble have influenced Brazilian musicians and artists and the beats sound familiar. Walking along the streets of Pelourinho (the old city) it  is very common to hear the sound of drums in the rhythm of student groups that amazes everyone with its vibrant and lively beat. Sound  is everywhere.

 

Fly safe,
JAZ

24 Hours In Sao Paulo, Brazil

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24 Hours In Sao Paulo, Brazil 

“The world is like that — incomprehensible and full of surprises.” Jorge Amado, Brazilian author

I have  been to Sao Paulo before.  My boyfriend had never been though we both have spent a lot of time in that airport.

Metropolitan São Paulo is more that three times the size of Moscow and six point five times the size of New York. With almost twenty million inhabitants, it is the biggest city in both Americas and the Southern hemisphere.

I guess that is why they have some really bad traffic jams.

Six PM – We land in Sao Paulo and check in to the  lovely Hotel Emiliano. I would like to have spent more time there. 

 Eight PM  Dinner at house of new friends we had met in the Panatanal – fun. 

Eleven AM  We are picked up by Josanna (most upbeat person ever)  and we start our tour of the city. It is Monday and everything I wanted to do was closed so I go with them. It isn’t raining yet.

Eleven Thirty AM   Parque Ibirapuera is the city’s largest green space and one of the largest city parks in Latin America. The name means a rotten tree in the Tupi language and despite the unfortunate name there are many beautiful trees.

There is plenty to do here…paths to walk or bike or people watch, museums, Niemeyer architecture, a lake, and more. It is rated as one of the best urban parks in the world.

Most of the buildings are designed by Oscar Niemeyer and the landscaping is by famed landscape artist Roberto Burle Marx.  I saw  alot of both their work and wrote about it the last time I was here  but it was so fun to see it again.

 One PM São Paulo is considered one of the best cities in the world for the development of creativity in street art.

For some of the best, we visited the area of Villa Magdalena, especially Beco do Batman (Batman’s Alley).

 One Thirty PM  Shopping!!!!

Two Thirty PM  The rain has started and we are having lunch at Figueira Rubaiyat ( Fig tree). The restaurant is built around a huge fig tree with a glass ceiling.

Four PM  We drive through the Japanese neighborhood of Liberdade. Brazil has the largest number of Japanese living outside Japan of any country in the world, and many of these Japanese Brazilians live in São Paulo. It is a fun place to explore and see how the influence of Japan has influenced Brazilian life here and, of course, try some great food.

Four Thirty PM We stop  at Mercado Municipal to pick up  cachaca, dende and Brazil nuts (which turned out to be stale.) The market, located in the old center of the city, attracts large crowds every day. The ground floor has hundreds of stalls selling fruit, vegetables, spices, and cured meats, while there is an upper level with a number of charming restaurants.

 Five Thirty PM  Head for Airport 

Special thanks to Josanna for her knowledge, humor and kindness and maybe the best personality and attitude of anyone I have ever met in the world!!!!!!

Fly safe,

JAZ

Bad Luck In South America

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 Bad Luck in South America

“You never know what worse luck your bad luck has saved you from.” Cormac McCarthy

I am a believer in good luck charms when you travel. I never get on a plane without one. There’s a fine line between a bit of harmless (and possibly helpful) superstitious behavior for luck, and developing an obsessive and crippling dependence on some elaborate routine.

I woke up five hours into my flight to Montevideo, Uruguay and realized my necklace was hanging open on my neck without the charm. I couldn’t find it anywhere. It felt like a  punch in my gut. Flying had always gone remarkably smoothly and I always fly with a symbol that luck was on my side.

A few days later in Punta Del Este, Uruguay, I broke my travel mirror which means seven years of bad luck to those of us who believe in such things. I sat down to tie my shoes and fell off the stool causing my finger to hit a table and bend backwards. Year one was not starting well.The next day it hurt and was swelling up. I could move it and it was not that bruised so  we taped my two fingers together and I got on a plane. it was noticeably  swollen when I got off. ”Do you want to go to the hospital?,” asked the receptionist at the hotel in Sao Paulo when she saw it.  Ice and tape seemed to be helping.

Now, I know that the concept of luck is all in your head, but this situation left me wondering where my luck had gone. It was no surprise that i left a bottle of my favorite moisturizer in Punta Del Este. I was expecting things  like this now.

In Salvador, Bahia I dropped my coke on the floor and it spilled out. “That’s bad luck” said  Julia our guide. I explained that I already had it.”Well,” she said, “It’s your third bad thing so now it is done.”

 I was not so sure. I needed some good luck – a new talisman. A talisman is a something that brings good luck.

On Sunday Oct 13 while I was in Salvador, María Rita de Souza Brito Lopes Pontes, known as “Irma Dulce” born in Salvador, ,Bahia, and considered to be Brazil’s answer to Mother Teresa  became the first woman born in Brazil to be declared a saint.  Everyone is Salvador was celebrating. It was the perfect day to change my luck.

The Church of Bonfim is possibly the most famous place of worship in all of Brazil. The simple white edifice has long been the juncture of Catholicism and the Afro-Brazilian Candomblé traditions.

Outside the church and all over Salvador, people sell multicolored ribbons with ‘Lembrança do Senhor do Bonfim da Bahia’ written on them, which are often seen tied to railings in front of churches dancing in the breeze.

Each color represents a different Candomblé god, and they are thought to bring luck. Our guide Julia negotiated  the price. The first man selling ribbons was charging double.

I made some important wishes and tied a few to the church.

For a bit of money, I receive a blessing from a Candoble priest. I definitely felt lighter.

The rest of the ribbons I kept with me and tied them to my purse. We would be flying on a very small plane in a few days.

In the Pantanal I broke a bottle of makeup all over the floor and fought with loud, arrogant, racist Trump supporters which definitely affected our time there.

I did not hang enough ribbons for the small stuff.

I bought some figas in Sao Paulo.  – a large one for my house and few smaller ones for gifts. Figas are Brazilian good luck charms. They are amulets- protection from evil. As you can see, i believe in all countries  and all religious  symbols of luck.

Good luck charms feed the human need to look beyond ourselves for solutions to our difficulties, while still encouraging us to do our best. When things are tough, it feels good to hold a charm in your hand and hope for things to get better.

 Even with all the mishaps and torn ligament, this was one of my best trips. It still doesn’t change my feeling about good luck charms. i will always carry that lucky coin or wear  my lucky socks on a plane because you can never have too much good luck.

Fly safe,

JAZ

Ugly Americans

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Ugly Americans

“What’s the derogatory term for Americans in a foreign country? ….Americans” unknown 

As Americans traveling the world we do apologize often for our behavior. But we may have outdone ourselves with Trump. Trump represents the America that the world hates. He embodies the worst anti-American stereotypes: vulgar, violent, cash-obsessed, racist.

 I had heard about the  Ugly Americans abroad but this was my first experience with them. We were at a beautiful resort in the Pantanal in Brazil where meals were served at community tables. There they were- loud, arrogant, older Trump supporters and the BF took the bait.  Sometimes I think we’re all too much like this. We are rude to people we don’t know precisely because we don’t know them, and we think it doesn’t really matter.  We treat people with differing political views as evil rather than consider that they have had different experiences and ideas. 

My boyfriend apologized the next morning and they agreed to talk only about the jaguars that we were all hoping to see . There had  recently been a huge fire in the Pantanal  and it affected and killed many animals. The safaris were like treasure hunts and we had been lucky and had seen almost all the animals including jaguars, 

The next morning out on the jeep with them we saw nothing. The Ugly Americans complained loudly and compared the experience unfavorably to their many trips in Africa and boat trip to Port Jofre. A vacation always goes better if you don’t compare.They wallowed in a swamp of complaints.They measured their stay in the Pantanal with an American yardstick instead of immersing themselves in the culture they came to see.

Their anger escalated in the afternoon. Again, we saw very few animals and we pulled up to go canoeing on this beautiful lake in the Pantanal. They were furious. He yelled at the guide.  “I flew five thousand miles to go canoeing. I’m not going and I’m going to just sit here and complain.”

Righteous anger boiled up inside me. I felt compelled to tell him that his negative energy was impacting the group experience and this beautiful place. He replied in a loud angry voice that i should shut my mouth and go back to Brooklyn (where I grew up). His response was several notches more intense than necessary. “You are healthy and you are here,” I answered and walked away.

I got into the canoe and begged my boyfriend not to say anything. He. agreed but when we got back to shore, the man stood in his path. The next thing I knew was that they had their hands on each other about to fight. “I hate you Hollywood types. You think you are better than everyone,” he said.  It was right out of Trump’s playbook.

The wife would stand in front of the jeep so I couldn’t get on without asking her to move or go around to the other side.  If I tried to talk to my German friends sitting behind me, she would get involved and push me out of the conversation. No one liked them but everyone was trying to keep the peace and talk to them so that there would be no more incidents and we would see more animals. I haven’t seen bullies like this since  junior high school.

We bonded with the hardworking  staff and the other lovely guests from all over the world over our dislike of “the Ugly Americans.” i tried to avoid them as much as possible but staying in the same lodge it was difficult. They were still complaining in the doorway as we were leaving.

Just to be clear, every country has horrible people who are loud, rude, and arrogant, and these people are horrible when they travel and, presumably, horrible at home. It’s not limited to a single country.

 

Fly safe,

JAZ