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Playas & Praias

Saturday, March 6th, 2010

I am writing to you from  Ilha de Santa Catarina,  in a little town called Lagoa da Conceicao.  Most folks know the name of Florianopolis best, which is the main city you arrive in via bus or plane (bus was my mode of transport) to get to this sweet island off the coast of southern Brazil.  It’s pouring rain out right now, so much that I’ve decided to have a pizza delivered instead of attempting to go out in search of something to eat tonight. I decided what a better way to spend a rainy night than bringing you all up to speed on my latest travels.

I spent two and a half weeks in Uruguay searching for Carnaval festivities, connecting with relatives (a cousin by marriage, Moises, and his sweet wife, Rebecca which I’ll write more about in this post) and searching for beach towns and the ocean that this “island girl” so loves to be near.  I thought I might find a sweet secluded beach that had not been discovered or developed yet.  Well I did find some sweet beaches along the Uruguay coast, but the water was definitely a lot colder than it was inviting.  Not to offend the dear, kind folks of Uruguay, they truly have a beautiful country with equally kind, beautiful people, but there is a reason their beaches aren’t overrun with tourists and travelers.  That Atlantic ocean is COLD!! =)  There is the exception of Punta del Este, which is like a mini-Miami beach of the jet set from Buenos Aires and surrounds.  But again, when I got in the water it was like those cold plunge pools at a spa you dip in and get right back out.  I guess I will state the obvious–I’ve been spoiled with the waters from Hawaii but it was a great adventure nontheless. 

Playa at La Pedrea, Uruguay

Playa at La Pedrea, Uruguay

The picture I’ve inserted here I really love, because it captures what the feeling was like that day, the southern Antartic winds were blowing strong and cold and the weather was overcast.  The winds can be so strong at times, I’m talking gusts to 30 knots or more, you wonder “this is their summer/fall?”  But again the effects of an El Nino year we’ve been having as well.  It was beautiful in it’s own way, but again no replacement for the beaches I’ve known for over half my life.

I explored the coastline on another day with my cousin, Moises and his wife Rebecca.  We went to Piriopolis, Punta del Este and Punta Ballena.  These two people certainly know the meaning of hospitality!  They took me on tours of their city, Montevideo on the first day we met, had me over for lunch on another day and if that wasn’t enough had me over for dinner the night I left for Florianopolis.  I hope I can repay their kind hospitality one day…  

I’ve added a new Picassa photo album of some of my favorite images from my time in Uruguay.  So if you want to see more of that country than the few pictures I’ve shared on this blog, they are there for you to enjoy.

So as I wrote earlier, I am now on the Island of Santa Catarina off the southern Brazilian coast.  From here I’ll be heading onto Rio de Janeiro and some of the most famous beaches in the world like Ipanema and Copacabana, but for now I am quite content with the beaches near me.  Praia Mole and Praia de Joaquina are awesome! I finally have been playng in the ocean again.  I also managed to find a sweet little pousada with a kitchenette for $35 a day.  Quite a deal for these beach destinaions and also a rental car for the same.  So I’ve been doing some serious exploring and it feels great to have some freedom of mobility too! 

Ilha Santa Catarina is a really beautiful island that has 3 “lakes or lagoas” through the middle of it.  Driving along the coast there are some sweet fishing villages that are still quite connected to their Azorean Portuguese heritage along with some fantastic fresh seafood like oysters and shrimp…and I had pizza tonight???? =)  But I did have a shrimp pastel (like an empanada or meat pie for my southern friends) for lunch today with a nice cold beer.  So yes, I’m really enjoying my time on this island and seeing island life from a Brazilian perspective.

Tomorrow I go to get my bus ticket to head onto Rio de Janeiro.  I know that city will be an amazing adventure too, I’ve been kind of saving it to finish up my travels in S. America.  I have a couple of other destinations in Brazil to see before swinging back through the USA to visit some family and friends. I will then be going on my way around the rest of the planet.  I know I’ll need the “downtime” to regroup and hopefully get my visas in order.  So mi amigos, I will say “Ciao” for now and “todo biem!!”

Praia Mole

Praia Mole

Carnival in Montevideo, Uruguay

Sunday, February 21st, 2010

Carnaval dia 2 (2)I am writing this from the little beach town of La Paloma which lies along the Atlantic coast of Uruguay.  Today is pretty overcast and cool, so I’m catching up again on bringing you all up to speed, since later I’m hoping the day will improve and I’ll be off again to explore.

I spent the past week in Montevideo in search of Carnival celebrations and candombe (drumming groups) in the various venues and events I could find after arriving into town last Friday.  It’s kind of funny but the Uruguayans are either ambivalent about Carnival or just are not very good at self-promoting themselves when it comes to Carnival.  I think it’s more of the latter.

When I arrived and checked into my room, asking the front desk about what was going on it was like uncovering a mystery.  This was Carnival weekend in my mind–huh??!!  Turns out their big event is called the “Llamadas” (The Calling) which had happened the weekend before–sigh.  It’s a two day non-stop street drumming parade throughout the city.  Well, in spite of my poor timing there still were barrio candombes to be found and luckily on Saturday night it was happening in Ciudad Vieja (Old City) barrio. 

I went off that evening with  huge warnings of being careful, how dangerous it was in that part of town, to not carry even a purse or id of any kind, put my cash in my pocket not my bag, etc.  I needed my little  sling bag I use to carry my camera along with whatever essentials I might need while out and about, so I emptied it of everything except my camera and a map of the area, money in my pocket and off I went.  From what I was able to find out the parade began at 8 p.m. and was just for a short while, were they ever wrong!  It went on till midnight… =)  What fun and what energy.  These guys in the drumming/candombe troupes get going and then the crowd starts clapping a rhythm to it as well that takes on another beat,  you just get going to the synergy of it all and before you know it you’re dancing in the streets with them.

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The second night which was a Sunday, I chose to go to one of their performances instead, which was in an outdoor theater setting, since there weren’t any barrio candombes to be found.  Turns out this is a major holiday weekend for the local Montevideanos so they all leave town and everything is closed for business till Wednesday.  I’m thinking to myself, “What???”  So again, trying to make the most of the situation I go off to the performance at the Teatro Verano, which was not a disappointment at all.  The first group was called Senegal and had candombe, dancing, great costumes, and the crowd loved them.  After the show you can get right up with them, since they dance through the audience keeping the show going on even longer.

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My experience was different than anticipated, but it was unique.  I gained some understanding of their history behind it all which was pretty interesting.  Montevideo and Colonia were major slave trade ports during that era and there remains a significant black culture here.  Interesting enough, I never once came across a person of African descent, in Argentina which lies only 50km across the water from here.  During the late 1800′s when the Africans were still enslaved, their owners would let them leave freely for a week when the drums of the Llamada would begin.  The slaves would return to their masters after their celebrations were done.  Today there are murgas, which are performances based on political satire, that allow people the opportunity express themselves without any repercussions.  These performers are fantastic singers and are pretty amazing to watch…if only I could have understood the messages better.  The audiences sure did because there was lots of laughter during each performance.

So yes, it wasn’t Rio but it it was real.  Hasta la proxima!!