Money troubles and street parties in Northeastern Brasil
27.07.2007 - 29.07.2007 29 °C
Out on the gaming table of life where fortunes can be made and lost, a flip of a card could change a life. In my corner, I had been quietly playing my own game, trying not to get too distracted by the bright lights or sleazy people. I was counting the cards, and I was sure by coming to northeastern Brasil I'd backed a winner. Oblivious of the hand the dealer had ready to play, and a little ignorant of the stakes involved, I played on. It was to be my downfall.
The first sign was the loss of my wallet during the trip to Ponta Negra the night before. Instead of worrying, I bluffed, wearing a poker face good enough to fool a pro, and made arrangements to get my bank card cancelled and replaced. In the morning at our hotel, things began to slide in a downward direction. Me and the Canadian girls had been put into a different room than the one we had negotiated for the night before, and now the owner of the flat we stayed in demanded a payment of double our agreed rate. They tried all kinds of dirty tricks to win, from telling lies, feigning ignorance and wearing sunglasses, but Kelly from the Dominican Republic (whom we had adopted the night before) spoke so fluently in Portuguese, they weren't able to cheat outright. We played our final hand, broke even against the odds, and got told to leave the hotel.
Out the front of our new place in Vila, a poorer area of Ponta Negra, a three-night street festival was just warming up in the early evening, and before long the place was crowded with locals. Eager to cater for their needs, all kinds of mobile shops were set up, selling pastries, corn or kebab skewers, or cut-price beer and cane spirit cachaça out of polystyrene coolers. As the festa wore on, it grew stranger and stranger, incorporating a June Festival hoe-down of sorts and several dance routines from local groups. My attempts to dance the Samba and Forro once again were far more amusing than precise, but being one of the only tourists, I still garnered plenty of attention.
Walking through a post-festa Vila at probably 4.30am, Latin America seemed at its most distant, its most inaccessible. Gone were the crowds of people, drinking, dancing and living their lives by the street. Far away from the flashing lights of the festival in the back blocks of Ponta Negra, the cobble-stoned streets were now the realm of cats and dogs, a monochrome world polarised by orange streetlights and dark shadows. Latin America, at this place and time was sleeping, and I, walking through this bairro on the way back to a secure hotel unit, was similarly polarised. A white person in a dark neighbourhood, awake while others sleep, so close geographically and so distant in mindset; unified only in one thing: Silence.
Saturday I held my cards with an iron grip, determined not to let the game slip. The odds though, were as long as a Shetland's in a steeplechase and soon to get even worse. On the beachfront promenade I bumped into Carlo, an Italian guy we had met through Kelly. He had been staying in Ponta Negra for several months already, doing research on the area for a university in Venice. Getting money from my credit card failed utterly, and while I was waiting outside the bank for him I was approached by a bohemian-looking (and very attractive) Brasilian girl. After what seemed like fifteen seconds of small talk, we were kissing on the lips - the second time this random type of encounter was occurring during my stay in Brasil. Tenderly, we parted after a minute or so, and with a look back over her shoulder, she was gone. Carlo had seen the whole thing from inside, and was quick to point out his suspicions that she was a 'Street Beautician' - in his words, a professional...
I had no other option but to place my chips on getting emergency cash wired to Banco do Brasil. After playing every one of my trump cards through numerous frustrations to get back in the black, I finally got the cash secured for Monday. Or so i thought. Later in the evening, Carlo took me out to meet up with some friends living in Ponta Negra, and we hit the local bars. Years ago, I had vowed never to enter a club named Matrix but here we were with free passes to Matrix Disco Pub, featuring big fluorescent polystyrene balls stuck to the walls and music that I would have liked if only I was Hello Kitty on a disco biscuit. Needless to say, I lasted about the length it took me to throw back a couple of beers before heading back to the street party and respectability.
My travelling buddies Tamara and Melissa were leaving for São Paulo, and after our farewell dinner on Sunday night I met up with Carlo again on the way to the Vila festival, now cartwheeling into night three. Out the back of the festa, past the stage and the typically South American church centrepiece, we found a children's fairground. Included were such death-defying rides as a pirate ship only twice the size of a garden swing, squeaking rusted teacups and a carousel of little race cars bumping over a rutted wooden track. Amidst a crowd of eager kids, we fired air rifles at candy, handing out our edible prizes in all directions like a couple of Caucasian piñatas. The music was even more frantic than Friday's offerings, featuring some hyper-speed Forro mixed with electronic music; and naturally the 1940's polka antics were in full swing, this time with the country folk replaced by cross-dressers. But all too soon, the festival finished, and people returned to their lives, leaving nothing but their giant piles of rubbish behind.