In this blog, I share stories, photos and info from my bicycle trips which include Washington, DC to Chiapas, Mexico; DC to NYC and back; DC to Pittsburgh; Austin, TX to Brownsville, TX; and currently, Cancun, Mexico to Natal, Brasil.
The last few days have been good. I have progressed down the road each day, and am now just a day and a half away from São Luis. Every day has its story--each place I end up finding to stay, the people I meet. And the road, well it is relatively flat, a slight bit rolling, through primarily free range cattle ranches dotted with palm trees. Relatively low traffic; the roads with more traffic have ample shoulders, and the roads without much shoulder have little traffic, so the entire time, I just absorb myself in Pimsleur Portuguese and French lessons, and music. Yesterday and the day before, I think I completed about 12 Portuguese lessons, all review, so about six hours of Portuguese speaking practice, as I ride. I have been completing one French lesson each day; São Luis was once ruled by the French for one year, and is the center of the French presence in Brazil.
Counting back from today, the places I stayed: Last night, in Santa Helena, I stayed at the multi-purpose complex of the Santa Helena Catholic Parish. It felt a bit like coming home to my roots, a familiar culture as I was brought up Catholic.
The night before last, I stayed in Maracaçumé, in a classroom of the Adventist Church. I played barefoot soccer with my local counterparts, scoring a goal and they said I "earned a national contract"! ;)
The night before that, I stayed in Cachoeira do Piriá in the Assamblea de Deus evangelical church, which actually took some persistence, being rejected at first, but then finally, the one in charge conceded, but not before asking if I had any vices, such as drinking or smoking. (You can't enter the Kingdom of God unless you are already pure/cured? I was also asked this question at the Adventist Church in Maracaçumé.)
The day before that I stayed in Santa Luzia do Pará, at the resident house of the civil police. They gave me a private room, food, wi-fi, the works. And they were strikingly lax about the way they handled their guns, setting them down on the kitchen table, and invited me to examine one.
And the day before that, I stayed in Capanema, at the firestation. Super inviting and accomodation. They are military firemen, so they had to examine my passport and take down my number. After I was set, they invited me for pizza. Everyone, I am sure you already are, but please be nice to foreigners present in the States. Our international image needs all the help it can get now, believe me, and given the way I am treated as I travel, I can only hope to be as accommodating and generous back home with foreigners passing through.
As a side, at that fire station and at many other stops along this road, people talk about an English-American couple who passed through about four months ago. They were covered on national television, they are sponsored, they started in Rio and are doing a loop around South America. If you know any more about them, please send a link my way.
There have been some things I wanted to note as I move along down the road. I am now officially in the Northeast, in Maranhão. I crossed into this State a couple days ago. The Northeast is the region I fell in love with back in 1999 the first time I came to this country. And it is different from the North. People are much more talkative and gregarious; there is a lot more street life. Of course, this region is connect by roads instead of rivers. It is much more populated throughout. I knew I had come back to a familiar region when I saw the billboard for a vaquejada, which is a party revolving around a horse and bull competition in which a team of two horseback riders must run along either side of a bull for about sixty meters before pulling the bull down to the ground by its tail within a touchdown zone of about ten meters. I attended one thirteen years ago when I was serving in Amigos das Americas; I find it more exciting and far more humane than a bullfight. It demonstrates courage, horse skills, strength, athleticism, and teamwork. Needless to say, I hope to attend one soon. The surrounding party usually includes live forró music and festive dancing.
Another note: as expected, the region provides an abundance and variety of fruits, and the one I am currently enjoying is the jambo. They had these riverside in Perú, though I am rediscovering them here in abundance and they are very tasty. Here is a photo: http://www.google.com.br/imgres?hl=pt-BR&sa=X&rlz=1C1CHFX_enUS401US401&biw=1137&bih=527&tbm=isch&prmd=imvnsfd&tbnid=2kUSqaRvQSEsoM%3A&imgrefurl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.tocadacotia.com%2Fsaude%2Fjambo&docid=yxo6d3uPaNfjNM&imgurl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.tocadacotia.com%2Fwp-content%2Fgallery%2Fjambo%2Fjambo-5.jpg&w=500&h=375&ei=vBohUIzkGOPs6wHev4DIBg&zoom=1&iact=hc&vpx=115&vpy=164&dur=431&hovh=154&hovw=195&tx=150&ty=117&sig=116627460814607990388&page=1&tbnh=155&tbnw=196&start=0&ndsp=10&ved=1t%3A429%2Cr%3A0%2Cs%3A0%2Ci%3A73
Ok, well, those are my updates for now. Time to move on down the road towards São Luis, reggae capital of Brazil.