Monday, October 17, 2011

Reaching the end of Midnight's Children


After three years and at least five attempts, I've finally finished Midnight's Children. I think my reaction to it is as convoluted as the book itself.

For historical fiction about the rise of modern India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, there's really nothing like it. The transfer of power from Britain to the newly independent India (the famous optimism bug that I talked about here), the various wars and skirmishes  between India and its neighbors Pakistan and China, the civil war that splits West Pakistan from East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) are all chronicled in Rushdie's inimitably sardonic and luxuriously adorned prose. I also liked the account of Indira Ghandi's emergency powers crackdown, during which the fictional Saleem Sinai sees the government arrest his cohort of children who can communicate telepathically with one another by virtue of all having been born in the first hour after the midnight of India's independence (hence Midnight's Children). One particular segment rang like a literary version of a Ray Bradbury type sci-fi saga, which was the tale of Saleem and two other deserters from the Pakistani civil war end up in a cave of illusions that slowly starts to consume them and drain their will to leave (which in the end they do).

The actual experience of reading the book, however, reminded me a lot of reading Julio Cortazar's Rayuela. I read it in Spanish, mostly to prove how tough I was, at great detriment to my actual comprehension of the already convoluted text. The book is set up such that after each chapter you're told to flip to another non-sequential chapter, which takes you through the book in the non-chronological order the author determined (This Cortazar described as the “masculine” form of reading the book, as opposed to the “feminine” style which involved reading the chapters sequentially. Fortunately much has changed since the book’s publication in 1961). I made this even more interesting by jumping to the wrong chapter at least once. The experience of reading Latin America's version of Ulysses suddenly became a bit more like reading a version of Ulysses with the pages mixed up.

My stop-start approach to Rushdie's cornerstone work led to much the same experience. I could never quite tell if I had read something already, had read it years earlier on a previous attempt, had accidentally bookmarked the wrong spot, or if the story line was simply repeating itself. I couldn't remeber why The Hummingbird was killed. I couldn't remember why Mumtaz slept in a basement with Nadir Khan. I couldn't remember the story of the fire at the godown that destroyed Saleem's father's bicycles, or the related mafia extorsion that was somehow linked to a family of bats living in a church steeple (I think).

Adding to that, the plotlines were as difficult to follow and remember as the thematic and metaphorical undertones they evoked. Ok, let me see if I can get this straight. Saleem is the son of General Aziz and his wife Amina Sinai (formerly known as Mumtaz), only he is switched at birth from the hands of his actual parents, a poor British street entertainer named Wee Willy Winkie and his servant wife. Nanny Mary Pereira (married of a man named Joseph -- metaphorical maybe?) takes baby Saleem out of his poor-family crib into the lap of wealth, condemning the true son Shiva, who will turn out to be Saleem's arch-rival, to a life of poverty. However, Saleem, it turns out, is not his father's son, because his servant mother had been sleeping with the wealthy British landlord known as Lord Methwold.

Again, let me see if I can get all these metaphors straight. The bastard Muslim son of India, born to a cuckolded father who is not his father, is switched at birth by conniving Christians who steal the birthright of Hindu boy? I can't even remember how many times I had to flip back and reread that saga.

I will hand it to Rushdie, he really can write like nobody else. At the same time I will admit on several occasions feeling like I was going to shout out loud "OK, Mr. Rushdie, lovely writing, but can we get ON with it PLEASE!!!"

Reading my first Stieg Larsson book earlier this year made me understand why the average person doesn't read books like Midnight's Children. I read all of The Girl with the Dragoon Tattoo at the same time as I fumbled through about 25 pages of the Rushdie classic. I've got thick literary teeth, as my brother likes to say.

Midnight’s Children was one I really had to fight my way through. It reminded me of other books that I enjoyed but had to battle my way through, unlike the seductive and almost narcotic pull of Larson's detective fiction (the inevitable deus-ex-machinas felt a bit cheap, but still, I get the appeal. I remember pushing my way through Mario Vargas Llosa's La Fiesta del Chivo, the novelistic take on the fall of Dominican dictator Trujillo, while sitting in my hot living room in Puerto Rico, finishing the last pages with an almost breathless urgency of wanting be done with this epic (I did like it, in fact). Or plowing through the end of Ghost Wars, Steve Coll's authoritative and unparalleled journalistic account of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the ensuing civil war and rise of the Taliban, while on a plane from Caracas to San Francisco. You fight through books and you remember them.

Midnight's Children still does not top for what I consider the be the most readable of Rushdie -- The Ground Beneath her Feet, the tale of a rock star Indian couple that take a ten-year vow of celibacy. I also read, around the same time, a Rushdie book called Shame which was about Pakistan. I definitely did not get much of what was being said there. I do remember a character named the Virgin Ironpants, who years later I learned was Benazir Bhutto (might have helped to know that).

I spied a copy of The Moor's Last Sigh on my dad's bookshelf when - was at his house last month. I decided to leave that for some future endeavor, while I read something else -- and continue to figure out what I thought of Midnight's Children.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Riocha Cardosa

It was our last day of real vacation travel, with half of it taken up by the trip back to São Luis. It ended up being a relaxed river tubing excursion down the Riocha Cardosa river. It took about an hour of driving through the largely unpopulated cerrado forest to reach a place were we could begin floating down the river on inner tubes. We were joined by a crowd of mostly female senior citizens who were chatty and friendly.
No pictures unfortunately because our camera isn´s water proof. We stopped at the house of a local family that made us tapioca and coffee. I also for the first time ate cashew nuts that had been roasted by a human being, sold to me by a cute five year old girl.They were toasted unevenly, meaning each one tasted slightly
different.

The trip also took as past a bizarre bridge to nowhere put up about 15 miles from the nearest paved road. I took a fleeting picture of it  from the truck. It looked like it was made from poured concrete (did they drive concrete mixers for an hour across the sand road?) supported by 10 pillars. It does not connect to the sand road on either side, but does have a rickety hand-made wooden ladder leaned up against one side in case anyone wants to climb up and look around. The truck we were in did fine driving across what appeared to be a small wooden pedestrian bridge that went across the small gully that this Sara Palin-inspired work of civil engineering was attempting to span. Fortunately someone had taken advantage of the structure to set up a
small bar with a pool table underneath it. At least it was providing shade.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Lencois Maranhenses

The Lencois Maranhenses were probably the biggest draw for this trip.  They did not disappoint. They were just the postcard idyll I imagined from looking at pictures online of the blue-green lagoons in the  middle of sand dunes. They form during the rainy season as the rain fills up the spaces between dunes, and then most of them totally dry up between October and December as the rains stop. And they migrate.  Each year the wind blows the dunes to one side or another, meaning that the rainfall fills up the craters in a different place each time.


Our guide picked us up at the resort and drove around 20 minutes on a sand road and parked the pickup alongside several others that had already brought tourists to the area. We walked less than five minutes
when we were already at the first lagoon. The turqoise freshwater is  really breathtaking. They lagoons got bigger as we walked further in,each one beautiful than the next. I made a routine at each lagoon of
swimming across it, then climbing up the dune and charging back down into the water.

The pictures really are worth a thousand words (see them on my Facebook page). Our guide took us to a nearby house where the woman who lived there cooked us an amazing fish lunch. The charming little farm house had a refreshing breeze and great views of the open cerrado wildnerness and  the dunes in the distance. We chowed on cashew fruit picked from the trees outside. I´ve eaten cashew nuts all my life but really never
came across the fruit until I got to Brazil – I never once saw it in Venezuela. You can get it at juice bars in Rio, though its often from concentrate.

We drove back to the hotel along the sand track. The sun beat down on  the leaves and the shrubs, the scent reminded me of the smell that hot northern California sun creates when it beats down on eucalyptus and
pine in the summer.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Barreirinhas

The next stretch of the trip takes us by boat along the Rio Preguicas to Barreirinhas, the main jump-off point for seeing the Lencois Maranhenses. We were picked by our third guide of a trip, and older man by the name of Xico, who piled all suitcases into the back of a launch and took us more or less across the river to a nearby town called Mandacaru that hosts an old lighthouse and a sleepy naval base. Cabure made me feel like I was in a hostile desert environment largely cut off from the convienences of modern life. Mandacaru made me realize I was basically across the river from them.

The latter is relatively isolated but still has power connected to the national grid and a wide range of  commerce including small grocery stores and artisan shops. Cattle roam the area, cashew trees dot the sand. We entered the town via a small dock next to an outdoor bar boasting its cashew-fruit caipirinhas. Eight-thirty a.m. was a bit on the early side for that sort of thing, at least for me. I got to chatting with a guy who called himself Enoc, who said the growth of tourism had for years been creating new employment opportunities in an area traditionally dominated by fishing. Even more recently, oil and gas discoveries by Petrobras and start-up oil company OGX had created new transportation routes and new demand for labor. A geological
prospecting service that used small aircraft for surveying had started carrying passengers from remote areas of Maranhao that previously relied on slow and unreliable bus transport. This sort of thing seemed
to be happening all over Brazil. I remember one of my earliest experiences in Rio was becoming a regular at one of the increasingly common juice bars in Copacabana. A particular chain called BigB was started by a man from Ceara, the state that´s home to Jericoacoara, and he mostly hired workers who had migrated from there to Rio. One of  the staff there named Olivio said he used to take a bus for five days  to get back to see his family for a month. Now he flies, not only  because its faster – it´s cheaper. A changing nation.

Xico drove us along the river to Barreirinhas, stopping at a dune-centric tourist stop called Vassouras that offered sodas, coconut  juice, snack, and arts and crafts. It also proudly displayed a set of domesticated monkeys that did tricks like hanging from rafters or walking across tight-ropes in exchange for bits of apple or coconut. I actually found the dunes more interesting, in part because monkeys are pretty common in Rio (once you spend a bit of time around them you start to realize that they´re generally a bunch of bastards). Xico dropped us off at the business end of Barreirinhas, where most of the restaurants and commerce were, a bit of a hike from the swanky resort we would check into.

We were picked up in a taxi by a man who identified himself as Ue, originally from São Paulo. He came four
years ago, following his brother who had set up a business a decade back. That´s when the tourism to the Lencois really took off, he said. Now Ue has two boats and a couple cars to work the tourism circuit.
You can leave your car open, you can walk around at night by yourself, it´s not like São Paulo. Barreirinhas is a good place to live. The real game changer for the Lencois was the road linking Barreirinhas to São Luis. Previously it was only the most determined traveller that would make the eight hour journey across the unpaved road to see the world´s most spectacular lagoons (pardon my editorializing). Today it takes about three hours – and the journey is still a complicated one, as these posts have pointed out. It´s the sort of thing you see all over Brazil. It´s a country bursting at the seams, its growth constrained by airports that are overcrowded to the point of chaos, ports that are in disastrous overuse, railroad lines without capacity to carry goods. It´s well-known – almost to the point of cliche – that trucking grain from the center-west of the country to the coast can  cost as much as half the value of the grain. It makes me wonder what Barreirinhas would look like if the remaining difficulties in making this journey – particularly for foreigners – were somehow straightened out. Brazil´s expensive for a lot of reasons, one of them is that fact that it´s just not easy to get
around.

We spent the remainder of the day lounging in the Porto Preguicas Resort, an upscale tourist haven with suburbanesque identical red-roofed cabins and manicured lawns. My instinct to pass it off as the usual tourism industry fare turned out to be entirely wrong. Along with the expected amenities like a pool, sauna, game room and river kayaks, the place had some unusual extras including an orchard that provided a considerable part of the kitchen´s food. It grew everything from mangoes and bananas to parsely and cilantro, and composted used coffee grounds along with spent charcoal. Left-over food scraps from the restaurant didn´t go into the trash, they were fed to a gaggle of chickens and goats. The restaurant´s menu included “galinha caipira,” Brazil´s way of saying chicken that´s not factory farmed (Brazil is now one of the world´s largest producers of factor farmed poultry).

The chickens in the coop in the back scrapped over a piece of lettuce that looked a lot like the one Isa and I had left on our plates the day before. They provided eggs that were also used in the kitchen. The garden hand, Jefferson, has been on the job for three months, formerly working as a painter. He knew how to tend a garden because he had one at home. The resort also houses a pottery production center with two pottery wheels being used by two teenage guests under the eye of a local resident who works there. The entire resort is filled with vases and pots that are made on site and fired in a wood-burning kiln. Next to that is a wood shop where other Barreirinhas residents make furniture used in the resort. I have to admit I was pleasantly
suprised.

Isa and I enjoyed a meal of slow-cooked chicken, possibly one of the ones we had seen earlier. I think this was my first locavore meal ever. Isa joked that eating recently killed chicken with our hands while drinking beer under a chandeliered wood-decorated dining area made it feel like we were in the Middle Ages. She hummed Holy Grail-esque flute sounding medieval tunes as we ate.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Cabure

We stayed the night in Parnaiba, and then the next morning drove two hours through thick vegetation known as cerrado until we reached the  town of Tutoia. Winding through some of the back trails in town we were
back on the sand dunes, and we headed west along the beach another half hour. The scrub grass struggled to grow through the sand, making the whole thing look like a lawn with a covering or snow on it. A group of
fisherman's huts made from palm fronds dotted the beachline next to a tall  antennae-like pole being used to test the area for wind generation.The beach was dotted with blackened stumps that poked out of the sand
as if they´d been buried. This is in fact what happened. Ten years ago  this was a mangrove swamp, but the wind slowly covered it with sand and left the mangroves strangled. Constant flux.

We arrived at the town of Cabure, which is in fact simply a group of  three different pousadas set back from the beach. There´s only power available half the day, provided by a diesel generator. The Rio Preguicas sits on the other side of the pousadas, and is the usual mode of transport for most people and goods and that come in and out.

Our pousada is a set of cabins set behind a large dune to shelter them from the wind, but the breeze is still so strong that it feels as if the rooms have fans blowing air through them all the time. Isa and  spent the afternoon on the beach, not swimming much because of the bizarre wave patterns and weird currents that make you feel as if something is sucking your legs out to sea. So we lay in the tidepools that form just back from where the waves break, skipping shells and chatting about nothing. I could barely feel the sunshine because of the wind blowing off the ocean.

The pools vary in depth from about an inch to about a foot, which gives them a variation in color. I really
only noticed this because I tripped and nearly twisted my ankle on one of them. A buzzard sits watching us from the remains of some abandoned structure. Beauty and hostility all rolled into one. Life´s not easy here, says the manager of the pousada, Irai. The spectactular beauty of the place keeps people coming back, to watch the sunsets of the Rio Preguicas, to see the stars at night, to fall  asleep to the sound of the wind and the waves. I love the sand and I love the water. But there´s so much to do that I often don´t get out there. And people come here complaining about all sorts of things.They say there´s so much sand, it´s too windy, they want air conditioning.

We took an afternoon tour to watch the sun set over the  river and watched the bright pink guara birds play overhead. We went back to our room and read until the lights went out. It´s been a while since I put down a book on account of lights out rules.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Parnaiba River Delta

We left Jericoacoara with a tour guide in a pick-up truck headed west toward the Delta of the Parnaiba River. This trip is a complicated one to do in part because much of the most fabulous parts of it involve driving across sand dunes or taking river boats for stretches of a couple hours at a time. You can´t do the same sort of trip by renting a car yourself, because parts of it are over sand roads that would require a four-by-four and a fair amount of experience in driving offroad. You also have to know the cycle of the tides to get out along
the beaches.

This trip is also tough to do for someone who´s not already in Brazil. The start and end points are Fortaleza and Sao Luis, neither of which have any serious volume of international air traffic. The best a person could do would be to fly through Manaus, which would require a layover in Belem to get to Sao Luis. Add in the absurd cost of doing anything in Brazil, I´m guessing it will be some time before there this route becomes a tourist destination like Cancun or Aruba. During the trip we were passed from one guide to another. In a perverse analogy, it struck me as a bit like kidnapping victims that are passed from one band of gang-bangers to another, though in our case were high-end tourists. It´s just what popped into our head.

Our tour guide Marzinho drove us out along the sand dunes on one side and the crystal waters of the Atlantic on the other. The route carries us across several rivers, the first one by raft. Ten years ago there was no way to get by car Jericoacoara to the nearby towns fishing towns of Guiru, Tatajuba and Mangue Seco. Now you pull your car onto a wooden raft and three guys row you across with long wooden branches. Some folks still fish along the banks across from Guriu, but a good number of them like Gustavo just work as rafters.

It´s better than fishing, Gustavo says. Fisherman don´t sleep. They wake up at midnight, or one in the morning. I get here at eight. I´m 27 and I´ve been doing this since I was 13. The first rafts could only
carry small cars, and you spent the whole time worrying that the raft would sink before it made it across. Then other people saw it was good business, and competition started, and the rafts got better, now you can carry pick-ups like this one. A lot of people leave little towns like this. The guys I first started working with, they left ten years ago, went to Riberao Preto in Sao Paulo, they made some money and came back. The city´s not always that great. You can make a living here, it´s not a bad life.


We get to the other side without sinking or worrying about it. Then Marzinho drove us up to the top of a huge dune with a spectacular view of the surroundings, where I finally got a chance to try my hand at duneboarding. OK, it was sitting down, like sledding, but it was amazing. I probably would have done it three or four more times if it hadn't involved hiking back up the dune. Another half hour´s drive and we were at a lake made by a dammed up river, where hammocks and deck chairs sit out on the water that has been driven up by a rising tide. Then we got onto a paved road that took us out to the Delta of the Parnaiba River. Like a hand with five fingers, the Parnaiba breaks into five main branches that take you out to the Atlantic. Parnaiba was once the capital of palm wax, which boomed in the 19th century but later collapsed with the rise of synthetic petroleum based waxes. The city of Parnaiba still has a series of elegant buildings and warehouses built in 19th century style and surprisingly well maintained, testaments to the wax boom much like the Manaus opera
house is a living icon of the rubber boom.

There´s still a market for it, and these days wax palms are the main form of agriculture along the delta. But the state of Piaui is generally a pretty overlooked place. It for years sought to promote itself with the motto “Piaui exists.” The delta reminds me a bit of Venezuela´s Orinoco Delta, though the latter is much more jungle-like, poorer and still heavily influenced by indigenous groups. What´s most fascinating about the Parnaiba River delta is that its lush and verdant mangrove forests lead into barren white-sand dunes. We took a boat tour through the Delta for almost two hours. At high tide the ocean links straight to the river, at low tide the two are separated by sand bars. We got there at low tide, so we cold only get within about 300 yards of the dunes. We walked for 10 minutes along a wet muddy river bed. Then we crossed a line where we literally went from gooey brown mud to white desert dunes.

Our guide told me and Isa he was going to stay behind to watch the boat. We walked up to the dunes, which rise up and suddenly fall like cliffs into craters below that are the size of car or a small house. During the rainy season, those craters fill up with water and form spectacular lakes between the dunes. The scene is just as cool when they are empty, this bizarre moonscape of dunes pocked with huge holes, the bottoms of which are carved out like dried river beds.

Another ten minute walk and we were at the beach. An incredible, isolated white sand beach called Bahia do Feijao Bravo, with nobody on it for kilometers, no stands selling coconut juice, no vendors hocking Cokes or hot dogs, not a soul in sight. Isa stripped down to her bikini for a dip, but I wasn´t having any of it. I´m sorry honey, we did not come 1,000 miles to an isolated beach so we could take a swim with our trunks on. I tied up my trunks to a branch to keep them from blowing away. Isa held her bikini top and bottom in her hands and we ran into the water in our birthday suits. I honestly did want to take a picture of it but didn´t. Not that I was fearing a Scarlett Johansson type phone-hacking scandal, but rather because our camera that day had filled up with sand and refused to take any pictures (this is frequent in Jericoacoara) We stayed pretty close to the shoreline because the waves seemed to move in strange patterns. The sand vibrated under our feet as we stood in the water, a strange feeling as if sci-fi creatures were waiting below to much on our toes. The entire environment is in constant flux. As we walked back, it occurred to me that the guide was probably less interested in guarding the boat than in giving us a chance for a skinny dip.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Jericoacoara

Sept 30

This is a place that makes me want to put pen to paper.

The approach is across a white sand beach with almost nothing except the stray windsurfer and, a beach so windswept that trees lie down and set down roots along the sand. The wind whips in gusts that fills you mouth with sand and whips sand against your skin, giving the place an almost hostile feel. A five minute drive to the sheltered side of the beach and the same scene feels like something totally different. The wind sways the palm trees, the sun reflects on the water across the majestic dunes.

The lodge we're at is at a quiet edge of the sometimes noisy party beach town of Jericoacoara. The buildings are made out of either red brick or palm fronds. Our room is a thatch hut that sits on stilts and overlooks the water and a group of horses seeking shade under a nearby tree.

This is the vacation I haven't taken in three years, a real vacation which is not the same as going home to see my mom and dad or going to my mother-in-law's for New Year's. It's a package deal in which everything was figured out for us upfront. I feel a little guilty for doing it that way instead of the old-school shoestring style I would have done ten years ago. But I'm glad we did it this way. Improvised vacations (which are great) involve constantly making decisions about where to stay, how long to stay, what to see. After a couple of months of making some major life decisions, I wanted this trip to be a vacation from decisions as well. So we made all the decisions up front, and here we are in Jericoacoara. It's time to relax and unwind.

***
It´s a daily pilgrimage that starts around 4 30 to the big sand dune next to town, where the crowds go to watch one of the finest sunsets around. The dune drops off sosharply that it feels like being at the edge of cliff.
I sit with my back to the wind, and i can still feel it bouncing off my chin and my forehead. One straggling windsurfer carves a clumsy jibe and falls over. The dune drops off like a cliff, kids duneboard down it and then walk back up. Don´t sit down, I realize, it gets more sand in your eyes. Sand sticks to my sunscreened face. We stand at the edge of the dune, and watch the show almost until it ends. The sunset creates an amazing canvas in the minutes just after the sun goes down, in which the blue sky almost appears to radiate like rays to the backdrop of the crimson sunset. I suppose you´d have to see it to make sense of it,  I'll hope to post some soon.

Oct 1
Walking anywhere in the environs of Jericoacoara is a reminder of the hostile beauty of these environs. The town is sheltered from the wind by a large hill, with most the restaurants and hotels and pousadas
hidden from the constant gusts. Here behind the mountain the scene is divine, the sun sines over the water and heats everything to a tropical baking point while the breeze cools everything back down. The rustling of the palms compliments the sound of the waves breaking on the shore. We took a one hour hike out to the Pedra Furada, a scenic arch-liked rock formation just down the winding coastline. Five minutes out and you start to feel it. The wind pushes air into your mouth, it blows sand into your eyes. The sand whips against your skin
hard enough to hurt. It makes you envious of the sailboarders out on the water who have figured out how to enjoy the wind without being pelted by the sand.

I was going to try my hand at sandboarding, but couldn’t  find anyone around to rent me a board. Probably better, since sandboarding is not far from snowboarding, which is a bit like skiing,  which I suck at. Instead I decided to run up on the big dune and the charge down the edge. The jog starts out easy but gets harder as you get more exposed to the wind. The gusts created a bizarre echo in my  ears that almost seemed to harmonize with my breathing. My feet sank into the sand at first, but eventually I figured out that you can get
a bit more grip by landing on the darker parts of the sand, the lower parts of those rippled dunes that appear in those Middle-East evoking desert movies. The view from the top is astonishing. To the right a sheer drop off to the Atlantic, with kit surfers whipping back and forth through the choppy water. To the left another striking dune that gave the place an almost Sahara like feel, and a line of shaking palm trees. I charged back down the steep edge, my feet plunging in almost a foot with each step. At the bottom I was again jogging on the flat sand, but this time with the wind in my face, ready to blow my hat off  my head. This is not an easy place to get to and, I would guess with winds like this, is not always a very easy place to live.
***
The outdoor lounge at the Villa Kilongo lodge was possibly one of the things I´ll miss most about this place. It´s a wide area with a palm-thatched roof and curtains along the side that has chairs, couches, an some amazingly comfortable chaise-lounge type things made out of palm fiber. There´s a pool table, WiFi, and an assorted collection of trashy fashion magazines that my wife enjoys reading. The place is a good five degrees colder than the outdoors during the heat of mid-day, and there´s hardly anyone in it. Sitting there for a
few hours, I thought to myself, am I really going to leave this place?  Am I insane? That´s when you know you´ve picked the right spot for a vacation.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Fortaleza

Sept 29

Fortaleza is a modern city that's somewhat non-descript in its urban beachiness. I've been a bit disappointed that the Portuguese sounds a lot more carioca than the typical Lula-style northeast accent I was expecting. We didn't have much time so we only got to see a few things. The Dragao do Mar cultural center was quite a cool concept that linked old houses turned into bars with a modern complex housing an outoodr theater, an area of art exhibitions, and an open plaza-like space. We took a quick stroll along the Praia Meirelles after arriving. I enjoyed the sight of a couple wind turbines along the beach, taking advantage of the state's fabulous wind conditions. I'd forgotten how nice it can be just to sit on the beach with the breeze blowing across my face as I sip coconut juice. Yes, I live in Rio and have the beach a quick Metro ride away, but it's easy to get out of the habit, believe me.

We took a walk along the main boulevard on the beach, which is alive with joggers and in-line skaters much like Copacabaca on a warm night. The place is also booming with ads for comedy shows -- guys on bikes, guys in cars, cranking out promos for a night of jokes. One featured something called the Penis Dialogues, likely a take off from the Vagina Monologues 10 years ago. I wished we'd had a bit more time to look around.

Brazil's northeast, the world's best vacation

I'm back from the most amazing vacation of my life. I chronicled this one more intensely than any other, perhaps because I perceived its eminence from the outset, or possibly because the trip was so logistically complex that it warranted documentation. Our trip took us to the spectacular beach of Jericoacoara, the amazing Delta of the Parnaiba River, and the brethtaking fresh-water sand dune lakes known as the Lencois Maranhenses. The trip started with a flight to the city of Fortaleza and ended with a flight back to Rio from the city of Sao Luis. I intentionally avoided bringing a laptop on this trip, which I'm glad of. And I also decided to avoid spending too much time typing on my Blackberry since I've already suffered enough bouts of carpal tunnel. Which means that the first take on all of this came by -- gasp! -- pen and paper.  I enjoyed having a notebook on hand to jot down whatever I was thinking or seeing and hope it will become a habit for me on future trips.  This means I've had to retype all of this to get it onto my blog. I'll be posting chronicles of each day of the vacation, starting today. There's a lot here.

We hope to have pictures ready pretty soon, but some are the old school non-digital kind (our camera clogged up with sand in Jericoacoara so we picked up a point and shoot to replace it). So they may take some time. I won't be offended if people skip the text saga and go straight for the pictures. I hope it might build interest in doing this trip. It's not cheap and its complicated in some ways, but its not lightly that I say this was the most memorable vacation of my life. And I'd like to thank our dear friend Tatiana for making the arrangements that allowed all this to happen.