from Sandy Needham

Friday, August 12, 2011

Brazil Dispatch 34

We are all tucked in under the mosquito net, it’s after midnight. We hear…a cowbell? Out to the balcony to investigate: oh. Six cows ambling along our road, unattended. Except three of them are on the inside of the coconut field fence, three outside, and there’s no access we know of to the inside of the field from that direction. They seemed puzzled themselves by this fence between them, but we figured they would all meet up at the highway, so returned to bed as the cowbell faded.

Other sounds that pierce the rhythmic white noise of the ocean here: a migrating bird that sounds like the tea kettle going off (I always head towards the tea kettle, confused); stray cats who have screeching 2:00am arguments over who rules our yard; the ingenious roving vehicles with speakers blasting all the daily specials at the grocery store (too blurry to understand); the distant security alarm of an anonymous house beyond the coconut field which goes off over and over for the duration, lasting a whole day and night; the loud, cackling laughter from our caretaker’s cottage, which is Eliselma – our twice-a-week maid – reacting to the dubious humor of Brazilian television all evening (I feel like Jane Eyre!); oh…and additional wonderful birdsongs - always passing through; the whisper of breeze; rain; the whoosh of strong winds. No lasting complaints, really!

The rainy season ended pretty abruptly mid-July and the windy season kicked in, though we have some perfect summery days with just mild breezes, occasional rain, some cool evenings, and days with all of the above! About now is the mid-point of winter, and we actually wore our warm PJ’s once when it got to around 67°, but by 3:00am it was hot and we had to give up on that idea. Our plants are green and healthy from the rainy months, and soon we will power wash all the dark, puddle-stained areas of our beautiful stones and paint the house trim, just like spring up north!

We took a three-day trip with friends to Serra do São Bento, a place in the interior of our state, Rio Grande do Norte. When we moved almost 5 years ago, we drove to Natal from Ceará along a forbidding highway landscape and had never seen any other part of our state since. I must now attest to its beauty. As we approached the São Bento area, we all had the same reaction to the other-worldly landscape of green rolling hills and the mounds of rock rising randomly out of them: alien.

mounds  more mounds

Our lovely motel had the great view above, and very expensive bad food and service. It is a disquieting clash when these places try to be sophisticated, but rely on the innocents from the interior to pull that off…totally unfair to both the helpers and the customers. But I woke up to the amazing fragrance of fresh herva doce – licorice – wafting over our balcony from the myriad plants around, and I savored the view and aroma while doing my yoga.

The highlight of the trip was a side excursion to the national park called Pedra da Boca (Rock of the Mouth) on the border with the next state south (Paraíba):


                                            A guide led us past the Pedra da Caveira (Skull Rock): Skull                                             







We passed so many types of plants, trees and wildflowers, my father’s little verse called ‘Hawaii’ kept coming to mind:

I’m glad it’s not my duty

To identify the beauty.

Everyone but Hian and me got rigged up in order to rope their way down a rock mound. I found a resting spot:


From left: Ana Paula (S. of Brazil), Jesseli, her daughter with Hian (Singapore-not pictured), Rob Hofman (Australia), Newton, Rob’s wife Samantha (London). Newt descending.

descending  perch

                        We saw old petroglyphs (no one knows their age):petroglyphs













By the time we headed back towards the parking lot it was absolutely sluicing rain. Unfortunately, I have no photos of our bedraggled group slogging along in the mud, stopping sopping wet under a kind woman’s porch overhang to wring out wraps and wait for Hian to arrive with the car…because our cameras would have been ruined!

train stationA couple of local, very local haunts supplied us with very local fare for lunches (also mixed reviews, but no refinancing necessary). En route home we stopped for lunch at a former train station in Nisia Floresta, not far from Natal, where the beauty, good food, good service and prices were all in perfect balance! The colonial architecture is lovely (the train ran between Recife and Fortaleza until 20 years ago). To our surprise, they sell a guaraná (Brazilian fruit soft drink) named ‘Jesus’ here, no kidding:



Balcony ViewIn the meantime, we have been staying home more than usual, something that makes me supremely happy, as I am as enamored of my home as ever. Newton has finally taken up tennis again after five years, so is supremely happy, too, with his two lessons-plus-free play per week. I am on break from my Portuguese classes, so never need to know what day it is! The second semester will start at the federal university on September 12th, which means I can further procrastinate cleaning out our walk-in closet, as I made the start of classes my deadline. I have also been laid low for a week with a stomach virus, missing my favorite foods and impersonating a slug and a lug. Surprisingly enough, the 12 exquisite oysters, martini and chocolate mousse at Hian’s restaurant the other night made me feel like myself again!





jake dress 6Our son Jake lost a bet and was required to play in the women’s Texas Hold’em tournament, one of the events around the annual World Series of Poker Tournament in Las Vegas…in drag. It was probably a good thing that he did not win!…(though by Nevada law, tournaments cannot be exclusive.)

He also played in the main event of the WSP for the fourth year, lasting till the third day. He just returned from Mexico, where online play is possible.










Elise is in heaven with too much professional work in LA. She is currently under contract with the Jonas Group, shooting and editing all sorts of fun things for their teen website, including an interview with the stupendously friendly and funny Dolly Parton! She also has some free-lance graphic design work. Elise felt like she had really arrived in LA when she stopped at a stoplight in her little convertible and Demi Lovato - a teen star she had accompanied as videographer on two South American tours – rolled down the darkened window of a limo in the next lane and called out, “Elise!”

I cannot imagine a luckier person than I, even with my petty complaints about the third world. Guess I would have a few of those if I were in the USA right now, anyway! What nonsense, our absurd Congress, and our being decimated by greed. Speaking of third world, I’m here if you need any tips in the coming months. With the dramatic fall of the dollar and some price increases here, our buying power has decreased by half since we arrived in 2006. Thank goodness room and board are still cheaper and life simpler here!




  1. The quiet life does sound like a real vacation, or as they are calling them here lately, a staycation. Brazil must have some wonderful natural areas to visit. It is only slightly smaller than the U.S., and if you don't count Alaska is is larger. What a wonderful place to experience the beauties and sounds of nature.

    Our night sounds have disappeared in the heat of this summer. Our new windows seal out even the sounds of passing trains that are only 2 blocks away. I look forward to the fall when we can open the windows to the train whistles, the tree frogs, the birds and the squirrels.

    It sounds like Elise's move was a good one for her career. She must be falling right into life in LA. Nice little frock on Jake, although a bit closer shave might have helped.

    As for our Congress, I am hopeful that the ultra right wing is getting plenty of rope to hang itself in the next elections. I'm hoping the public has had enough of this new group of greedy republicans and votes them back out of office.

  2. Do you guys have heat in the house if you needed it? Amazing how you write so descriptively and yet I still have questions to ask! I really enjoyed that dispatch :)


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