The Reef-Raff of Brazil


Despite having my luggage lost in Detroit, with still no guarantees as to when it will arrive, I was fortunate enough to have met up with one of my fellow trainees the first night of my arrival in Brazil.  This having been my first stint at travelling, I was thankful that, as it turned out, her hostel was just across the street from mine.

After all was said and done in the morning, we decided to make our way across the street to The Beach.

Now, every coast has its own definition of the beach.  Seattle has rocky beaches where people bundled up in sweaters and raincoats skip the smooth, grey stones into the frigid Puget Sound.  Southern California sees silicone Baywatch babes bouncing around with plastic Ken dolls, pretending that the water is actually warm and their boobs are actually real.

But never, NEVER have I seen anything like the organism which is The Beach of Salvador.

From up on the boardwalk, the beach looks like a cartoon.  Every possible inch of sand is hidden by yellow and red umbrellas.  All you see is a sea of yellow and red; a field of poppies that curve along the edge of the surf, a veritable garden of umbrellas bordered by a rich row of brown bodies playing in the waves before finally leading out to deeper waters, canoes, fishing boats, sailboats and eventually freight ships.  A Brazilian parfait of vivid.

A beautiful backdrop to behold, but the true magic of The Beach takes place beneath this seamless canopy.

The sun was scorching hot and since I had already acquired a sunburn from an 8:00 am meditation on the rocks, we decided to join the throng, rent umbrellas, take a deep breath and submerge our bodies beneath the surface.

A Brazilian woman found a clearing for us, shouted to a young man in Portugese to bring our gear.  He brought over two low-rider beach chairs, planted the base of the umbrella in the sand, positioned it over our bodies to provide shade and then walked away.  No exhange of money, nothing.

And quite suddenly, we were in the midst of such a thriving, bustling organism, (look out Nemo)  it rivals that of the great coral reefs.

Hundreds of vendors navigated the sands, ducking their heads between umbrellas and shouting out the names of their goods.  Their announcements were speckled with the thick “thh” and “zzhh” sounds which color the Portugese language.  They battled the hot sun selling everything you could possibly want or desire without ever having to leave your beach chair.

Candy, gum, peanuts, cashews, cigarettes, ice cream,  coconuts cut open with machetes with straws stuck inside (tastes like sweet, sweaty feet), ceviche, skewers of shrimp, skewers of beef, skewers of chicken, blow-up water toys, sunscreen, sunglasses, sunhats, hammocks, jewelery, saris, beer, capirhinias, dresses, tube tops, rice, grilled meats, bean cakes and coconut cakes, salad, grilled fish, soup served out of a giant thermos by this huge Brazilian mama with the most pendulous breasts.  Young vendors walked around with buckets of hot coals, a fan, and Quiejo (cheese) on a stick that they would grill and fan over their coals until it was brown and gooey and delicious.  (Their buckets, I later noticed, were made of old paint cans, and I couldn’t help but question the toxicity of the Queso.)  The ice cream man after serving your ice cream topped with chocolate sauce would walk around the beach with a squeeze bottle, putting extra sauce on your cone after you were half-way finished……I mean, imagine if someone took your bag of popcorn half-way through a movie just to add more butter.  Boys would walk around with watering cans filled with sea-water, rinsing the sand from your feet and cooling you off….FOR FREE.  (Sorry, my American-born, feet-squeamish-self has a hard time wrapping my brain around why someone in their right mind might do this.)

In every direction, this organism was teeming and pulsing with life and activity.  To my left, an eight-ish year old Brazilian boy started playing with the hair of a nearby woman, a stranger, combing it with his fingers and styling it repeatedly….seemingly just for fun.  A gaggle of Brazilian girls gathered to my right, swarming a group of Japanese tourists, originally asking for money, but finally befriending them, when an on-looking tourist from Sao Paulo started feeding the Brazilian girls English words to say to the Japanese girls.  Eventually, complete with a Brazilian flag and “peace fingers”, the Japanese girls lined up in front of the surf, surrounded by the ten or twelve ecstatic ninas for a photo.

And this beach, on a MONDAY, was not crowded with lobster-like tourists (like me), but jammed packed full of locals, kids, families, and some of the skimpiest bathing suits I have ever seen on both the beautiful and the rotund.

And like any efficient organism, this well-oiled machine was completely self-sustaining.  The Brazilians sampled the wares from the vendors while casually, but attentively, watching their children play in the surf.  Their children picked up garbage bags and water bottles and turned them into beach toys.  The homeless and the thrifty walked through picking up the beer cans and recyclables, and during our evening walk along the beach, there was practically no evidence of the melee that had taken place there just hours before sunset.

When we finally finished our beers and started to pack up, our umbrella lady folded up our chairs, collapsed our umbrella and asked for 8 REALS (about 5 dollars) for an entire sunny day of quite possibly the most amazing people watching I have EVER had the chance to participate in.

And THAT is the organism which is The Beach.


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