Note to Self (102) Brazil

On November 23, 2011, we took a plane from New York JFK at 8 pm and landed in Sao Paulo the next morning around 8 am. The sun was high in the sky and the weather felt incredibly warm. Thanksgiving and the turkey seemed so far away. I forgot about my morning commute, work, the stress and my social activities. My Facebook and my Twitter would stay on standby mode for the next ten days. I really didn’t care. I was on vacation and I wanted to enjoy it, so I turned my phone off and left everything of my crazy life behind. I peeled the layers of my winter sweater and coat and put on a t-shirt and flip-flops. Despite the lack of sleep I felt energized.
Happy Thanksgiving!
Cachaça. Caipirinha. Lambada. It was now hot and steamy outside, almost too humid to stand the heat. Another drop of the sugary liquid made me feel alive again and I kept dancing to the rhythm of that music I heard years ago when I was still a child. Dreams of paradise filled my darkest fantasies, and I thought I’d never be able to touch the white sand and swim in the turquoise water because it didn’t exist.
The beach
I heard the sound of vultures cruising through rays of sunlight, waiting for a turtle to die on the shore. It captivated me and I watched the dreadful spectacle, nature at its best or worst, depending on how you look at it. Birds picked the flesh of the dying animal, unable to move, unable to defend itself against the angry beaks that devoured its tender meat. 
Vultures devouring a turtle
Waves rolled and crashed against my legs. Little fish nibbled my feet and crabs disappeared at the bottom of the ocean. I was mesmerized. I had never seen such beauty before. It felt like a new world had opened to me, and I embraced every moment of it, creating an imprint of the magical scenery in my brain so that it would last forever. 
Beautiful flowers
We drove for a couple hours through the mountains to reach Santiago Bay where we spent the first five days. All we did was sleep, eat, tan. A wonderful start of vacation. We had an entire beach for ourselves. A few chairs set in the sand and the rest of the strip was ours for days onward. 
Yep! It was only us.
The only downside to all the beauty surrounding us was the hungry mosquitoes that literally ate us alive every minute of every day and night. I’m still itching from their awful bites. But everything else was truly wonderful. Now I know paradise exists. 
Sunset over the Atlantic
Once the five days ended, we went to Sao Paulo. The city where twenty million people, rich and poor, live together but share nothing of their peculiar habits. On the highway we passed lots of Favelas and I looked, trying to understand how anybody could occupy the land like this. Locals told us they had been doing this for years, because nobody owned the land. Not even the government, we asked? Nope. It was public therefore anybody could build shacks and stay there while not paying taxes and stealing power from nearby high-tension lines. Gangs rule these neighborhoods. Drugs, prostitution, crimes ranging from petty thefts to murders occur there every day. Kids in rags run through dirty streets and chase a life that will stop in a dead end. No future is really possible, unless a few lucky ones manage to go to school and get an education. It hurt terribly to see such misery lying outside wealthy buildings gated behind high fences and guarded by an army of men all wearing bullet proof vests underneath their uniforms. 
View of the Favelas – heckeranddecker.wordpress.com
We arrived at the hotel and saw nothing that could cause us to panic yet we were repeatedly warned. Don’t go outside the few streets that are safe, make sure you’re always with somebody, watch your bag and belongings, don’t wear expensive jewelry and clothes, beware of who’s following you. These words made me feel uncomfortable. We must stay parked within a certain area. Outside, we could get mugged, beaten up, or worse killed. We had to take taxis to go from one place to the next, always lock doors and never display anything, such as cash, behind the windows. Our freedom had been reduced to the bare minimum. You felt like you constantly had to watch out for what might come to you and harm you. Your mind never stopped being in a state of alarm. Despite living in New York City, I experienced mixed emotions and started to worry. All of a sudden, the paradise had transformed itself into a realm of fear. 
A squatter building right in the middle of the city
One day I stood in a drug store looking for a few things to buy when all of a sudden I heard somebody talk to me in Portuguese. When I turned around I saw this poor girl holding a baby in her arms, begging for money. I instantly knew she came from the Favelas. And I walked away. I couldn’t give anything, because more would come, or follow me, trying to hurt my friends and me. We had been warned. I couldn’t be skeptical anymore. The first impression these poor kids give is vulnerability but they never wander alone. They move in groups and wait to find the perfect victim. Like the vultures I saw flying high in the sky above the dying turtle on the beach, they want only one thing: money, and they learned how to steal in order to get it.
View of Sao Paulo – Financial District – pictures taken from my law firm office
We spent time in nice places with wealthy people, and we saw their golden prisons far from all the violence and the misery of the Favelas. You feel like two worlds cohabitate without ever meeting each other. Extreme poverty faces extreme wealth, and there’s no in between. The image I’ll keep of Brazil is a distorted one; a paradise tainted with a heavy price to pay. You must surrender most of your freedom in order to stay safe. You must lock yourself behind fences and walls in order to enjoy your life. To me, not an idea I feel very comfortable with. 
Not such a free world when you look at it twice
Overall the stay was wonderful, rich in experiences and memories. We got to shop a lot, visit beautiful places, museums, eat delicious food and drink cocktails I’m still salivating about. 
View from the municipal market
The most delicious mortadella sandwich I’ve ever eaten – and Anthony Bourdain ate there too!
View from the outside of the Museum of Modern Art – the building looks like a UFO buried in the ground
In NYC we have Chinatown. Over there they have Japantown.
A traditional Pastel – fried on the outside with delicious melting cheese on the inside
Brazilian chicken croquettes known as Coxinhas
This cocktail was called Cote D’Azur – Vodka, lime, Curacao and sugar
We shared unforgettable moments, and it made the whole event worthwhile. I had no idea what Brazil was like. Now I know. It made me also realize how great New York is, and when we arrived back, I couldn’t wait to smell the stench of the City’s streets and hear ambulances sirens blast in my ears.
The real paradise was here. 
Thank you to my wonderful friends and our hosts for their hospitality!!

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