Brasil, Te Amo.

Yesterday, in the back of a ute, I bounced through a national park of sand dunes and coconut trees with a baby strapped to my chest until I arrived at a true oasis on the North Eastern coast of Brazil, Jericoacoara (Jeri-kwa-kwara). It’s pretty remote, it’s buzzing with travelers, kite surfers and locals, and my god, it’s beautiful.  We’d left the small coastal town of Fleshieras that morning with our new friend, Andre, a cousin of our other Brazilian friends, Ness and Raph. Andre has been putting us up in the Pousada he runs, but he’s taken some time off this weekend to show us around Ceara, the state he loves and calls home. As we groaned carefully over those dunes and through the freshwater lagoons, I had time to take stock of my experiences in Brazil so far. It was clear to me then, through the movie of memories that flickered through my mind, I was in love with this country.

If you’d asked me about Brazil before we arrived, I would have bemoaned the visa application experience. I would’ve told you it was arduous and ridiculous, and had I known how painful it was going to be, I would never have booked all those flights in and out of the country. Now, as I sit here with a sandy baby on my breast, listening to the wind ruffle the palm fronds, I know I’d go through that visa process six times over and smile all the while, just to get where I am today.

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Brazil steals your heart. It’s the beating drums in the rolling, steep streets of Santa Teresa. It’s the dancing in the night through a crowd of colour. It’s sprawling cities combined with mountain views. It’s the glean of a thousand stranger’s smiles that shine down on our son every day. It’s the icy cold coconut that sweetens my salty lips. It’s my toes in the sand with a thousand other toes.

It’s beaches packed to the brim with people, umbrellas, bronzed bottoms and in that, a sense of community that makes rubbing shoulders with your neighbour on the foreshore seem right! In Australia, I know we’d gasp at the thought of having to share our patch of sand with another possie. No doubt we’d need a radius of personal space that matches a football field to feel content. Here, you crawl and duck under brollies and between chairs to squeeze into your spot within the crowded beach because that means you are among friends and family and the people you’ve shared that beach with for 30,40 or 50-something years.

You see, Brazil is packed with people, and as far as I can tell, they are all family.

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The Wittys have been blessed on this tropical trip. Our experiences have been fortified by special connections with old friends… and old friends who know how to party!  Witty had two great mates in Australia who returned home to Brazil to start their family a few years back. Now living between the coast and Belo Horizonte, Raph and Ness, with their two babies and extensive families, took us into their homes and showed us la boa vida! In the country where we predicted we’d be working our hardest as lone traveling parents, instead we found ourselves engulfed in family… in friendship, love and bloody good times! I’m not gonna lie: it’ll be hard to leave.

We left Rio de Janiero after an incredible stay with a beautiful couple in Santa Teresa. Ion was a refugee from Romania who ended up in Brazil in the 70s. He bought this old house on the hill and married the beautiful Sheila from Leblon.

They’d made a life in this rustic, mansion-like home, surrounded by mango trees and in them, a family of marmosets that came down to greet us in the afternoons. Ion made the best caipirinhas, and Sheila gave the best hugs. She also gave young Atlas a tiny soft toy- it is a jaguar and we have named her Sheila. Finn kisses her daily with an open-mouthed passion acceptable only by 5 month-olds.

We arrived in Vitoria and were picked up by Raph, who took us to his and Ness’s family beach homes in Guadapari. It was there, that the beaches, the families and Carneval swept us away. Carneval can briefly be described as thriving, heaving and wild. But to experience it is so much more. I could spill adjectives all over the page, then spray them with hypercolour paint and sweat, and then make them bounce off the screen to the beat of 28 drums. That might start to depict the sensation. Instead, I reckon you should just go. I was embraced by hoardes of happy people in the street. Babies, kids, young couples, old lovers. I danced beside a doctor playing Spanish guitar on a deserted beach in the evening. I swooned with dozens as a 79 year old man in nothing but his leathered, brown skin and his DTs, hollered Frank Sinatra’s I did it my way on a busy side street (awesome, by the way). We danced, danced, danced. Oh yes. And there were a few celebratory drinks involved.

Staying with Ness’ family at their beachside apartment, we also learned how to recover, Brazilian style. Most of this happened at the breakfast table around 10 or 11 before we hit the beach downstairs again. It was also here that we learned how to eat like Brazilians. Tapioca pancakes were a main event, and this other sawdust-like substance called farofa went on pretty much everything. Witty and I thought hard about what we could match it with, and we introduced Vegemite to the family’s breakfast table. Suffice to say, while we do have some things in common with the Brazilians (like saying “Oi”as a greeting and drinking cold beer), the appreciation of Vegemite isn’t one of them.

Other memorable culinary gatherings were back yard BBQs. Raph’s parents put on a beautiful BBQ party one afternoon. Excitedly, we went to the fish market with Raph to scope out the local catch. Fresh and deliciously priced, Witty and I bought a bunch of lobster to add to the feast. There were many moments like these. Long afternoons with lots of laughs, slow evenings with good company and red wine. The festivities continued long into the nights and stretched all the way through Vitoria and on to Belo Horizonte. As I learned, the Brazilian working year doesn’t (un)officially start until every last drop of the good times and fiesta have been squeezed out of Carneval. I thought we had a lingering start to the year with January 25th as Australia day… but March as the kick off? Now these guys know how to live!

It was sad to leave our friends in Belo Horizonte. Raph and Ness showed us not only the charm of their country, but the variety of life here and the importance of family. Still, as will be the way on this journey, we must eventually leave everyone we meet. With huge hugs and big love, they sent us on our way, and into the arms of yet another another laid-back legend of Brazil, their cousin Andre.

Jericoacoara will be our last hurrah in this fine land and it is a warm, windy and divine way to end the Brazilian experience. Tonight we will wander up on the sand dunes and, as is customary up here, we will cheer and clap with the bronzed Brazilians as the sun sets over the water. Then we will wander back down to the beach, Finn will squeal and gurgle (sing) again as the capoeira drumming starts and the dancers will form in a circle by the water’s edge. Brasil, Te Amo.

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Local artist in Fleshieras

Saints of Buenos Aires

We found ourselves in San Telmo. Hallelujah! Back in BA, we were keen to meet up with Sir Gringo, my brother- a true force to be reckoned with- and his wild woman, Miss Chelle. The two were en-route from Australia to Ushuaia in Argentina’s south, where they would then set sail to our planet’s most southern desert, Antarctica. What legends. Entrepid travel does seem to run in the family. Given this wild adventure was nigh upon them, it seemed fitting to spend these precious pre-sea voyage days in San Telmo, the barrio named after the Patron Saint of Seafarers. Arghhhhhh!

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To be honest, the seafaring-ness of San Telmo wasn’t starkly obvious to me. Besides the drunks who wander its cobble-stoned streets and stagger with sea-like legs, San Telmo is more of an inner city enclave than anything oceanic. It’s a beautiful, ageing beast. With a grandeur that has long since faded, its impressive architecture and weathered walls draw crowds of tourists and artists to its quarters. We loved this place.

Our home was a a reformed warehouse with huge timber slabs for floorboards, kitchen surfaces that were once carpenters’ workbenches and the high walls, decorated with cinematic artwork, made it all the more funky. It was a space spilling with natural light and somehow, its 4th floor windows were wrapped up in greenery and vines. A soothing touch to contrast those industrial edges.

Suffice to say, when we were done wandering miles of markets or admiring tango dancers as they busked in the plazas, this arty loft gave us cool, air-conditioned refuge from the hot streets of San Telmo.

We nailed a few on-foot adventures through various barrios like the famous La Boca, and we loved our trip up to Tigre with its Venice-like canals, but truth be told, our AirBnB home was where it was at. The city’s sights were great, but it was the second time my brother had spent time with his nephew, and the first time Miss Chelle got to fall in love with our little saint. While we are often marveling at the sights, sounds and flavours of these places we visit, the truth is, there is still so much marveling of young Atlas to be done. To share his smiles, chuckles, cuddles and ever-growing personality with family, well, that is a journey in itself. And so it was: steak feasts at home were the flavour of the week, uncle Gringo took Finn on magic carpet rides across the slippery floorboards and off course, Witty taught Finn to dance the puppet tango.  When in San Telmo…

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Back to Bariloche

In the summer of 2008 I was backpacking through Argentina, and Bariloche is where I met up with my best mate, Angie, to begin adventures together across the Americas.  I remember falling in love with the town, with its Swiss, alpine-style houses of stone and wood that were dotted alongside glacial lakes of stunning sapphire hues. It was a hiker’s paradise with fairy-tale charm. It seemed like every vista over every hill and lake had been painted there.  Picture perfect stuff.

Immediately, at the ripe age of 25, I imagined myself returning to that place one day, living some groovy, bohemian lifestyle that so appealed to me then. Me and my man. A little family. In between outdoor explorations, we would play house, bake bread and my babies would sprout up around me, extraordinary and earthly; a perfect product of this pristine environment. Ha! A classic, fleeting hippie travel dream.The funny thing is, while I grew older a different way and chose a different type of wonderful life with a very unbohemian man, somehow I did make it back, and without meaning to, a version of that distant day dream did come true!

Here I am, 9 years later, living in a adobe mud house by the lake with my best friend, her man, my husband and kid! On paper, that doesn’t sound so unbohemain after all! In an eco-dream AirBnB, we spend our days swimming in the frighteningly cold glacial lakes, toasting ourselves afterward under the brilliant sun, baking bread in our tiny, mosaic kitchen, and cozying up in the back yard by the fire, grilling great cuts of carne over the coals. To prove we haven’t all but given up our modern ways, I concede that we miss the WiFi a bit (which oddly only works in the parsley patch outside) but it ain’t bad, this life!

We are surrounded by organic veggies and herbs, trees dripping with apples, plums and  bushes of blackberries. Angie and Jonno go out for afternoon forages and come home with baggies of freshly plucked treats! Witty and I forage equally as hard down at the corner store for boutique beer and good Malbec. Or thumb a ride to town for more urban exploits. In the arvos back by the casa de Aussies, we sip endless cups of tea or drink said beer and wine.

The kids in the street ride by on horses, Finn hangs out under the trees perfecting his newfound  ability to roll, and we whittle away the time playing cards, crocheting beanies and cooing, like smitten kittens, at that ballooning, gordito baby on the grass!

It’s not all hitchiking and back yard barbeques, though. we’ve ventured out of this barrio a few times. With a hire car, we’ve squished in like sardines and driven to other lakes and cutsie log cabin towns in the region. Markets are a must-see around these villages, with plenty of beautiful jewelry, local honey and produce to drool over. And the hippies at them are burning incense that must be unique to this continent, as the scent conjures up memories of ayahuasca nights that I’ve had with Angie in years past. How our curiosities have mellowed! Now we are more interested in the gelaterias and chocolate shops… or the flavor of fermented hops and grapes.

Being in the company of super-adventurists like A and J, we’ve also convinced young Atlas to get in the hiking pack from time to time.  He just completed his first summit climb, cerro campanario. At a dizzying  height of 1.049 m, this peak offers one of the most beautiful views in the world. Combo that with a cute kids in the foreground…. my sort of picture perfect.

I could get used to this lifestyle,  but the little boho dream won’t be forever this time round. our year long honeymooners are about to move on to live on a permaculture farm in the north and get cultured in that regard. As for me and my boys,  we will be heading back to BA where a chance reunion with my brother and his gal awaits! Until then,  I bask in the joy of being back in Bariloche with my psuedo-bohemian possie. Tonight another asado is roasting on the coals, and some champagne is chilling in the fridge. That’s how we roll!

Packing for ‘Just in case’

When packing for this trip, my Aunty Libby recently reminded me of my old motto: “Never pack for ‘just in case'”. It’s been a rule I’ve stuck to ruthlessly over the years, and it’s gotten me around the globe very well, though I have found myself occasionally longing for that extra frock or knitted cotton number that got axed on the final repack.

Also in previous overseas trips, Witty and I have packed with flippant disregard to our health. We have sometimes managed to get most of the immunisations, and at the 11th hour we’ve thrown in a pack of antibiotics from the fridge, but generally, we’ve winged it.

These days with young Atlas in tow, those old habits and that well-worn motto have been tossed out like yesterday’s trash. Today we are, ahem, ‘organised’. And we attribute this monumental change in packing attitude to ‘the Finn Effect’.

As it turns out, the Finn Effect has really found its place in our life.

The Finn effect meant, that for the 16 hour journey across the Pacific ocean, packing  for’just in case’ hit the big-time. Just in case Finn cracked it, we had toys and ‘schnuggly blankets’.  Just in case Finn cracked it and then Mama cracked a few vinos to calm the nerves, we had frozen breast milk and formula at the ready. Just in case Finn cracked through the nappies, we had multiple changes of clothes on board (for him and us). Just in case Finn’s crackin’ began to cause cracks in calm of the cabin clientele, Witty had 34 pairs of earplugs stuffed in his bag, ready to bung into to any passenger with a furrowed brow! Yup. We were ‘just in casing ‘the hell out of this. And to top it all off, we had the things we were sure we wouldn’t need: a thermometer, Bonjela teething goop, baby Panadol, and antihistamines and an epi-pen (Dad’s allergic to penicilin, Mama’s… idiopathic).  We felt well pleased with ourselves, stepping up from our backpacking days to this parenting daze with relative organisation.

As it should be with ‘Just in case’ items, I’m happy to say we didn’t need nearly any of it! The flight was relatively free from drama. Finn slept through every ascent and decent, he tuned the air-hostesses with his charm, and no nappies cracked nor teeth cracked through.

I’m not gonna say I want to do a long-haul with an infant again any time soon. There were cracks, but let’s not blame it all on the baby. I mean, our son probably thinks we are the tyrants for making him sit in a dim, blue-lit tube with wild, white noise and a sea of stoned faces, staring at blue-grey boxes on the back of their seats… for what felt like half his life. But he made it and so did we. Buenos Aires, here we come!

I’d like to say that’s the end of this blog, but there’s another part to it; a lesson learned.

We landed on a hot tarmac, ploughed through the airport and taxi’d to our apartment in the late afternoon. Space. Bliss. I passed out, exhausted by the trip and an odd hit of hay fever. I woke late, around 10pm. Witty had been out fossicking for food, and come back with salad and beer. The brekky eggs we tasted on the plane had been terrible so we woofed down the salads but they barely touched the sides. And our barrio, Palermo Hollywood, was still quietly buzzing, late on a Sunday night. Witty had some cash and that’s all we needed, so with baby in pram, we took to the streets. I whacked on some lippy, fro’d the hair and locked the door with my bag behind me, free at last from lugging around all that unnecessary junk.

Within a few minutes we were in a swanky burger bar and I was clumsily translating the Spanish menu to Witty. The hayfever had gone but then I felt a strange ache up high in my tummy. Maybe reflux. We ordered, and then, as we cheers’d and took our first celebratory sips of cerveza, it hit me. The itch in my ear drums. The scratch in my throat. The prickling palms of my hands. I hadn’t been here in 4 years, yet suddenly, in an instant, I was back in the monster’s cage. Ms Anaphylaxis had returned.

Ms Anaphylaxis and me, we’ve had a hit and miss relationship over the years. It all started at a pre-wedding dinner party in Cambodia. My advice to you is: don’t try the deep-fried tarantula. Since that night, where she really got under my skin (and nearly killed me) I’ve tried to break it off with her through tests, diets, therapy.. and time. Yet curiously, while I’ve stopped eating tarantula completely, the bitch still comes back to bite me. And for no consistent reason. In the past 10 years she’s seen me hospitalised 7 times, but over time I’ve learned to tame her with drugs. Antihistamines are my weapon. The epi-pen is my life insurance policy. And it’s all about timing.

When I met Witty, it had been 2 years with no relapse. I thought, at last, my bitter relationship with this demon was over. Then there was one last horrid hurrah in East Timor, or so I’d hoped it was the last. Witty had cared for me there in our hotel room like a legend. There was a nurse down the hall. We had antihistamines and an epi-pen. He did all the right things, and was still forced to watch his woman morph into a purple, rashy blimp, in excruciating pain. Still, he had help at hand and never faltered. It was scary, but that was it. Done. Then, as time went by, we forgot all about it. Nothing in 4 years. I was sure love had cured me.

Unfortunately not.

This was a new city with new circumstances, but we’d been here before, in this mess, together. This time, however, I’d misjudged my freedoms. The antihistamines and the epi-pen were in the bag… at home. And I was unarmed. We hurriedly threw some bills on the table for our uneaten food and hustled back to the house. The streets were calm and cool. I wheezed quietly as we pushed Finn in his pram along the cobble stoned streets. Bumping away and cooing, he had no idea how scared we both were.

Once we got home things went down the same way as they had in East Timor. I double dosed the antihistamines, Witty pulled out the epi-pen and pulled together taxi phone numbers and directions to the nearest hospital. I was on the floor, changing colour while Witty ran a bath to sooth my raised skin. If after 20 minutes, my throat didn’t improve, that epi-pen would’ve been in my thigh and we would have been in that car on our way to the hospital. As it happened, those little white pills did their work. I won’t go into the details but the reactions to the attack of Ms Anaphylaxis don’t end there- it’s an all night affair. And she kicked me while I was down. I was slammed by jetlag, baby-lag, and then with my body trying to kill me, I had to gorge on comatosing pills. Still, Witty took on care of me, and importantly, he took care of young Atlas.

I learned two important things from this episode.

One is that death is more real and life is more precious when you have a baby to keep alive. I have feared death before, but I’ve never valued my life more than I do now, knowing that my survival increases my son’s chances at life in this world.

The other is that Ms Anaphylaxis is still a part of our life and she ain’t going away just yet. But we are okay with that now. We realise it’s not over, and I’ve accepted that our love doesn’t conquer absolutely everything. So she can come back if she must, and we’ll be ready. Now we wander the streets of BA, the same happy trio. And tucked away in a nappy bag is a little white box of pills and an epi-pen.. for just in case.

 

 

 

 

 

It’s time to go

Everyone has their own way of preparing for a grand departure. In the flurry of it all, it’s important to look out for some unique indicators that it’s really time to go. Like when your mother stands sweating in your shed, among a sea of vacume-bagged personal belongings that you know you really don’t need to keep. But you’re keeping them.

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And she’s still smiling.

Or when your fingers smell like moth balls, or when you’ve had the cleaners do an “exit clean”multiple times and you’re still not “exiting”.

Like when your husband has opted, not to (please) pack his bag, but to go to war with every last palm tree standing in the back yard- may God grant his wish that he return in a year and never pick up a palm frond again.

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It’s probably time to go, when you’re not willing to crack a new tube of vegemite and you have to cut open the pack to get the last dregs out for brekky. Or perhaps, truly, when the vegemite dregs are gone and the only good thing in the fridge to go with eggs is … spring onion.

Like when you’ve “practice-packed” 6 times and for some reason the baby items still consume 80% of the packing space. Just surrender and go.

Like when you’ve swapped sleep for drawing up to-do lists on pieces of paper beside your bed, and emailing yourself tasks in the middle of the night.

Or this is a good one- like when, with 24 hours before departure, senseless cotastrophising starts, and rears its head in humourous ways, like thinking your child can’t hear you, like he might be deaf in one ear, and yep, like a neurotic mother, you rush him back to the hospital for that hearing test he already passed at birth. Ah yes, says the ENT specialist, it’s time to go, crazy lady.

Like when you’ve had too many sad and happy farewells and too many farewell champagnes. Wait. you can never have too many champagnes.

It’s really clear, when you wake up on that last morning at sunrise, the lists are almost all ticked off, and just quietly, the sky seems to tell you with its clouds and its colour, that the departure burden has lifted. You look forward and upward. You feel your heart and tummy tickle with anticipation and you can imagine yourself soaring up there with your son and your husband, sky high.

The truth is, there was still work to do after that sunrise. And plenty of sweating. But with endless support from the best parents one could ever hope for, the work load was light and the company was sweet. When planning for a global adventure with small child and large husband, you must accept all  the love and help you are offered, let go of the lists at some point and be satisfied. The work will never be done until you get to the airport. At least that was the case for me. And we now know, it’s time to go.

27/01/2017 Travel Warning Released

By Witty

travel-alertThe Wittys are bouncing around the globe,  terrorising AirBnBs, Uber drivers, waiters, and unsuspecting passengers hoping to sleep. If you find yourself in their path make like a tree and leave. Or if your plan is to stay and fight the fury, then have your survival kit pressed and ironed.

Disaster Zones Forecasted (DZF): By Sunday 29 January Argentina hit with full velocity. Brazil Carnival in February, USA April. Canada July, Spain August, before pin balling around Europe for 4 months, Philippines late November, Fingal NSW gets hit for Xmas. All updates come through this site, Facecrack or Whatsapp. Godspeed.