The final nights of this long journey have begun. Robin Rawhide the Suzuki DL 650, pimped up in Jamie’s homemade welding and loaded down with souvenirs took us 18,500 miles and the other 7000, we made by train, plane and automobile. The taxi pulls away and we follow the lavishly ivied walls to a gated entrance that rumbles back on castors after a confusingly Portuguese moment on the intercom. Inside is, simply put, a tiny paradise. A pale, turquoise swimming pool glops lazily at the edges beneath an enormous mango tree from which tiny lights are supended. The rolling view of Santa Theresa and the rest of Rio De Janeiro beyond can be enjoyed from the comfort of a great, egg shaped hanging chair or a series of plushly upholstered wicker sofas. There is a sauna, a ping pong table, great curling masses of vegetation and a fridge full of chilled beer. The whole place has a clean air of luxury which is, we all agree, just the way to spend the last 48 hours of our big trip. Suzie and David fly out this evening so, for the meantime, the four of us swim contentedly in the pool , staring up at the sky and listening to the sounds of the neighbourhood gearing up for Carnavale.
A clattery band is playing hip jiggling samba somewhere below us and a crowd is gathering in a nearby carpark. Suzie, Jamie and I hurry in to our clothes and scissor down the steep, cobbled roads together to see what’s happening. The steets are festooned, bizarrely, with Nintendo themed decorations pulled straight out of the Super Mario games of the early nineties. Gold, pixelated coins hang above the road and it is everything I can do not to run up a grab one whilst making a ‘kerrrbling!!!’ noise as we pass under them. We peer in to the party in the carpark as we pass, watching the crowds assemble, kids on shoulders, young and old alike.
Further down the road food stalls are being set up. Arepas, homemade coconut lollies, grilled chicken, fried yucca. Smoke wafts through the air and people take glurps from big bottles of beer and chat with one another aimiably. We are hunting for lunch amongst the crowds and we find what we are after at the lovely and old fashioned Bar Do Mineiro. It is a long, narrow bar entirely decorated in white tiles and black and white photographs. We are seated in the open French windows facing on to the street at wooden table whose surface has been washed soft after years of service. Suzie looks about the place and mutters about David who she wishes had joined us for our last lunch together. We left David peacefully sat by the swimming pool refusing all calls for outings or socialising and now she is worried he is missing out.
A waiter comes over and we order up celebratory, last day caipirinhas, big, fried fish and a big pot of feijoada for me. Feijoada, the national dish of Brazil, is a rich, thick stew of salted beef, beans and vegetables served with yucca flour and rice then garnished with orange slices. It is served up with ceremony in a thick, orange ceramic pot which is chipped around the edges after many contented servings. The black beans and thick chunks of tender beef have cooked down in to a deep, bruise coloured smear inside the pot which I heap upon the rice and sprinkle with the yucca. According to Marlene, a Brazilian friend of Suzie and David who cheerfully comes round to show me how to cook feijoada at the merest hint that I am interested, the yucca is cooked and pounded in to this course meal and it is used to soak up juices and impart its delicious, soft flavour in to your food.
The light pouring in through the windows and boozey wobble of the caipirinhas lends the meal a pleasant, timeless feel which will remain in my memory as a bright white slice of pleasure. It is, indeed, a shame that David is missing it and eventually we decide to haul ourselves back up the hill to keep him company. He is still sitting in the garden with his eyes closed and we call to him through the railings. He greets us cheerfully and, after we have been let in through the gates, we sit for a while and tell him about the atmosphere and food we have just enjoyed. Eventually though, the afternoon passes, it’s evening and time for them to go. They heave their bags from our room and we all creak down the street under the weight of them to catch a cab that will take them to the airport.
They squeeze the rucksacks in to the boot of a taxi that appears conveniently on time and big, squeezey hugs mark the end of their holiday. They climb in, waving and a slightly teary eyed Suzie is the last we see of them before they round the corner and we are alone again. It’s a weird feeling knowing that the end to our own trip is coming up and there is nobody but each other to share with.
Your mum looked a bit sad….
It’s strange now that they’ve gone.
Jamie nods, also feeling the almost tanglible absence.
Yeah, she was sad, she didn’t want it to end.
He replies and takes my hand. We wander down the street to the carpark where the carnavale pre-party is in full swing. The Nintendo themed street decorations suddenly make sense when we walk in. Everyone is in Super Mario fancy dress and the carpark is a musical, chattering rabble of walking mushrooms, Italian plumbers and twinkling princesses.
We stay for a while then head back down to the small high street at which we lunched earlier. The place is transformed with the onset of the evening. Carnavale proper starts in a couple of days but people here are ready to go now. The streets are awash with sweaty people drinking and shouting. Loud music is playing and there is an atmosphere not disimilar to that of a Friday night in Newcastle. It feels faintly uncomfortable like you might get nutted for looking at someone funny and this, in turn, feels funny because this is not what I have come to associate with easy going, laid back Rio. We had expected more costumes, samba, perhaps a parade but these are just young, topless men hooting. We duck back in to Bar Do Mineiro which has been barricaded off with a line of chairs and tables. The harrassed looking waiter gives a wary look as we approach but signals us through when he sees we are here to escape and spend money. We watch the revellers from the safety of a small table surrounded by crowds of fellow drinkers. The caipirinhas go down easily and evidently, everyone elses do too. When I emerge from the tiny, paper strewn and stinky toilet two girls fuzzily accost me in a rapid stream of Portuguese of which I catch nothing. I look blankly at them.
No…er..no falo Portuguese…
I say hopefully. They look at me a moment and burst in to English.
She wants to go! Tell her she can’t go, she has to stay with us!
shouts one girl, the taller of the two, pointing at her friend.
She wants to leave but we don’t want her to go!
I look at the blonde haired friend who is grinning at me.
I say with slightly more volume than intended.
You should stay!
I say and that seems to appease the tall girl and they melt back in to a big group of laughing people seated around a table. I tango my way back to our table through the obstructive bodies filling the bar and sit down in relief. This is not how I imagined carnavale.
Of course, this isn’t really carnvale. This is just Santa Theresa, a small part of Rio, having their warm up party. In the centre of the city are enormous stadia crawling with workmen working frantically (or as frantic as Brazilians ever get, which is to say…not that frantic) to get things finished for day one. There are enormous lines of floats decorated in piles of glitter, fish, mermaids, lions, balloons and elephants parked up along the highways, ready to be driven along the streets to the beat of an army of samba musicians. Hundreds of thousands of sequins are being sewn to piles of costumes and ostriches bottoms are plucked raw across the nation for the adornment of mountains of headdresses. Carnavale is a big, spectacular affair to which millions will flock. This, the rowdy crowds and bottle littered streets are just Rio limbering up. All the same, it’s tiring, like being stuck in the middle of the Notting Hill carnival just as things are going sour and we decide that the best option is to hide back at the hotel.
The next day is also spent hiding. The crowds have packed up and gone home, readying themselves for another evening of revelry later on, but hiding still feels like a pleasant option. We are tired, hot and ready for home. We are aching for dull British skies, for cups of tea that warm your fingers and the residual heat of the mug when you press it against your cheek. We miss the hey ho diddle fiddle British and we miss the feel of a nice bit of drizzle in our hair. I want a roast dinner, Jamie wants a takeaway from the Ghurka Cottage up Crystal Palace way. I want to see my mum and dad, Jamie wants to see the cats. As lovely, as this flower tumbling, sun lotion scented city is, we are at the end of our travelling tether, it’s time to go home. We are left just one more evening which we spend seated in the window of a calm, dimly lit bar watching thousands of people with flowers in their hair stream past the windows in pursuit of another party.
We have seen sixteen different countries, driven one motorbike and a pickup truck, taken nine flights, eleven boats, four coaches, two trains, two tuk-tuks and countless bus and taxi journeys. We have met people from Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, America, Holland, Australia, France and other places all over the globe. Four family members have flown in and flown back out again and we have caught up with old friends and new. There have been turtles and tapirs, there’s been cats, coatis and catfish. Fleets of drifting butterflies have flirted past and a billion of singing birds. Some were curious, some frightened, others still were sucked in to the bike wheels in a dismaying puff of loose feathers. We have dripped sweat over our passports and we have shivered in to our bowls of soup. This trip has taken us high over snowy mountains, burbling over endless plains, though forests and deserts. We have crossed the Golden Gate Bridge, the Panama Canal and the equator on this trip and eaten the best, the worst, the weirdest and the beaniest. A hundred cities have passed us by and a million people have stopped to watch us as we go. It’s been an exhausting, wonderful, vivid slab of bewilderment and now it’s at it’s end.
Our shoulders ache with the weight of our cheap holdalls when we get to the airport and we heave their vast weight on to a trolley and wait. We wait and wait and wait. The departure signs are all on the blink in the airport and the plane is delayed so we have only a dim idea of when we will leave and from where. It is a long, slow, boring afternoon of listening to This American Life episodes, reading with our minds elsewhere and tapping our toes. Time drips like chilled treacle from a wine bottle but eventually, eventually we are funneled through gate 9 and take our seats aboard the decrepit looking Condor plane which will take us home. At least, we hope it will. The seat cushions are lumpy, the arm rest controls pushed in and broken and the televisions descend cautiously from the ceiling as though they have stage fright. Each time we hit turbulence the picture shakes and fuzzes. The man sitting below our nearest film screening holds his arm up to steady the bouncing televison each time we pass through a patch of rumbling air and the staff look grim and resigned as they patrol the aisles. It is a nervous journey with much twisting and turning, aching backs and sighing but after nine hours in the air, England appears far beneath us.
Ladies & Gentlemen this is your captain speaking, we have just been cleared to land at the London Heathrow airport. Please make sure your seat belt is securely fastened and your chairs are in the upright position. The flight attendants are currently passing around the cabin to make a final compliance check and pick up any remaining cups and glasses. Thank you.
And the plane hurtles home towards London where the weather is damp, the skies are grey, the politics are up the spout but the tea is hot and the welcome warm.
Marlene is from Salvador in Brazil but has lived here with Terry, a British builder, for a long time. Her recipe is a little different from that of the feijoadas I had in Rio so I have given alternatives depending on how you’d prefer it. The Rio recipes are darker in colour and more meat heavy, Marlene’s is paler with more vegetables. She has also adapted her recipe for UK groceries which is helpful
1 kg salt beef soaked overnight. We used very heavily salted, jerky like dried beef which is hard to get here unless you have a Latin market nearby so if you can’t get this gnarly looking meat, use good quality stewing steak (and add salt at the end) or make your own salt beef (which is different from the salt beef used in Brazil) by soaking a joint of stewing steak in a mixture of salt and water for four days.
500g dried black beans (Latin American ones not Chinese ones, they taste different!) soaked overnight. Marlene actually used a paler, larger bean more like pinto beans but I think I prefer the black beans version.
2 spicey chorizo sausages or smoked Polish Kielbasa sausages cut in to 1 inch pieces
200g cubed pancetta or smokey streaky bacon.
2 onions, diced
Garlic- as many cloves as you wish, squashed.
A bunch of garden herbs- we used sage, oregano, bay and mint chopped finely but you can use whatever is in your garden. We also used onion leaves if you happen to be growing onions
1 litre good quality beef stock
one small white cabbage chopped in to 8 wedges
a chaw chaw- this is a green vegetable with a sucked in top like the lips of a very old man who has lost his false teeth. It is crunchy and fresh tasting and can be bought in Latin or Caribbean markets. You can substitute it with a kohlrabi or even radishes.- peeled and chopped in to 8 wedges.
Pigs trotters, tails, tongues or. Have them chopped in to chunks by the butcher.
Rinse the beans and put in to a large, heavy bottomed pan with the beef stock or a litre of water and allow to boil gently for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, cut the beef in to good, mouthful sized chunks and add to the pan along with the porky bits if you are using them then cover. Top the water up if necessary. the ingredients should be covered with liquid. Allow this to simmer for an hour, stirring occasionally and ensuring that the beans do not burn on the bottom.
Add the chopped onion and herbs to the pan and stir in followed by the pancetta or bacon and the sausage. ( I think I would probably fry the onion until golden before I did this but on this occasion, we didn’t). Allow this to simmer for another 30 minutes.
If you are going to add cabbage and chaw chaw for a lighter feijoada, add them now and allow to cook for a further 15 minutes or until tender.
When you are happy with consistancy of the sauce, it can be served thick and hearty or thinner like a soupy stew- add more water or cook more off depending on your preference, remove from the heat.
It is traditionally served with orange slices and rice. If you can get Latin American rice and steam it, then do so, it has a very specific taste which is completely different from Asian rice. You can also buy, in Brazilian shops, bags of Farinha which is basically yucca/cassava/manioc meal to sprinkle over the feijoada and soak up the juices. Marlene informs me that it’s hard to get decent Farinha here in the UK but should you be passing a Brazilian shop, you can always try it out.