Saturday, October 15, 2011

Samba-ing into September

Well, this month has seen me hitting the road...or rather the skies...again.

I flew south to Brazil on a business trip to promote the English Language Program at a Canadian education fair in Sao Paulo. Although I've been to Brazil once before, it was my first visit to Sao Paulo and I couldn't get over the size of the city. It's ranked as the eighth largest city in the world by population and certainly the view from the airplane suggested it went on and on forever.

I was staying in the city centre and didn't really see far beyond the places I had to go for work but I did manage to squeeze in one treat by enjoying a meal with colleagues from other institutions at a Churrascaria.

Vento Haragano Churrascaria has been voted one of the best Brazilian steakhouses in Sao Paulo. It certainly lived up to its reputation although it wasn't cheap...but then nothing in Brazil is these days! I couldn't get over how expensive the country has become. The restaurant had huge racks of ribs rotating around a fire-pit in the window - it looked liked dinner at the Flintstone's! Inside, there was a huge salad bar and then servers dressed as gauchos circled the tables offering to carve various cuts of meat at your table. Depending on how ready you are to have more, you have a little card on the table to flip as a method of requesting more or taking a pass. I was in beef heaven but a little taken aback when one chap sliced through my beer glass as he was cutting a piece of meat off for me. I was somewhat relieved not to be at the end of that knife.

I moved on to Rio mid-week in order to attend an event for educational agents - the best way to describe it is speed-dating for agents and institutions. I saw around 50 agents for 30 minutes a piece.

Disappointingly, the weather in both Sao Paulo and Rio was not brilliant. Brazil is coming out of its winter and so although the sun did make the odd appearance and inspired me to buy a pair of new Havaianas flip flops, I was generally shivering most of the time.

I managed to pop down to Leblon beach for a five-minute stroll but other than viewing the odd glimpse of the Corcovado (Christ the Redeemer statue) from behind the cloud, I didn't manage to see much of Rio.

A highlight of the working week, which caused much excitement among the Canadian males at the event, in particular, was seeing a live samba band play. I have to say the samba dancers in Brazil, both male and female, really do wear very little and know how to shake what they have!

The Rock in Rio festival was also on at the time I was there and some of the acts were staying in the hotel. I saw Jay Kay of Jamiroquai wandering through the lobby, caught sight of Lenny Kravitz and his band heading out to their gig and ran into some of the Guns N' Roses band members as they arrived to stay at the hotel. I gather Shakira was also in the hotel but didn't catch this other booty-shaking queen.

As a bonus on this trip I managed to tack on a few days vacation. On the recommendation of my good friend and Brazil expert, Julian, I jumped on a bus and headed south to a little seaside town called Paraty on the Costa Verde. Paraty was a key port used by the Portuguese for shipping out gold and coffee. The old town is car free and made up of pretty white buildings, many of which are covered in Masonic symbols. The streets are cobbled and built on a dip so that when the high-tides come the roads turn into canals. I have to say navigating the cobbles was rather taxing sober let alone after a few drinks.

Again the weather was a bit mixed but I had a relaxing few days pottering round the town and managed to take a boat ride out to some of the beaches and bays nearby. I was staying at a gorgeous bed and breakfast, Pousada Vivenda, about 15 minutes walk from the old town. It was a delightful place to hang out in and I bonded with the owner, John, a fellow Yorkshireman who used to teach English and has lived in Brazil for nearly 25 years.

After my four days in Paraty I headed back to Toronto and then managed to squeeze in another few days away before returning to work. Canadian Thanksgiving weekend was again spent on the edge of Algonquin Park about four hours drive north of Toronto. This time I went with my friend Darlene and we hired a basic but comfortable 'cottage' (a cabin to those non-Canadians). Situated on Clear Lake, which was indeed clear, we had a spectacular couple of days with incredible, almost record-breaking, weather. The trees were amazing in their fall/autumn colours and the sun shone the entire weekend. I got sunburnt as we paddled our way round the lake in a canoe. I also temporarily adopted a chipmunk and all Canadian chipmunks are now incarnations of my furry friend, "Chippy".

As in the US, where they celebrate Thanksgiving in November, it is traditional to cook a turkey dinner. This was quite a feat in our rather basic cabin kitchen but I was very proud of my very first effort at making pumpkin pie. The results were delicious and despite our turkey only having one leg, it has kept me fed all week with turkey curry and other creations being cooked up. I now don't want to see any more turkey until Christmas thank you very much!