Ask and ye shall Recife

First, an apology to anyone who speaks Portuguese: I’m aware that an “r” at the beginning of a word is pronounced as an “h”, thereby making the title’s already tenuous pun, even more of a stretch. Yes, that’s right, folks; in Brazil, Rio is pronounced “Hio”. You reard it rere first!

Recife is a small city in the state of Pernambuco in the north-east of Brazil. Once the largest city in Brazil due to mass sugar production and export, it is no longer the grand fromage that once it was, however it has heritage and charm.

I was staying in a self-service apartment in Boa Viagem, the main beach quarter, in room 801 (which, incidentally, is where they take rebellious cats in Orwell’s 1984 for their penultimate opportunity to accept Big Brother. Too obscure? Possibly….) 

Having arrived in the early afternoon, I followed netizens’ advice to head to Barra do Recife, (double “r” is also pronounced as “h” – look at you learning Portuguese!) the historic town centre. The most picturesque of the very pretty, but somewhat dilapidated streets was Rua do Bom Jesus, where the row of houses exuded character and charm, from their colourful shutters to their arched doorways.

Houses in the Rua do Bom Jesus

On this very street I came across a place purporting to be a permanent exhibition of giant puppets. If visiting a permanent exhibition of giant puppets was not a childhood dream of mine then I was sure it should have been. “Here’s your 10 reals, sir. A bargain at twice the price!”

Inside was the most eclectic group of characters you are ever likely to see. Darth Vader and Yoda were having a staring match with The Beatles; Batman and Superman were in attendance (and not squabbling, for once); the pope, Lionel Messi, Michael Jackson and David Bowie had all stopped by for tea and scones. And there was a giant Chucky. Not a place to be during a powercut if you have an active imagination.

It’s all smiles until Gene Simmons licks your ear!
Bigger in real life I am
He’s not scary, he’s just misunderstood: bromance

As I rounded the corner, an imaginary Chucky hard in my heels, I spotted a small sign proclaiming the build to my left to be a theatre. I entered what was, I was later to learn, a former sugar warehouse with a wooden, vaulted roof. The curator, a vivacious lady called Simone with an irrepressible smile, bounced over to introduce herself and, in response to my mime of “Can I look around?” offered to give me a tour. She spoke no English so when I understood her I nodded and smiled. And, when I had no clue what she was saying, I nodded and smiled.

Fairly useless photo of the theatre

As I left, gratefully nodding and smiling, she mentioned there would be a play the following day called Zumba. From her excessive laughter after my question, I gathered this Zumba was not related to the dance workout with which I associate the name. My mantra of “Say yes to adventure” made my mind up for me. “I’ll be there”, I mimed (not sure if that needs speech marks….)

My stomach audibly reminded me, at that point, that I had missed lunch. I typically move swiftly from hungry to “hangry” (anger due to being hungry) so, to avoid this, I headed across the road to a street vendor. I don’t really know what I ordered, but I do know I ordered a “large”. It seemed to be a plastic cup of acai berry sorbet, condensed milk and biscuit crumbs. It was as good as it sounds!

Service with a smile
Joy in a plastic cup

Sitting next to me on a plastic stool, plastic cup in hand, was an elegant gentleman in his late fifties in full suit and tie. Since the drop-off in sugar trading, Recife had become an IT hub (this was attested to by the amazing number of Pokemon Go players who appeared shortly thereafter) and Flavio was the boss of one of the firms. He had also been, to my amazement, the Austrian trade representative of Pernambuco for several years, despite not speaking a word of German!

In mood to be healthy, I stayed in that evening and watched some Olympics. The next day, after completing a sort of triathlon where the cycle is replaced by sunbathing, I headed back to the theatre for “Zumba”. From what I could gather, the play told the story of a shoemaker turned Communist activist who stood up against corruption in, and intimidation by, the government, gaining a considerable following despite being illiterate. It was so beautifully acted that, when Zumba was killed trying to escape jail at the end, I felt heartbroken for his wife and for the death of his ideals.

As I had hired a car for my time in Recife, I decided to put it to good use by spending a day in Porto de Galinhas, some 60km away. Between speed limits and potholes so large they had their own gravitational pull, the journey took an hour. After a sumptuous tapioca pancake as late breakfast, I strolled along the beach to digest. 

My only planned activity for the day was a trip on a jangana, a traditional sailing boat used for fishing in the shallow coastal waters. Just off the beach in Porto da Galinhas lie a series of natural pools, formed in the rocks just below the surface. I waited for low tide and found myself a skipper. The boat was very rudimentary but we tacked upwind, away from the beach, with great skill (the captain’s, not mine). 

My view from amidships
Look where you going; the Pokemon can wait!

On reaching a natural pool, I was armed with a diving mask and a handful of fish food and this ensued…

Full-scale attack!

One of the fish, not satisfied with the fish food, bit my arm and drew blood. N.B. This will become a shark bite in subsequent retellings of the story.

This post is getting rather lengthy so I’ll wrap up. Off to Salvador by bus tonight but I spent the afternoon in the Instituto Ricardo Brennand, which must house one of the world’s largest collections of weaponry. (although I won’t subject that theory to a Google test)

I’ve included some pics below but lots of other corkers. Speak soon, lots of love.

I refuse to go into battle without a diamond encrusted, gold sword

It’s not the size of the dog in the fight; it’s whether it’s wearing full plate armour
That’s not a knife. This is a knife!


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