Lost Sambista

A Brazil never seen.

Archive for the tag “beach”

Lost Samba – Chapter 03/03 – The Marvelous City


Later in the morning, like schools of little fish emerging from the mouths of rivers, children flowed onto their street’s section of the beach. The morning began with our nannies or our mums planting an oversized parasol into the sand with circular motions until the tip was deeply and firmly embedded. If they were hopeless, there were always plenty of ice cream vendors, chair-renters and lifeguards around to lend a hand. After they completed the process, they could open up their cloth shade and allow them to become part of a landscape of colourful dots on the golden sand. Next came the time-to-stretch-out-the-towel phase, then the unfolding-the-chair phase and then, finally, releasing the body boards, the balls and the buckets for us to play with our friends.

The beach was like a funfair set beneath the baking sun. We would play in the shallow water, chase schools of tiny fish, bury ourselves in the sand, construct barriers against the waves, dig tunnels, sculpt castles, have sand wars, and watch the constant flow of people walking by. In the intervals, the grown-ups would ask us to clean off the sand and then they would call one of the strong men who walked the beach with boxes of Kibon ice cream or Matte Leão iced tea, and buy some for us, their sweet iciness soothing the scorching heat.

The ocean signified complete freedom. The salt-water felt a million times better and more refreshing than any shower or any swimming pool ever did. Beyond the breaking waves, seagulls plunged to catch their prey, which would struggle to escape the beak as the bird flew away. Sometimes dolphins leapt out of the water and harmless shark-like fish showed their fins causing excitement and concern on the beach. As we grew more confident, we discovered waves and learned how to dive under and through them as well as racing the white foam and allowing the sea’s natural force to crash on us.


On windy afternoons, kids came down from the favelas to fly kites. Their fun was to have air battles with their colourful hand-made toys, some of those moleques glued broken glass powder on to their strings to make them more effective. A swirling and uncontrolled kite was a sign that another group had seized their flying coat of arms and the kids ran in the dozens to collect it as it crashed onto the sands below.


As the sun descended, the beach seemed to relax. The heat grew less intense and the buildings began to throw shadows on the sand. The sun’s golden colours reflected on the water creating a special light that made people and everything else on the beach and around it, look special. Sometimes groups from the favelas enjoyed the sunset playing samba and gave that time of the day a special musical flavour, like the sound track to a film.
My usual beach companion was Pilar, a pretty Portuguese nanny in her late twenties. The only clear memory I retain is of her naked body when we showered together after we returned home. In the bathtub, I could examine everything my friends had talked about but which we could not figure out how they worked. Pilar would eventually end up marrying my barber, the friendly Senhor Ribeiro, who was also Portuguese but was short, had a moustache and curly blond hair and who always reserved for me the latest football magazines and the best sweets.

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Trancoso Church

Trancoso Church

If Brazil had a center to its soul perhaps this place would be it.

Trancoso is not very far from where the first Portuguese officially stepped on Brazilian soil and if one believes in destiny, this was for a reason…

The region remained remote until the late nineteen seventies and in the meanwhile the church above was built as a mission to convert the natives of the Region, the Pataxos (pronounced Patashohs). Usually churches were built over sacred sites to, in a way, respect the old rituals while telling the natives that the universal white European God was stronger, more widespread and better than theirs.

The church “closes” a square of houses around a huge green that used to constitute the village. The people who live there call it the “rectangle” and behind it lay the tropical forest, the almost extinct Mata Atlantica. The view from behind it is fantastic, one sees the entire coast of the Porto Seguro area from the top of a cliff .

There is no doubt that the Pataxos celebrated their beautiful world at this very spot in their festivals long before the arrival of the white people.

I had the privilege to discover Trancoso when it was just a fishing village with no electricity, populated by locals and by hippies some 25 years ago. Now it has become an international attraction and is visited by tourists from all around the world.

It still preserves its magic though.

Lost Samba, the book, will give you a better description of how it was back in the day, the link to is just besides the article.

Catching a crocodile (Pegando Jacare)


Rio de Janeiro is, among other things, a surfing town. Don’t underestimate this statement: Rio has produced several world champions and Brazil is considered on of the world’s strengths in the sport. It all began in Ipanema in the sixties and the seventies. Although before surfing was imported from the USA by American expats there were other more indigenous forms of riding waves.

Catching crocodiles, pegar Jacare, means riding waves without the help of a board and it never fell into the same category as surf or body surf. As it did not have any expensive accessories attached to it, there were no commercial interests in promoting it so it never has been considered cool, although back in the day it was “the” way to affirm one’s masculinity on days with high waves. Nowadays there are many surfers from the favelas, but when surf arrived in Rio the rudimentary sport was a substitute for those who couldn’t afford a board. In some cases it went beyond the economic limitations: it was the best way to feel the power of nature on the body and to test one’s courage in the water.

When the red flags were up there would be always some crazy guys who went out there and, as the photographer of the picture above, they held everyone’s breath on the crowded sand. Some unaware tourists could try to join them and but not knowing the secrets of the currents and of the waves they would end up giving work to the life guards.

From those days crocodile catchers share with Rio’s surfers the glory of ruling Rio’s waves.

Pedra do Arpoador


If there is one place that can be pointed as the source of Rio’s cool, this is the Arpoador.

The huge rock is situated in the beginning of Ipanema and means harpoon thrower in Portuguese; it is named like this because fishermen actually hunted down the whales that roamed the coast of Rio de Janeiro from there.

In the late fifties and early sixties surfboards started arriving in Ipanema and the best waves were by the rock; it became the first hangout point for young people bearing looks that would be recognizable in this century; long hair, surfer trunks and bikinis.

In the mid seventies a Pier was constructed one kilometre away and stole the best waves and the coolness away.. Also, around the same time, buses started coming from the Northern Zone to the Southern Zone’s beaches and the final stop was close to the Arpoador. Slowly but surely it became the area where the “invaders” went and an uncool place to hang out.

The early eighties witnessed a revival of the Arpoador when the group Asdrubal Trouxe o Trombone (see my article about them) set up the Circo Voador (the Flying Circus); a venue that was to be the cradle of modern Brazilian rock.

Those days were short lived and the city council closed it down because of complaints about the noise at night.

In the nineties a skateboarding park was constructed next to it making it cool once again. The beach spot however remained a no-go area for the golden youth of the Southern Zone until recently when apparently it has revived as a trendy hang out point ( I haven’t lived in Rio for more than 20 years now so it’s just hear say,… can’t confirm it)

Lost Samba is available at: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00791OM34

The importance of surf culture in Rio de Janeiro

The military dictatorship was in its peak and prisons, exiles and censorship were part of the country’s day to day life.  The left had been decimated, or at least silenced and there was no outlet for protest. Meanwhile the surf culture was growing in the vacuum left behind the shutting down of the left in Ipanema, a neighborhood known for its leftist residents. This culture had been imported from California and been introduced to Rio de Janeiro’s middle class by students of the American School of Rio de Janeiro.

So were the surfers really relevant? Did anything they say really count for anything?

Most of the Brazilian intelligentsia would say no. This was an insignificant byproduct of a repressed era.

Well, it wasn’t. First of all it did not come from the military apparatus, nor was it well  seen by the American mainstream. In the Coastal towns of the US the kids who were making it the king of sports among the youth came from the lower classes and were dropouts specially in the late sixties and early seventies.In this environment, being a long haired surfer was being against the establishment. The anti Viet-Nam war protests were at their peak, and protesting in the seventies was not theoretical, it was about taking on the mainstream by actions. The kids who were dropouts were closer to home, they could be anyone’s kid who was engaging into something outside the system, it could happen in any family, it was the real thing…

The generations who came after the surfers can still relate to them and the freedom that they represented. They sought a personal detachment from the logic that everything in life should be attached to a production system that has profit as an ultimate goal.

Surf culture in Rio was to give birth to the rock movement of the 8O’s that took the country by storm. For that generation they were like the stronger older brothers who told parents to shut up, who broke ties and who were radically alive. These were the precursors of Brazilian Punk, but healthier, more charismatic, sexual, and less hateful than their British counterparts.

If no one liked them in the middle class, it is because everyone wanted to be like them but did not have the inner strength to do so. In Rio some were spoiled rich kids, but  this group certainly were not accepted into the surfing elite.One you had to earn their way into being respected by being good at the sport and by tough in the water. They were not dumb blondes, they were just too big for this world.

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