Thursday, 30 December 2010

Finish a crate on Christmas Day? Well, if I have to...

Christmas day arrived and I must confess I woke up a bit misty headed. This probably had something to do with the amount of beer drank on Christmas Eve, and the fact we were playing cards until 2am on Christmas morn.

Unfortunately my 2 and a half year old son Daniel did not wake up misty headed. Instead he woke up with his usual exubrance despite not really knowing what Christmas was. He laughed and shouted for about 10 minutes before he noticed his carefully wrapped new skateboard lying on the floor.

Friday, 24 December 2010

Is Christmas still Christmas without decorations?

I'm always aware when typing these blog posts that there's a good possibility I pass inappropriate sweeping statements on the whole of Brazil based on my experience in one relatively small city. This may be true, but I like to think that at least my experiences here give some indication as to what the rest of Brazil is doing at any one given point in time.

With that disclaimer of sorts now out of the way, lets talk about Christmas!

I will be honest and say that to me without cold weather it just doesn't seem like the season to be jolly. Here it is hot and clammy and not very Christmassy at all. The missus rained scorn on me when I told her this  as for her it doesn't seem like Christmas when it is cold.

But it's not just the weather here that makes the season less festive. If I look down the street we live on, or even go down to the lake, there is not one house with decorations on. In fact the only place there are decorations is on the high street where all the shops are. In an effort to try and show these to you I went on a late night photo spree (despite the very unfestive man standing outside a shoe shop with a big 'hitting' stick attached to his wrist). Unfortunately the battery was dead before I started though. Nevertheless I had my trusty Vado on me and managed to video these somewhat meager decorations despite looking like a complete prat.

video

Very jolly indeed eh? The only house that I have seen with decorations was someone who was relatively wealthy. They had a fake Christmas tree and some angels about. Still it was at least a start. I assumed from this that decorations were solely for people with a bit of money and possibly more of a prestige thing.

Even on TV (although I am by no means fluent in Portuguese) there doesn't seem to be much acknowledgement of Christmas. There are no carols, no one seems to mention it, and it is only today that I have noticed that the kids programs have some decorations on it. There wasn't any build up, they've only just arrived now. Where's the excitement in that?

Maybe it's because Christmas day seems less important here. Christmas Eve is the major festive day in most Catholic countries as far as I'm aware. This is because the actual coming of the 'Lord' is deemed more important than him actually arriving. I guess it is somewhat similar to an excited kid at Christmas - the excitement of getting a toy is far better than recieving it as after a while you just get bored of it anyway. The three kings, the shepherds, Mary and Joseph must have thought when there wasn't an angelic choir singing, or an incandescent light flowing forth from Mary's nether regions as the baby Jebus popped out 'oh... that was a bit of a let down... it's just a baby... let's not forever remember this in the annals of history'.

That little diversion aside in which I blasphemed about the nativity, Christmas Eve is a time when all the family gets together and has a party. They stay up late drinking beer and cachaca, listening to music, and generally having a good time. It's nice. Tonight we're having among other things the delectable Chica Doida which is mostly sweetcorn, mozzarella, and calabreza sausage. We will be staying up until 12am when we can welcome in Christmas Day.

I guess that there are reasons for all of these things. Namely because there are probably better things to spend money on then decorations and festivity. Although Brazil is in no way similar to their poverty stricken, military ruled days in the 80's, the culture of saving the money for something else does not seem to have changed. I know that in some other cities here they do make a big thing of the decorations (Sao Paolo and Rio), but they're cities with money. Here in Quirinopolis I can perfectly understand that they may want to be a bit more spendthrift about things and fix a road instead. Without sounding too cheesy, people here love the company of other people. There is rarely a moment when you don't see people talking to their neighbours, and indeed you rarely see anyone listening to personal stereos in the street (I suspect this is because Brazilians would much rather share their music and not exclude anyone). In this sense, to Brazilians Christmas is probably more about the people you have around you and just having a good time regardless of the presents and the decorations.

That said however, for me it is still less magical and more like a normal day, but I guess each to their own. Who knows, maybe in time Brazil will start to lose their culture towards spending money on decorations as the gap between the rich and the poor decreases and the economy continues to boom. But until that time Christmas here will continue in the spirit of the people.

Merry Christmas to all and to all those in Europe with snow, you lucky, lucky bastards.

Bah Humbug.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Things you shouldn't do on a farm...

Don't trust this man on your tractor... Seriously...
In general working on the farm is pretty much the same day in and day out. You wake up, milk cows, feed cows, have breakfast, feed the rest of the animals, fill the troths in all the fields with salt, come back for lunch, sleep, and then go and milk cows again. Obviously there are one or two cachaça breaks in there too. However there have been one or two memorable moments for me, and by this I mean one or two hiccups. Surely not? I hear you ask, but as Cristina has recently told me, I am a 'destructive' person (I'm sure she missed out the preceeding 'self-' by accident) and therefore it was bound to happen.

Of course we all know of my disappointing misdemeanour’s on my first day at the farm, but that pretty much turned out to be the tip of the iceberg.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Milking cows - an expose...

I like milking cows.

Despite the 3:30am starts and my fingers being so swollen now that I can no longer wear my wedding ring there's something enjoyable about it. It's not the fact I'm groping cow's teets all day that does it, I think it is because it is like squeezing a stress ball for 5 hours a day.

I may wake up barely able to move my fingers in the morning, but when the first cow comes mooing to me and the milk starts flowing I soon forget the pain. I've managed to beat my four a day habit and am now managing to milk 14 a day without any problems. The most I've managed in two hours was nine and a half (for some reason they didn't want me to finish the last one all by myself - it was probably because I was starting to look like Ozzy Osbourne with my DT) - they seemed impressed with that.

Contrary to what I believed before I had ever milked a cow, it is not simply moving your hand up and down which produces a torrent of white liquid, it is more of a clenching motion. Imagine rolling your fingers down at each joint and then pressing into the palm of your hand as hard as possible whilst moving up and down. It is something like this. You can feel your triceps tense with each squeeze, and the tendons in your wrists start to ache as the morning or afternoon goes on.

Mind you not all cows are equal. There are a wide variety of different teets, some are long and thin (usually very easy), some are small and thin (ridiculously difficult especially if you have big hands), some are thick and long (a little bit tough, but not too bad - the downside is you usually end up with blisters on your index fingers), and those that are thick and small (once again extremely difficult). The amount of cows with superfluous nipples when compared to humans is quite astonishing. It is not unusual for them to have more five or six teets sometimes. Obviously these teets don't work and are generally just there to throw you off your stroke (so to speak you filthy minded individuals). Some of the teets produce a constant flow of frothy milk that comes up and splashes you in the face when it hits the bucket while others produce a fine stream of the white stuff which leaves you straining over the bucket for a good half an hour. Some are tough to milk and others aren't - you can rarely tell before you get a grip on them.

But in general cows are nice creatures anyway (not their ugly male counterparts however). It always reminds me a little of hometime at a boarding school when I head down to the milking pen as the Bezerros (baby cows - amended spelling to be correct now...) are kept separately all day and this is the only time they get to see their mums. The mums enter the pen (with a bit of coercion and Michael Jackson) and after they have chilled out a bit start to moo to their children. I've realised that they've got several different kind of moos. There is the more commonly known 'moo' which just seems to be something they do in their own time, there is the grunting 'moo' which seems to be when they are calling for their children, and of course the more sultry 'moo' to try and coax the bull into only having eyes for her. Once we decide to milk a cow we let the bezerro out of its pen and watch it try to find its mother - it generally knows who it is (apart from one cow which tries to feed from every cow much to their annoyance). Once found, we let it suckle a small amount of milk (there's obviously a fine line between feeding the children and letting them drink your profits) before tying a rope around its neck and tying it to its mothers front legs. We then tie up the mother's back legs so she can no longer move. Once this is done she is powerless to stop us having our wicked way with her. The bezerros always call to their mum's. It's quite sweet in a way.

My ability to tie up these hefty heffers is getting better and better. I can tie a slipknot round their ankles and the babies' mouths faster than they can run away from me (just the way I like it). Once I have done the deed and let them run away from me the filthy creatures.

Whilst my opinion of cows has gone up highly through waking up to them every morning, my opinion of chickens has gone down rapidly. I see them every day scrabbling through cow shit and urine eating it and gobbing it down. They're horrible animals.

On the subject of bovine excretions, I am slowly getting used to being covered in cow poo. The worst moments come however when you are tying up their hind legs and you suddenly see their tail lift up in the air. Then you know you're in trouble - you're either going to be on the receiving end of some fecal matter or a golden shower. Not sure which is better. There have been times when I've run away like a girl I must be honest. Every day when I come home Cristina quickly orders me to have a shower and leave my clothes outside. It's odd I can't smell any difference, I'm probably used to being surrounded by it all day.

On average we fill about 500 litres a day by hand three of us milking together day in and day out. Every day I try to beat the amount of cows I did the day before and love to milk those dirty cows more and more. We fill up 50 litre urns through a filter which skins off the cream from the top which we then put in a bowl and give to the cats and dogs - possibly where the phrase 'the cat that got the cream' came from. Maybe not, but it's a nice thought.

At the end of the day to some up my opinions of milking cows:

If there's no shake in your milk you're doing it wrong.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Mata vaca

It was a lazy Sunday afternoon when we all made the short walk down to the farm. There were seven of us in total – Carlinho (father-in-law), Cristina, Daniel, Ed Carlos (brother-in-law), Euda (mother-in-law), Shinayda (sister-in-law), and me. Carlinho was holding his rifle and Euda was carrying seven knives as we met Mauricio the farmhand (also an in-law) outside the farm. He saddled up his horse whilst Ed Carlos saddled up the stubborn pony and they both set off to bring back the bull we were to kill. It was an odd sight as Ed is just over six feet tall, and Mauricio is about five foot seven – it looked like they had gotten their steeds mixed up.

As they trotted off to the farthest field we hung around the milking pen and started to sharpen the knives. We tested their edge by hacking into a nearby tree and seeing whether they stuck. It wasn't long until we saw Ed and Mauricio trotting back with four cows and a yellowy brown bull in front of them. I could tell the bull wasn't fully matured, but it was of a good size – it look like a young adult to my untrained eye. Carlinho and I opened the milking pen to let them all inside. With a bit of coaxing and smacking of rumps they were there and Carlinho grabbed his lasso and entered the pen with them. This was where we would separate the bull from the herd. He swung the lasso and let it loose towards the bull two to three times each missing the head before he finally got a good grip and the noose tightened around its neck. With this done Carlinho, Ed, Mauricio and I started to pull on the rope as hard as we could. I was pulling at the front and Ed quickly warned me that the bull might charge me – its main defence mechanism. We pulled and pulled until it was back out of the pen and we shut the doors behind it. Now we had to reel it in so it couldn't move as freely. Mauricio went behind the fence and looped the rope around a post whilst the rest of us circled the bull scaring it backwards. Each time we pushed the cow towards the post Mauricio pulled the rope tighter leaving it less and less space to move in. We carried on until the bull's head was pressed against the wood and Mauricio had tied a knot in the rope so it could no longer pull away.

Now it's easy to think that because an animal is scared it 'knows' that you are going to kill it. Of course it doesn't really. Cows live in herds, and once they are separated from the herd they realise they're in danger – it would react in exactly the same way if we had singled it out because we wanted to give it some medicine. It's just acting on instinct and we as humans are watching it and transferring our own feelings onto it. I say this as I felt at that moment it thought it was going to die, but with sound reasoning afterwards I don't think it did.

The bull's head thrashed and moved as it was pinned to the post. Carlinho eased himself two rungs up on the fence further down and levelled his rifle at the head. He waited for the bull to be still for a moment then squeezed the trigger and shot the bull square in the forehead with a metal pellet. As intended the shot stunned the bull making it fall to its knees. Carlinho quickly pulled his knife out of his belt and ran towards the animal slicing into it and thrusting the point up into its neck. The blade went as deep as Carlinho's wrist and blood poured out onto the muddy ground. There really wasn't all that much – I had expected more. We waited for all the blood to stop flowing out before releasing the rope.

Whilst this had been happening Euda had cut some palm tree leaves to lay under the body to make sure that the meat didn't get dirty. We laid these on the grass and then heaved at the bull pulling it across the ground and rolling it onto the leaves.

From here this is how I remember us cutting it more or less.

Carlinho had the first slice and cut round the neck using the hole he had stabbed inside to make the kill. He then cut down the sternum just deep enough so that only the skin was sliced in two. Whilst he was doing this Mauricio began to cut down to the two front legs to the knee joint which he then cut around. He then did the same for the hind legs too. Carlinho was handed an axe and chopped the feet off of each leg tossing away the ankle and the hoof over to the side as we weren't going to use them for food. Now that the experts had made the first incisions they handed over the body to the rest of us so that we could cut the skin from the body. With the help of Daniel (who was waterboy for the day) we all cleaned our hands, grabbed a knife, and started cutting and pulling at the skin.

Separating the skin from the body turned out to be a very easy and blood free task. All you need to do is pull at the skin with one hand, and with the other cut down where you see the skin touch the meat. It comes away very quickly and the main thing you need to make sure you do is keep your hands clean at all times – if the meat gets dirty it means more work later as you have to cut out the dirty pieces. If you look at the picture of the meat you can tell which is the quarter I was working on from the deep incisions into the meat itself. It's the first piece. An expert I am not.

Once we had carefully removed all the skin (which involved rolling the bull from side to side – a heavy beast) we cracked open the rib cage and carefully slit what I can only describe as a pouch (it must have been inner skin or something) which was holding the stomach and all the other innards inside. We rolled out everything including the oesophagus (which by the way looks very much like a hoover's hose) and we were left with the bones and the meat we ultimately wanted. Carlinho lifted his axe up into the air and cracked down each side of the spine breaking the animal in two. Cutting away at the top of each leg joint left us with four slabs of meat which we had to carry back to the house. Each was ridiculously heavy, but in order to make the journey easier we cut at the furthest away rib, and just behind the leg between the bone and tendon. This left us with two handles on each piece of meat (one of which is used to hang the meat in the picture above). Ed Carlos grabbed one and I grabbed the other as we transported them to the house. There were a few more transportable pieces such as the spine, tail, and tongue which others helped to carry. All that was left on the grass now were the innards, the head of the bull, and the intact skin.

Now that the killing was done we each started to cut away the meat from the bone. Those pieces of the meat which we could see had dirt on we had to shallowly cut away and chuck as the dirt was now almost impossible to remove. During the cutting stage I managed to slice my fingers many times. Nice. The worst piece of bone to cut the meat from was the spine as this involved lots of intricate in and out cuts. But all in all you'd be surprised at how much meat in the picture there actually is. I'd estimate that cut in the same fashion as they would in say Sainsbury's you could probably fill up one side of an aisle with it. The cutting took a good couple of hours to complete as no piece of meat was left on the bone.

It tasted great by the way, and now every time Daniel sees some beef he says 'cow, cow'. Cristina finds that depressing...

Originally I had been meant to shoot the animal to stun it, but after Carlinho saw my expert shooting in action he decided that the bull would more than likely be infuriated by a shot to the nose than the intended shot to the forehead.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

The search for the missing Bizerros

Me trying to get Daniel used to the pony... Honest..
After an unsuccessful morning trying to get Daniel used to riding his pony (it didn't work, he's a mechanic at heart and loves the tractor) Cristina's dad Carlinho saddled up a horse and told me to get on the pony as we were to go and look for bizerros. I hadn't ridden a pony before, but having ridden horses a few times thought that it couldn't be too different. I did look like a bit of a prat however as the pictures testify.

We set off at a slow pace exiting the main part of the farm and crossing through a stream at the bottom of the horses' paddock. We climbed the steep bank on the other side and started to patrol the field with Carlinho looking left and right in search for the bizerros and me taking in the scenery. Once again I had left my new glasses at home in fear of them getting scratched or broken. I wasn't too sure how much help I was going to be on this trip. I was ill-equipped and unprotected from the sun at its highest – I was going to burn and I knew it.

Once we hit the open field, it became apparent to me that riding the pony may not have been the wisest choice. For those of you unaware a horse has much longer legs then a pony and as such for every one step a horse takes a pony has to take two or three. Therefore my pony was permanently at a canter trying to keep up with the horse. Add this to the lack of padding on the saddle and you can imagine that after a short while my behind was a bit sore and I my fist clenched from having to pull hard on the reins to keep the pony in check. This obviously led to a rather amusing sight of me stopping, starting, cantering, walking, and bopping up and down on the saddle. It appeared as though my plight hadn't gone unnoticed as Carlinho pulled over (if you can do such a thing on a horse) and offered to exchange vehicles. I gratefully accepted his offer and climbed aboard the nicely padded horse saddle. With Carlinho now leading on the pony and me following behind on the horse it was much easier for me to keep up.

Now I have to be honest that my Portuguese isn't that great, and although I'd picked up that we were searching for bizerros, I hadn't quite figured out what a 'bizerro' was. I enquired to a perplexed Carlinho (we'd already been searching for a good half an hour) what exactly we were searching for to which he replied 'bizerros' to which I replied 'yes I know, but what is a bizerro?'. After a puzzled expression in which he was obviously trying to find the most basic words for me to understand, he said 'a baby cow'. Now you may have thought that this was obvious being that it was a dairy farm and they only kept one sort of animal there, but logic has never been my strong point.

We carried on for another 15 minutes until we hit a wide river. Carlinho trekked down on his pony managing to get it to navigate the steep bank and cross through the water over to the other side. While he was doing this I was still trying to get my stubborn horse to go down the same path. No matter how many times I dug my heels into it's hindquarters it wouldn't budge. It kept on flicking its ears back at me in what seemed like anger. Carlinho was over the other side chuckling to himself muttering words of encouragement (I assumed). After what seemed like ten minutes of inertia on horseback I slammed it into reverse (pulled back hard on its reigns) and found a different route down the riverbank eventually making my way across to the other bank. Once there, after two minutes of searching this narrow stretch of land Carlinho decided that the calves were definitely not there. Much to his amusement we headed back to the river and I had to endure another attempt at getting my stubborn horse to go down the river bank.

An hour passed until we found the calves, and at this point I was truly burnt red. There were five of them all huddled together next to the fence. Carlinho indicated to me that he would open the nearest colchete (gate) which led to the the main grazing fields, and stay by it whilst I chased the bizerros towards it. With him standing there the calves wouldn't run past him and would have to pass through it. Now, despite my earlier apparent lack of skills driving a horse, I'm not atrocious. I mean I'm not amazing, but I have rounded up cattle on horseback at a fair pace before. So I circled round behind the calves and started to push them back towards the open gate. The sight of the horse, and me shouting and making lots of noise (they don't like that) urged them forward and they bolted. I had to steer the horse from left to right to make sure none of them broke lose from their little herd. I managed this successfully and got four through the gate, the last calf saw Carlinho and turned at a right angle and ran in the opposite direction. We both pushed our horses fast up the hill and moved the calf back through the colchete before closing it behind us. At a slow pace we then chased the calves all the way back to the milking pens and their mothers' comforting moos.

Our work done we headed to the farmhouse for a refreshing drink of water (you'll be grateful to see that there is no mention of alcohol in this post!) and some shooting practice as I was to get ready to help kill a bull over the next couple of days...

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

My first day at the farm...

...A 'how to' in disappointing your father-in-law

We arrived at the farm on a sunny (what are the chances?) Friday afternoon. We settled into the farm house and had a few drinks before heading to bed to prepare for my first full day of work at the farm. I asked Cristina (the missus) what time she thought her parents would start in the morning to which she responded '5am'. Early I know, but to be expected really, so I snuggled down for a cosy nights sleep.

Imagine my horror when at 3:30am I heard a stirring coming from Cristina's parents room as they awoke. I was still in a state of shock when the front door closed at 3:45am as they headed down to the farm. I quickly jumped out of the bed leaving a very much awake and disgruntled wife (the best reason to get up in the morning in my opinion). I quickly got changed and headed for the guest's bathroom where I hurriedly brushed my teeth with the first toothbrush to hand - I prayed to god it was not regularly used to clean the toilet.

Picking up a few Pão de Queijo (the staple breakfast of Brazil) I headed for the door and out into the morning at 3:55am. With the farm being in the middle of nowhere and no lights on anywhere nearby I was surprised that even at this time of the morning, in pitch black, the full moon cast shadows. Anyway, I made the ten minute walk down to the farm to the cows enclosure.

Next followed for me a relatively surreal moment.

I arrived at the cow enclosure to see around 40 cows all huddled together. Although the lights were on, as far as I could tell there was no one there. Not unusual you may say, but for the fact that a radio was blasting out Prince's 'Purple Rain' to the cows. It was like some late night bovine club as they shifted from foot to foot, jittered and moved about slowly, bleary eyed as if they'd been taking drugs.

It was only after about a minute of taking this in that I realised that Cristina's parents and Maurice the farmhand were hunched under the cows milking away on their stools. I lumbered over the fence and proceeded to join them. I took it slow and milked four cows dry by 6am – they weren't impressed. After this I  helped Cristina's dad (Carlinho – little Carlos in English) to feed the cows.

After a quick refresher course on the tractor I was ready to go and moved the beast into place next to the storehouse. Carlinho and I lugged six bags of food each half the size of a man to the back of the tractor and drove off to the feeding fields (two gates away). We laid down the mush (not very appetising, but I guess it had a lot of fibre in it – probably the reason they fart so much) and headed back to the milking pen where we carried the five full urns of milk to the milk storing machine (not it's technical name, but I don't know what it's called. It's a big metal tank which holds around 1,100 litres and has a big spatula type thing in the middle of the lid which periodically rotates to stop the milk settling). These things were heavy, but after a lot of huffing and puffing we managed to lift them up and empty them into the tank.

It was about 7am now so we drove the tractor up to the house for a half an hour breakfast before heading out once again.

Getting back onto the tractor we were to head to another farm. The trip was going well right up until the point I nearly ran over a colchete (a type of fence which is purely wire and wood for ease of access). Carlinho had to quickly ram his foot on the brakes as the tractor hurtled towards the thin pieces of wire. I feigned ignorance and blamed it on my lack of glasses, but in truth I think I was looking at the scenery... that was disappointment number two! He got down and opened the fence and we headed to the next farm where we greeted the farmer and settled in for a few drinks. The reasons for going here are still not obvious to me, but I think it was to drink a couple of shots of cachaça as this was all we did!

On the way back to Carlinho's farm we picked up a trailer and attached it to the tractor which upon arrival we filled up with prepared posts and wire to build a fence around a new sugar cane field. It was only after picking them up that we realised we were three posts short of a full fence. Darn it. This meant that we had to endure a torturous two hour tractor drive round a neighbouring field to find three pieces of broken tree that were straight enough and about six foot in length. Not easy, especially with me not wearing any glasses. We eventually did find three pieces of the right size and stature, but not before I had managed to drop one of the said pieces of wood on my foot. Considering it took two of us to carry this thing I'm surprised I didn't break anything. Carlinho just gave me a nervous laugh...

With our wood collected and dropped off at the field we headed back for lunch and a siesta. I had an hours sleep and was a bit peeved to wake up to find a swarm of flies hovering overhead. They'd obviously been attracted by the smell of cow shit, sweat, and calf saliva all over me. Cristina's a lucky lady.

At 14:00 we headed back for another milking session which lasted 3 hours, after which Carlinho and I went about placing the posts for the circa into the field and ensuring that they lined up. All of this was done by eye which made it even more painstaking. Again, largely because I refused to wear my glasses. This was so painstaking in fact that we got to about halfway when Carlinho asked if we should go and have a drink at his friends farm (the same one who supplied us with the alcohol earlier). We got to the farm and he wasn't there so we helped ourselves in, had a bite to eat, and helped ourselves to some more cachaça. I thnk Carlinho decided to call it a day at this point as we didn't head back to the half built fence, but instead went fishing in the farmer's field. In total we caught two fish, but in the process I managed to break two fishing lines much to Carlinho's disappointment. It appears as though fishing isn't my strong point as we would have managed to double our catch otherwise.

As the winds signalled oncoming storm clouds we ran to the tractor and back to the house where after an evening meal I fell asleep. The first day at the farm was long, but wasn't as tiring as I had expected – I could imagine however that doing it day in and day out was what made it tiring. One thing was for sure however, I certainly wasn't a natural farmer!

Friday, 12 November 2010

Hunting frogs under a moonlit sky...

This is not an account of how I went hunting for people with berets holding racks of onions, but more an attempt to embrace that little part of me (my toe) with French heritage. So for those who have come to this page looking for racial slurs please move on.

After a long day of trying once again to register my visa (another eight hour round trip by car which I'm sure I'll elaborate on when it is a slow news day – the high point was seeing a Rhea by the road) there was nothing I wanted to do more than relax at home. However destiny had other plans and after a brief discussion with Cristina's brother (Ed Carlos) it was decided me and him would go 'fishing' for frogs - I was excited. After picking up a friend along the way (who I've met numerous times on my various trips here but can never quite remember his name. Lets call him the Frogfinder General) we went to pick up the bare essentials:

  • 1 flick knife
  • 1 machete
  • 1 torch
  • 20 cans of beer

With the absence of any sort of rod it was apparent to me that this was going to be less like 'fishing' and more like hunting.

After each of us had cracked open a can we were off on our way to what the Frogmaster General informed us was the best spot (him being the expert). Within minutes we arrived at a spot on the  Rio Sao Fransisco – his favourite allegedly. As we waited for the night to dwindle away we drank a couple more cans and made jokes about the stray dog and how much she charged for parking. That and her asking me for child support payments for her puppies..

As evening turned into night it was time to go. The Frogmaster General detailed how we were to find them. They were down by the bank and made a 'buloop, buloop' sound. Well that seemed pretty obvious really. With the torch in hand Frogmaster led the way. I was weilding the flick knife, Ed Carlos the machete, and we all had another can of beer in hand just to be on the safe side – you can never be too careful.

It wasn't long before Frogfinder found his first victim. Shining the light down by the river we heard some excited mumblings so Ed and I went to look. There sitting but two feet away from us was a large frog about the size of a grapefruit. It didn't move, it didn't seem at all perturbed that there were three men in front of it breathing alcohol, holding knives, and flashing a great big light in its face. Ah well, I guess that's Darwinism for you. Frogfinder had the first go and caught it directly behind the head and before the arms. Once clasped tightly, it was Ed's turn to do his job with the machete. Placing the point just behind its head, laying atop the spine it was a hard push down that separated its head from the rest of the body. We popped it in the bag and moved on. The next find it was my turn to try for the catch. Having had one too many beers by then and having already fallen over through inebriation, I fancied the frogs chances more than mine. Nevertheless I got in position and readied my hand. With a quick (or so I thought) lunge I completely missed the frog and it hopped twice passed Ed and Frogfinder and that was that. Ah well. Still, they ripped the piss as you'd expect.

Ed caught the next one and now it was my turn to be the assassin. I carefully placed the knife on the frogs neck, with my right hand around the handle. I put me left hand on the hilt and then lifted it up and smacked it down. A spray of blood hit Ed's shirt as I pulled the knife from left to right to make sure that I'd completely cracked through the spine. I heard a 'Nossa' from the Frogfinder and then a muttered sentence which sounded like 'he's very brutal'. Another one for the bag and the barbeque later.

The roll of assassin now permanently fell to me. I quite enjoyed it, and in sporadic trips back to the car to refuel on beer we caught, and I despatched about eight in total. The last I had to carry back to the car, and unlike a chicken whose rigor mortis continues for a matter of minutes, this continued for a good 10-15 minutes. When I thought it'd stopped it suddenly made me yelp as it tried to jump out of my hand. Bloody thing.

Now I've always felt that Brazilians tended to drink quite a lot as they're always offering beers around and topping yours up. But it just seems like they drink it more for leisure whereas when I drink it I'm on a mission. This enlightening moment came when we got to the car and Ed and the Frogfinder were surprised that all the beer had gone. It turns out whilst they'd both drunk about five each, I'd drunk a healthy ten. That would explain a few things.

We drove back and were greeted by disgusted looks from our other halves. We proceeded to skin and prepare the frogs for the feast on the weekend. This involved cutting down the knife entry wound in its neck to each of its forearms with a pair of scissors. Once this had been done the slippery skin pulled off nicely in one piece. Next we cut the heads off and then the hands and feet. We did this for all eight and packed them in a bag ready to be frozen and eaten in two days time.

How did they taste you may well ask. Unfortunately I can't give you a definitive answer as my conscription to farming duties commenced the next day. I am reliably informed however that they taste like chicken but better. Wanna try one?

Monday, 1 November 2010

What could the UK learn from the Brazilian election process?

Election time is a funny time to come to Brazil. I can't help but notice how seriously people take voting here as opposed to in the UK (with the most recent elections there excluded of course). 

This term has seen a bout of 2 new contenders - Jose Serra and Dilma Rousseff - and is different from previous elections as the rather 'stern' faced (and that's putting it politely) Dilma is the first female to even get close to the presidential crown.

What is curious to me however is that in Goias (and most likely other states) it is not the main presidential race that gets people fired up, it is the race for who will be the next Governador (Governor) of the state.

Everywhere I have been recently has had some form of election propaganda. For example Anapolis had flags up and down the central aisle of their main streets with the names of the two state candidates, and Quirinopolis has had a permanent fixture of supporters for the Marconi camp in the city centre (permanently drilling out a theme song with a chorus which sounds like 'Marconi vai caga, vai caga' which when translated means 'Marconi go make shit, go make shit').

Yesterday was election day and it finally reached its peak with what can only be described as mortars being fired into the air over and over again in celebration. It was bloody annoying. On the plus side however there were many parties going on with beer flowing and barbeque's providing a plentiful feast of beef, pork, and of course chicken hearts. Mmmmm, nice.

Everyone was listening to their radios to get the latest results and see who was going to win, and at the halfway point it was obvious that Marconi was going to beat Iris. With the news in, all those in the Iris camp quickly ran out of their houses and started tearing off their stickers of support from their cars so they wouldn't get the piss ripped out of them. They did of course - people just laughed in their faces. 

That was when the parties really began. 

Heading down to the lake in Quirinopolis there was probably at least 1,000 people out celebrating the results driving their cars round in circles, permanently beeping their horns, and waving the flags of the victor. Trunks of cars were open as music was blasted out of the oversized speakers so common in the cars of the Brazilian male (one guy had cut out the interior of both his front car doors and lined them with speakers. I asked him how he managed to get out once inside and he said he just wound down the window and opened it from the outside. That's logic for you). Some guy even passed us a beer through the window. Kind of him I thought. I expect most people here have hangovers today which is why the city seems somewhat subdued...

Maybe it's the fact that everyone has to vote or they get fined, or the fact that people don't want a repeat of previous military rule that everyone takes the elections seriously. I like it though - everyone here talks about the election, has an interest in it, and tries to make a difference. With the electronic voting system as well the results are known almost straight away - much faster than the UK's paper system, and makes it much more interesting from a bystanders point of view. Overall it just seems much more of a participant activity than the UK where it seems more passive.

Oh, as to who won the main election, that would be Dilma, the first female president of Brazil. Was it just coincidence that this historic moment happened just as I came over to Brazil? I think not, as I'm the leading figure in the Female Equality Movement (FEM) she's been on the bloody phone to me non-stop getting my input on what to do next. I made her goddamit.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

My morning shower - a risk worth taking?

I'm not sure what it is about my morning shower that sends shivers down my spine...


...maybe it's just the sight of the haphazard wiring that drives fear into me, or more likely it is the fact that I have gotten an electric shock from this particular shower once before. In either case, it's a testament to the Brazilian spirit of risk taking and the idea that "if it does its job, it's fine by me".

To a degree, people here don't seem to mind how they live as long as they can live. Obviously those with money don't go without and take care as to how their house looks (keeping up appearances and all), but those without can do without and don't fuss too much about it. It's not odd to see a run down house next to quite a nice almost palacial villa her. People don't seem to segregate themselves too much here and seem happy to mix with their neighbours.

I wonder whether now that Brazil's economy is on the growth whether this laissez-faire attitude to decoration may change? Part of me hopes not as I quite like visiting a minimalist house as they tend have more character and are less sterile than our western houses, but I guess those that live there hope for change.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

All adventures start with a torturous journey

I´m not the type to leave it at just one leaving party. Instead, after I finished work I seem to have had quite a few of them, one of which involved a stray dart piercing the side of a loner sat in a wheelchair in the corner of the pub. Evidently he was very calm about the whole matter - he was just pleased we hadn´t given him a puncture. After that mad leaving party I had one or two more to go to:
  • Watching England Vs. Montenegro at Wembley (awesome)
  • Going down the pub with a few friends back in my home town (involved me dropping quite a few beers apparently)
  • The family do's (drunken)
With all of that in mind you would have thought I'd be a bit bored of the alcohol, but I had paced myself for the inevitable barrage of welcome parties on the other side of the world of which no doubt there will be many.

After the obligatory stressful week living back home (which involved me throttling a post office worker - if you see the blonde, fat, curly haired one in Chichester be sure to send her my regards - and spending numerous amounts to get my car into a saleable condition) we went to the airport to leave the country. After queuing for what seemed like three hours (the machines had broken down so they were writing everything by hand) we were all tired, but said our goodbyes and got on the plane. At which point all three of us were comatose. We practically woke up just before we arrived in Sao Paulo at 7am.

Flying over the city you can really get a feel for just how immense it is. There's nothing but building as far as the eye can see - right up to the tip of the horizon. It really is a wonder, but I guess it's not the type of place you'd want to visit more than once. Upon landing I was showing Daniel the planes on the tarmac and caught myself thinking I hope we get a bigger plane on the way back. it then dawned on me that the way back is quite a long time ahead in the future!

Sao Paulo Garulhos airport is really quite nice, but when you have to spend 8 hours there tempers start to fray and you realise there is not a lot to do. Still, at least I amused the waiting staff at the restaurant there with my novel way of speaking Portuguese. Every time I spoke to them they couldn't help but laugh in my face. I assumed it was my accent. It could have actually just been my face thinking about it.

We caught our connecting flight at about 3pm (which stopped at Brasilia) and arrived in Goiania four hours later. The plane ride was torturous and Daniel was running up and down the aisles for the entire journey. Still, I always look on the bright side, if he's annoying someone else, at least he's not annoying me.

I had intended on videoing our arrival at Goiania airport as I found it amusing that the missus might cry at the sight of her parents. Alas there were no tears so I got rid of the footage. Fortunately this time all our luggage had arrived with us unlike previous years when they had been sent to Peru.

With the flying parts of our journey over we now had another four hours by car to go. I slept for most of it, but I do remember the manic driving, and our driver partaking in the Brazilian male mating call when a car of girls pulled alongside (he revved his engine lots and lots and stared at them. Dirty beggar).

Anyhow, enough of the journey, we arrived in Quirinopolis, our new home for a year and were welcomed with a few beers 'bem gelada' already. Just the way I like them.

I got drunk and passed out.

So ends day one.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

On leaving the country, juvenile aspirations, and trying to stop your child opening the emergency exit 2 miles up in the air

Three more weeks to go and the realisation has not quite set in yet.
Everything's packed (a fact my two and a half year old son is not too impressed with) and we're ready to go and take up the trade of farming in Brazil... Well... for two months at least (or however long the missus can put up with living with her mother). After that I guess I'll have to get a 'proper' job if there is such a thing.

I guess you could say the idea to become a farmer kicked off somewhere around the age of three for me. My parents on a long road trip to Yorkshire (which involved several incidence of vomiting on my behalf. Mostly in my sister's lap, so it was fine) started playing the 'what do you want to be when you're older' game