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.