November 22, 2012
Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Hope all those back home and abroad are thoroughly enjoying my favorite holiday. Mia and I celebrated in true American fashion: by gorging ourselves silly on sushi from the self-service sushi bar down the street. ‘Twas a pay by the kilo enterprise, and we definitely succeeded in boosting their sales quota.
The latter half of our holiday will be spent crushin limes, shakin up cocktails, and sneaking drinks as we have landed jobs as…bartenders!
While backpacking around Europe last year, we utilized the site helpx.net to find jobs abroad as a means of sustaining our travels. The positions were never paid, but provided us with free room and board. We worked at a yoga retreat center in Mallorca, an adventure hostel in Ireland, and even lived in a teepee in the middle of the Picos de Europa mountains of Spain with a hippy fellow in exchange for helping him to forage for food and bake bread. There are listings for helpx opportunities all over the globe, though Europe, Australia, and New Zealand are by far most prominent locations — and Brazil, one of the least. Still, we wanted to settle down and do some sort of work exchange for our first month in Brazil to acclimate to this completely foreign country, as well as to save some cash. Thus, it was time to get creative.
We flew into Recife but knew from the get go that we didn’t want to stay there as it’s a massive and heavily crime ridden city. However, after talking to many of the Brazilians we met during Camino and doing quite a bit of research ourselves, we decided that Natal — a city just 4 hours north, famed for being the sun capital of Brazil, and a future host location for the 2014 World Cup — was the winner.
You get the picture.
From there, we went on hostelworld.com and selected the coolest hostel in the best part of the city, and emailed them asking if there was any work we could do in exchange for a bed.
Got our response 20 minutes later: For sure!
Henrique, who owns the hostel along with his brother George, said we could work as bartenders at the hostel’s outdoor bar in exchange for our own room, breakfast, and the option to participate in any of the activities/excursions hosted by their partner companies for free, though the first week would be work-free, solely dedicated to relaxing, getting to know the city, and participating in said excursions.
And such is our life.
The hostel itself is fantastic. Was actually the childhood home of Henrique and George up until the two brothers decided to convert it into a hostel 9 years ago. When we arrived on a Saturday evening 2 weeks ago, Henrique greeted us with a beer, and said, “Welcome home girls.”
And it really does feel like home. Some of the guests who have come through the hostel ask us if we get bored staying in one spot for a whole month, and the honest answer is…no. When you’re traveling for 5 or 6 months, you need to find places along the way that feel like home. Furthermore, if you have an honest interest in learning about and experiencing a country, I believe it essential that you indulge in the local culture to a depth inaccessible to the frequent flyer. And finally, I don’t know if it’s because I grew up on an island, but I never get bored with a beach.
We work at the bar 4 or 5 nights a week, usually starting around 6 and closing by 11. Back in DC, I’d get the occasional power rush herding 8th graders around the capital city, and particularly when scolding overly involved parents twice my age for squawking around the Library of Congress past the scheduled meeting time. Why are parents always worse than their children? ANYWAY. What I learned on my first night behind the bar is that nothing commands authority like a bottle of booze and damn does it feel good to hold the scepter of power. Not one to typically toot my own horn, but Henny and George taught us their special Caipirinha recipe — a brazilian cocktail made with lime, sugar, and your alcohol of choice — and thus far we’ve gotten rave reviews from the public. Now I just need to learn some cool tricks ala Coyote Ugly. Pity about my lack of coordination.
Our mornings and afternoons are usually spent at the beach. We live a 3 minute walk from the largest and most vibrant beach in Natal, which never fails to entertain. Beach culture here is so different than what I am accustomed to. Maui is very simple. People bring their towels, perhaps some chairs, snacks, and a soccer ball if it’s an all day family affair. Occasionally some of the ritzy beach front hotels will have lounge chairs available for use by their guests. But generally very simple. Not the case here in Brazil. The beach is where all the action happens. Countless lounge chairs, tables, and umbrellas are scattered along the beach, available to anyone for 5 reals ($2.50) per person. There are tons of people selling all different types of food (lots of BBQ meat and seafood skewers, sweet and savory crepes, and, oddly enough, corn on the cob) and drinks, all of which are crafted in little carts that are pushed back and forth through the sand. There are also many people selling jewelry, hammocks, bathing suits, hats, foot massages…and the list goes on. My favorite are the fellows who push around these small wooden carts that have massive speakers built in, and are always blasting sweet tunes. I’m presuming they sell CDs, though most often they seem to just be dancing and having a good time. Also, there are tons of people playing soccer, building sand castles, and jogging along the beach, and the water is always filled with surfers and sunbathers alike. The crowd itself seems to be a pretty even mix of locals and tourists. Natal is the tourist destination for Brazilians as the northeast of Brazil is noted for having some of the best coastlines in the world, yet there aren’t many visitors from outside the country. A fair number of Europeans, a few Aussies and Argentinians, but not many others. We’ve met a couple Canadians, though have yet to encounter any other Americans. Usually I dislike crowded beaches with a lot of tourist traffic, but the vibes here are just so good. OH and the rumors about itsy bitsy Brazilian bikinis are true. Which isn’t to say that all Brazilian women have super bangin bods. More so, they just seem to be totally comfortable with their bodies no matter its shape or size, which in itself is much more beautiful than any figure. Though I should probably say that the rumor about Brazilian women being beautiful is also very true. Unfortunately the men are a little less to rave about.
Quieter and more secluded beaches are within biking distance. Plus there’s a sweet fruit market along the way. Please note my stylish biker outfit. The photo may be blurry but my ability to color coordinate is clear. Always such the fashionista.
As this started as a Thanksgiving post, I suppose it’d be fitting to conclude by saying what I’m most thankful for. Truth is, I’ve really got a lot for which to be grateful. One of the reasons I’ve refrained from writing anything up until now is because I’m really happy and thus every time I put pen to paper (metaphorically speaking of course — thumbs to iPhone touch screen isn’t nearly as romantic of an image) I seem to spew cliched word vomit all over the page. For example, I nearly captioned one of these photos “life’s a beach!”. In the words of En Tang, the fuck.
SO rather than writing a gag worthy list of thanks, I’ll just stick with number one (despite its hint of cheese):
I’m thankful to have parents who love me enough to worry. Just wish you wouldn’t worry quite so much
Mia says she is thankful for self-service sushi bars and George’s awe-inspiring good looks. Amen to that.