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Brazil, Part 4: Taking a break in Sao Luis

Brazil7 min read

August 25 - September 18, 2010

Having been on the road for six months since Chicago, and not staying in one place more than a week, I took a three week break in the coastal city of São Luís in northern Brazil, known for its reggae culture and colonial architecture. I met up with an old friend from my high school days in India who was living in São Luís for a year of historical research. While I'm enjoying being a nomad, it was good to be off the bike during this time. I also needed the downtime to prepare for the exams for my masters that I plan to give in São Paulo.

That's Kavin, a good friend from my school days in India. He's currently pursuing a Ph.D in History from the University of Pittsburgh and being a musician (he plays the bass guitar in the Afrobeat band, Kokolo), he's researching the influence of reggae on the local political scene.

Having a street snack of minced beef in a hot dog bun.

Walking around the historical centro, we came across this street performance of Tambor de Crioula, an Afro-Brazilian dance where the rhythmic drums (tambors) and chanting vocals were encouraging women to swirl and gyrate into the energy and seduce the beats.

The drumhead being heated up periodically with a small fire in the street to tighten up the sound.

While he's here researching, Kavin hasn't been able to tour with his regular band, Kokolo, but he's keeping active by playing with this local reggae band.

They were singing the reggae classics (Bob Marley's Legend) and it was interesting to see how well the lead singer could sing the lyrics in English even though he didn't speak a word of it. They called on Kavin to fill in and explain some of the vocals during their practice sessions.

I went around with Kavin as he visited various reggae organizations and here we're at one of the less developed communities.

These kids from the local community are part of a dance troupe that's trying to bring back Roots Reggae.

The kids put on a show for a reggae tour group that we sat in on.

After the small performance, Kavin discussed their story with the movement leaders. Reggae came into São Luís in the late 70s and 80s, due to its proximity to Jamaica and the culture took off on its own. Currently, modern reggae is the prime music at all bars and clubs. This new reggae sounds synthetic so there is a movement to encourage the warm sounds of Roots Reggae and the open, energy-filled dancing reminiscent of Bob Marley on stage. In contrast, modern reggae is a partner dance. Another feature of reggae here is the sound system where the louder it goes, the better. So imagine the speakers in the back of the room there, multiplied by 10 or 20 times and then imagine the volume. It was deafening everywhere we went; not just loud, but distorted. Kavin found out that which ever club made the biggest sound system, attracted the most people (since they drowned out their competition) and this naturally attracts politicians (to influence votes), so they are intimately related to the sound system companies. The most influential one went by the name, Power System.

As you might know, I enjoyed cooking a lot during my stay with Kavin. Here, I'm actually using my facão (machete) to cut up a chicken.

A spicy chicken curry with some potatoes.

Instead of seeing a lot of street dogs, I saw lots of cats all over São Luís. This guy was relaxing without a care in the world on this counter in a restaurant.

Having a Sunday fish fry lunch for R$ 7.

I was in Brazil during the run up to their major elections on October 3rd. All throughout, from the depths of the Amazon to every town, the streets were filled with images of candidates and their electorate numbers. Elections were on for the president, state governors, federal deputies (like congressmen) and state deputies. And every candidate had a car or a fleet of them with speakers blasting songs informing the public of their message and their number. And here is the funniest of them all. This Maranhão state deputy is named Nilton Damasceno and just because he looks like Obama, he's decided to tag his name on for more exposure. He was running under a campaign of "Change Maranhão".

One afternoon, we went to an island across the city to meet some friends to dance forró, a popular Brazilian partner dance. This is the view of modern São Luís across the shallow bay. The tides are quite extreme here.

Kavin dancing with Katya.

After that, we headed to another Reggae bar where Kavin was to interview the lead DJ, and we got a snack of freshly fried Pastel (a pastry shell filled with meat or cheese).

With Katya and her friend and pastels. Kavin gave me a Rasta hat to fit in, yeah mon.

Across from Kavin's place was this state-subsidized cafeteria where you could get a good meal for only R$ 1 (US$ 0.57) and it was open to everybody.

For R$ 1, you get some rice with beans, some meat, salad, a desert (fruit) and a drink. The yellow powder is farofa, a toasted manioc mixture, which is served on all tables throughout Brazil. It goes with the rice and beans and also can be sprinkled on meat.

Heading out for an afternoon at the beach. Kavin befriended the guys who work at this pastelaria, close to his place and it's customary to greet your friends every time you see them.

That's Mardiel and Loiro, who came from the interior to work in the city. They were very friendly and excited to see the big bike. Standing next to the fryer bought back memories from my college days in the US where I worked at the on-campus restaurants, flipping burgers, frying up taco shells and going back home smelling like fried oil but I saved the money and along with paying tuition, I bought a used BMW with it.

On the way to the beach, we got these small packets of frozen yogurt for R$ 0.50. There were lots of flavors and it was very tasty and welcoming for the warm air of São Luís. From what I saw, I can say hygiene is respected in Brazil. Even buying this from a street vendor where you are expected to tear off a corner and suck on it, the vendor reached into the ice box with a napkin, and only touched the one you were going to get.

The beach at São Luís.

Having some soft-shell crabs for lunch.

Enjoying a relaxing afternoon with Kavin at the beach over some tasty crabs. He grew out his hair and I cut it all off, much to the dismay of both our mothers, but we'd average out ok :p

Sunset at the beach, which is very shallow so it took a lot of wading through knee deep water before getting to the deep stuff.

In the evening, the beach front opens up to reggae clubs and these street bars, where we're getting a caipirinha made. It's the signature drink of Brazil made with cachaça (an alcohol distilled from sugar cane) and sugar and lime. Very refreshing, similar to a mojito.

Inside the reggae club, where we met the band during their sound check earlier in the evening. The bass guitarist had great facial expressions.

After not touching the bike or anything to do with it for two weeks, it was time to start getting ready to hit the road soon. I had to wash the dust from the TransAmazonica from almost everything I had. Here the boots are getting a wash, the first since I've bought them. Other things that were washed (for the first time), my entire helmet, sleeping bag, mattress, liner bags, and anything else that could be washed.

This is the right elbow of my jacket and you can see how the oils from my skin have latched onto the fine dust.

After all the washing, including the bike, it was time for some maintenance. Here I'm mounting the new front Metzeler Tourance tire that I've been carrying since Medellin, Colombia. I used some tie-down straps to anchor the bike against that cement bench.

The new Tourance on the left and the old Kenda K761 on the right with 25,630 kms (15,920 mi). I could have ridden on the Kenda some more if I had to, but as you can see, it was starting to cup pretty bad and in the wet, on the asphalt, in curves that wouldn't be a good front tire to be on.

Replacing the chain that I mounted in San Francisco (having the same mileage as the front tire above). I have the Motion Pro Chain Breaker but if I can find a grinder easily, I'd rather not risk breaking the Motion Pro tool and they recommend this method for chains over 520 width. Sebastian here didn't even charge me for the work he did.

The one thing I didn't get done on the bike before leaving Chicago was mounting a chain oiler to constantly lubricate the chain and thus extend its life. So, I explained the idea to Sebastian above and he gave me the bottle along with the tubing and I made a delivery system based on the Loobman Chain oiler. It got the chain oiled all right, but it also splattered oil on everything.

The delivery system made with zip-ties to lubricate both sides of each chain pin, since there are o-rings on both sides.

A park in the historical centro.

The court house.

A view of the ocean from the governor's house.

Sunset from the governor's house.

Igreja da Sé built in 1626 in honor of Our Lady of Victory, patron of the Portuguese at the Battle of Guaxenduba when they defeated and expelled the French, who established São Luís.

Baby Jesus getting a lunar halo.

Sunset over São Luís, considered the finest example of colonial Portuguese architecture.

Walking around the many narrow, cobble-stoned streets.

Having a few beers with Kavin and some friends on my last night here.

Saying good-bye to Kavin and feeling refreshed after a nice three week break. Thanks buddy.
It was a different kind of visit to meet someone that knew me from my past after being a stranger to everyone I came across in the past 5 months.

Next: Brazil, Part 5: The Northeast Region

Previous: Brazil, Part 3: The end of the TransAmazonica


Jammin thru the Global South was the 3+ year, 100,000+ km ride Jay did from the US to India via Latin America, Europe and Africa. Explore the photojournals at the Journey Posts tab.

Jammin Global Adventures is a tour company run by Jay Kannaiyan. He organizes small group, premium motorcycle adventures in Peru, Kenya, Mongolia, India and more.

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