The Mole Diaries: Brazil

Lençois by !!! scogle

This article was written by Georgie Russell, published on 25th April 2011 and has been read 9789 times.

Georgie Russell is studying French, Spanish and Portuguese at Newcastle University. She chose Brazil for her year abroad "because it is one of the most culturally and geographically diverse countries on the planet", as she puts it. She works in the North-East, at Casa Grande, a social project helping children aged 4-14. Here is her account of how it went, what the project is about and what you can do in Brazil - the country of alegria...
My year abroad experience begins in one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world: Brazil. Sitting on the plane, attempting to understand Avatar in Portuguese, I am suddenly regretting not having looked at any Portuguese language books before I flew nearly 5000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean to work as a volunteer for 4 months. This is only the beginning I think to myself, as I switch to English subtitles…I am heading to Lençóis, an old, colonial mining town in the Chapada Diamantina National Park, nestled 7 hours inland from Salvador, Bahia.

The arrival

After relentless hassling from overeager Brazilians in Salvador, I was not sure what to expect from Lençois, but after the surprisingly comfy bus ride (way better than Megabus in England), I am greeted by one of the friendly Brazilians who works at the Pousada dos Duendes (think B&B), whose owner founded the project where I will work as a volunteer. Over the coming months, he would act as my encyclopedia of Bahian slang and introduce me to all aspects of Brazilian culture, from cuisine to capoeira.

For an awkward, unfit English girl with no rhythm and who is better suited to doing the big fish-little-fish-cardboard box dance, this was going to be painful…On my first morning, I am woken up at 7AM to try a class of capoeira, a type of fusion between martial arts and dance at the forefront of Afro-Brazilian culture. Nonetheless, the lively percussion, the world’s most patient contre-mestre and the reverberating chants sweep you along, and the hour flies by. Although, as expected, I did not find myself to hold a secret talent for capoeira (every single sinew in my body was screaming with pain), I came out with a grin and am still going to capoeira classes today, in Spain.  

The Project: Associação Casa GrandeGabriel

This project has the aim of supporting children academically and socially, whilst encouraging learning through playing. The education system in Brazil is terrible: children go to school for half a day, and for the rest of the time they play in the road; work or look after their younger siblings and cousins. The lack of resources and teachers means that classes are often overcrowded, with learning difficulties or psychological problems often going unnoticed. Few children go to pre-school and therefore do not have the basics to work with. In fact, many children are illiterate, with some still in difficulty at the age of 12. Inevitably, this is a huge problem as children find themselves locked in a vicious cycle, with some never making it past 2nd grade.

What the project does:

Provides a safe and supervised play area where kids can be kids. Gives academic support, through teaching the fundamental academic principles, overseeing homework. Offers a free English course for older children Allows children to learn to respect each other, with games and excursions, as well as through capoeira and sporting activities. We are also associated with environmental and computer technology groups who offer free learning workshops. Cachoeira do Sossego

Top 10 place to explore in Brazil

1. Hiking through Vale do Paty with Puma, allegedly the top rasta 2009 (think top model for rastas)
2. Horse riding to Capivara
3. The views from Morro do Pai Inácio
4. Stone hopping your way to Cachoeira de Sossego
5. Meeting crazy locals that ‘surf the rock’ at the busy Riberão do Meio
6. Diving into the Poço de Diabo
7. Bike tour to Cachoeira Roncador
8. Climbing at Primavera
9. Hiking to Fumaça, one of Brazil's highest waterfalls
10. Witnessing first hand the incredible blue waters in the Poço Azul  

Top 10 things to try

1. Feijoada: the quintessential rice, beans and meat dish that originated in the slave senzalas
2. Acaí na tigela: delicious fruit served like a sorbet – have to try it to believe it
3. One of the 50 different flavours of cachaça (sugar cane rum) in the Fazendinha. Those not so keen on pure cachaça can try batidas of almost any flavour (think alcoholic milk shake), or the non-alcoholic Agua de coco 
4. Godó de banana: traditional Bahian dish
5. Brigadeiros:  a bit like chocolate truffles
6. Go on a guided tour with Lucas at the Barraca near the Serrano, he protects the environment and looks after the surrounding nature for free, plus he always hands out Jaca dura (jack fruit)
7. Capoeira in the Mercado cultural
8. Samba or Forró with a Brazilian
9. Experience Candomblé, a religion which worships the Orixás
10. Volunteer at Casa Grande and get to know and help some local kids and families, the project does not receive any funding as it is reliant on volunteers so even a day would really help

Getting around town

The town of Lençois is small, quiet and peaceful during the day, as everyone is taking advantage of the phenomenal local hiking. Nevertheless, when night falls, you will get a chance to meet all of its locals. There is one main street, where all the bars, restaurants, shops and general meeting places are located: this is the Rua das Pedras. Come here to see and be seen; you cannot walk down the street without recognizing at least one person (and that was only after the second week for me!). The bus station is one side of the river; the city centre is on the other, with everything within walking distance, although there are some moto-taxis if you fancy a spin on a motorbike.

Finding accommodation

Easy-peasy as Lençóis is a tourist town, there are dozens of pousadas, hotels and tour companies, just book in advance for the holidays and festivals.

Here are two good places to stay:
Pousada dos Duendes
Pousada da Rita

What to pack:

Walking shoes or trainers
Flip-flops
Bikini or swimsuit
DEET mosquito repellent
Sunscreen

Our Mole Diaries are insider city guides written by students about their experiences, filled with top tips and recommendations. Please view our 200+ Mole Diaries arranged by language, and if you'd like to contribute, do find out more about becoming a Mole!

If you would like to comment, please login or register.