Chapter 2

Red Light Candy Sales Are Down

(Part 1)


My husband and I recently returned from visiting four cities in Brazil.  His parents are just the best.  I must’ve been a saint in a past life or something, because I seriously lucked out. From Rio, to Brasilia, the Capital; Fernando De Noronha; Iguassu Falls, a tiny touch of Argentina.  It was an absolute dream.  And dreams often have moments of euphoria.  (David Beckham on a gondola giving you a pedicure) and moments of panic (like falling from the Space Needle with nothing to hold on to but a pink jump-rope and a Bazooka Joe bubblegum wrapper.  Brazilian bubble gum, to be exact).  But we’ll get to that in a few.  

Oh, Brazil.  I have never set my newly candy-apple-red pedicured toes into such crystal clear 80-degree tropical water on spongy white sand, in my entire existence.  Well, except for the Bahamas but it was a simulated beach theme park, so yeah.  Theme parks can only dream of being this.  Everything does.  I would hunt and gather (or rather, roll over like a drunken sea lion to tan my other side and see) cocoanuts for lunch.  Just crack ‘em over a rock and have them for afternoon siesta-snacks. We rip roared around the island in a beat up, dusty dune buggy, and hiked to lagoons we only see in the movies.  We feasted on Camaron de Salada - a foodie’s dream-shrimp salad with warm black currant drizzle and prawns, practically singing to you, thanking you for being the royalty, worthy of stealing them from those neighborhood coves to devour at the hipster restaurant tables.  

Yes, pretending to be rich for thirty days was surreal.  “Honey you pay for everything here.  You sneeze and you have to pay”.  It appeared I was the only pink faced, redheaded English speaking American person on the island, which seemed to interest a lot of surf shop retailers, restaurants and hotel owners.  Without my native husband, I would've been up the Amazon creek without a paddle.  Still it felt so good to allow all the hectic energy and conversation filling the air, to just wash over me.  I couldn’t understand a lick of it.  I had months of Portuguese lessons before we left and the minute a Cab driver at the airport asked if we needed a ride, I stared at him blank faced and stunned.  “That’s not what they taught me in class honey.”  About 15 minutes of chaotic chatter and my husband was able to score me a box of tampons from the only pharmacy-looking place on the island.  “Is it normal to not know what rubbing alcohol is”?  I refused to be the snotty American who wanted everything her way, but man, it was always the difference between a ruined-by simmers ear- vacation and a wonderful tropical experience.  So when I asked the drop-dead gorgeous pouty-lipped clerk if she could find some rubbing alcohol and she looked at me like I had sea turtles crawling out of my ears, I was a little annoyed. One little droplet will dry out and sterilize the ear canal!  Doesn’t everyone know that!?  Also, my mother always told me to never use Q-Tips because “it’s just like packing gun powder into your ear!  Don’t come running to me when you can’t hear me anymore”.  Well, something like that.   

We grew together as a couple, quite a bit.  It began with, “hey babe you have the cash, right”? as we were circling to land on the island, ending with, “Uh, I thought you were gonna do that”.  After about 15 more minutes of impossible chatter, Pedro was gestured to the nearest ATM machine.  The ONLY ATM machine on the island.  We waited in a pointless line only to see a series of hieroglyphics on the screen, apparently telling us it was “out of order”, in Portuguese.  For all you English speaking folk, it basically said, “You’re screwed, you dumbass.”  How could you forget something like CASH”?!  Well, it is a tourist island.  That’s their bread and butter.  I’m sure they take all forms of payments.  Right?  Fun fact of the day: Did you know that credit card machines need an internet connection to process payments?  And did you also know that tiny little islands in the middle of nowhere barely fathom the idea of “internet”?  

After combing the entire island for a credit card friendly establishment of any kind, we concluded we would just get by with whatever fell out of the patron’s mouths.  I immediately went into my “surviving pioneer woman” mode and actually dug through my suitcase to find my tennis shoes, and hiked into the wilderness to find any kind of edible foliage “Grass, or maybe those green bananas, a mile up in that tree?  I think I remember how to build a basic brush fire to roast a wild rabbit.  But I will have to fashion a bow and arrow from the sticks I find here.  I guess here, it would be more like a small monkey or one of those skinny cats outside the hotels, fighting over that roadkill.  Yes, my mind actually goes there on a monthly basis, depending on how long the In N Out Burger drive through line is.  

After a good hour and a half in the “lobby”, we checked into our “hotel”.  Ah, the simplicity of a shower knob made of a ball of duct tape.  A monkey bouncing in the attic of our roof, so hard that our ceiling began to cave in a little bit.  There’s just so much more (that I have not the time or budget to go into), but things changed after we met Abida.  She was an adorable angel in the shape of a native woman, running the hotel.  She managed the lobby, cooked the complimentary morning breakfast, and taught us quite a bit about real life on the island.  Relationships will always be more important than money, success or status at any level.  We remembered that lesson quickly, after she pulled yesterday’s continental breakfast leftovers from the fridge for us, as she explained the lay of the land.  To Pedro.  I sat stuffing my face with fists full of delectable treats I’ve never seen in my life.  

In my years of gaining worldly wisdom on tours, I have seen quite a bit of poverty.  Yes, I had seen poverty…from a very cushy SUV, bus, Ritz Carlton hotel window on the 55th story, next to a security guard, road manager and well paid English speaking tour guide. Poverty, or at least “hard times”, was now most often, right outside our “hotel” door, under the green banana tree. Hooray!  Starvation, be gone!   If Motel 6 had monkeys, hammocks and a ball of duct tape as an (cold trickle) on-off shower knob, that’s where we’d be.    An optional hammock found in the closet, graced our clothesline on the concrete block front porch.  

We quickly sensed the obvious energy of “lavish luxury-meets-desperation” in our neighborhood.  Now, I am very aware that your private G6 jet parked outside of your 5 private high-rises, surrounded by this year’s Victoria’s Secret Angels-ish groupies, doesn’t spell happiness.  In fact nothing does.  And few things come close.  After taking a 22 hour flight from poverty stricken parts of Johannesburg South Africa, right to a 300 million dollar yacht in Bermuda (both, music gigs) I was lucky to have learned and seen the truth.  The dramatic differences in this world.  This was somewhere in between, down here.  This marked our first day in (as the locals call it), Hell In Paradise.  

As an American go-getter-gal, once ya know what’s out there, ya gotta have it.  Like yesterday.  Right?  Well, whatever.  I do.  Anyway, turns out we were a little ill-equipped for our daily unexpected 7-10 mile hikes to the beautiful highly sought after “secret” beaches.  And by “secret”, I think they mean, “you’d better know how to haul ass in the blazing heat, into barely beaten paths that cause you to question your own purpose or competency on this earth”.  One, voted “the most beautiful beach in the world”.  Playa De Sancho.  Don’t get me wrong.  I LOVE hiking.  Any kind of endless pilgrimage.  I’ll travers 100 miles backpacking through the alps-hiking…IF I have my gear.  “There’s no such thing as bad weather”, my dad always said.  “Just bad gear”.  I was short, a couple of rugged (yet, purple limited edition) Anu hiking boots, camel back day-hiker-hydration backpack and of course, basic Panama Jack khaki safari hat and sun shirt, for protection from the elements.  Right now, we’re talking about my 4 years-expired Nike “minimalist” flat road-runners.  I might has well have been barefoot.  And unless you were, the island’s version of “Rich Folk”, you weren’t renting a dusty old, (the cool version of a local) Buggy.  Those cool little toy dune buggies.  We hated the gas smell and the noise that it dragged through the quiet little streets.  That is, until we rented one.  Praise the Lord, there was ONE place on the island that took credit cards.  Yes, the inter webs swooped down from the heavens and on to that ONE special pinpoint on Fernando De Noronha.  On this ONE and only dune buggy rental and surf shop that took credit cards.  The few legacy words in Portuguese that I will take with me for eternity; cartão de crédito.  “Credit card”.  Yep.  Forever emblazoned on my heart.  Branded.  I’d grown rather comfortable washing my one pair of footie socks in the sink every night before we went to bed.  My flimsy overpriced tourist safari hat was caked in something I just couldn’t scrub out in the bathroom sink.  So, I just got over it.  Oh that hat.  You know the ones with that flap of fabric in the back that hangs down like a Crocodile Dundee mullet?  No choice, friends.  The Irish girl had no choice. I put on the same long sleeve ripped Lululemon sun shirt and shorts every day.  The socks were always damp in the morning but I just didn’t care.  I also learned how difficult it is to have a travel budget and actually stay with it. Had I not married the Ghandi of financial balance, I would probably be living in a dark alley, INSIDE my Louis Vutton Never-Full bag (because they are such an investment, oh, and they are so good in the rain!) after choosing the bag over my rent money.  

There was one legendary highly sought after friend-to-foodie restaurant I kept drooling over every day as we hiked uphill, back to our villa.  For one of the two “big treat-nights”, we decided to unroll ourpermanently wrinkled “date-night”, outifts and head to a real dinner tonight because, “we earned it”.  I’ve never paid such an arm and a leg for a greater helping of dissatisfaction in my life.  No, no no.  The food was incredible!  AMAZING!  There just wasn’t enough OF it.  It was a brand new mood, igniting my tastebuds in a way I’ve never experienced and I wanted gold ol’ fat AMERICAN portions, dammit! My advice to my readers this week is this: Venture out into your world and find the rare thing most people don't have.  “Enough”.