After four magic days trundling through the doldrums we were getting close to Brazil. I was expecting lots more wild-life but nothing much was showing up. The result of centuries of plundering of wild-life by our sailors. They took the females, young and eggs as if they were endless.
I fear the end is in sight. Our numbers will kill off the remainder.
Our first port of call was Recife. I was looking forward to Brazil’s Samba and vitality. I wanted to see the result of Pedro Alvez Cabral’s discovery. He’d claimed it for Portugal. It had been part of the slave trade. With Indian and freed African slave blood mixed with European stock there was a rich hybrid vigour to provide that energy.
I didn’t have to wait long. We were welcomed off the ship by a band knocking out Samba rhythm.
We set out to look round. The city seemed a good place. We alighted on a square in front of the Palace. It had a Baalbab tree and fig trees with their aerial roots. The air was rich and humid. It felt and looked tropical. The palace and theatre were both colonial buildings looking tatty and in the process of decay.
We set off for jail. The jail has been transformed into a tourist trap with local arts and crafts. It’s an amazing building. Nothing has been changed except that now all the cells are little shops designed to trap tourists. They do a mean fruit juice though – very sticky and thirst quenching – though we’re both wondering, with the flies and hygiene – whether it’ll be coming back up the other way soon. (It didn’t).
Out back of the prison there was the railway station designed and built by the British. Looked it too.
We’d heard Olinda was the place. A Portuguese colonial town on the hill overlooking Recife. That’s where we headed.
Through streets of colourful painted house up to the top and the inevitable church. The Portuguese had a mission to save souls. They were a latter-day Christian ISIS and every bit as ruthless. The Churches were their ICBMs for subjugation and control. Their aim was to Christianise the Indians, get them to work and plunder the wealth. Their piety was only exceeded by they greed and violence.
Sao Berto was lavish. It was a gilded statement of power. Incredible painting, blue Portuguese tilework and grandeur. Outside there were beggars using young kids and babies to plead coins from tourists.
We walked from the church along the street to another church and square overlooking Recife. We sat and drank coconut juice from a fresh coconut and looked out over the bay and beach with its high-rise blocks. It was quite a view. Pretty blue and yellow birds nested and played in the trees. There were gaily coloured parrots squawking. Down the hill was verdant forest with more churches and the red tiled roofs of houses. It was picturesque but all showing signs of dilapidation. It was as if the Brazilians were rejecting the whole of their colonial heritage. Its only use was to attract in tourists but they’d rather see it rot.
We headed for the beach. It was dull with a spot of rain so it did not look at its best but the heat was very humid and we strolled along. The Brazilians were not impressed with the weather. It was almost empty. We looked at the waves lapping on the yellow sand and the tall apartment blocks of glass and balconies along the very edge of the sand and it seemed to sum up the image of the new Brazil.
On the way back to the boat we had a look at the other side, the shanty towns – shacks on stilts along the river bank – where the poor and disposed lived.
We’d gone from million dollar apartments to destitution within a mile. That seemed to be the story of Brazil. There was immense wealth and huge poverty and no will or inclination to solve its problems and maintain the infrastructure.
We’d only been here a day but we’d picked up the scent. Corruption was in the air from the tropical forests, the crumbling colonial buildings and the politicians. Brazil was interesting and dangerous.
We’d got a sniff – more was to come.