Aracaju Weeks One and Two: Welcome back to Civilisation

After my absurdly long bus journey out of Campo Formoso, I arrived in Aracaju, set my ants up in their new laboratory, and headed to the house where I would be staying for the next 4 weeks, with a lady called Nice. As soon as the usual formalities were over; “this is where the bathroom is” … “this is the kitchen”… etc, I collapsed on the bed and slept for a few hours. When I awoke that evening I felt considerably more human. The evening meal proved to be only slightly traumatic, with the usual level of communication issues and no more than the expected level of showing off the exciting gringa, who had just arrived, to friends and family. Still feeling tired from my bus ordeal the night before, I escaped from the living room as early as possible and went to bed.

The following day I headed into university early, discovering just exactly how long my daily commute would be – about an hour on crowded, hot, bumpy Brazilian buses which appear to be driven by poorly trained monkeys (their only training being to aim for the pot holes and speed up for speed bumps). On top of this the scale of my work load for the coming weeks began to become apparent. I was about to try and fit 3 months worth of field work plans into 3 and a half weeks…. Nevertheless, it was nice to be back in the city, with most of the normal amenities that entails, along with people to socialise with.

The next two weeks passed worryingly quickly. Working long days in the lab and even working Saturdays, my days consisted of battling with the Brazilian bus service (on a commute that could take anywhere between 50 minutes and 2 hours depending on the ‘mood’ of the buses that day), doing experiments and observations with my ants, and struggling to communicate with my new adopted Brazilian mother. My mother, Nice, is a 50-year old Brazilian woman who makes a living as a masseuse, and by hosting foreign visitors to Aracaju. I call her my Brazilian mother because she has taken, wholeheartedly, to mothering me while I’m here. She cooks my meals, worries about me when I’m late home, and even goes through my things searching for dirty laundry. While a little frustrating at times, she is rather sweet.

My first weekend in Aracaju, I spent Friday night out with my lovely Brazilian friend, Fernanda, at a gig by a Beetles cover band. Watching a room full of Brazilians, most of whom don’t speak a word of English, singing along to “Hey Jude” was quite a sight. It was a nice evening, except for the fact that, in usual Brazilian style, the band didn’t start until 1am, and finished after 4am, which was a bit much considering I had worked a full day in the lab already. I awoke late on Saturday morning and Nice insisted that after lunch we should go to the beach together. So, around 2pm her son drove us to the beach where we got maybe a whole hour sitting by the sea before the sun started to set and it started to actually feel a little cold (in a bikini, at least) so we headed home.

The following day I had made plans to go with a group of friends on a full day hike in some beautiful hills in a nearby place called Itabiana. We were planning to meet at 7am so I knew it would be an early start, but that evening Nice and I took the half hour bus ride to the nearby shopping center in a desperate search for an extension cable I needed for my work. We managed to find one in a shop there called Loja Americana (American shop) and after eyeing-up the American chocolate bars we can’t by in the UK and stopping for a few minutes to watch a man playing acoustic guitar in the food court, we headed home. Somewhere between the chocolate and the music, I started to feel a cold coming on. I tried to hope for the best, but I started to realise there wouldn’t be any hiking for me the next day. Sure enough I woke up the following morning with a horrible cold, and was forced to spend the day in bed, enviously imagining the beautiful scenery I was missing out on.

My second week in the lab passed quickly and I was even finding I was getting used to the buses. That weekend I was forced to work Saturday, but in the evening I took a bus to the center of the city to meet some friends at a Forro night in celebration of São João; a festival in Northeast Brazil. Forro is a kind of traditional Brazilian music, typical of the Northeast of Brazil. I won’t attempt to describe it, for a better idea of what I’m talking about you can look here, if you dare. The music and the bar had a huge amount of energy about it, and although I didn’t attempt to join in with the dancing, I quite enjoyed the evening. Most impressive of all was the band, the members of which must all have been in their fifties at least, and yet maintained a constant stream of fast-paced Forro music for hours on end, with one lady who was playing the triangle dancing continuously throughout the performance.

On Sunday I headed out to the beach again, having felt dissatisfied with the limited beach time we got the previous week. This time I went alone, and found a relatively quite stretch of coastline near the aquarium where I spent a few hours relaxing and sunbathing before I decided to head inside to avoid sunburn. The inside the I decided to head to was the aquarium, Projeto Tamar, since I had noticed on my way past that they were feeding the sharks at 4.45pm. Projeto Tamar is a sea turtle conservation charity which works in Sergipe and Bahia to protect sea turtles, collecting freshly-laid eggs in ‘at-risk’ areas and releasing them after hatching. For a very reasonable R$5 (about £2), I got student entry into the aquarium and spent the rest of my afternoon watching the Brazilian fishes, turtles and nurse sharks going about their business, and towards the end of the day, being fed. I ended the day with a sunset stroll back along the beach towards the bus terminal. After a 6-day week in the lab, this Sunday was exactly what I needed.

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