Singing gauchos

About a week after Sophie left, another accordionist that collaborated with my theatre company came to visit. Gwennie worked with me in Fronteiras Explorers last year, when she first came into contact with the gaucho culture of southern Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina. She became highly interested in this, as someone who works with Scottish folkloric dance and music back in the UK, and wanted to come back to my home state to do a bit of research on the gaucho folk music festivals we have. Her folk group, The Nest Collective, have a radio show in London and her aim was to do a radio special about gauchos, highlighting an aspect of Brazilian culture that is little known abroad – seriously, hands up who doesn’t automatically think of samba, capoeira and carnaval when they hear ‘Brazil’. Our own bloody fault, but yeah… I thought so.

Anyway, she flew to Porto Alegre, where Patricia and I met her. We also met her friend Phil, a photographer that also had an interest in doing some work about gauchos. Phil had decided to take the BUS down from Rio, and after 27 long hours, we picked him up from the bus station and shoved him in the car for another 3 hours to São Lourenço do Sul, where a folk music festival awaited. São Lourenço is a small town south of Porto Alegre, sitting by Lagoa dos Patos, the largest lagoon in Brazil. Despite being historically important and culturally diverse, it isn’t a highly popular tourist destination. Few non-Brazilians know this, but there was a civil war between 1835 and 1845 during which my home state of Rio Grande do Sul declared itself an independent republic from Brazil. São Lourenço was a strategic point during that war, where Italian revolutionary Giuseppe Garibaldi (look him up, he’s a super cool dude) set up his shipyard to build the fleet that would be used against the Empire. In addition to this nautical history, the town also offers an interesting insight into immigrant cultures in this part of Brazil, including the amazing contrast between Pomeranians from Germany, encouraged to migrate to find work in the New World, and Africans brought by the slave trade.

The festival itself, Reponte da Canção, is a long-running event and one of the largest in the area. We watched all three nights of the festival, spoke to a few musicians, organisers, local government representatives, and TV hosts. We were interviewed by the TV guys too, you can watch it here (warning: it’s all in Portuguese). Throughout the weekend, the project became to unfold into several projects, as we discussed the many layers that there are to gaucho culture and traditions – don’t worry, this is way too long a discussion for a blog post and I won’t bore you with that, but feel free to get in touch if that is something you’re interested in.

After São Lourenço, we headed back to Porto Alegre to dig a bit further. We took Gwennie and Phil to the Gaucho Institute of Folklore and Tradition, and to a nearby farm to see some gauchos in action. Phil wanted to see even more action, though, so we ended up heading north to the region of the Italian colonies up the mountains, to the even tinier town of Flores da Cunha for a rodeo (special thanks to Pati and Mateus for being delightful hosts over there).

The state of Rio Grande do Sul is bigger than Scotland. There were other things we wanted to do but didn’t have the time, like going to a mate/chimarrão festival. We managed to gather enough material for a couple of decent projects though, and you can see the first of these here, just published by the BBC. I think we did alright taking the road less travelled there, aye?

Charlie’s Angels gone wrong & The Ghost Beach

The main objective of this blog is for me to rant about draconian immigration laws getting in the way of, or influencing my theatre work, and share my border-crosser experiences. But it is also a blog about travelling, so occasionally, I will post stories about interesting places I’ve visited just because. Like this one.

A few days after Neale’s visit and our jaunt around Uruguay and Argentina, another friend came to visit from Scotland. Pam had been here before, so Porto Alegre and Livramento weren’t new to her, but I like taking people to different places, so my sister and I had the idea of taking her to Cambará do Sul, a tiny town on the north of the state of Rio Grande do Sul famous for its national park Aparados da Serra. My sister and I had never been there either, so that would be new to us as well. The most famous thing in the park are the Jurassic-like canyons. We spent two days getting ready to go, checking weather conditions, activating the FlavNav (you know, memorising Google Maps as we still don’t have a GPS), choosing the right clothes for the occasion, and packing bags with enough supplies to survive in the jungle in case we got lost. We ended up looking like a poor version of Charlie’s Angels that didn’t get the brief, which the picture below confirms:

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So we got to Aparados, and stood at the top of trail leading to the main canyon, took a deep breath and trekked into the wild, ready to face the unknown. 45 minutes and hardly any effort later, we were at the canyon. We sat and ate our packed lunches laughing at our OTT prepping and admiring the view.

We spent a couple of hours there just basking in some nature and then went back, took the car and drove across the border (sorry, I had to!) into the state of Santa Catarina so we could U-turn and cross again into Rio Grande do Sul to go to the beach for a few days. We spent one night in Torres, the northernmost and my favourite beach in the south (shout out to Pousada Aventura, the excellent hostel where we stayed), and then went a bit further south to Capão Novo.

Capão Novo is a district of Capão da Canoa, the closest coastal town to Porto Alegre (and it feels like a suburb of Porto Alegre too). My brother has a house in Capão Novo, so we went there for sheer practicality. This, however, was November. Summer hadn’t kicked in yet, and I had never been there out of season. The place was a ghost town. Just a couple of the shops were open, and there was absolutely no one else at the beach apart from me and Pam. We did have a chilled week watching a lot of crap telly – the best show was this Jeremy Kyle-style thing in which a guy was keeping a MASSIVE secret from his girlfriend, and we were trying to guess what it was. We settled for a sex change, but it was revealed (after about 3 hours) that he had signed up to join the mission to colonise Mars!

Oh yeah, we also had a near-death experience when some loony drove straight at our taxi, but our driver managed to swerve and we escaped unscathed. A thrilling week indeed.