Ayrton Senna - Brazil's most famous race car driver and considered by many to be the best Formula One driver ever, a three-time champion who tragically died while leading the 1994 Italian Grand Prix. What does he have to do with today's activities? Be patient, we'll get to that soon enough ...
Sleepy today ... restless night ... too hot ... blah ... going to be a long day, as I'm attempting to see both Olinda and Recife's city centre today, in order to free up time tomorrow to day trip out to Porto de Galinhas. Olinda is a great example of colonial towns in Brazil, with obvious Portuguese influence, and was actually once burned to the ground by the Dutch and later rebuilt by the Portuguese.
There are an incredible number of churches in the historic centre but very few are available to visit, since most have been looted over the years and are in a bad state of repair. Most of the churches here are actually heavily fortified with bars over windows, heavy doors, and 8" thick walls. Interestingly but sad, there was a time where those of African descent were not allowed to walk through the doors of the church, and needed to enter through a series of tunnels beneath the church.
Olinda is beautiful but a bit much under the intense Brazilian sun and I found myself ready to pass out after a few hours. Emergency measures needed to be taken, which included hiding out in a cafe under a fan and drinking some mangaba juice, yet another Brazilian fruit which defies any description using any North American fruit analogies.
After the beauty of Olinda, it was back to the putrefaction of downtown Recife. Putrefaction ... I love that word. The exact guidebook description of Recife was "... if you like your cities gutsy, gritty and proud, and can bear a whiff of putrefaction, Recife is for you." Recife has a number of canals which are not exactly clean and pristine, and give much of the centre a pretty terrible smell.
Pet peeve about Brazil - the damn buses. The problem is that you must flag down a bus - normally not a problem, but difficult when there are already two to three buses queued up at the stop, and you can't even see other buses pass by. The drivers don't make much of an effort in this case, carrying on like there isn't even a stop there - with some bad luck, I figure I missed two or three of my required bus as I waited.
It was a long day of sightseeing, and I started to tune out everything in Recife and decided it was time to give up on the day. There didn't seem to be much of interest for me here in Recife anyway, so it was no big loss, and atypically, I grabbed a taxi back to the hostel. This actually led to the most exciting part of the day
I ended taking a taxi driven by Ayrton Senna's father. Or more likely it was his grandfather. Did he tell me this? Well, no ... I can only infer based on the way he drove. It wasn't that he was a great driver ... it's just that he drove like he thought he was a great driver. The first thing I noticed was that he would start in second gear, since first gear was obviously lost from how he continually crunched the gears while shifting. Jerky breaking, jerkier steering, and even jerkier shifting, I worried that the crepe I had for lunch was going to magically reappear all over the interior of his car.
Once I came to grips with the fact that my death was to come much sooner than I anticipated, probably not in an actual car accident, but as a result of a car accident, I started to enjoy the ride. I chuckled on the inside as I envisioned myself gagging on whatever is in Recife's putrid waterways, after our taxi flew over a guardrail, doing a few somersaults and twists in the air like a svelte gymnast. Amazing how incredible every second of your life feels, when you know it's rapidly drawing to a close ...
I loved how Ayrton's grandfather would dive down the inside of a turn as if he was trying to overtake the car in front, but never really trying. Weaving in and out of traffic, slamming on the breaks, rapidly accelerating, screeching the tires as he upshifted ... I felt like I was in a real life version of Grand Theft Auto! I thought about taking out my camera and filming what was happening, as perhaps the police could use it to reconstruct how a taxi magically jumped over four lanes of traffic and landed in a canal. Or at the least, maybe my death would bring me some degree of Youtube infamy.
What was particularly amusing about the ride was how he would take both hands off the wheel to put on his glasses as we got near every street corner, as he was obviously unable to read the street signs without them. As we pulled up to the hostel, I handed over 20 Reais for the 18 Reais ride and told Ayrton's grandfather thank you, adding the four words "Ayrton Senna, muito bom!" as I gave the commonly-used Brazilian gesture of two thumbs up. He smiled a beautiful smile, showing me a mouth nearly devoid of teeth. Perhaps my two Reais tip will go to a good cause - into the savings fund for a good pair of dentures for poor ol' Ayrton Senna's grandfather.
Tonight was spent recovering from the day ... I think it was a case of mild heat stroke, and some Gatorade and a nap were good medicine. I really need to re-think my travel strategy for South America ... the fast-paced style that is so much fun in Europe simply doesn't work here, causing burnout, like a few years ago in Buenos Aires. I think I'm getting old and my body is starting to break down ... Brazil, what have you done to me???