“Oh, man. I would walk the rest of the way for a Rolling Rock and a peanut butter bagel,” Aimee pulls out a roll of digestive biscuits and a chocolate bar from our food stash.
“Yeah, me too,” I say and roll over on the hay bale.
The truck slugs along southern Brazilian farmlands at 50 miles an hour crossing over the stretch of one sun burnt field after another, jostling us around like popped corn kernels inside a giant open topped popcorn maker, no butter, no salt. Seventeen people, some family, other strangers are on the camping trip. Aimee and I are the only vegetarians on the trip, which means we’re constantly hungry in the face of one cooked animal or another.
Every few miles, Frederik jumps out from the passenger side of the truck to unlock a gate while the forth and last car in the caravan stops to close it. The tires sink into dormant winter earth where wheat or soybeans will grow in a few months. Aimee leans back into the wood slats. We’ve been driving across the Brazilian countryside since 6 a.m., with two roadside stops for lunch and bathroom breaks.
“How does that Pixies song go,” I turn to ask Aimee, “With your feet in the air and your head on the ground.”
“Try this trick and spin it, yeah…where is my mind,” she sings. Her voice is high and sweet and lingers like peppermint candy. We jostle in the back of a pick up truck. Then we piece together song lyrics by The Modern Lovers and Guided by Voices before we tire of the game.
Three days ago, Regula, our hostess, offers us a once in a lifetime trip while we sat outside on the veranda, caipirinhas in hand, drinking in the swirl of languages, Portuguese, Swiss-French, Swiss-German, Dutch. The sun shines golden ocher on there in July, lighting the cadmium red dirt so that a thin layer of wool still feels like what we’re used to, summer.
Aimee takes off her headphones and closes Cormac McCarthy’s “All the Pretty Horses” I hauled from our apartment in Pittsburgh. Since Aimee and I arrived in Sao Paolo a month ago and then went directly to Regula’s sugar cane farm, Fazenda Jacutinga, in Lucelia, where we stammer to get past our guidebook Portuguese, “fala português?” “bom dia” “uma coca-cola, por favor.”
Lunch bustles with friends and family who come from Brazil and Europe. They mix and match languages until our heads pound and we tune them out. Regula adjusts her sunglasses and leans in.
“You know, I spoke with my sister on the telephone this morning, and she’s going on a two week camping trip. I thought maybe you girls would like to go and see the country. Our family has a few cottages in Mato Grosso do Sul, near the Rio Negro. A bunch of the family is going. I’d love to come along, but I need to stay here and run things on the farm. What do you say?”
“Sure,” Aimee and I blurt out before we think it through.
We arrive at the stone cabin long after the song game. The place is stuffy after being closed up for months. I help unpack the coolers and sacks of food, sweep away the cobwebs and air the place out with Regula’s sister, who moves like a wind-up toy, always in motion. She sets cold coke beer bottles on the plastic covered table, next to the tree facing windows. Everyone clamors there for several minutes before escaping to an empty hammock or cot for siesta.
This goes on for the next twelve days, between the cabin and the nearby mosquito net house overlooking the Rio Negro. The campers rise and fall around meals served at the table with puma tracks and fish bones in between. We eat our weight in biscuits and chocolates, splash them down with cokes and meat flecked beans and rice, as we secretly toss fried fish into the trees.
Aimee and I fly home three weeks later. Sitting on the red velvet couch that overlooks Graham Street, I pour two caipirinhas from the pitcher and in one sip, I’m back in Brazil.
Caipirinha is Brazil’s national cocktail. The drink is traditionally made by muddling lime wedges and sugar together along with a jigger of white Brazilian rum or Cachaça and some crushed ice. Serve in wide tumbler glasses. This recipe makes one drink, but you can easily make a pitcher of caipirinhas to serve the number of guests needed, well within reason, of course.
makes 1 drink (or for a large crowd, make enough for 8 or more drinks in a large pitcher)
1 lime (cut into quarters then halves crosswise)
1 tablespoon sugar (or more or less to taste)
1 1/2 ounces (3 tablespoons) Cachaça da Roça (Brazilian sugar cane rum)
Muddle the cut lime pieces and sugar in a chilled 6-ounce glass. Fill the glass with crushed ice. Pour in the Cachaça. Stir well. Drink on a hot afternoon with friends.