Monday, October 29, 2012

Doing without

The power was off again on Saturday. This time it was only for a few hours and as it was for planned work, we at least knew about it in advance so we could make sure we were ready for it. Not only does this involve charging up all the laptops and iPads and making sure there's nothing open on the computer, it also involves filling up as many plastic bottles as we can find with drinking water. You can't really drink the tap water here and so we have a nice fancy filter that plugs directly into the main water supply and gives us lovely clean and chilled water whenever we need it. But of course it also comes with a plug on it and stops working whenever there's a power cut. Still, as I said, we were prepared.

What we weren't prepared for was the power cut that came on Sunday. This one was one of the more common São Paulo sort - the sort that comes with its own thunderstorm. I really should have learnt by now that when the temperature goes from twenty-five to thirty-five degrees almost overnight, then there's a storm on the way, and Sunday's was a stunner. It didn't last very long, but the hail was fairly impressive and the wind was strong enough to blow the cobwebs out of a fair few trees. And buildings.

I'm not entirely sure what exactly this was, before it was this. It might have been some sort of bus shelter or possibly someone's roof. Either way, it's now making a complete mess of the local trees and power lines.

So anyway. Off went the power once more. Only this time we weren't so prepared, having used up all our reserves of water the previous day and (rather short-sightedly) not yet replaced them. And this time it was late afternoon. It was dark because of the clouds and it was chucking it down with rain so going out anywhere was not going to be such a great idea. And, just for a bit of added fun, we lost our water supply at the same time, apparently due to a leak at the end of the street.

Not that we could have had our drinking water anyway, what with the lack of power, but this time we had to do without anything at all. Nothing to wash up with, or wash with, and most importantly of all, nothing to flush the toilets with. And believe me, in this heat, and with four of you in the house, that's not so much fun.

Nor is trying to sleep without air-conditioning. Yes, I know air-con is a wasteful luxury and houses are built with windows so you can open them to let the fresh air in. But out here there are several problems with that. Firstly, the air is not all that fresh. Secondly, opening the window can sometimes make it hotter, not cooler. And thirdly, mosquitoes really like open windows, especially if they've just been disturbed by a huge storm. Oh, and fourthly, it's really noisy with the windows open, what with all the planes and helicopters and cars and dogs and parties.

We put David to bed, but he couldn't sleep because he was too hot and too thirsty and it was too dark without a light on in the hall. So we moved him to the back of the house, where there was a faint hint of a breeze, and we set up his bed and his mosquito net, and we put a candle outside the door. But now it was too noisy as well as still being too hot. Tough. There was nothing else we could do short of letting him sleep in the fridge - and even that wasn't all that cold by this time.

Eventually he did fall asleep though. Then it was time to do the whole thing again for James. Then for Helen and me. But finally, after much huffing and puffing and shifting of beds and setting up of mosquito nets, we were all ready to try and get some sleep.

And then the power came back on. So we got up and woke the boys up and lugged their beds back into the room with the air-conditioning and sent them back to sleep, then Helen and I went back downstairs, turned off all the lights that were now on, did the washing up (as the water had miraculously come back on as well), refilled all the water bottles ready for the next time, put all the laptops and iPads back on charge and then finally...finally went off to bed in a nice cool bedroom with nothing more to show for our troubles than a handful of new mosquito bites - or in Helen's case, a handful, an armful and two legs-full - and a shopping list which features candles, torches, batteries, ear plugs and insect bite cream.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Time off for good behaviour

Happy holidays.
Last week the boys were on half-term and for once we decided to go off and do something with the time rather than just spend the week festering in São Paulo. After all, we do live in this huge and mostly beautiful country and really haven't seen as much of it as we would have liked. Well, now we've seen a bit more of it, having spent the week on Ilhabela - an island so beautiful they decided to call it Beautiful Island. (Actually, they called it Ilha de São Sebastião. They called the whole archipelago Ilhabela, but these days the name is used for the island on its own). Anyway, people have been telling us we should go there ever since we arrived in Brazil two years ago and it's a shame we didn't make more of an effort to go there earlier as it really was a very beautiful island.

The island in all its glory - just don't try sailing round the bottom of it, clearly.

This is what people say about Ilhabela: The beaches are fabulous, especially the ones round on the east coast which are only accessible by boat; the walks into the interior are hard work but well worth the effort for the breathtaking views, stunning waterfalls and amazing wildlife (birds, mostly); the insects are an unbearable menace, especially the borrachudos, (imagine a mosquito, then double it and add ten); don't bother going over a feriado weekend (public holiday) unless you really, really like the inside of your car. The only way to get there, unless you have your own boat or helicopter, requires a car ferry and a lot of patience.

Well. If everything in the above paragraph is true, then our trip to Ilhabela was anything but typical.

This is why it's called Ilhabela.
For those of you who know Ilhabela, we were staying down in the south, in a wonderfully quiet apartment complex about twenty-five minutes gentle walk further south than Curral Beach and fifteen minutes walk from the nearest supermarket - which is nothing really, until you have to do it carrying two bags of shopping and twelve litres of drinking water. Of course, these things are all much easier if you have a car, but we like to do things the hard way and came by taxi - although it did help that we spent the first two days with friends who did have a car and who were able to drive us to the island's biggest supermarket so we could stock up for the week - a task which, despite all appearances to the contrary, we failed at miserably. As a side note: How can two small boys eat so much bread?

Enjoying the sand, or possibly playing invisible chess.
Anyway, on to the holiday. The apartment was fabulous and contained the two things I really don't like having to do without - a comfortable bed and quiet air-conditioning. (What do you expect? I'm an old man with a bad back.) It also came with its very own home cinema system which I think we ended up using every night. I hate to have to admit it, but suddenly our 46 inch wall-mounted flatscreen TV no longer seem all that impressive.

Even more impressive than the home cinema - the view from the bedroom window.
But as nice as it was, we didn't go to Ilhabela for the surround-sound experience, we went for the beach. Our first two days were overcast and by Monday morning we were beginning to wonder whether we were going to see the sun at all, but then the clouds obligingly burnt off and we had three whole days of glorious sunshine. And for once I managed to avoid getting burnt on the very first day!

Here I am, wearing my happy beach face.

The company was elegant and sophisticated...

The food was hot and tasty...

The scenery was quite nice as well.
Needless to say, the kids loved it. James was slightly disappointed by the calmness of the sea and frustrated by his parents' inability to stay in the water for more than ten minutes without starting to shiver and complain that they needed to go and lie down for a bit in the sun, but eventually he settled down to help David pile up a load of sand and then disguise it as a rock and that seemed to keep them both happy for two whole days.

King of the hill.

Words fail me.
 The clouds came back on Thursday and so we took the opportunity to take a break from the beach and go exploring instead. The plan was to go and find a waterfall - one of the many coming down from the hills in the middle of the island - but sadly the rain started when we were only about half way there so we abandoned the trip and went and spent the afternoon with the home cinema instead. And it's not quite the right time of year for waterfalls anyway. There has been very little rain on the island (or anywhere near São Paulo for that matter) for months now and even though we could clearly see our nearest waterfall, it was a little unimpressive.

Look closer. It's there in the middle. Honestly.
It was much more impressive on Friday however, after a full night of heavy rain, but as this was our last full day, we decided to spend it back at the beach. This was not, as it turned out, such a good idea. For a start it was a feriado and so the place was heaving, despite the lack of any sun. What had been a lovely quiet beach two days before was now wall-to-wall tables and umbrellas and ambulantes (hawkers, not ambulances). The sea was rough as well, throwing waves right up to where the tables were set out so it gave the beach an even more crowded feel. At first James was delighted and we all spent a few adventurous minutes being hurled around in the water, but actually the current was so strong it was becoming a little dangerous and we had to retreat back to our tiny patch of beach, at which point the general feeling was that it was too cold and too crowded and we should go back to the apartment, have nice hot showers, eat lots of bread and watch a film. So we did.

Ker...splash!

Cold and cramped. And not even some burnt cheese on a stick could cheer us up.
On Saturday we packed up and came home, and despite it being a feriado, we managed to get straight onto the car ferry which was already there and loading when we arrived at the dock. In fact, the whole journey only took about four hours, including stops, which is pretty remarkable considering we know people who ended up taking nine hours to make the same trip. We also came away with very little in the way of bites. James, Helen and I all got about four or five each and David, who's like a mosquito magnet here in São Paulo, came away with just one. Considering we saw people down at the beach with nasty red bites all over them, I'd say we did very well. Two layers of mosquito-netting at night, antihistamines and enough repellent spray to sink a battleship clearly did the trick.

So now we're back in São Paulo (except Helen, who only got one day off before having to fly up to Rio first thing on Monday morning for work). The kids are back at school, I'm back at my desk and our holiday already seems like it was weeks ago. Still, lucky us. It's now only a month until our next one...