Sunday, April 25, 2010

Weekend in the country

I'm grateful to have friends in a number of cities around the world so that I'm able to experience life as a local in the 3 weeks I am able to spend in a location. I have a girlfriend who used to work for our company that invited me to spend the weekend at her family's farm outside of Sao Paulo. She promised me a weekend of walking, relaxing and fresh air. How could I say "nao"?

We left at 8:30 pm Friday night and drove north for 3 hours. Silvia has 2 kids (6 and 2) and a nanny that came along with us. Having help is pretty typical in Sao Paulo. Silvia has a cook/cleaner and nanny during the week and often one of them helps out on the weekends. For this trip, the best part was having the nanny in the back seat taking care of the kids, who quickly fell asleep (Silvia's strategy is to leave at night so they would fall asleep), so that we can chat.

Her family's farm is north of Sao Paulo near a town called Mocaca. The farm was originally a coffee plantation, but is now sugar cane and vegetables. The advent of mechanical harvesting machines has relegated coffee to flat lands. Much of the area we traveled is hilly. Her farm is in a small valley, but has too many hills for coffee. Most of the family isn't interested in maintaining the farm so most of the land is rented to other farmers. There are 5 houses on the farm. One that her grandmother still owns, which is where we stayed. Caretakers and domestic help live in the rest. There are some cows, horses, chickens, quail and one pig on the farm. There's no internet access and no cell phone service. The farm road is unpaved and red dirt gets everywhere.

The family home has 5 bedrooms, a wonderful porch, a pool, and a private church next door where Silvia started the tradition of family members getting married. The church was built in 1909, although Silvia didn't think the house was that old. The ceilings in the house were extremely tall and the home was filled with antiques - furniture from France, flow blue pottery, china cabinets full of stemware. The windows have blue shutters and no screens. Lucky for me, the mosquitos were not in full force. Although the housecleaner who made my bed every morning closed my shutters in the afternoon I opened them up at bedtime. It was wonderful to sleep with windows open after being in a hotel for two weeks!

We woke up after 8 on Saturday. Breakfast was homemade bread toasted in a cast iron pan with homemade jabuticaba jam , a honeydew melon, and coffee com leite (warm milk). Silvia and I went into Mococa to buy some groceries for dinner and I got to experience a real meat counter in Brazil. The display case was no different than what one would see in the U.S. But inside the case, huge cuts of meat hung on hooks. You ordered the type of meat you want (such as sirloin, rump) and how you want it cut - thin, thick, ground, pounded, cubed, etc. It was fascinating watching the butchers skillfully trim the beef and cut the meat. With 4 butchers and a long line of people buying quantities of meat for the Sunday barbeque, it took us awhile to get served. But since Silvia doesn't cook and isn't used to buying meat like this, it was good for us to observe what others were doing. We ended up with ground meat from the same cut of meat that I saw another guy request to be ground. Why not! 
After our supermarket experience, we drove into the heart of Mococa to see the old town square, church and houses. The church was lovely from the outside, but nothing spectacular, but beautiful on the inside. As Silvia explained, people in Brazil are very supportive of their churches and take good care of them.

We spent the rest of the day playing with the kids and farm dogs, reading on the porch and took an afternoon walk for 1.5 hours while the kids listened to music at the neighbor's house (the cleaning lady) with the nanny. The neighbor was having a barbeque and her son had friends over to play the guitar and sing. The cook made us lunch and dinner so meals weren't a hassles (except getting Sofia to eat was sometimes a challenge....why do kids dislike eating so much?!).

Sunday morning Silvia and I took another walk in the morning to check out the lake. This is one of the roads we walked and the vista we enjoyed. It was a truly relaxing and special weekend. I really appreciate Silvia showing me a slice of her life.


Caroline said...

How great to know it's not all work for you Irene! Maintaining contact with long distance friends, ex-colleagues, what have you is a wonderful way to explore travel options. It just doesn't get any better when you have your own guide, cook, housekeeper, nanny...who else? hehe...keep blogging please. I'm enjoying this! Cheers!

Irene said...

Thanks Caroline! And hopefully I'll have a chance to come visit your city! It's been YEARS since I was last there!

As long as I keep traveling, I'll continue to blog.