Ilha Do Mel + Curitiba, Brazil.

Here is Duncan. Duncan is a guy I met in 1995 in Bolton Street, Studying Architecture in Dublin, Ireland. From the word go, Duncan had his 'thinking outside the box' hat on. Jesuit educated, (whether that has anything to do with it or not...) he sees the bigger global picture, and it was from him that I originally heard the expression 'think global, act local'. His passion is most notably for eco-activism, grass-roots politics, and empowerment from the ground up. His wife Tania and he, now live in Curitiba, state of Paranha, Brazil, and I travelled east from Iguazu to spend a few days in their company.

When I arrived at 7am in Curitiba Rodoviaria (Station) Saturday morning last (timed perfectly so that I would go from my bus to theirs seamlessly), I saw Duncan running towards me shouting something about being in a rush, no time for handshakes, the bus was leaving, only three seats left.... going to be late. As it happened, we stayed behind and let the rest of the group head on to Isla Do Mel, where we were to spend the remainder of our weekend.

So finding ourselves in Paranagua, having had a good catch up on the road out from Curitiba, Duncan shows me this little historical gem. It's a Portugese slave whipping post. In the photo above the set-out of the place gives one a clear picture of the ceremoniality of the regular slave floggings that happened here, and frequently resulted in death. A slave might get too big for his boots, and the master would ensure that such insubordination would never happen again, but not before sated the public appetite for violence. Below, the hitching point for the misfortunate's chains, atop the column of death. Truly gruesome, indeed.

So having made it to Puntal, we hopped on board the ferry to Ilha Do Mel (The Island of Honey) for a weekend of soaking some rays, and some very heavy sessions, as it turned out. (Look at me here, so innocent and unsuspecting).

Here is the gang, left to right: Anderson (Br), Sean (Irl), Vanesa (Arg), Tania (Peru), Duncan (Irl), Peter (Irish man in Brazil), Front centre Odinelse (Br) (pronounced 'Oh-gin-ow-se'), such a lovely accent the Brazilian Portugese, so suave, such nice people. This would be after having had some Kachasa (local fire water - very strong) mixed with hot coffee.... Peter has taken some very nice photos throughout the time we were on the island, which I hope to post as soon as possible, particularly of the beach bonfires. That night we went to the local bingo hall to check out the local vibes, and we drank the traditional sweet mulled wine which is served with a marshmallow (wierd, but has to be tried), there were rumours of bonfires for St. Peters night, but we were told it would be the following night, which we subsequently established was quoted as being a day early, again, so the only bonfire was our own.

The weeknd begins on the beach with a bit of pucking around. Duncan's Camáns and Sliotars come in handy.

The end of the night, yours truly takes it all in.

The bonfires were a huge success, and we gathered plenty rotted and dessicated wood and timber jetsam from the beach and piled it high, danced to and listened to music, and did it up pagan style that night, and the next.

The following morning we took a trip to the beaches and into the wilderness of the island environs, and up top the lighthouse. I dawdled behind, such is my wont being on an extended holiday. The beauty of the place is self evident. In the distance (below) the far end of the island which is largely uninhabited, and dense jungle, and represents more than 75% I would say, of the overall island area.

The old lighthouse.

From the lighthouse (Farol) at the summit of one of the island hills, I see a man surveying the inner bay from his plastic chair, in the traditional dress, of board shorts and flip flops. He is yelling and waving his hands down toward the shore.... I think to myself, 'Is someone being mugged?' or worse?. He scarpers in a cacophony of heel slapping rhythyms down the long stone staircase toward the beach, and I take up the position of sentry and see this below.

This is not to be missed I think to myself, and getting down to the beach myself, I confirm that there is a community of people hauling in fishing lines... The fish (similar to mullet, as far as I can tell) are hopping out over the seaward edge of the huge nets, most however are hauled in, to the shouts of delight and whooping of the locals. So I give them a hand, and stab myself in the palm with on the the fish dorsal fins. There's a bit still in there I'd say, but I carried on regardless. The venom or whatever spreads to my hand, and I get the flu later that weekend... Nothing to do with the beer, oh no.... It was that fish stab....

An old man told me to take care as I threw the fish from inside the net perimeter out into a pile on the beach that they were all contributing to, and so I carried them from one place to the other, the fish writhing, flipping, and struggling in my hands. I admit to being wary, even scared. But everyone else was doing it, and it felt natural, and good. The community fish haul, in the old way sees less fish I am told by a very scantily clad woman, who tells me she saw me helping, later that day. She quotes figures of 18,000 now down to 8,000 fish , 4 hauls as opposed to 10 etc. I found all that data very interesting, needless to say, and completely forgot to call her back to ask her why that was, as she walked away to her home on the island, of which she was also sure to inform me.

This little guy, was also in the nets. Sandro the chef (see later on) would tell me that these guys are not good to eat, poisonous in fact, and if you are going to eat them, that everything from the head forward should be discarded, and the remainder thoroughly washed. He was thrown back into the lapping tide.

The pile of fish grows, only today.

Action from the shore line:

The second night we returned to find the embers glowing of the fire from the first night.

And not content with having built another bonfire from the glowing embers of the first one, making movies of chasing crabs across the beach, reciting the theme rap to 'The Fresh Prince of Bel Air' in the grounds of the hostel, Duncan and I snuck off as the rest went to bed for some island adventure. We found it. Duncan proposed a game of 'Sinuca'. We were in luck. Just up the road from the Hostel was a shebeen with a game of Sinuca in full swing.

This is Sinuca, pronounced as written. Or at least one version of it. Everyone of five players, throws a fiver in the pot, and is given three bottlecaps with ball numbers on the inside. Pot the balls and you win. Simple right? You might think that, but they play dirty. Like the old ladies in Bridge tournaments, blocking all other balls, strategically placing their own to cause all kinds of problems. I thought I'd choke on the cigarette smoke, it seemed to hang there. They were ALL smoking, and Duncan and I were tucking into the last of the Kachasa, only around a third of the bottle. Boy, did I live to regret that.

The lads in action. The bandage is not real, he is playing some kind of an in-joke, which may or may not have been about Duncan and I (the gringos), as we challenged and rechallenged these sharks.

They break from the back..... Cultural and sporting diversity. Sandro is the guy in blue.

After we were beaten out the door, and with my wallet (not Duncan's) considerably lighter, we stood in the street outside, well under the weather chatting about life and love, and Sandro appears. Duncan charms him a little with his fantastic Portugese, and Sandro decides that he likes us, (a bit too much as it turned out later) and he invites us back to his place of work for Mojitos. Sandro is a chef, and Duncan and I sat on the veranda, as Sandro did some pot walloping inside the kitchen, and returned a few minutes later with a pretty good mixing jar of freash Mojito it has to be said, with three straws, which we no doubt randomly exchanged throughout its consumption. Oh, and there was the remainder of that bottle of rocket fuel too.

So Sandro explains to us about his life and his work, and his trials and tribulations, and we speak of enlightening subjects, spirituality, the ladies etc. And just at that moment when things shift up a gear, and the night has taken a turn, beyond the control of anyone there, I feel something, yes, definately something rubbing my leg. Yeah that's a shoe for sure, and it's going from my knee to my ankle, yeah, it is. For sure. So I say it out loud. 'Are you rubbing my leg', Duncan translates. 'No' is the answer, but the rubbing not only does not stop, it continues, as a matter of recollection.

My good looks always get me into trouble. Either that or our friend Sandro thought that I was his buddy. Wink wink. A few polite words to the wise put dear Sandro in the know. Letting someone down was seldom easier. He was gracious in his acceptance, even if he was fervent in his advances.

Oh! Sandro, you'll find love some day.

So, a sliotar in the mouth, a dose of the flu, roughly seven enduring notable mosquito bites, three games of Sinuca, a close shave, two massive hangovers later we are on the road back to Curitiba. The hair of the dog lasts all the way, the crew sustaining the pace all the way back to Danny's bar in downtown Curitiba for the Peru v Chile Semi Final in the Copa.

I get busy talking to Peter, and asking him about his work in Brasil. Peter has been in Brasil for around forty years.

Making it back we stroll around Curitiba, and the evidence of an independent thinking people is all around. The photo of the poster below stuck on one of the monuments in the main square translaters roughly as, "The greatest enemy of a government, is a cultured people". Later Peter, would explain to me that Brasil is in fact a Federative republic, as opposed to a federal republic. The Governers of each of the Brasilian states are somewhat autonomous, and this autonomy trickles down to the mayoralities and executive administrations of the cities within their control. This allows for independent thinking, fresh approaches to problem solving.

Attending at the University of Lund, Sweden in 1999, I learned of Curitiba, and the civic revolution going on there, created by a forward thinking and new urban plan that had been commited to by all parties at the table back in the 1980s (if my recollection serves me correctly). Jaime Lerner, former mayor of Curitiba, and Architect by profession successfully conceptualised, and implemented this low cost and revolutionary approach to public transport in Brasil. Other cities are now adopting a similar approach where resources and funds are low, but where there is a will to tackle important civic issues head on with a proactive attitude. Many administrations could take a leaf from this book in terms of attitude.

The picture below shows one of the bus shelters, where once inside, you have paid for your journey, and you are within the system. The buses run on dedicated corridors and public transport is prioritised throughout the city. The city does contain a critical mass of around 2-3 million people in the wider metropolitan area including the surrounding municipalities.

Peter is a warm, well spoken gentleman who has dedicated much of his time to establishing the cultural and historical links between Ireland and Brasil, and is the go-to guy for all of the Irish governmental delegations to Brasil, including Mary Robinson's and Mary McAleese's visits here during their tenures. Only a fortnight ago, co-incidentally he met with the Irish President in Ireland Micheal O'Dea, in the same week as my own father met the same head of state for slightly different reasons. How the world is a small place indeed. It's like I haven't gone anywhere, though I am across the Atlantic Ocean, and quadrisphere south.

Peter's website is here, and the amount of information that he has curated is deserving of some considerable merit. It behoves us to stand up and take note of his tireless work documenting the astonishing cultural, demographic, emigration and historical ties between Ireland and Brasil, including one of interest to my own family; the records of one Patrick O'Donovan, a priest stationed in an Irish colony / commune in Pelotas, Brasil in the 1800s early 1900s.

His website is here:
Of particular note is the reference to the Irish Priest above in the pictures of this document:
His facebook group page is here: search for "LINKS BRASIL IRLANDA".

Above, Duncan and Peter just before I left for Porto Alegre. We had coffee and cakes and a chat about the origins of the name "Brazil" and how it is possibly a word of gaelic origin. See Peter's website for more here:

This page will be further updated with information from the group.