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Day 24: São Luís

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The beaches of Sâo Luís are so big you can drive a car along them. Not that I'd recommend it. Except for the view.
Michael Palin - BrazilIt's Sunday – Domingo – and my friend Augusto wants to show me what happens to the north-eastern beaches on a day off. He drives me south and east of Calhau down the road to Araçagi Beach. And to my embarrassment he doesn't stop there. He drives off the road and onto the beach, weaving in and out of people doing exactly the same thing. As far as the eye can see the golden sands are full of cars, usually parked up beside a little gazebo, a barraca as they call them, which offers a postage stamp of shade for the plastic table and four chairs beneath. And those who can't afford a car come in by bus. By mid-morning the beach resembles a vast replica of suburban life. Long rows of cars and tents stretch side by side into the distance. Trolleys, either pedalled or pushed, keep the barracks topped up with pastries, juices, ice-creams, coconut milk and Guaraná Jesuses, whilst fishing boats bob around in the waves offshore waiting to supply this beach city with fresh crab, shrimp and prawns. Football and volleyball pitches have been improvised. Pick-up trucks with customized disco in the back thud, thump and blare their way up the beach, and nobody bats an eyelid. Sunday is a family day, and any family that can, goes to the beach. Fathers read the Sunday papers. Children kick a ball, fly a kite or splash in the muddy surf. Teenage girls in the tightest and skimpiest of bikinis display themselves with carefully posed nonchalance, whilst saggy grannies and grandpas, often equally skimpily dressed, walk quite unselfconsciously up and down the beach, soaking up the sun.

I learn from Augusto that girl-watching, rather like train-spotting, is an activity engaged in largely by adolescent boys. I'd seen some of them at one of the cafés up by the road, passing round a pair of binoculars as they scanned the beach like naval officers looking for U-boats. Augusto, a little bashfully, for he's thirty-six now, reveals that girl-watching has its own vocabulary of fruity metaphors. On Brazilian beaches the buttocks are the most admired parts of the female form and they're referred to as melees – melons.
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  • Series: Brazil
  • Chapter: Day 24: São Luís
  • Country/sea: Brazil
  • Place: São Luís
  • Book page no: 109

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