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By Joshua Rapp Learn, Contributing Reporter

Ocean view from the rooftops of Olinda, photo by Joshua Rapp Learn.
Ocean view from the rooftops of Olinda, photo by Joshua Rapp Learn.

OLINDA – “Hey, Macarrão!” I was surprised to hear my Capoeira nickname a few seconds after stepping off the bus in Olinda, a beautiful colonial town to the north of Recife.  The name translates to ‘pasta noodle’ and outside of Vancouver, only a few people knew of it.

I glanced across the street to see a muscly Brazilian smiling at me. “Pai Jam?”  I inquired.  I’d briefly spoken to the Capoeira teacher on the phone after Eclilson de Jesus, master of the international Capoeira group Aché Brasil, emailed me his contact number in Olinda.

I had mistakenly assumed it would be easy to track down the academy once I arrived. However, after asking around town I realized this wasn’t the case.

Olinda was significantly bigger than I imagined it to be and most people wanted to direct me to one of the schools offering classes in the more touristy part of town.

“A lot of groups just want to make money off tourists.  Some of them charge money just to watch, and people get commission for bringing tourists in,” Pai Jam explained as he strung together a berimbau in his apartment after he pulled me in off the street.  As well as teaching lessons, he also constructs the bow-like instruments that dictate the style of a particular Capoeira game through its pace and rhythm.

For me it was the culmination of nearly five years of practice at Master Eclilson’s academy in Vancouver.  It had taken me a year of overland traveling through the Americas to get here, and practicing Capoeira in Olinda with my academy was the last major stop of my trip.  The only unfortunate detail was the fact that a year of traveling had taken its toll on my fitness level.

“I’m a little out of shape,” I confessed to Pai Jam as we walked along the seafront. 

Recife means reef in Portuguese and the entire city’s coastline is cradled with the shark-infested stuff. “There are no sharks in Olinda,” Pai Jam told me as I stopped in front of a huge sign warning tourists of the imminent danger of attacks.  “They are mostly in Boa Viagem.”

Painting the streets of Olinda, photo by Adrian Adams.
Painting the streets of Olinda, photo by Adrian Adams.

Nonetheless, I neglected to take a dip during my stay.  Despite the blazing heat, I spent the daytime hours pounding the cobblestones through winding, roller coaster streets, ducking under the awnings of craft stands and into colorful art galleries whenever I needed respite from the sun.

The shady spots weren’t enough, however.  A decision to shave my head the night before wasn’t the best idea this close to the equator.  Before the sun had set, the skin on my scalp was peeling.

The sweat came pouring off during a Capoeira lesson with Pai Jam.  One thing I had forgotten to consider about training in northern Brazil was the heat.  Even the hottest days of Vancouver’s summer couldn’t compare to the humidity of Recife’s winter.  Water breaks were frequent, but the heat was enough to make a dip in the shark-infested ocean tempting after all.

Capoeira Aché Brasil is a large group that offers lessons throughout Olinda and Recife nearly everyday.  Mestre Eclilson de Jesus can be reached through Aché Brasil’s website at http://www.achebrasil.com/.

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