Feb 9th 2012 through Feb 12th, 2012
After spending two days in Nelson after leaving Takaka and the Hangdog campground behind I took a bus up to Motueka, a town just about halfway up the side of the Abel Tasman national park. What brought me to this tiny town, with a population barely over 10,000? The semi-annual Aruandê Capoeira meet up, of course!
That morning had seen me take a bus from Nelson to Motueka, thanks to a failed coordination of rides. On the bus I had gotten a chance to talk to a mother/daughter group from Auckland, who gave me more than a few tips on places to travel in the North Island for my upcoming road trip. After the bus finally arrived, late thanks to a series of roadworks, I had made a bee-line to the cheapest backpackers in town – Motueka Backpackers. There I talked to the manager, who told me that all of their dorms were full. “Unless… do you mind sleeping in the camper van? It’s a bit cramped and cold, but you’d have it all to yourself” “Umm, it’s the same price, and I get a private room? Yeah! I’m ok with that!” And so, instead of sleeping in a dorm filled with sweat and people, I ended up setting up shop in a camper van with my sleeping bag, relaxing all by myself.
I didn’t have time to relax much though, since the meet up had officially started at 10:00 on Saturday morning, and the bus hadn’t arrived until 10:30. But when I finally walked into the hall at 11:15, I found out that they had started on “South American standard time”… AKA an hour late.
Yet again, I find myself extremely happy about my innate sense of paranoia. I’m sitting in the Memorial Hall in Motueka as a friend of mine nicknamed “sushi” wraps a bandage around my knee. There are two quick stories here; one involving a knee, and another involving a kiwi guy being given a Japanese nickname. Lets… start with the knee, shall we?
One downside of long backpacking trips are the aches and pains. And in my case, these aches are located in my knees and lower back… the back pain was limited to a dull soreness, but the knees were a different and much more painful story. A while back I bashed my right knee out rock climbing – nothing bad enough to warrant a trip to the hospital, but something that left me with a nice limp for a few days. And ever since, its bugged me when I’ve done long sections of downhill while hiking, especially if I happen to have a heavy pack on my back. Well, the knee had flared up after the first day of the Abel Tasman, and I had started favoring it I guess, which lead to a complete blow-out of my left knee on the last day of the trail. I’d been resting it all through my time in Takaka and Nelson, but when I started practice with the Capoeira group, I quickly realized that it needed to be taped up.
The story of the Kiwi guy being given a Japanese nickname is a much quicker story – my friend Nick started Capoeira about a year ago, and had his Batisado, or Baptism of Fire, a few months after. Now its traditional to be given a new name during your batisado, to symbolize your rebirth into the culture; Nick had thought up a few, but almost immediately after the Mestre saw him, those ideas were thrown out the window. You see, Nick looks very Asian, and the Mestre noticed this, mentioned it, and decided that the nickname should fit the man. Thus, Sushi was born.
Anyways, Nick/Sushi was taping up my knee. The practice had been a good bit more grueling than I had expected, though I’ll admit that I didn’t really know what to expect when I first signed up for the meet up. I guess I was expecting seminars and talks, demonstrations and a big huge convention hall full of people. Instead, we got something that I actually enjoyed a significant amount more – a class. Simply what Pontual usually does… except with a number of new people who happen to be instructors.
And that’s the key right there – instructorS. Up until this point, Pontual was the best that I’d seen, aside from movies and videos on YouTube. And now, I was seeing the people who taught him, and people who had practiced along side him for years… and let me tell you, it was impressive.
We spent the entire day alternating between practicing sets of movements and random workouts, and getting together in the roda (pronounced “ho-dah”, thanks to the Portuguese “R”) to test the movements that we had learned against each other. It was honestly amazing, and was easily equivalent in awesomeness to a full day of rock climbing at my favorite crag. The energy that I felt there was excellent, and getting to see people training who could actually land kicks and takedowns on Pontual on a regular basis was eye opening – I think I’m going to enjoy training Capoeira for a long time to come.
After almost five hours of training we all got the instruments together and walked out of the hall to the center of town to do a live demonstration for the population of Motueka. I hadn’t known about this part of the plan, but in hindsight it was an amazing idea – the main point of this meet up was not only to train and get together as a group, but also to raise awareness for the Motueka chapter of the group… and raise awareness we did! I only got to play two or three rounds myself, but we kept playing for over an hour total, and for most of that time we had a very good showing of random people stopping by to watch the roda. It was really cool being the center of so much confused attention, and I think the better capoeiristas enjoyed the chance to really show off their skills to some easily impressed bystanders.
After the outside roda we all went back to our individual residences to take a quick shower before meeting back at the hall to drive down to Nelson again, for a classical Brazilian dinner that a friend of a friend had cooked up. After another few hijinks and misadventures we finally all met up and headed out onto the hour-long drive, where Spanish and I chatted long and hard about moves and counter-moves, pronunciation and technical terms, and even into roda etiquette.
The meal itself was amazing, but the party afterward was of a particular excellence that I haven’t seen in ages. For the meal we ate some amazing meat mix with rice, potatoes, and spare ribs on the side, washed down with a generous offering of some quite good New Zealand beers. And then… the music began. I learned firsthand that Cai Cai, an instructor from Australia who had flown over, was an extremely skilled break-dancer. I also learned that Spanish is a quite good dancer as well, and that I… am not. That fact had no bearing on my rocking out though, and I hate to admit it but I ended up pulling out all the stops and actually went 70s disco on the dance floor when I was called up to dance. From the funky chicken to the funky big rig, from the funky lawnmower to a funky shop trip, every horrible dance I knew was played out in front of the group. And then mirrored by at least one or two people, who pulled out some moves that even I could never have imagined trying. The night… was awesome.
I did have to leave a bit early though, in order to catch a ride back into Motueka so that I could get some sleep before practice the next day. Thankfully Vovo, the instructor from Motueka, was driving back and offered to give me a lift. We spent the drive talking about traveling around the world, and he took some time to explain the intricacy of the Capoeira culture and its history. By the time we got to the Backpackers my head was so full of new information, and my body so completely drained from the day of practice and the night of dancing, that I was asleep before I even got myself completely inside my sleeping bag back in the camper van.
The daylight broke through the tattered curtains of the camper van, transforming my slightly unique accommodations into a bright little slice of heaven. Backpackers are amazing everywhere I’ve been for their cheapness, and the chance to meet lots of interesting travelers… but the downside to them is that its always hard to fall asleep there, thanks to people constantly moving around. Here in Motueka I had somehow found the perfect situation where I could sleep easily, and yet still meet lots of interesting people. Though I’ll admit, in this situation most of those “interesting people” had only walked up and talked to me because they thought I had weed. Dreads are awesome, but it seems that they come with a steep price.
Anyways, after waking up I didn’t have enough time for any breakfast more substantial than a quick fruit-snack bar and a can of chicken that I had leftover from backpacking, so I quickly gulped down what I could and then headed out towards Memorial Hall. I arrived a bit late, but thankfully “South American Standard” time was still in effect and I ended up getting there a bit before Perere and Vovo arrived to unlock the hall for the morning.
Our workout started out a bit slower than the day before, but it quickly moved into some rather complex acrobatic movements before slowing down again when we grouped up and started practicing the music side of campoeira – learning the instruments and melodies.
There are four main instruments to the Roda – the Berimbau (pronounced “Bid-eem-Bao”), the Pandeiro (pronounced “Paan-dare-oh”), the Atabaque (pronounced “tah-bah-k”), and the A-go-go (pronounced exactly as you would think). The Berimbau is really interesting to look at, since its a pole with a wire strung just like a bow with a gourde attached to the bottom of it… but it’s the lead instrument of the roda. The Pandeiro is a standard-issue tamborine, much like anything you’d see at a faire. The Atabaque is a huge drum that comes up to above my waist which gives the roda its bass beat, and helps to keep the time that the Berimbau sets. Lastly, and A-Go-Go is a set of metal bell, and its actually an instrument originally for samba, but has been added into the roda. For most of the time I played the pandeiro, and I actually had a pretty cool epiphany while playing.
When I was first trying to learn the guitar a friend of mine told me to keep trying because “you don’t slowly understand it, you just keep working through your confusion until suddenly, one second, everything snaps into place”… I didn’t snap and understand all of music, but I actually started to hear the melody differently, and to understand the beats and where each instrument could fit into the greater song. It was an amazing feeling, and when I moved over to the <drums> I was able to understand a way to freestyle the beat a bit, and to improvise some new sounds that I really enjoyed.
We ended up spending nearly all afternoon singing and playing the instruments, but after a while we did set up one last roda for the weekend – the roda to burn ourselves out on. It was really quite impressive, though I’ll admit that the energy seemed a bit lower than what we had the previous day while playing outside. Possibly it was the fact that we’d been practicing all weekend, or maybe it was the lack of spectators, but either way we made up for it by playing that much harder – and watching Pontual and Cai Cai have their last duel was a match up that I don’t think I’ll forget any time soon.
Everyone started packing up and cleaning out the hall after our final cheer, and we had Memorial Hall back into full cleanliness in record time… literally less than 8 minutes. I only remember the specific number because we only had the hall until 3:45, and we didn’t finish the roda until 3:37… not usually a worry, but I guess that another group was coming in to use the hall at 4:00, and we needed to vacate the premises right away.
After cleaning up and packing the gear into cars we started the long process of saying goodbye to everyone; chatting, exchanging contact information and trying to remember the last few moves that Perere had shown us. We actually convinced Pontual and Cai Cai to perform the main three sequences out in front of the hall so that it could be caught on video so the rest of us could practice later on. The whole process actually started taking a bit long, and so we finally packed everyone into the cars after some of the drivers started reminding us about the 6+ hour drive that we had ahead of us.
Thankfully the drive went quickly though, and after a quick stop in at Harriet’s friends house for showers we were on the road back to Christchurch. I spent the drive reading Lord of the Rings in the back seat of the car, curled up in the corner with either Sara or Carla, depending on who was stuck in the middle seat at the time… it was actually surprisingly comfortable (especially considering Harriet does not own an extremely large car), and so I found myself back in Christchurch again before I knew it.