There is one very special place outside the city of São Paulo, in the countryside where my husband and I love to escape to clear our heads and get our eyes sparkling again whenever the big city life has dulled them.
This place is nothing like the city. Nothing at all. It must be the country girl inside me speaking, but if there is something that makes my heart sing nowadays, it is spending time and having adventures in the nature.
Our special getaway place is everything I could wish for a blissful being. A beautiful farm with lots and lots of green all around me, birds, animals, fruit trees, flowers, forests, lakes, rivers and tracks to discover on long walks.
A typical perfect Saturday in the farm would roughly go like this:
After having slept in just a little (because I do not have to work today, yay!), I slowly open my eyes and give it a proper stretch. My hubby, let’s call him Don Ferdinand (I know he will hate it but it matches my own “Brazilian nickname”), is still asleep, but he notices my attempts to start the day. Without opening his eyes he wraps his arms around me and says “Só mais 5 minutinhos” (“Just five more minutes”). This is a request that is almost impossible to say no to. Therefore, and despite the loud clucking noise of chicken right behind our window, it takes another hour and all the spooning you can fit into it, before I actually do get up.
Once out of bed, I slightly open the window blinds – just enough to see that it is a lovely sunny day outside, yet not as much as to blind my dear sleepyhead, who is yet to reach the mental readiness to get up. I let in a ray of light, as I am definitely not planning to get another bruise bumping into the bed or dresser corner while trying to find my way in the dark, as I have done so many times before.
Then, I throw a splash of cold water on my face, tie my hair into a high and very heavy ponytail (I have not had a haircut in ages!), throw on a loose fitting dress and a pair of havaianas and call our sweetest dog Amora to go out for a short walk in the fruit garden. Amora has patiently been waiting for us to wake up and cannot hide her gratefulness when we finally do.
We adopted Amora as an adult dog through the organization Hopet almost a year ago now. It is quite clear that she has gone through tough times in her life. Although still distrustful of other dogs and people she does not know, even Amora becomes a different dog in the farm. A much happier one, prancing all around the place and accompanying us faithfully everywhere we go. Furthermore, every time we come home from the farm, we observe that she has gotten a little better.
Just as we step outside into the sunlight, the other two dogs that live on the farm – Pepe and Dores – come running. Whenever there are people on the farm, they take full advantage of the situation and do not stay a step behind. Whether it is an adventure, lunch, patting time, stargazing or just about anything else, Pepe and Dores are always there to keep us accompanied. My husband, Don Ferdinand, even loves to joke that Pepe’s loud panting following us around everywhere is the soundtrack of our romance.
Pepe is a beautiful older golden retriever who has been living on the farm since she was a puppy. Probably you would not find another dog that enjoyed the well-cared-for-farm-dog life more than she does. The only thing that Pepe misses is a human’s company 24-hours a day. That is why Pepe tries to jump into our car, when she sees we are getting ready to leave; cries loudly at the door when she is left outside while humans have dinner or when we do not let her sleep in our room like Amora does – something that Dores definitely does not care for. It is just too limiting for her.
It is because Dores is an independent small-sized redhead always keeping an eye on all corners of the farm grounds. Dores was found on the streets, adopted and brought to the farm. She is definitely the alfa dog that rules the farm and everyone that comes with it. Dores is a pest to all cows and horses, making sure they understand that she is in charge, and the one who does not think twice to jump onto any lap (or couch) that is available. If anyone is strong and confident, it is Dores. She goes after what she wants and usually gets it. I guess it is because during her street years she learnt that this is how you survive.
Therefore, it is always her that opens the path in front of us on our walks, making sure it is safe, while Pepe likes to trot right between me and Don Ferdinand and Amora lags behind timidly, yet faithfully. But we will get there – to our walks and adventures, that is. Let us not get ahead of ourselves.
With good mornings said and pats given, we head towards the fruit garden. While Amora minds her own private business, I wander around among the trees and let the sunbeams gently caress my skin. The air is so pure (such a contrast with São Paulo!), so mild and filled with the delicious smell of whatever fruit is ripe that particular season. My absolute favorite is Pitanga, or Surinam Cherry, as I learnt they call it in English. Whenever I can, I sneak a pitanga or two as an appetizer during my garden stroll with the dogs. Even the smell of pitanga leaves when you rub them between the palms of your hand is delicious.
The morning stroll is followed by breakfast at the big round family table in the main house. Don Ferdinand and I usually enter through the kitchen door to give greeting kisses to Maria, and let her know that we are finally up. Maria works on the farm since before Don Ferdinand was born and is a great cook until today.
For breakfast, she has prepared a thermos full of strong coffee and brings the oven fresh bread rolls on the table just a few moments after we have found our seats. She has kept the bread rolls she baked that very morning warm for us. Thus, they are amazing to eat with requeijão or butter that melts as you smear it on the bread. Usually there is also freshly squeezed orange juice, an entire white cheese that Maria has made herself, and Don Ferdinand’s favorite – sweet carrot cake with chocolate coating.
In spite of all the delicacies, we try to have a light(er) breakfast (that actually ends up being a lot heartier than our usual day-to-day toast at home). Two bread rolls a little bit of cheese, and maybe just a taste of that delicious cake that goes so well with coffee, is usually enough to satisfy us, while not ruining appetite for lunch.
Then it is time for the first stroll of the day! That particular day we might hike through the eucalyptus to get to a small river on the border of the farm that conceals a lovely waterfall in the portion that is thickly surrounded by the forest on both sides. We take off our shoes, roll up the trouser legs and get into the crisp cold and crystal clear water. Then, we wade in the water for about 10 or 15 minutes in the direction of the waterfall, trying to balance ourselves on slippery rocks and avoid insidious deep hollows. We climb over or crawl under any tree trunks or branches that block our way. Even though it is hot outside, the water is so cold it makes our feet numb.
That is also the reason why we are only as courageous as to dip ourselves in the waterfall quickly once or twice before heading back. Once again on the shallow, open and sunny end of the river, a spontaneous slime & mud fight started by my dear hubby, ensues. Mid-fight it becomes obvious that I am clearly losing, and my impeccably white top will probably never be the same again, yet I have not felt better nor more alive in weeks! I have to take a mental note to remember to play around more often. Being all grown up and serious can be good, but one should never forget to play to keep things nice and balanced 🙂
Or, instead of going to the waterfall we might circle the whole inhabited part of the farm, maybe visiting Don Ferdinand’s aunt and uncle in their lovely house and meeting and greeting all of the animals on our way. That is one of “my things” on the farm since day one – I never pass by any of the farm animals without at least saying “hi” and “bye” to them. I really like to talk to all of the cows and horses, and they are curious too! As soon as we get closer to the fence and start calling them, they gather around to see what we are up to. The braver ones even make contact and let us scratch them behind their ears.
There is one young stallion that is trickier, however. He has a whole paddock all to himself, while other horses share their pastures with each other and a couple of cows. He looks strong and magnificent, full of vigor and pride. The stallion likes to intimidate (and try to bite) anyone who pays attention or gets close enough. Therefore, when you happen to stop close to his paddock, he will come galloping from the other end right in your direction as if he was going to run you over. If you stay put, he might let you pat him a couple of times, and then will try to bite you a little.
Once I tried speaking Estonian to this horse (I still do not know his name!). It did not go as well as I had expected. We did not have a magical connection or anything. Quite on the contrary, the horse turned around on the spot, pointed his bum right where I was standing and let out a looooong noisy fart. Point taken. Since then I have never tried speaking Estonian to him (or any other farm animals) again. In the light of the recent news that horses uses symbols to talk to us I wonder what he was trying to tell me… 😀
After checking on the farm animals, we might go down to the lake. Sit on the shore for a while or go swimming. The lake is dark and the bottom is quite muddy, so you cannot see much and your feet tend to sink in, which is the most pleasant feeling. If you stay put in one place for a long time, you can count on some tiny fish nibbling on you a little. That is why it is most enjoyable to get in quickly, swim around in the refreshing water keeping in mind that it is a lot warmer close to the surface, while enjoying the sight of everything green around us as far as the eye can see, and then get out again quickly to dry in the sun.
When we finally get back to the farmhouse grounds, everyone else has gathered by the pool conversing and having some pre-lunch appetizers and drinks. With such wonderful weather, it is probably the right thing to do. We join in to enjoy the company and cool ourselves a little after walking in the sun has risen our body temperatures noticeably. When it is time for lunch, we change out of the wet clothes and head to the main house to have lunch together with everyone that is visiting the farm that day. It is never just a meal; it is a whole event in itself. The food is always tasty and the company even better. There is always something interesting, frequently polemic, to discuss. All opinions are welcome and everyone knows well how to argument their point, which makes it a great chance to learn new things about Brazil or any other matter currently topical.
Main course, dessert, coffee and heated discussion later, we all feel that it is time for some down time.So, Don Ferdinand and I head to the hammocks on the porch of the main house and drowse in each other’s arms for a while. When the digestive system finally liberates some energy that was stuck with processing all the delicacies we could not resist during lunch, Don Ferdinand gets up to make the most of the time on the farm. He probably practices shooting his air gun or cross-bow, carves something out of wood he picked up during our morning walk, or improves the tree-house he made for kids out of an old water hose and some cord. I usually read a book or just sit there lazily watching him and thinking where we should go for the afternoon walk or adventure.
You may wonder how much more there is to tell about just one day on the farm. The answer is: quite a lot. That is why I am going to pause here and leave the rest for next week. Not because I get tired of writing about it, quite on the contrary, but I am afraid you might become weary of reading. So, take a break, have a cup of tea, rest your eyes and check back next week for the second part.
Oh, and in the meantime I would love to hear what your favorite spots for getting away from the mundane are. Please, do tell, I would love to hear about it!