Sunday Gratitude – Guaecá
For the last week, the Owl family has been in Brazil–we flew home Friday after visiting the Coruja (“owl” in Portuguese) side of the family. In the grandest sense, Christmas holidays in Brazil are a true Parliament of Owls, as we meet up with cousins, second cousins, third cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents at a tiny beach community named Guaecá, three and a half hours from one of the largest cities in the world, São Paulo. While it is not completely translatable from the Tupi-Guarani native languages, Guaecá seems to be a type of bay laurel tree. Somehow that seems too easy to me, however, because the last place we lived in Brazil before moving to Weston was named “Boaçava” or “narrowest place to cross the river.” The Tupis were very succinct.
For around 35 years, Mr. Owl and his extended family have spent summer (southern hemisphere, folks) at this unique place–watching it grow from an empty beach with horses wandering its shoreline, to 13 park-like “quadras” (groups of around 20 houses with a grass corridor to the ocean) to its current iteration which includes larger closer-together houses at each end of the curved beach. There are more people, more trash, and more traffic. And yet the beauty and uniqueness of the place seem indomitable.
Vendors of Rocha ice cream, cold coconut water, boiled corn cut off the ear for you on the spot, and cashews and hammocks stop by, all barefoot on the world’s softest sand. Under umbrellas and tents, families pop up their beach chairs, set down their cooler, and watch the crowd go by–the endless trail of walkers up and down the 2 mile-long beach. We watch the surfers further down, the lifeguard whistling for the people who head out too deep–Guaecá has a mean rip current and while small waves can fool you, the lack of waves in certain areas is a clear sign of the undertow.
The Owl is one of only a few non-Brazilians who have found this place, and only because she was let in by the family. It is not a place for tourists–there are no hotels, no commerce, no supermarkets. A single market (which arrived a few years ago) and the padaria, or bakery, are 10 minutes away by car, down a curved and dangerous mountain road in the town of Barequeçaba (do you not love Tupi words? Me too–I endeavored to learn some 15 years ago–and gave up. This one means “the place where the priest slept”). Every morning a family member is elected to go…it’s like The Lottery–because no one wants to leave the gorgeous morning beach or wait in line for the french bread (and yet we all want to eat it). Fortunately I gave up my Brazilian driver license in 2014 so I am exempt.
During the long lazy days, we flip-flop back and forth to our beach house, three in from beachfront, but in earshot of the waves. We avoid the quero-quero birds who guard their exploring kids and will dive-bomb anyone who gets too close. Many years ago, an owlet was knocked over by tiny wings and one mad mother bird. Flashes of white and black, then yellow birds (swallows?) as they flutter through and then sing from the palms. The workers rake leaves from the grassed “road” which allows no cars or bicycles (nor leaf blowers!!)–only the residents and their roll-y beach gear. Note that all beaches in Brazil are public access–you cannot own the beach or exclusive rights to it–a much better and more equitable coast that the American style of what’s mine is mine. Public access is at both ends of the beach, and the middle, the so-called “Avenida”–the one paved access road to the beach.
In the evenings, an hour before sunset, the neighbors Mr. Owl has known for years but doesn’t talk with except when at the beach, or probably even know their last names, all gather with their friends and kids to play beach soccer. With each year some players grow chubbier and slower, and the next generation faster and taller. In spite of this, the older generation wins the adults vs kids match every single time, with some very questionable and non-reviewable self-calls of goals.
Sunset over the beach mountain never fails to inspire superlatives. I post photo after photo each year, and yet no one ever thinks, hey, I thought Brazil was on the east coast of South America–how can there be sunset on the Atlantic Ocean side? No one ever asks.
My gratitude today is deep– appreciation for the time I spent with family is primary: My crazy (in a good sense) mother-in-law whose love of animals and life has inspired one Owlet to seek more studies in it–and yes, she is the one who froze a toucan for us (long story for another day), my father-in-law whose stories of the good old days can be told a thousand times, and still be just as funny, my stepdaughter who has gone from family member to close friend as she reaches her mid-twenties. Sadly, my stepson and fiancée could not join us this year due to Covid. The extended family of cousins of various degrees (the owlets have third cousins, 12 of them, all within four years of their age) complete a huge, movie-worthy mix of opinions, beer tastes and fun. Indescribable. Delicious.
My gratitude extends to this tiny beach named Guaecá, and for the way it never really changes.
See you next year, Guaecá!