Sunday, February 3, 2013

Surubim, PE Home of the Vaquejada

After our week on the beach and another stopover in Recife, we hopped on a bus and headed inland to spend some time with Mary’s grandma Lourdes in the small city of Surubim.

We were greeted with many hugs and a massive spread of home-cooked deliciousness. Eating very well became a trend in Surubim -- Dona Lourdes is an amazing cook who never lets your plate stay empty. 

Midwestern grandmas and Brazilian grandmas have one thing in common: they love to feed you!

The table is outdoors in a walled off backyard behind the house called a quintal, which also featured this lovely open air shower. Normally an outdoor cold-water shower in the hot northeast of Brazil would be refreshing, but it was winter and unseasonably cold. It did wake us up in the mornings!

The quintal also had lots of flowers like this one.


Another view of the quintal. Mary is standing next to the clothesline and just in front of the outhouse. Dona Lourdes washes all of the clothes by hand…

...and these towels too!

This is Peru, the turkey. He also hangs out in the quintal. Back in the day he would have been dinner, but Dona Lourdes has gotten a bit soft in her old age. She gets her meat from the butcher shop and keeps this guy as a pet.

At night we got our own room and slept under the mosquito net. Mary rather enjoyed the feeling of sleeping under lace. Nick was less excited but happy that it kept the lizards from falling into the bed.

Luckily for us, our arrival coincided with the arrival of a circus. Circo Balao Magico set up their big top right next door to Dona Lourdes’ house! Here we are at the opening of the show.

And the tight-rope walker

And a guy perched atop a big stack of chairs.

An acrobat who did some cool tricks with a long length of hanging fabric.

And probably the most amazing act of all – a guy on a slack-line who stood on one leg and used his foot to flip dishes up into a stack on his head. He even managed to land a teaspoon in the top bowl!

We spent a good deal of time just walking the streets of the city. Here is a statue of Jesus in the center of Surubim – and a construction worker looking down on us from on top of a building.

We went to the big fruit market in the city center. So many different kinds of fruit. And so many colors! Here is Mary and her aunt Lei picking out some melons.

Fresh tomatoes and onions, by the kilo.

Mary and her third cousin Jackson. He had to show Mary everything in the house and tell her what it was – he was also very concerned that Mary finish her mango juice, either to be sure she got all her vitamin C or to free up her hands for playing. Or both.

One day we went with Mary’s grandma to the main cemetery in Surubim, where Mary’s relatives are buried. The first thing you see upon entering is row upon row of these shelf-like mausoleums. These are where middle class families bury their loved ones. Dona Lourdes isn’t actually in distress in this photo – she is just fixing her hair.
 The cemetery also has many of these bigger tombs for wealthier families. Some with crosses on top.

And others with cross-shaped spaces in the walls.

And finally, we saw some simple plots of land with wooden crosses like these, for those whose families can’t afford the other burial options.

This statue in the center of the cemetery is Padre Cicero, a famous priest from the area who was known for helping the poor. He is covered with candle wax because many people light prayer candles around him.

 A street scene from Surubim, which also features many an ‘Oi pod’ telephone and painted yellow walls. This one says ‘Welcome’ in Portuguese and is very close to Dona Lourdes’ house.

Surubim is in the semi-arid sertao region of Brazil, which is not quite a desert but still features lots of cactuses. This guy is leading a donkey cart full of dried cactus, which are used to feed animals like horses - and donkeys.
Just like in Olinda, we saw some really cool murals on walls in Surubim. This one was outside a school, and we thought John Lennon would approve.

Local politicians covered pretty much any flat space with paintings like these. We wished we could have stuck around to cast our votes for HULK!

And just in case you didn’t see the paintings, they also had vans like this one cruising the streets. Those are speakers lining the top, and you couldn’t go much longer than 5 minutes without hearing at least one political jingle (often set to Brazilian pop music). The circus also had a few of these sound-blaster trucks on the streets.

Our favorite candidate. Although in the jingle, his name was decidedly closer to “Hoo-Key” than “Hulk”. Whatever the pronunciation or platform, he still has our votes.
Aside from the barrage of deliciousness we experienced at Grandma’s, we were also introduced to some great restaurant food in Surubim by Lei and her boyfriend Junior. Here is a peixe (fish) stew, which was served in a hot pot at our table. Amazing stuff, even if the four of us couldn’t possibly finish it all.
And here is some churrasco, which was various cuts of beef and pork that we grilled at our table. It kind of reminded us of Korean barbecue, but it also came with freshly squeezed fruit juice. Party. Bonus.

We took a jeep taxi outside of town to visit the Museo de Cachaca, a museum that has thousands of different bottles of the sugar-cane based Brazilian liquor from different areas of the country. Each bottle has a unique label, and comes from a different place and time – some dating back over 50 years. This is the part of the map that shows Pernambuco, with its local cachaca of Pitu.
And here’s Mary in the main display room of the museum. We were amazed by how many different brands and varieties of cachaca had existed over the years. Of course, they also had a wide variety of current cachaca for sample and sale. We picked up some little bottles, which we are still saving for an anniversary toast.


  1. WOW great new the blog!

  2. It is amazing what catches the eye of a foreigner in your country! You noticed things that I normally would never notice. The Northeast has been ignored by politicians for centuries. In some way it is good for it is under these conditions that they are able to keep good cultural traits unchanged.
    This was interesting.

  3. Each time I look at the blog all I can think about is Dona Lourdes' food! I still don't know how she does it!