Caipirinhas, sunset, white sand beaches and fishermen.

It was January 1985. My parents took me for a vacation to south Brazil. The idea was to spend time in a white sand, clear blue warm water beach.

Brazilian beaches were the closest we could think of a paradisiac beach. Let me rephrase. They were paradise. Compared with the beaches we have in Argentina, with 20 people per square feet, dark sand, cold brown water, chances of rain every day and high rise buildings projecting shadow on the sand strip, this was, yes, paradise! The sunsets were clear, there were no buildings around, a few kiosks selling exotic food, like fried crab, garlic shrimps, sugar cane juice with lime, or fish straight out of the net, right there, at the beach.

I know… I was 11 year old. I was in a foreign country for the first time in my life. People were speaking a foreign language, they had different skin color, the license plates in the cars were of a different color. They were eating different food, had a different currency, everything was different! And I was excited, discovering a whole new world. I even had a Brazilian summer love.

It was Praia Dos Ingleses, in the island of Florianopolis, state of Santa Catarina, south Brazil. The beach was about two miles long, with a small island in front. Not many houses, not many tourists (yet) and no Argentinians that would spoil the pristine atmosphere. Don’t get me wrong, is not that I don’t like my co-nationals, but the fact that we were the only ones, made the whole environment exotic by contrast.

We spent almost every day, from early in the morning until past sunset at the beach. Either under the umbrella, or running in the dunes, or swimming around. It was always fun to see the fishermen go early in the morning to drop the nets. They took it in rowing boats, in teams of two boats, drop them off, spread them, and then come back to the shore. In the evening, at sunset, they got together again, and start pulling them out. For that, they would grab the line and pull from the water to the palm trees. Once one got from the water to the trees, would go to the front of the line and keep pulling another round until the net was out, loaded with the catch. Then, they would split the catch according to the job done. The boat owners and the net owners would have the biggest share, those that went in the morning to throw the net, and then come in the evening, to pick it up with have another smaller share, and those that only were there to drag it out of the water had a few fishes, enough for a couple of meals.

After splitting the catch, they would all sit in a circle together in the sand, watching the sunset, and sip this exotic (to me) drink: caipirinha! They would order one from the beach bar, and pass it around, take a few sips, and pass it to the next, and so on. The caipirinha had this fame of being such a very strong drink, that my dad would not dare to buy one whole drink for himself (let’s face it, the fishermen were having one during every 10 or 12 of them, and the were fishermen… and locals!) The fishermen conversation was fluid, and used to become slightly louder after a few drinks, but it was always friendly, and musical. Brazilian is a very musical language.

One day, after about a week, I started to pull the net out of the water with them. It was a fun thing to do. A picture that I still have somewhere shows a blonde heavily tanned blue eyed skinny kid lined up with these massive, tight muscled curly hair black men, at sunset.

After a couple of weeks of dragging the nets, and for more than just a couple of minutes, one of the boat owners came with a small bag to the umbrella we were with my parents after the splitting of the catch. I will never forget that. In the bag there were three fairly big fishes. That was my cut. I was doing it for fun, and all of a sudden, I was getting paid. But what it was completely unexpected, was that after giving me the fish, they invited me to their round, to share the sunset, the chat, and the evening. My father was reluctant, but the fisherman stated: “if the kid works with the nets, is not a kid anymore, is a man”. That’s how I tasted my first caipirinha.

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