Some years ago I was travelling in Mozambique and had been making my way down the coast road for several days. The war was only recently over and many of the buildings were pockmarked with bullet holes; Marxist murals waved enormous cubist fists from the few unscathed walls. I had stopped in a dusty little town at sunset, as it was still too dangerous to drive after dusk at that time because of the likelihood of an ambush. In the main street I found a small hotel, but the receptionist said there were no vacancies – rather implausibly, I felt – and even if there had been, there was no food, and no beer either. He advised me to drive south out of town and turn left towards the sea where there was a bar.
After a couple of kilometres I saw a sandy track off to the left marked with a hand-painted sign saying “Bar Ipanema”. It was a warm night, and through the open window I could hear the booming sound of the sea in the darkness. There were no lights to be seen at all, but then, rounding a bend, I caught the distinctive chug of a generator and saw a faint glow ahead. I pulled up at a building with a thatched roof. Inside was a long bar with paraffin lamps running the length of it, and on one wall was the largest Brazilian flag I have ever seen. There were wicker tables and chairs around the room lit by candles that guttered in the evening breeze.
A large figure in white stood behind the bar and watched me as I approached. He had an enormous moustache and a rather mournful expression. I asked if I could get a drink before dinner, and he immediately sprang into action. Naturally I could – I had come to the finest bar in the land. What would I like? He regretted there was no beer, but he had Portuguese wine, or could do me a cocktail called a caipirinha. He explained that it was a speciality of his homeland – he was from Brazil, hence the flag. He went into a back room briefly and must have put on a tape, because faint samba music began in the background. I could hear the sounds of ice being crushed and things being flung about. Emerging again he brought a glass frosted with sugar across to me at the bar and fetched himself one as well. It was absolutely delicious, slightly sharp but sweet at the same time, and I could feel the kick, as if I was progressively being bumped up one level of intoxication at every sip.
He began to talk about home – he was from a small southern town on Brazil’s Atlantic coast, and had been in Africa for 30 years. As he spoke of the beautiful beaches, the ravishing girls and the delicious food of his homeland, his eyes would well up and periodically he’d dab them with a handkerchief. To console himself he went back behind the bar and began slicing lemons and crushing ice, returning with two more drinks. By the third caipirinha he had cheered up a bit, and I had started holding on to the bar due to the gentle rotation of the room.
I asked what kind of spirit was used, and he reached down and extracted a bottle which he lifted reverentially onto the counter. It said “Cachaca 51” on it in large, swirling letters – this was Brazilian sugar cane alcohol. He showed me how to make a caipirinha, all the while explaining in increasingly slurred Portuguese. He rolled a lemon between his hands, then sliced it, pushing it into a glass with a wooden spoon and sprinkling sugar over it. With an elaborate gesture he raised the bottle of cachaca high overhead and poured it into the glass – quite a lot went on the floor in the attempt, so he put in another dose. Then he dropped some ice in, and presented it to me. “Saude!”
I can’t remember what I had for dinner that night, or even if I had anything at all, but I woke up on a sofa wrapped in a tablecloth. I do remember us both laughing hysterically at my attempts to speak Portuguese, and two days later when I was fumbling for my passport while crossing the Zimbabwean border, I found a piece of paper in my pocket:
Receitas de Caipirinha (Recipe of Caipirinha)
1 limao (1 lemon or lime)
3 colheres de acucar (3 spoons of sugar)
Cachaca 51 (Cachaca 51)
“Boa Viagem – Have an happy jorney.”