Personal Journeys


April 06, 2003|By Special to the Sun

A Memorable Place

Brazilian farm, waxing and waning

By Sally Foster


Can we visit Picada?" I asked Rejane.

I knew the farm had been more or less abandoned after her grandfather died. Still, I had fond memories of the old homestead in the interior of Rio Grande do Norte state in Brazil.

I remembered the carnauba trees growing along the river banks and at the edge of the lagoon. I also thought of the farm workers and their simple adobe homes. I used to stop and talk to the women, sitting on the ground, smoking their pipes and shelling long green beans called feijao verde.

As we turned into the road leading up to the big house, I noticed that the carnauba trees, with their graceful, fan-shaped leaves, were practically bare. The leaves were gone and only a single spike resembling a pineapple remained at the top.

Looking more closely, I discovered what was happening. Workers in colorful garb were wielding long poles with knives attached to cut the fronds. It was harvest time.

Sometimes called the "Tree of Life," the carnauba palm tree yields various products, but one of the most prized is the hard yellow-brown wax used in car polishes.

The workers were hacking away at the fronds and gathering them into bundles. Then they hoisted the bundles onto the backs of waiting donkeys. The donkeys carried their loads to an open field, and the fronds were spread out in the sun to dry. One of the workers explained that only the carnauba palm trees in northeast Brazil produce the wax that coats the leaves and protects them from the severe climate.

He ran his fingernail along an already dried, sword-shaped leaf and I could see a film of light powder. In about 12 days, the leaves would be taken to a factory where they would be beaten to extract the powder. The powder would then be melted and strained. When cooled, it would be broken into lumps.

We went to the main house which, like the trees, was a shell of what it once had been. I had first visited the house in the early 1960s when I was a Peace Corps volunteer. I had returned four or five times over the years.

After lunch, I glanced around the dining room, looking for something that had always intrigued me -- a picture of a tree with photos of each family member hanging like Christmas ornaments on the branches. The people had either grown much older or passed away.

Then Rejane's son, Edgard, said he wanted to see how his farm-raised shrimp were coming along. We walked to the ponds, and Edgard scooped up some of the shrimp in a net. They were growing nicely.

The leaves would come back on the trees next year, and maybe someday the big house would come alive again.

Sally Foster lives in Baltimore

My Best Shot

Meghan and Maggie

Mary Gianforte, Severn

Recently, my family and I visited Puertos Aventuras, Mexico, south of Cancun. While there, we got in the water with dolphins. They swam up by us, and we petted them. Then two dolphins came alongside my daughter, Meghan. She grabbed their dorsal fins and they pulled her across the lagoon. One of the dolphins was named Maggie. After her ride, Meghan said, "There is nothing in the world as cool as being close and personal with a huge, gentle giant like Maggie."

Readers Recommend

Montezuma Castle, Ariz.

Mark Kaufman, Columbia

Traveling between Phoenix and Sedona, we followed the exit ramp to Montezuma Castle without knowing what to expect. The short detour was more than worth it. While it is unlikely that the castle was ever inhabited by Montezuma, the famous ruler of the Aztec empire of Mexico, the view of the cliff dwelling was phenomenal.


Helen Dea,


The buildings on Parliament Hill in Ottawa are magnificent, imposing structures -- very reminiscent of those in London. Even the tall clock tower reminds one of Big Ben. We witnessed the changing of the guards on Parliament Hill, and for a moment I felt as if I were back in England.

Let Us Hear From You

We want to know about your travels, your experiences, your pictures. Here's how to participate in this page:

* My Best Shot -- Send us a terrific travel photo with a description of when and where you took it. (Cash value: $50.)

* A Memorable Place -- In 500 words or less, tell us about a travel experience that changed you, about the nostalgia a certain place evokes, about the power of a favorite beach, the mountains, a city cafe. (Cash value: $150.)

* Readers Recommend -- Briefly tell us about places you've recently visited that you'd recommend to other readers. (50 words or less; photos are welcome.)

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