We landed at Hercílio Luz International airport on a Saturday evening, carrying everything we had to start our new life together on our backs. Our first few nights were to be spent CouchSurfing with a thirty-something, computer programming, Brazilian-Dutchman named Conrado. After setting our bags down in his living room, we were treated to a delicious pasta dinner, prepared by a third couchsurfer named Iris, from Switzerland. After dinner, Conrado took the three of us to a neighbourhood house party.
It was a rather organized affair. A couple of ladies greeted us at the gate to collect the R$10 cover charge for men (about five bucks), and R$5 for ladies. With our wrists stamped, we entered the backyard and scoped out the scene. There was a bar set up on the right side of the lawn, tended by a few of the party organizers. They were offering a selection of local cervejas (beers) for R$2-4, and caipirinhas, the national drink of Brazil for R$4. I ordered a cerveja for myself, one for our host, and a strawberry caipirinha for Lilian.
By 11:00pm the party had evolved into a full-on carnival. Drinks were being passed around, and the scent of marijuana filled the air. White lights strung through the trees illuminated the 100+ people carousing in the yard below. Inside the house, a live band featuring guitars, percussion, and Brazilian instruments such as the cavaquinho entertained the guests with a selection of samba standards. Couples performed intricate samba dances both inside and on the lawn as scores of voices accompanied the band on every song. Children were climbing trees and weaving through the crowd, laughing and playing tag. A small circle formed around a skillful fire-spinner. At one point in the evening I had to just step back and absorb the beautiful chaos that was around me.
Everyone we met welcomed us to Florianópolis with open arms. Often literally. Brazilians are an affectionate people and I received many, many hugs that night. Most of the people we talked to were not originally from Floripa, but had relocated from other parts of Brazil. Each had their own motivation for moving to the Island of Magic, but they all shared a common sentiment about their adopted home: there's nowhere else they would rather live. When we expressed that we intended to stay for six months to a year we were repeatedly warned with a smile, "just wait; you won't want to leave."
Lilian and I were keenly interested in obtaining as much information about the city as we could, but everyone was just as excited to learn about us. Every time we mentioned that we were looking for an apartment, or work, or a cheap place to buy a bicycle, someone would inevitably offer their assistance, or at least offer us the phone number of a friend that could help. We were stunned by the kindness. Lilian admitted to me that Brazilians usually don't go out of their way to help a complete stranger. I was starting to get the feeling that perhaps this island really is magical after all.
Although it wasn't designed to be, it felt almost as if it were a "Welcome to Floripa" party just for us. I know we won't be here forever, but for now, it's already starting to feel like home.