Tuesday, June 28, 2011

O Econtro Nordestino (The 4th Annual Northeast Jam)

 After arriving in Aracaju I met up with some of the local guys at the bus station and then went with them to check out some local spots while they scrambled to figure out where to house me for the few days before the jam since their previous plans had fallen through.  Luckily I was able to stay with Igor and his wife Milla for a few nights.  This gave me a much needed chance to rest up a bit before the jam, since at that point I was nursing tendonitis in a wrist and both knees, and a generally ached all over.  I spent most of that time hanging out at Igor’s place, enjoying delicious smoothies that Milla prepared, trying to catch up on the blog, sleeping a lot, and riding around with Igor on his motorcycle.

On Wednesday people started arriving for the jam so I moved my stuff over to the gymnasium that was serving as the home base for the event.  The actual setup for the event was pretty impressive, and it took me a while to grasp the full extent of the preparations that had been made.  The entire event had been planned by the local group, the Associação Sergipana de Parkour (ASPK), and was based out of the city’s indoor arena.  Built for basketball/volleyball/handball, the arena was fairly large, and featured a number of dormitory-style rooms underneath the stands for visiting teams or for hosting events.  Since most of the guys attending the event were from the other northeastern states of Brazil, there were over 100+ guys that needed to be hosted for the event.  Of course, having 100+ traceurs living together in one place inevitably leads to all sorts of high-energy games and mischief, a fact that was made apparent the first night in a very energetic game of tag.

The group responsible for organizing the event.

One of the nicest things about living in the arena, and about the event in general, was the lack of red tape that the event had.  Basically the rule was “don’t be stupid, take responsibility for your actions, and don’t give the greater parkour community a bad name”.  This meant that we were permitted to explore pretty much every inch of the facility, from the crawl spaces under the stairs to the big tower that led out to the roof.  The only limiting element that existed was a large spiked fence that ran around the property and that was kept locked at most times.  While I wasn’t sure if this had been done to keep the general population out, or the traceurs in, it proved effective at both jobs.

The outside of the stadium, as I mentioned, we had access to the WHOLE building.

Strategizing what we would play next.
One of the dorms, basic but good.
Over the course of this trip I’ve had the opportunity to participate in a number of jams and workshops, and this one was by far the best organized and well-planned of them all.  There was a large chartered bus that ran each day to the designated training spots, there was a heavily discounted lunch (about $2/day) that was delivered each day for the guys, t-shirts for all the participants (really nice ones), and a ton of scaffolding that had been donated for the event.  The most impressive part was that this was all done at no cost to the participants themselves and that all the money for the event had been raised through outside fundraising and sponsorships.  

Not only were there t-shirts, but Duddu also flew to São Paulo to buy 3 duffel bags of Kalenji's (46 pairs) from the nearest Decathlon (2,100km) to resell to the guys at the event.
The event itself was also pretty structured for a Brazilian event; the simple facts that parts of the city had been designated as “training spots” for each day and that the whole group was driven to them in a chartered bus meant that the event was much more “planned” than most Brazilian parkour events I had witnessed.  Upon arriving at the spots, some people would make an effort to do a warm-up for those that were interested, but most of the people at the jam would immediately spread out around the area to train in smaller groups, with sporadic attempts to unify the whole group with games or challenges.

One of the best things about the event was the diversity of the event, which featured guys from all over the northeast regions (Pernambuco, Bahia, Sergipe, Ceará, Rio Grande do Norte, Alagoas, Paraíba), as well as a huge range in ages and skill levels.  This ensured that no matter the training spot, there were always people to train with that would be able to push you.  While I’d become accustomed to being impressed by the skill level of the Brazilian traceurs, this event was no exception and there were a number of guys that had evidently been training for quite a while.  Aracaju also had a number of spots that seemed to have been custom made for parkour, and were able to cater to all different skill levels.

One feature of the event that quickly became apparent to me was the degree of physical contact between the participants.  Something about the north of Brazil is special in that sense, as I have never been in a similar environment outside of my own family.  Watching this phenomenon was very interesting and said a lot about the culture in the north of Brasil.  In many instances, one guy would smack another on the back, say something mildly offensive (I was actually pretty good at understanding insults by this point), or even given a small jostle, an act which would immediately result in a chase around the particular training spot, dormitory, room, hallway, gymnasium, bus...  This chase scene would inevitably end in some sort of tussle, which would attract the other guys, who would then pick sides based on region, age, skill level, friend allegiances, favorite color, or what they had had for breakfast.  As the tussle escalated, it would attract more and more of the guys who would either join in or egg on their comrades from the periphery with lots of cat calls and the occasional covert blow.  These events were by no means limited to the training sessions, as the “running of the gauntlet” to get on the bus was a common occurrence, as was “midnight madness” in the dormitories involving mattresses and pillows.

This was probably the calmest the bus was the entire weekend.
Welcome to Aracaju...
I was largely exempt from most of this roughhousing for the first day, apparently because the guys didn’t quite know if “the gringo” did that sort of thing.  I didn’t understand this until one of the veteran guys brought it up to me as I was watching one of these “exercises” in mild fascination; at which point I said that I was actually kind of envious off all the fun.  Later that day another tussle broke out and I was drawn into it on the part of the Bahians, with whom I felt a sort of allegiance having lived and trained with them the week before.  As soon as the guys saw that the gringo was in the fight, a cry of “pega o gringo” (get the gringo) went up from the guys from all the other regions, and mob descended on me.  Having had lots of practice at tag team roughhousing with my younger brother and his friends and many years as a camp counselor, I held my own pretty well for a brief moment before getting pig-piled.  Upon snaking myself from underneath the pile I found myself in a one-on-one Greco-roman wrestling match with one of the veteran guys.  The rest of the group found this vastly entertaining, and immediately formed a circle for the match, which soon ended in a draw as we were too exhausted to move.  The whole affair ended as quickly as it had begun, although I got the feeling that I had just passed my “initiation”, I was now officially part of the group.  Of course this meant that I wasn’t exempt from the conflicts anymore and the rest of the weekend passed in a blur of shouting, training, roughhousing, and having a great time with the 100+ brothers I had just discovered.

One of the only pics we have of the rough-housing.  Everyone was too busy joining in to take pictures.
In between eating, training, and beating the crap out of each other, the rest of the event was filled with lots of games and social activities in the gym complex and a little bit of sleeping.  Having so many active people living together made a pretty potent combo for anyone trying to sleep since at any given time there was at least one group of people training, another playing some sort of active game, and others just hanging out.  While the guys seemed to have a bit out trouble mastering the concept of “capture the flag”, the games of tag and hide-and-seek that went on over the weekend were pretty epic.  I should also note that I have finally found a group of Brazilian traceurs that actually like and play football (the real type, not the sissy one with pads).  Throughout the past two months I’ve been repeatedly shocked by the fact that almost all of the traceurs that I’ve met don’t play the national sport, despite the prevailing national stereotype and the fact that everywhere else I look people are playing.  So much for national stereotypes, I guess I should know better by now…

A late-night game of tag convenes...
I was a little surprised by the small number of females that turned up at the event, especially given the large numbers of traceuses that come out for a recent “Women’s jam” in Rio.  However, the women  that did come to the event represented Brazilian traceuses well.  A few of the women had evidently been accustomed to training in such a male dominated atmosphere and seemed to flourish in it, sometimes even joining in on the shenanigans. 

Big props to these ladies.
After the last training session on Sunday morning all the participants sat together in a circle in the center of the gym to decide the location and date of next year’s event.  While I had thought that this decision was made by a small group of the more veteran and “responsible” guys, I soon found that the selection process was done by nominations and a group vote of the participants at the current event.  While not the most efficient of methods, it was pretty entertaining to watch as it was full of debate, comedy, and general banter.  

Proof that we could actually sit still for more than 5 minutes, although the clowning around continued while seated.
After much deliberation it was finally decided that next year it will be held in Maceió, Alagoas during Carnival (February 18-22).  I should mention that the guys from Maceió stood out throughout the event not only for their high skill levels, but also because of the constant wisecracks, pranks, and generally jovial atmosphere that seemed to surround them at all times.  I think that the 5th annual Encontro Nordestino will be an event not to be missed…
A big thanks to everyone at the event!
Note:  I want to give a special shout-out to Duddu for the massive amounts of time and energy that he put into organizing the event.  I’d heard a lot of great things about Duddu and his organizational skills throughout the trip but wasn’t quite sure that a mortal human being could actually be that good.  Well, I was a witness, it’s true.

*** Thanks to Duddu for sending along pics of the event.  I have no idea who took them but definitely appreciate it, especially since I didn't manage to take any myself. ***

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