SHARK ATTACK! | Robin Sparks


Surfer on Buzios Beach, Brazil

I have set out to swim alone among the expats of Buzios.

Stefano, who once tooled around Miami in a long yellow Cadillac, played professional tennis in France, frequented the international party circuit between Uruguay, Marabella, and Paris, and now hides out in Buzios from who knows who, is a victim of Argentina�s recent economic crisis. But he is also my angel fish, introducing me to his friends and his favorite beaches while expecting nothing in return. He he shows me where the ATM machine is, the Casa de Paz meditation center (although he says a barstool is where he meditates), and he changes my flat tire three times. But I am ready to swim beyond Stefano’s circle of friends into deeper waters.

Encounters of the Real Estate Kind

Yesterday on my way to the Internet cafe, I stepped into a real estate office. Next thing I knew, an English speaking man had arrived to translate for Gustavo, the Brazilian owner of the business

Abe�s skin is red and peeling and he walks with a cane. He says he�s got psoriosis which the tropical weather of Buzios has helped immensely. About the cane and his limp, he launches into a story about how he decided to jump a fence to show a client a property. A guard dog bounded around the house and approached him with bared teeth. Abe tricked the massive white lab into letting him live by petting and playing with him. After all, he�d shown this property numerous times and he figured the dog would recognize him. After ten minutes of play, the lab remembered, “Hey, you’re not supposed to be here.” and took a large chunk of Abe�s leg into his mouth and bore down just hard enough to drag Abe to the gate, where he released him and waited for him to go.

It is stories like this that drew me into the life of Abe, the first American I’d met in ten days. (Although he claims not to be American). Abe said he’d introduce me to all eight of the other Americans who live in Buzios, and that he would come along with Gustavo and me to look at property.

Abe�s Plot

Fifteen years ago Abe sold his holdings in Buzios thinking the fishing village would never grow into the resort some were predicting. He moved his real estate bets to Playa del Carmen, Mexico, another former fishing village with potential, minus zoning laws. He said, “I was sure Playa del Carmen was going to take off. One hour south of Cancun, close the US, what more could you ask?”

Take off Carmen del Playa did, but in “Mexico Under the Influence of America” style. The Mexican government sold the fishing village’s legacy to large corporations and hotel chains, and within a few short years, Playa del Carmen was buried under cement and high-rise hotels.

9-11 spelled doom for the Mexican resort built to cater to carefree Americans. And it was the end of Abe�s dream of owning a hotel in tropical Mexico. He lost everything.

“If we’re going to be poor,” he told his wife, “We may as well be poor in Buzios.” They packed up and left for Brazil. He claims that lots he’d sold in Buzios for $8,000 each before his Mexico venture, were selling for many times that when he returned. “I thought I was going to have start all over again,” he said. “But what I learned, was that it doesn’t cost much to live in Buzios.”

Abe believes that Buzios is the next best place to invest. And maybe he’s right… He says the former fishing village turned international resort is almost saturated, but not quite.

He takes me to the same lot overlooking Ferradura Beach that I was tempted to buy last February, the one that a German owner was asking $45,000 for then, and that Abe claims has risen to $80,000 now, nearly doubling in four months.

I say, �That�s outrageous!� But what I am thinking is, “Do you think that I’m some kind of rich American idiot?” Abe says, “You will find nothing like this anywhere near this price range.”

“Any town where property values have doubled in four months is not of interest to me,� I reply. He says Buzios won’t have peaked until foreigners own all of it.

Is this what I want? To live in an exclusive tourists-only resort? It is a fine line I must draw in the sand. My heart desires the simple good life of a small village with people of different colors and persuasions, (with a heavy leaning towards the artistic, literati, spiritually minded, non-red neck variety). But I am also seeking a business opportunity that will support me – a plan largely dependent on tourists.

Abe says, “Two black Americans from Hollywood have just purchased a large tract of land in Lagoinhas” – the spot in Buzios, where Africa sheared from South America, and where “jungle myth” here has it that the rocks radiate special powers.

Lagoinha, Abe says, has recently been disignated as a future state park, a refuge for turtles and wildlife. This Abe says, is what is responsible for the recent escalation of property prices in nearby Ferradura.

There is an American couple in Buzios, he says, who are pulling up retirement stakes in Costa Rica and Nicaragua to buy property here. He adds that the type of American who moves to Buzios is more sophisticated than the American who invests in Central America.

He says that one reason Buzios is set to take off is that the next Saudi Arabia is about 20 miles up the coast in a village called Macaui. I have read, I tell him, that natural resource-rich Brazil is lacking in oil. He disagrees heartily, spitting out statistics like spitballs in math class.

He advises that the best bang for your buck in Buzios, comes by purchasing your own lot and building a home as opposed to buying a ready-built home. Building costs run around $70 a square foot regardless of location, unlike houses which are priced in large part due to the neighborhood in which they stand.

There are regulations in Buzios that limit height and land coverage and Abe claims the regulations are set in stone, I say, “Come now, what’s to stop Buzios from changing their laws once the Hyatt and the Marriott come calling?” “No,” he insists, “Buzios will never change – city planners know that the laws that keep out the large resorts, are the same that maintain the character of Buzios, and keep the tourists coming.”

Abe says that Norwegians are the new buyers in Buzios. That by word of mouth they are coming in droves, their pockets full of Euros. “Forget the Argentines,” he says. “They are finished here.”

Next Day

I ask Abe if he has something else wrong with his leg other than the dog bite, because he doesn’t seem to be walking any better today. Leaning into his cane, he says, “No that’s somethin’ else. My bum leg is ’cause I fell in a hole.”

Abe and I have an amazing amount in common. If I say I like monkeys, he’ll say he has a monkey farm. And so I listen in fascination to Abe the American tell me about the retreat he just attended over the weekend, and about his monk friends – all shortly after I mentioned that I was interested in building a meditation retreat.

Oh yeah, I say, “Where are you from again?”

“I was born in Greece, my mother is from Spain, and my dad is American.”

“Did you spend much time in America?” I ask.

“Sure, I was educated there. But I never bothered with no passport. My dad figured if I didn’t have an American passport I wouldn’t have to go to war. I don’t like war.”

So there, you have it: Abe, just a wee bit American, but not enough for anyone to hate him for it, and definitely not a war-mongerer. And so I have met my number one hundred something-th American living abroad. Wonder when I will meet one I like?

Abe invites me to a private party on Saturday night at the Sunshine Guesthouse in Ferradura. “My ambassador friend will be there.” he says.

Who You Gonna Trust?

So who in the heck can I trust here and how will I know?

Anna, the owner of the guesthouse in which I am staying, has already heard all the way in Argentina that I am looking at property in Buzios. She emails me from Argentina: “Robin, wait until I get there to buy anything.” She arrives tomorrow. Last February, I invited Anna to come along with me and a realtor to look at a lot. Before I knew what was happening, she had told the realtor that I was HER client, HER project, and that he could just BUTT OUT. Ok, I admit that I think that is what she said. I’m far from fluent in Portuguese. But there was something in the tone of her voice, and something about the way he slinked away, and the fact that I never heard from him again.

“Here try this,” Anna said, putting a dripping spoonful up to my mouth. When I replied with full-mouthed “mmmm’s”, she presented me with a plate of said dessert and then promptly added it (unbeknownst to me) to my bill. When I checked out of the Aquabarra Guesthouse at the end of the month, “Anna” had decided that breakfast had NOT been included (as is the custom in Brazil) and she padded my bill with ridiculous charges including every sip of filtered water I took. I left Aquabarra Guesthouse determined that I would NEVER subject my workshop attendees to this level of dishonesty and greed. And I told her so, burning bridges behind me.

If I couldn’t trust Abe the American, nor Anna, then who? When I ask Stefano about this, he says,� You must live here a very long time Rowbeen. Dees town ees full of people who cannot live anywhere else. Believe less tan one-quarter of what you hear een Buzios.”

“But me? I am your friend, ” Stefano says. He reaches for my hand. “You can trust me.”

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