Ipanema beach - not a lot of frogs here
The first frog I find in Brazil is wearing a wizard’s hat. He belongs to the bar maid in my favourite Sunday afternoon samba spot in Santa Teresa, Rio. She’s had him for several years and he lives on her leg.
The toad looked more shocked than me
Now I love frogs, but even I'd think twice about branding myself permanently with a big fat magical toad. I'm thinking this lady must love them even more than me. And she sort of does. It turns out that her tattoo is a political statement. Sapatao, meaning big toad, is a derisive term for lesbians in Brazil. The bar maid's quite rightly proud of her sexuality and so in order to reclaim the insult she wears a giant toad on her leg as a badge of honour, which I think is very cool.
I'm tempted to make a joke here about big gay toads in big hats. But I won't.
Proud to be a big Bufo - the super cool bar maid at my fave samba spot.
I have to come clean. Even though Brazil has the greatest number of amphibian types on the planet – a whopping 811 recorded species - my decision to visit this country has very little to do with frogs and everything to do with samba, surf and caipirinhia’s. I’ve been invited to spend Christmas in Rio with my friend Bindu, who has the world’s most enviable life. A few year's back she wisely swapped her two up two down in Brixton, South London for what I can only describe as a rock star’s mansion in the bohemian hillside suburb of Santa Teresa. She likes to joke that I've visited her more now she lives in Rio than when she lived in SW9. But who can blame me. No-one likes South London.
It’s unlikely that my frog hunting will go much beyond the beach, Bindu’s pool and the bar’s and samba halls of Santa. But Bindu is keen to help and enters into the spirit by asking her staff (yes, her enviable life also includes staff) whether they have seen any frogs on the property. But they haven't, so I am especially pleased to meet the lesbian toad on the bar maids leg. This will have to be my big Brazilian Bufo break.
Gratuitous photo of an amazing Brazilian frog that I didn't find during my trip - the tiny and deadly Brazil nut poison dart frog, so-called because it deposits its tadpoles in empty water-logged Brazil nut shells on the forest floor.
But maybe the wizard toad has cast some sort of spell on me, as now the frogs are seeking me out. A few nights later I get a frantic phone call from Bindu telling me to come home immediately. A tiny weeny frog has just hopped into her kitchen and into a plastic lolly-mold that just happens to be on the floor, as if he wants to be caught. Bindu is blown away by this bizarre coincidence and when I get back she’s babbling about how I must have some special magical powers to attract frogs.
Things are about to get even more surreal. A journalist I meet at a party asks if she can interview me about my frog mission for Globo, the national newspaper. In a city that has more murders per hour than almost any other on the planet it’s hard to imagine my frog quest being newsworthy. But perhaps I’m the equivalent of the quirky kitten-stuck-up-the-tree-end-of-the-news story. Whatever, it’s a great opportunity to warn Brazilians about Chytrid (which has been detected in wild populations here) so I happily agree.
Disclaimer - they made me do that cheesy pose. Honest. The photo shoot was embarrassing to say the least - featuring me pouring with sweat whilst trying to look cool in 40 degree heat. I gave up and let go of all dignity in the end and just did as they told me. Hence the pose, but at least the frogs look good.
The copy inevitably starts off with jokes about me searching for my frog prince but at least they didn't call me a big toad. Anyway, the frogs get a big plug so I feel satisfied that my trip to Brazil has been worthwhile, and I didn't even have to leave the pool. Next stop, the jungles of Peru where my frog hunting will continue in earnest.