Tuesday, 31 March 2009

After Jeri...

Sand, road, bumps, more road, a lot, too much. Casual stops, loose sleep, eyes that cross each other, more road ahead. A change of plans, a tortuous trip to simply keep traveling with whom I didn’t want to leave behind, a night half-dreamed half-lived, a sudden wake-up call, a glare, a kiss good-bye with a taste of see-you-soon... A Three-wise-men Fort (Forte dos Reis Magos), only image of Natal through where I flew rapidly, to quickly keep on, following the road South again. Olinda, church in, church out, Carnival is coming, but takes too long to come... Days go by running, I run as well, through the living market Recife is, on my way South again. More road comes my way, a lot, moving slow, very slow, bit by bit, at the rhythm of closing eyes, one after the other, quietly, with no hurry, without the rush to arrive, because there was no rush to leave either...

Salvador, Brazil, February 2009

Simply Jeri...

Once upon a time there was a bay... No! Once upon a time there was a magical enchanted land... That’s not good either... It’s very difficult to start, talk about, describe, write about this place. And that’s due to several reasons... The obvious one: I’m talking about a gorgeous place, a beach planted in a marvelous bay made of clear blue water and sand dunes that blend into each other. In one of the ends coconut trees hide this enchanted place’s houses, where time is lost, slowly, unhurriedly, at the hamocks’ swing pace, flowing with the wind, following the undulating sand dunes, diluting itself with the sun or the moon that sets over the waters, loosing itself in the thoughts that come and go. Jeri is a little piece of heaven that no words or photos can accurately describe, mostly because this is a place to be experienced, known, lived. But to me Jeri is even harder to describe because I don’t think I can truthfully express what I lived there and because I am both afraid and conscious that this description, by being so personal, can inflate the reader’s expectations about this place. The last think I want to do is frustrate the reader’s future visit to Jericoacoara, or Jeri, the way I should call this place, showing the care and affection one gives to an old friend.
I arrived to Jeri very tired, secluded from myself, due more to mental than to physical fatigue. When I got there I found curious eyes, arms wide open, smiles that opened up at the speed I opened my own, at the speed friendship grew. Food and caipirinha seasoned this ancient recipe I seemed to have forgotten about, or that I insisted in forgetting about... The friends I made in Jeri will forever be in my heart and mind because of the huge saudade that Jeri means. While in Jeri I tried fruitlessly to explain this Portuguese word, but saudade simply means Jeri, this feeling of wanting to be somewhere, having been there, knowing we will forever be there inside our hearts, with the same people, even if we never go back to that place again. Saudade is this certainty of forever being in a magical place and smiling just because we can remember about it, with a slight feeling of sadness because we cannot stay there forever.
That’s what Jeri is, or at least that’s what it was to me: a huge mix of feelings intermingled with caipirinhas, frenetic capoeira circles, magical moments on the dune watching the moon set, endless hours discovering myself and one of the most marvelous groups of people that ever crossed my way. Because of all this, to me Jeri is and will always be simply Jeri.

Somewhere in the Northeast, Brazil, February 2009


A never-ending up and down takes me along the Brazilian Northeastern coast. Here sand-dunes and lagoons create a landscape the 4x4 sails like an ancient sailboat, like an everlasting rollercoaster of rocks and sand. My travel companions are not tourists like me, instead they complete this journey once and again. This ride is a constant in their lives maybe because destiny decided to put them in this ‘no-man-land’ where roads were forgotten, or maybe just because they wouldn’t know how to live far from the beauty that surrounds them. Paulino Neves, where a gigantic sand-dune is the main attraction, is the destiny of this journey, or the first stopover of a bigger journey that is just starting. From there onwards the rollercoaster gets rougher, even more uncomfortable. The discomfort is numbed only by the sleepiness given by waking up in the middle of the night to take the day’s only available transport. One, two, three towns go by before the road shows up again, eventually taking me to Camocim. There I hop on the 4x4 once more, which this time rides the sand along the beach to Jericoacoara, my final objective.
I’ve been on many roads before. This was one of the roughest, surpassed only by an Angolan road where 30 years of war still managed to leave some asphalt in between the holes. Nevertheless, and bumps apart, this northeaster road of Brazil was, is, will always be one of the most beautiful routes I had the pleasure to cross.

Jericoacoara, Brazil, February 2009

Friday, 27 March 2009

Road bump, or the circumstance of being human

I’m in São Luis but I didn’t want to be here. For the first time during this trip I want to be far away from where I am. This gigantic and sunny "Bairro Alto", reminding me of those summer days in Lisboa, cannot prevent my craving to be elsewhere. This stopover was planned but ended up being a forced one, larger than expected, when my body decided to surrender and my mind followed suit. I’m questioning myself, almost giving up, living a moment of weakness, human and natural. If only I could stop for a day, take the boat to the other side and head South... But on the other side there is no Cacilhas, there’s an Alcântara which is not the same, and there no road or train will take me home. I stop at ‘Antigamente' instead, from where I write these words. I look at those who pass by, strangers to my questions and problems, while thinking about what to do... Passers-by carry on with their lives the same way I should carry on with mine, heading to a destination other than this one, following my dream, given that other dreams are impossible and giving up would be plain stupid!
I’ll move on, not knowing how or why, but I will do it! I will not give up that easily of a dream my instinct compels me to follow and luck allows me to bring to reality each day. Following my dream is harder than predicted, more profound than I planned for, bolder than what I dreamed it would be, but way too important to end-up like this. Bigger reasons would make me give up, maybe they will come my way. Without those, giving up would be forfeiting life and that’s not who I am. I’ll move on instead, there’s a bigger path in front of me waiting to be explored...

São Luis, Brazil, February 2009

Thursday, 26 March 2009

A day in Amazonia

As dusk sets in the boat roars up the Tapajós River headed to the forest that awaits for our arrival. In Amazonia the sky seems lower than anywhere else I’ve been before, laying just above the water that mirrors it. Fading behind us is Alter-do-Chão, which postcards portray white-sand beaches instead of the fine-breed Lusitano horses its Portuguese counterpart is known for. In front of me the reason why I came here in the first place, the immense forest I can see before my eyes.
Further ahead we leave the boat and my steps trail those of the guides who skillfully follow a narrow track inside the forest. Along the way they teach me how to distinguish the different birds’ chants and unveil the mysteries of some plants, which among other things are used to heal headaches, glue canoes and help loosing weight. Many steps and 3 hours later we arrived to the ‘granny’ of all trees, an immense wall of which my camera could not give the right perspective and of which I could not spot the top. On our way back the fauna, which made itself heard all along, decided to show up. A poisonous jararaca snake crossed our path to remind us we were not in some amusement park but in the planet’
s biggest forest, a marvelous world filled with surprises where we are just one more, a visitor in someone else’s house.
I’m feeling tired, tired and tiny. Only a dip in these river’s refreshing waters can bring me back to reality. This swim, however, cannot erase from my mind the consciousness of how small and relative my position is in this world, the biggest teaching I got from immersing myself in this forest.

Alter-do-Chão, Brazil, January 2009

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

The Floating Bazaar

I’m sailing up the Amazonas River. In the distance the slowly falling asleep Belém can still be seen. Its buildings reflect the sun that sets in the west in between the clouds and the water. This immense mass of water, which flows tirelessly to the sea, is being sailed in a sort of bazaar where scents and people elbow each other, where everyone fights to find a place to hang its hammock, their private nook for the next 3, 5, 8, 10 days, depending on where life is taking them. Sailing this boat is like living inside a floating bazaar where hammocks, blankets, towels and all sorts of cloths fall from the ceiling, hanging over suitcases, bags, backpacks, boxes, all sorts of packages that pile up in the floor. This living bazaar sails through the night, which hides the river’s margins, the forest and its people. The morning sun starts to disclose the scenery while waking up the bazaar and the growing hubbub. The cloths gain life and its wingless inhabitants start to come out of their cocoons. Unable to fly but filled with dreams, they look at the spectacle presented by the river and the countless trees that fill the immense forest. Here and there a house, a village, from where the indigenous come to meet us. Some come just to say hello, others to collect the food people throw them from the boat, some others, like pirates, approach the boat in order to sell food or just to catch a ride upriver. Inside the boat people run to check out who arrived, breaking up the monotony of a trip that repeats itself every minute. Here the space is limited and the huge lines faced everywhere limits it even more. Only patience and smiles are immense, the indispensable companions in this epic journey, which is a necessity for many and an adventure that will most probably never be repeated for only a few. Bonding them all only a dream, the dream of going up river, because going up this river is and always will be a dream.

Lô and Janderson

A smile like no other is the most beautiful image of the whole journey. Sorry, two of them, the smiles of my two favorite neighbors: Lô and Janderson. Brother and sister, cousins, friends, who cares... I didn’t ask their age either, maybe by stupidity, maybe because it simply didn’t matter. They welcomed me in the boat with a smile, most probably answering to my own, which I couldn’t see. The whole time they were around, smiling with the naivety their age around 10 to 12 and their humble origin gave them. They smiled the whole time, despite the journey’s many difficulties, despite having to take care of their many brothers and sisters. Smiling for no reason and for them all at the same time, they were living the dream of moving to a new city and the excitement of what most probably was their first big journey. Even if I had the temptation of complaining about the lack of comfort, the lines to buy food, to use the toilet, the smelly surroundings, the heat, the people bumping against me and waking me up during the night, of so many different annoying things, I just couldn’t because their smile was always there, remembering me about life’s relativity, of how everything can me a blessing or a curse. It only depends on ourselves, of how we want to look at the situation. And their eyes see it all as a new discovery, as a new reason to smile...
What are you looking at Lô, where to? What thoughts, ideas, dreams, ambitions, what crosses your mind while you stare at the horizon? What sort of future will your beautiful smile have in 5, 10, 15 years from now? How will your life be? What future is in store for you, in this country of yours where you were born in the wrong “half”, in the “half” where the difficulties far outweigh the opportunities given to you? But in the end that doesn’t matter, with your smile you’ll always be happier than many others who have it all... My boat journey ended, yours carried on, but your smile will always be in my mind, to remind me of how everything is so much easier with a smile, a simple smile.

Amazónia, Brasil, Janeiro 2009