It took me several days to recover from Carnival. The suffocating humidity and inescapable heat helped to expedite the toxin elimination process. I have never sweat so much in my life, I felt like I was melting. With a permanent sweat mustache, the only activity I was capable of was a very slow walk to the beach, zigzagging through every shadow I could find. But there waiting in all it's gloriously wet, turquoise splendor is an endless ocean of cool, refreshing saltiness dotted with little islands of floating mountains on the horizon. An uncontrollable sigh of relief escapes every time I plunge my toasted body into that first crystalline wave of the day. The waves rise like thick glass windows that shatter in a spray of cold droplets.
After eight months in Patagonia, shredding mountains, crossing glaciers, battling winds and swimming in frigid lakes I had almost forgotten how much I love the ocean. I could not dream of a more idealic beach setting; mountains draped in jungle, vines twisting their way through the mass of leaves and trees, rolling green hills taper out into a line of white sand that melts into a sea-foam bath. I hadn't realized how much I missed the ocean!
A day in Ilha dos Gatos...
But of course this tropical paradise would not be so bountiful and lush without rain, and a whole lot of it. My first trip through South America forced me to make peace with the rain, accepting the untimely downpours as a part of the journey; yet another obstacle in the life of the traveler. The majority of our travels through Central and South America were made during rainy season and we often repeated, soaking wet, that there must be some grand lesson that we are to learn from the rain. On this second trip I was pretty certain I had already learned that lesson; I had progressed from viewing the storms as a burden and hindrance, to appreciating the refreshing showers for the life and color they give the world. I also gained great respect for the immense force that these heavy dark clouds possess and the destruction they can cause. I thought I had seen rain in those days, but Brazil quickly proved that I hadn't seen anything yet...
Storm clouds stacked up over the mountains as they did most every afternoon promising an evening thunderstorm to cool down the day. The sky hung heavy and dark over the islands painting a black horizon on the ocean white the sun beat persistently on our heads. The rumbling started far in the distance around 3pm. We were in the process of moving so we quickly finished packing up Jess' room and ran out to find the guy with the truck who had promised to help us with all her things before the rain came. The thunder grew louder and more frequent, dust was swirling in mini tornadoes down the street as we approached a telephone pole, with its wild array of cables and wires spewing from it in an Afro of black and metal coils. Jess and I simultaneously screamed as lighting struck the electric box, exploding in a flash of white light. It felt like someone punched me with both hands in the chest and I think I jumped three feet in the air. I looked at Jess, the size of my eyes reflected in hers. If we had been just a meter closer... We had literally been talking the day before about getting struck by lightning, this now being my second close encounter with a lightning bolt. When we slowed our heartbeats a bit we ran cautiously past the smoking post but it was clear by then that we wouldn't beat the rain and the move would have to wait. My heart skipped a beat with every flash of lightning as thunder shook the ground. We made it back to the house, dried off, turned on some music and conceded to wait for the storm to pass.
But the rain didn't stop. The day turned to night and the water came down in sheets, outside the window it looked as if we were under a waterfall. I walked into the hallway to look for something and realized the floor was wet. I opened the back door and the first wave washed in. We started stacking everything on top of tables, chairs and sofas and within twenty minutes the water was up to our ankles. The smell was unbearable; brown, dirty water flooded up from the shower drain as sticks and leaves and random debris floated through the living room. We were soon wading through knee deep water inside the house and outside the street had turned into a river, the back patio a lake. I had never seen anything like this and had no idea what to do. I wanted leave and kept repeating 'we have to get out of here, we have to leave!' But there was nowhere to go. For the moment we were trapped-- it was too dangerous to try to navigate the flooded streets where trees and trash and sink holes were unpredictable. For now we could do nothing but wait for the rain to stop and the water to subside.
I passed through several mental stages during this time,. I have been in many unfamiliar, uncomfortable situations before but sitting in a room full of shit water was nearly my breaking point. But from the depths of my inner despair I managed to crack a smile as Jess's brother and his friend rowed past in a pretend canoe somehow making light of this uncontrollable situation de mierda. The resilience of the Brazilian people is one of their most admirable characteristics. Regardless of the circumstances they seem to always find something to laugh about.
When the rain finally stopped I called home to ask my parents if they would help me pay for a hotel room for all of us. The boys refused to accept my offer in spite of my pleading so Jess and I packed as many things on our backs as possible and sloshed out into the streets. The water had receded a bit by this point but the entire town was like a lake, thigh to waist deep in places. I booked a room and the first hotel we found. I have never been so thankful for a shower and a clean, dry bed and went to sleep that night extremely grateful for the many blessing in my life that often go unrecognized.
The news we received in the morning made us infinitely more grateful and deeply saddened to learn of the catastrophes suffered in the areas of the village closest to the river. Many families lost everything; entire houses were washed away as the river turned into an ocean, waves carrying cars, motos, trees, bridges and anything else in it wake. At least one young life was lost and many more were left devastated, trying to piece back together whatever was not washed away. This is not the first time something like this has happened and will not be the last, but as I mentioned, the people live on, in spite of the rains, because this is their home, their land frente do mar. As the sun came out that afternoon and the puddles began to dry, I decided it was a good time for a change of scenery...
|full moon rising over São Sebastião|
|goodbye for now, my friend|
(The day I wrote this, Boiçucanga and the surrounding areas suffered another tremendous storm. Landslides wiped out roads and destroyed bridges. The government declared a state of catastrophe. In the house where we were staying, Jess's grandmother lost everything. Hundreds of families were evacuated and are now facing a reality that may force them to abandon their homes forever. My thoughts and love go out to all those affected.)