After having the be-jesus scared out of me for this port, I was a tad hesitant to step off the gangway, expecting to have my passport easily sliced out of the money belt that was conveniently located in my underwear. Because of this long winded warning, I was at my most attentive state, armed with an angry stare and a determined stride (holding a pen like a weapon at my side). Even though my façade was solid, pulsating drums and colorful piles of houses melted my interior, as did the humidity. Scamming taxi drivers got us to the bus station where we quickly bought the last three tickets to Lençois. It was a six hour ride full of unnecessary pit stops, grotesque Brazilian teens smoking in the lavatory, and smelly seat companions, but we certainly had an adrenaline rush every time the bus played “chicken” with oncoming traffic. Every little uncomfortable bit of the journey was a treat to experience.
Garrett, Alexis and I jumped out of our seat when a woman passed us and asked in English, “Is anyone in the bathroom?” Immediately, we made friends with the American and her bilingual friend, who within minutes of meeting us made accommodations for our overnight stay and two day trek through the wilderness.
We greeted a very wet Chapada Diamantina at 0900 hours with our guide, Arnaudo, who was equipped with all our gear and a wonderfully bouncy gait. Natural rock slides and water the color of iodine made our first rest stop a bruising but exciting delight, and after teaming up with another trekking group, we powered off into a rainforest known to gobble up naïve travelers without guides.
The rain came and went in the most unfortunate of times, for instance, while trudging up a steep rock face on the side of a mountain. Apparently their motto that it only rains in the mornings and at night is relative (similar to ‘It’s five o’clock somewhere’), as well as their concept of time (15 minutes = 3 hours). The most unexpected part was watching one of the guide’s backpacks float down some rapids we were debating on crossing, only to see him jump in at a moment of panic. The rain rerouted our travels to a cavern on a cliff where we spent a soggy night spooning on sleeping bags that smelt of unpleasant things. Alexis was careful to listen for jaguars outside our nylon walls, but Garrett focused on not rolling down a 60 foot drop. I, on the other hand, had little to think about other than the Chinese water torture nature was conducting on my forehead.
We survived the night and left alone to back track our travels to the rockslides, which went from amusing to abusive overnight. Arnaudo met us at the top of the falls to warn us against crossing, out of fear for our lives, so we lounged on the other side of this tourist destination and relaxed our burning feet in the cool waters. After twenty minutes of peace, we see crowds forming on the other edge of the water hole and men with ropes jumping haphazardly into the rapids. We started to pack up and look for the guide, but the men told us to stay. They were the survival crew from town, crossing the water to rescue us. The following twenty minutes included zip lines, cheers from the crowd, grasping rope for dear life, being pulled underwater by the force of the currents, the crowd taking pictures, bloody knees, bags flopping on the rocks, and a triple high-five from the three “Americanos” who were saved from danger in the Brazilian outback.
It was only when we ended our two day trek in the mountains of Brazil when we realized how horribly we smelt. One hospitable offer from Arnaudo and the three of us were taking showers in shantytown. My dripping hiking boots did not look inviting, so I took the streets like a local and walked barefoot to the nearest shoe store for some Brazilian sandals.
Meeting back with our fourth friend, Robb, at an Italian restaurant back in town facilitated an animated recount of all our travels and the great times we had, as did the three Caipirinhas that satiated our thirsts. As the night winded down, we rested in the town square where a stray dog and his antsy legs kept us company until a spontaneous downpour sent us running with everyone else under the covered market, laughing all the way. During that overnight bus ride to the ship, an overwhelming exhaustion sent me into a deep sleep that I could not remember having. I rejoined mankind at noon the next day with sore legs and clean hair, finally.
Pelourinho, the old city district in Salvador, glittered of elaborate Carnaval celebrations, loud musical presentations, and children spraying very wet silly string on their annoyed parents. Women in large, bell-shaped dresses and men in mini-skirts made us feel like the least festive people on every city block as we pranced around in jeans with our valuables duct-taped to our stomachs. The constant fear of being mugged or abducted by lurking criminals exhausted us, as did the shock that we were in the presence of the biggest festival celebrated on planet Earth.
We decided to embrace this once in a lifetime opportunity and head to the heart of the main event, the Barra circuit. My heart vibrated in my chest with every semi that rolled by, blaring traditional music and rattling bass beats from the hundreds of speakers on every truck. Twirling skirts, sweat beads flying, free bandanas being thrown everywhere, SKOL vendors shaking makeshift maracas to lure in thirsty partiers, confetti shooting into the sky, old ladies with tinsel wigs and gold pants…every audio-visual stimulus sent our hearts racing.
Brazilian women with beads and mustaches made our nights with their shimmys and chants, making us feel like we were united in the celebration. The only thing that brought us down from our elevated state was when they informed us that we were presently surrounded by drooling, dangerous criminals, eager to ruin our American lives. Luckily, the Brazilian SWAT teams were constantly weaving through our territory.
Millions of dollars in fireworks and pyrotechnics could not have raised our excitement anymore than when the next "bloco" rolled into our vicinity and the name of FATBOY SLIM appeared in flashing lights. Parked at our feet, the world-renown DJ’s semi blasted a techno/reggae remix of Eminem’s Lose Yourself, an American classic that we alone appreciated to its fullest extent. For many of us, this was one of the best moments of our lives, only topped by the fact that our safety that night was never in jeopardy.
I melted into my bed that night, too pooped to even ice my throbbing feet, but my ears were ringing from an unforgettable experience. The intensity of every situation in the past few days was paramount to what I have known in the past, and I met it all with two thumbs up and one very shifty eye. As I like to put it, Brazil smacked me in the face, but I smacked it right back. And now…on to South Africa.