It’s all about the journey

Lençóis Maranhenses National Park

Lençóis Maranhenses National Park

I have been meaning to write this entry for an eternity now, but I guess living got in the way. However, I seem to be edging towards mental self-flagellation again (sounds a lot more naughty than it actually is), so let’s put this battle to bed, before it gets out of hand. This story is about patience, faith, trust, kindness and giving in. It is about the process, the journey, rather than the destination, or end result.

For once on this trip, I had a plan. This plan even involved the purchasing of a ticket, via plane, to Belo Horizonte, where a good friend of mine and her Brazilian husband were living. This gave some shape, and sense of direction to the next week or so in this expanse of time that lay before me. Time became curtailed, tamed, and focused, rather than what was becoming overwhelming in its infinity. Within this truncated time, I had decided that I would like to take a jeep from the sand dunes, along a stretch of beach that only the most rigorous of vehicles could pass, to a place called Jericoacoara. I had been staying in Lençóis Maranhenses National Park for almost a week, where I may have had the privilege of experiencing one of the most astounding places of natural beauty in the world. During the rainy season, large pools of water fill the curvaceous valleys, creating heavenly pools in white sand dunes that lie a short distance away from the Amazon Basin.

Lençóis Maranhenses National Park

Lençóis Maranhenses National Park

I’d been feeling a little peculiar since leaving Colombia. I guess it was inevitable really as I’d just emerged from an intense journey within whilst staying in the woods near San Gil. I was now in a new country, with a different language, and a whole new set of cultural norms to adjust to. I was tired. My limited wardrobe was falling apart. I missed my friends and family. My future’s uncertainty was becoming oppressive. Where was I going to live? What was I going to do? Would I ever fall in love? At the start of this trip, these questions were abundant with opportunity, excitement, and endless potential. Months in, and they filled me with a sense of anxiety and dread. I had lost my mojo, somewhere along the Amazon River, and longed for all that I seemed to lack: stability, a partner, and perhaps some clothes that weren’t falling apart. The dune-filled pools cleansed and reinvigorated me, helping to connect me with this foreign land. Time seemed less of a burden again. Life would provide answers to all of my questions and uncertainties. I just needed to remind myself, and keep the faith.

So, true to form, with no set plans or arrangements, I took a boat with Alexandro, my host from the pousada I had been staying with along the river in Barreirinhas to a remote place called Cabure. Cabure is a peninsular between the Rio Prequica and the Atlantic Ocean, sparsely scattered with two or three pousadas. When a jeep arrives from Jericoacoara (Jeri) after its six-hour drive, its final destination is Cabure, so the hope was that there would be a space in one on its return journey. I had total faith that it would all work out. Plus, I had very little money as I’d planned to find an ATM on the way, and there were no amenities for literally miles of river, desert or ocean, so it would have to work out. As time progressed, and the conversations of which I understood next to nothing continued around me, it became clear that there were no jeeps going that day. Alexandro had asked everyone there, which took a matter of seconds, as Cabure is beyond remote. I was beginning to feel a little frustrated at my lack of Portuguese, as it made me feel out of control. I couldn’t manage my situation; furthermore I couldn’t understand those who were very kindly managing it for me.

Cabure, the definition of remote

Cabure, the definition of remote

As the day plodded on, it became obvious that I was going nowhere that day. Alexandro tentatively sorted out a jeep for the following day, which I mistook for being an absolute. But where would I sleep? What would I eat? I had a matter of 100 reals, of which I had spent half of on lunch. Cabure was not cheap, and there were hardly any other options, unless you were able to catch your own food. I didn’t want to go back to Barreirinhas and to have to start the journey again tomorrow. It was at this point, that Jassy, the owner of Porto da Lua pousada, offered for me to stay in one of their chalets, with a buffet breakfast included. But I don’t have any money though. She replied that I wouldn’t have to pay for it. She would let me stay for free. Astounded, speechless and reminded again of how beautiful people can be, I checked in my basic Portuguese that I had understood correctly. I had, so with keys to a luxurious chalet in my hand, I gathered my things, and settled in for the night.

Later that evening, after an epic walk alone, singing out loud to the ocean, which was too dangerous to swim in, I went to the restaurant to see what I could afford. I knew it wouldn’t be much, but even a salad would suffice. Jassy came to talk with me, and I realised that if I spoke Spanish, she understood almost everything. My expression would sometimes go blank at her response, but we were able to talk, and about deep and meaningful subjects too. I could have cried. The world of communication had seemed shut tight since leaving Colombia. I had felt slightly suffocated by my inability to be me. These doors were flung back open again that night. Whilst pondering over the very limited options I could afford, I ordered a salad. Jassy suggested I had some fish with it, as well as the perfunctory rice and beans. I reminded her that I couldn’t, as I didn’t have enough money. I still wasn’t entirely sure if I had understood her offer correctly, and whether she was going to ask me to pay for the room the next day. Around half an hour later, a meal fit for a queen arrived, and Jassy left me to eat. Again, I nearly cried at her generosity in my time of financial dependency. It was all getting a tad emotional!

Sunset in Cabure

Sunset in Cabure

The next morning, whilst shyly eating from the abundant buffet, the phone rang for me. It was Alexandro. The people who were meant to be driving to Jeri that morning, had changed their mind, and wouldn’t be leaving until the next day. And that was that. I had already struggled to accept Jassy’s kindness and hospitality for one night. Pushing it to two made me feel deeply uncomfortable. But what could I do. I didn’t have much of a choice now. Alexandro and his boat had left the day before, and I was stranded on a thin piece of land between a river and the ocean. I would have to give in even more and trust that everything would work itself out.

Later that day, the guy from Jeri with the jeep and his little tour that consisted of a man from Morocco and a woman from Brasil, invited me to Atins.  We’d all go by boat, and return later that evening. I didn’t have to pay for anything, and then we would leave for Jeri the next day. We’d go through towns, with actual banks, and I would return to the world of financial stability once more. Then, in a whirl of confusion, the plans suddenly changed. We would go to Atins and stay the night. Again, I explained that I had no money, and as I had a room in Cabure, I would stay. A little sad as the offer of exploration had been dangled and then dashed, plus feeling unnerved by being unable to decide on my destiny with such an empty wallet, I went to my chalet with a tear in my eye. Moushine the Moroccan then came to my rescue. Come with us. We’ll work it out. Don’t worry about money. It’ll be fine. I gave in. Threw my stuff in my bag, and went to give the small amount of money that I had to Jassy. She refused to accept it. She gave me a hug, and told me it was a gift from God. Tears welled once more. The potentiality of people to be altruistic and affectionate, rather than rapacious and mean was making itself evident again. The world wasn’t as bleak as the human rights documents I’d been drowning in for years had convinced me.

Atins: the end of the world

Atins: the end of the world

The little boat dropped us off on a lonely beach, about twenty minutes down the river. There wasn’t a building in sight, so I had no idea where we would be staying. Around the corner, dwellings emerged. In the midday heat, with my backpack full of boulders, we walked and walked and walked. At points I had to run, as my bare feet were scorched by the sand, which slowly but surely tested my ability to maintain a smile. Mo offered to help me, but ever the independent warrior stupidly said no: a decision I regretted. Eventually, we entered a pousada, where peacocks, ducks and gargantuous toads waddled around the pond. Where on earth am I? Atins is at the end of the world. There are no roads, certainly no banks, no infrastructure of any description, but some stunning beaches leading to those divine lagoon-filled dunes. Jericoacoara slipped further away into the distance. I would have to let go of that plan. All I had to do, was get to the airport, several hundred kilometres away. And seeing as life was providing me with everything I needed, and surrounding me with angels, I would let go and trust that I would get there, somehow!

Moushine, the Moroccan

Moushine, the Moroccan

That night, I fell off the wagon. For those who know me well, moderation and balance are two words missing from my lexicon. Instead, I lurch from one polar extreme to the other, either abstaining and polishing my halo for a few months, or indulging in a manner that leads to some rather shady undesirable head states. So, I hesitated for around half an hour, just looking at the glass of homemade cachaca in front of me. Then I caved in. Needless to say, the next morning, after a whole bottle of the stuff which had been decorated with a white label and an indecipherable name in red pen, I felt rather, how shall I put it, hazy! It had been two months since I had last had a drink. I was woken by Kaka, a friend of the guy who I was hoping would give me a lift to Jeri. It was decided, that as time was running out for me to get to the airport, that I would go with him to Cabure, we’d get a jeep to Parnaiba, and there, the city had banks, and amenities, and roads, roads that would lead me to Fortaleza where my plane awaited me.

Hours later, we jumped out of the jeep in a totally different place than I had expected. What on earth was going on? When was something going to go to plan? Just laugh, smile, breath deep and let go. It will all work out in the end. Kaka installed me in a pousada, and we went for lunch. He had paid for the boat, organised the jeep, and was now having to pay for my lunch too as my first trip to the bank hadn’t been fruitful. The tiny little bank didn’t have any money. Say that again, I said to the person working there. Nope. The money would be delivered in the evening. A bank with no money all seemed a bit rural to me, but Paulino Neves, a tiny settlement with the occasional section of road, was hardly a heaving metropolis. Later that evening, after swimming in the river, and watching the sunset atop the dunes, I returned to the bank. Please, provide me with independence now. No. No money. The man in the bank told me to try again tomorrow, when hopefully I would be able to get some cash.

Kaka

Kaka

The next morning, I went straight to the bank, and yet again, was told there was no money and it wouldn’t arrive until late that night. Time was seriously running out at this point. I had a plane to catch the next day, owed money to Kaka, the restaurant, the pousada and was losing my sense of humour. Thankfully, I remembered a little stash of US dollars that I had kept for emergencies. I can safely say that this constituted as an emergency. Finally, I was able to repay my new friend, who had been helping me with his warmth and generosity.

Paulino Neves

Paulino Neves

I never did make it to Jericoacoara, at least not this time. I spent days trying, but in the process met some beautifully beneficent people, who took me under their wing without knowing a single thing about me. Life is all about the journey, and having the strength to give in and accept its unpredictability.

Divine dunes of Lencois

Divine dunes of Lencois

14 thoughts on “It’s all about the journey

  1. Pingback: The Seven Wonders of Brazil | An Activist Abroad

  2. Wise words you speak. Beautiful knowledge you share with us.
    Some of our goals in life may just be there only for inspiration, motivation. We may not accomplish them, but in the process, all the answers may be revealed, happines, stability, peace.

    I liked alot what you say about big questions taking a back seat, rather than saying you left them behind, or that you just decided to forget about them.

    I insist I truly support your big search, and what you are doing (travelling, being brave, positive, being open minded, being grateful for all the beauty in people and places you have visited, looking for answers, and being part of them…)

    It is true, world is full of good people. But it is also true that there are a bunch of “bad” guys too, this is nothing new to say, I know. It may all depend on the perspective you’re looking through, point of view, needs, whatever.

    Some day, people like you, will heal this young and reckless humanity that we are all part of.

    My love to you 🙂

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    • I don’t know quite what to say to such a kind and thoughtful comment. Thanks, for a start!
      It has been an interesting time in my life, and one where I am lucky enough to be able to spend time thinking about life in the most stunning places in the world.
      I haven’t been writing much since getting robbed in San Francisco, which is a shame as it would have helped me to do so!
      Thanks so much for your support. It means a lot to me. I guess I will see you soon then? Night walking with our cameras?

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  3. Pingback: Swim in the coastal dunes of Brazil at the Park Maranhenses | travelscapism

  4. Reminds me of the time I flew back from Sulawesi to Bali and all my cards got wiped. I was taken under the wing of the lady who had been sitting behind me on the plane, smoking with her two sons. Looked after me for a whole week, it was such kindness that I shan’t ever forget. It was a great experience for both of us!

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  5. What a beautiful experience. I felt like I was right with you in the middle of the discomfort of not being able to pay and how tricky it was to receive that amazing generosity. Such a blessing to encounter people who can give like that.

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    • It certainly was, and is the most divine setting with the most wonderful, warm, generous people. I learnt a lot, for sure. Brasil is filled with such people, who speak from the heart a great deal of the time. x

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    • It was intense, in the most positive way too. Thanks so much for the comment, and glad you like the photos. I have a few galleries up if you have the time to have a look.

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  6. Wassup la. Well first off, what beautiful photographs. It looks like you were in a fantastic place, and although money was tight I hope you were able to take it in. I remember waiting on a bank in Zimbabwe once so I know the sinking feeling that hits when you find out you have to make end meet for another day. Still you enjoyed precious company and humanity proved itself to you once more. Don’t worry about the big questions. These things tend to solve themselves and I hope you’re not exception.

    Peace.

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    • Thanks Ben. Appreciate the feedback mate. I definitely was in a stunning place, and was so lucky to meet such great people. As for the big questions, they have taken a back seat again. I guess I dip in and out of feeling assured by such instability to feeling totally freaked out. Guess that’s kind of normal! Anyway, I will be hanging out with you in a matter of days, so at least the loneliness will subside. Bring on California!!!

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  7. Well I just lost my long reply, but I wanted to say how awesome your journey is Layla, in so many ways. I love reading your words as I feel carried along with the trip as if living a large part of it through your wonderful descriptions. You’re right, the Lençóis Maranhenses National Park is incredibly beautiful. I had never heard of ity before.
    What’s more, not only did you receiev the most amazing warmth, sharing, trust and love – those who were able to give you what they did also would have receieved such warmth and pleasure from giving and sharing it with you.
    I look forward to the next steps we take with you…carry on enjoying and experiencing, this is truly the journey of a lifetime xx

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    • Thanks Anne, that;’s very kind. I hope one day you can experience the dunes. It’s the kind of place that affects you so much that it’s impossible to see the world the same again. Simply stunning!
      As for the people I met, I felt truly blessed. Life can be good sometimes.

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