Planet Hiker
2005-07-30 The Gas Station, Itacare, Brazil

"Can I borrow $20 Reals from you to buy cocaine?"

This was one of the stranger introductions that I have heard but hey, at least it wasn't the same old "For how long have you been traveling?" approach. Of course, I didn't want to fork out a $20 just because she was good looking. Luckily, I remembered that I used a $20 Reals bill to buy a Carperina, so I must have now had about $17 in my pocket, liberating me to say "Sorry, I don't have a 20"... But she WAS good looking... After a trying pause I added "Would $10 do the trick?" And that's how it all began. Having never done drugs myself, I was buying cocaine for some chick that I just met.

Marcia considered herself a "local girl", even though she moved to Itacare only about a year ago. Never the less, she knew the ins and outs of this place better than anyone else. She waitressed in town's most popular bar, Mandala, which was the center point of "early" night life. I often wandered about the success of this business, as without exception, every night it was getting packed between 11pm and 2am. Now I had no doubt that drugs had something to do with it. Normally, after the 2am marker, the action would move on to some other place. Thus, after priming the crowd with beer and live music, Mandala would pass the torch to the next bar inline. There were several contenders in town. There was the Marine's - a cute place on the beach were a live band would play Fojo till about 5am; there was the Yellow House, playing Reggie and sometimes Rock; there was a place up the street who’s name I could never remember, also playing Fojo; and then there was a bar where the best electronic music was being played, but it was ran by a transvestite and so no one ever went there.

I didn't particularly care which bar to go to next, as it was already past my bed time, but fully fuelled, Marcia was determined to make the best of the night. With confident strides she guided me straight to the Marine's. From the tourist's perspective, this was a brilliant opportunity to dive into the local lifestyle, so I did my best to keep up (did I mention that she was good looking?).

The ring of the triangle mixed with the chords of the guitar along with the soft thumps of the base drum, gently drifted across the beach as the band lured the couples for another Fojo dance. I guess some things are just "meant to be" because I was itching to learn how to dance and it turned out that Marcia was a Fojo instructor (no, seriously, later on I found out that she gives classes in the afternoons at the Cinema). Thus, I shook off the sandals and found Marcia pressing closely against me. The dance itself was a simple one (basically a toned down Salsa with only a minor variation in the steps), so I quickly picked it up and soon we were inseparable, except for the short bear breaks, as requested by Marcia at steady intervals.

By about 6am I already had drunk more beer than in the previous 6 months, but by no means was the night over. Marcia, still holding strong, took me to the gas station (perhaps, I should really say The Gas Station) to drink more beer and watch the sunrise, though it was cloudy and I knew that we were going to be left to witness a lazy undarkening of the sky. The gas station had a mini mart as well as corner where burgers were being fliped. The funny thing about this place was that the crowd here was divided into two distinct camps - there was the Cocaine camp and there was also the Marijuana camp. The Cocaine people were strictly drinking bear and would not even come close to the burgers. The Marijuana people, on the other hand, were having the munchies, thus providing a consistent income for the burger joint. From a business perspective, I was quite fascinated how someone must have realized that there are enough Marijuana users out there to make this venture - cooking burgers in the morning - work. The other neat thing about the people at the gas station was that they were all locals (except for me, that is). None of the tourists would be masochistic enough to stay this late into the night, and by implication, spend the day hours sleeping. But these people were all workers of Itacare. They were the locals who ran the bars and clubs for the tourists and 6am in the morning is when they got off work to have a beer of their own. Marcia pointed out the transvestite who’s bar is always empty, the owner of Mandala – some 25 year old punk from Argentina, the guy who sells drinks on a portable cart in front of Mandala, and many others, all people that make Itacare work.

By about 7am, Marcia downed another couple of beers and was finally ready to go home. Coincidently, the sun opened up for a few seconds, shining though a patch of clouds and bouncing brilliant rays over the silver surface of the ocean. This was the moment that I was craving for the whole night. Thus, having wasted enough money on beer, I raced to my room, grabbed the surfboard and went out to catch the morning high tide.

Photo by Mariola Box: