Planet Hiker

2005-08-11 Across the River, Itacare, Brazil

Avik and I were in a bus station, waiting to catch the 10:30 bus to Jeribucasu (supposedly a very beautiful beach, though in my eyes, the beaches within walking distance of Itacare were already as beautiful as it gets. So I was skeptical about the benefit of paying for the bus fare – 1Real (about 40 cents US)). Then I saw that man again, that middle aged man with angular glasses in a gold plated frame, tanned skin and a head full of silver hairs cut so short that they were spiking on their own. Today however, his most striking feature was the well ironed out shirt and white pants that were way too hot for the stuffy and humid weather. Though somehow, he managed not to sweat, maintaining a sharp composure. As he walked across the bus terminal we made eye contact and I quickly announced “Good day” before he could smile and say “Hello”. Thing is, I bumped into him for the first time couple of days ago and he asked how I was doing, as if he know me already. At that moment I hesitated, trying to remember if I had met him the night before, mentally going over the list of blurry faces. Not having an idea of who he was, I slurred out a generic “Hola”, wandering if people in this town have seen me enough to start treating me as a local (I have been living in Itacare for nearly two months now). But now, in the bus station, the situation wasn’t strange anymore. We were old buddies, with years of drinking beer together on Sunday knights behind us.

At about 10:50 the bus arrived on schedule (by the Brazilian standards) and we were off to spend the day enjoying yet another gorgeous beach, surrounded by lush vegetation and coconut bearing palm trees. Since Jericowasy is well visited, natives and tourists alike put in the effort to keep it clean. In fact, it would be completely spotless if it wasn’t for the freshly fallen coconuts that the local kids haven’t yet picked up. As beautiful as this type of scenery was, for the following day we decided to try something different. On the other side of Itacare, across the river, is a rarely visited peninsula composed of a long barren beach that extends into the horizon as far as the eye could see. We did not expect to encounter much there but wanted to go primarily for the sake of the exercise. Photo by Avik Shavarshyan

Thus, the following morning, we got up as early as we could (just past noon), packed an over ripen mango that we have been meaning to ear for several days now, a half stick of salami, a Swiss Army knife, and went to the fishing dock where several “canoeros” were ready to ferry us across the river on single piece, dugout canoes. I had forgotten to check what the standard rate for the ride is, so I was forced to ask that from one of the ferryman. He squirmed, paused for a second and named 5Reals for both of us. Even though we could have tried to bargain over the price, the prospect of getting all hyped up for the sake of a few cents this early in the morning somehow did not appeal to us. So we just got into the canoe and let the smooth strokes of the wooden ore take us on a ride that has been left untouched in the bubble of time. Dugout canoes just like this one glided over this river for hundreds of years, oblivious to the changes eagerly introduced by men.

After crossing the river, we continued our way, following a trail that took us past mangroves and wild bushes all the way to the other side of the peninsula, where the beach began. Immediately we noticed random articles of trash that were washed up here by the ocean. Amongst darkened twigs and rotten coconut shells, there would be an odd worned out slipper, may be a plastic bottle or even some torn piece of clothing, died out by the sun. Photo by Avik Shavarshyan

Surprisingly, we saw several figures in the distance. As we came closer, we recognized them as the transvestites that were hanging around bar Mandala last knight. I did my best at keeping my eyes fixed in some other direction, but their tan needed butt chicks glared into my peripheral vision never the less, only accentuated by the overly aggressive thongs.

“I’ve heard a lot about topless beaches in Brazil” commented Avik, “but this is not what I had envisioned…”
“It could have been worse” I replied. “At least they had the decency to wear the thongs.”

We continued out walk and after some time, lost track of how far we have gone. The scenery presented virtually no changes and the transvestites were left too far behind and out of sight to be able to judge distance. Everything around us seemed perfectly uneventful. There was the ocean on one side, featureless landscape of low bushes on the other, and the narrow strip of sand, that didn’t even have a footprint trail to follow. It stretched into the horizon, gradually merging into a single point, just like the railroads in the photos that are always shown to students in the introductory photography classes. Coming across anything after soaking in such a prolonged visual monotony would have been quite exiting, but it was especially a treat to find a good sized, perfectly spherical coconut, heavy with the promise of juice. Since neither one of us wanted to carry it, we decided to break for lunch and just eat it then and there. Using the Swiss Army knife, I cut an opening in the coconut and also sliced a few, inch think portions of salami for the main course. Then we just sat there and chewed on salami, occasionally washing it down with coconut juice. There was also the mango that we have been carrying all this time, but having eaten several more salami pieces, nether one of us had any room for it. So we continued carrying it, unwilling to donate it to the land.

Soon, after resuming out journey, a carcass of an old ship appeared as if the earth had chewed on it and spat out the bones for its companion scavengers, wind and the sun, to pick clean. What remained of the ship were the struts, used to provide structural support to the once existing side panels, now sticking out of the sand like the ribs of some colossal animal. Photo by Avik Shavarshyan

While we were paying tribute to the vessel that once was free to roam the seas, a disproportionate figure appeared in the distance and soon condensed into a woman, carrying a large sack of fish on her head. We knew that it was fish because even before her approach the stench carried by the wind polluted all of the surroundings, announcing “Fish in a sack!”

“I am carrying fish in my sack” said the woman, “and it is quite heavy.” She didn’t directly ask us to help her carry it, so we strained our imaginations to interpret that as a form of greeting. Out of the corner of the sack something slimy was oozing out and dripping onto her shoulder, leaving a large stain on her red shirt.

“Did I mention that it’s heavy?” the woman repeated, still standing in front of us with the sack on her head. Since there were no signs of civilization on either side of the horizon, we considered the prospect of carrying the dripping sack of fish carefully, inevitably concluding that there are more glamorous ways of spending the remainder of the day. Instead, I urged Avik to take her picture, which he did shamelessly, quickly wiping out the digital camera. Seeing that we are of no help, the woman just went on, without even taking a deep breath. All there was left for us to do was watch her little figure gradually disappear into the horizon. Remembering that the ferrymen don’t work past the sunset time, we decided to head back, unsure of how long it is actually going to take us. Photo by Avik Shavarshyan

Plain sand with ocean on one side, bushes on the other for as far as the eye could see… Ten minutes, twenty, forty passed without giving us any notice. The relative uneventfulness hypnotized us into a state of self reflection. I was deep in such thoughts when I noticed how a wave washed a fish onto the shore. The fish violently flipped its tail but was unable to get back into water. A few more cruel seconds past and the fish gave up the fight for life and just laid there motionless. Its eyes were still sparkling but death was tightening its grip. With luck on its side, an unusually large wave came by, hit the shore and carried the fish back into the ocean. The foam covered the fish, hiding it from me behind the white curtains. But then the following wave gave me the last glance of the fish before dragging it down, never to reveal again. In that final moment the fish still wasn’t moving, leaving me to guess whether the ocean took it back to save or to burry the fish in the place where it belonged…

Our place of belonging was on the other side of the river, so we kept our pace, continually estimating the time left before sunset. We got to the river bank just as the light was turning yellow, letting us know that the sun is about to set. Fortunately, there was an old man with a canoe nearby and he was eager to make a few extra Reals. Thus, he called his helper, a boy of about 12 years; we all loaded into the canoe and made our way across the river. Since this time I knew the ballpark figure of how much the ride ought to cost, instead of asking for the price, I handed him a 10Real bill and apologized for not having anything smaller, there by casting an assumption that I know exactly how much the fare should be. But just as he was about to send the boy to find change, Avik ceremoniously shuffled in his pockets. The old man, hoping that Avik has enough to avoid the hassle of looking for change, asked for 2Reals. Out of generosity Avik gave him 4Reals, remembering that crossing the same river for the first time cost 5Reals. The old man, truly thankful for the tip, departed full of smiles, while we turned around only to bump into the mysterious man whom we last seen at the bus station. He still had his angular glasses on, but this time he was wearing shorts and a dirty, unbuttoned shirt.

“Hello! How are you? Will you be out drinking later on at knight?” he asked with a slow and broad smile on his face. His breath carried a strong smell of alcohol and I could not help but notice droplets of sweat in between his short silver hairs that were spiking perfectly on his well tanned head.
“I sure will” I replied, “and you?”
“Oh, I already had my share for the day” he answered, quite pleased with himself.
“Enjoy the rest of your evening if that’s the case” I said “and I will see you later!”
“See you then!” he replied and went on his way, while we headed back to town, still having no clue who that guy is, still carrying the ripen mango.

Movie of us crossing the Itacare river:

Note: photos by Avik Shavarshyan