Gil didn't stop at that. Not only that he gave us seventy Reais instead of the sixty-six he owed, he also went to every bus company in the terminal that was selling tickets to Brasilia, our next destination, and bargained down the price. In all respects, as far as tour operators go, in our book he is getting five stars. So if anybody is planning to go to the Pantanal anytime soon, Gil at Panatanal Discovery is your man.
Fast forward 23 hours, and we are in Brasilia. After such a ride, between the two of us we maybe had half a brain working, but we still decided not to go straight into the city, and see if there was a bus for Alto Paraiso, and then for Sao Jorge, where in the National Park wolves, emus, and giant anteaters are told to roam free. Well, what do you know, a bus to High Paradise (Alto Paraiso) was leaving in exactly 3 minutes, and in another 4 hours at 11 pm we found ourselves in a semi empty bus station with no idea where to spend the night. We were scratching our heads and discussing spending the night in the open air station, when a woman came up to us, introduced herself as Patricia, and offered us a room in her home for half of what we would pay in hostel. Who were we to say no to a deal like that? Her house turned out to be actually very nice. Lots of self made Indian style knick-knacks, a hammock hanging in the living room, and a brick oven in the kitchen. It was really like spending the night at a friend's house where you can raid the fridge or use their shampoo (but we didn't). It was only that the evening conversation was a little retarded with miming and broken Portuguese, but luckily it was already late, so we just all went to bed.
Next morning we woke up to an empty house. According to yesterday's conversation, there was supposed to be somebody else to see us out, but there is a good chance we misunderstood. In any case, Patricia has drawn us a little map of where we could try to catch a ride to Sao Jorge, so we helped ourselves to some leftover from last night crackers and cheese, and went on our way.
I have to point out – hitchhiking in Brazil is much warmer than in Chile. The two hours we spent on the side of the road holding our thumbs up passed quickly, and we were picked up by a friendly local who, by the speed and manner in which he was driving, must have known the road pretty well.
In Sao Jorge we were stumped again. What are we doing here? Oh, right, the giant anteaters. We nosed around, and found a hostel fitting our budget. At five bucks a head we can later splurge for a required guide to the National Park that I hear are pricey. Today though it was too late for that, but there was still light outside and our hostel's owner has offered to take us to her father's farm where the view, she promised, was just as good as in the Moon Valley – another famous trek in the area. We agreed, obviously not before asking "How much?", and again, at now two and a half bucks a head for a daily activity, it was a great deal.
Like many rural places in South America, Sao Jorge is what they call "tranquilo" (tranquil), and what I call "tranquil to death". Note I didn't say "boring". It's not. It's just slow. I definitely wouldn't recommend someone from NYC to come relax here because it is so calm you don't know what to do with yourself anymore. On the other hand, may be only I am this hyper and for anybody else this is a slice of heaven.
We sat waiting for the woman to take us to the farm and watched life going by. Rabbits in a cage underneath my feet, a puppy and a kitten playfully wrestling in my lap, people coming by to buy milk and homemade cheese. Friends come by without as much as a phone call, just the way I like it. Everyone knows everyone, and I bet there are some dramas that we are too foreign to this village to see, but it all still starting to seem very charming, and even livable, to me.
Finally, our ride has come, and we are off to the farm. The car, packed with both of us, two women, and two ten year olds, was by no means an off-road, but still managed up some very steep hills and in twenty minutes we were shaking hands with the whole family, including the maker of the homemade cheese herself – the sister in law. As custom in Brazil, the TV was on and after staring at the screen for a bit like good guests, we followed the woman and some others to a nearby creek with some little waterfalls. We had no idea there will be swimming so we didn't bring our bathing suits, but it didn't turned out to be a problem as everyone else went in to the water in their underwear. We splashed in the cold water and took pictures in the little waterfall when, all of a sudden, the locals began frantically waiving and calling us back. Seeing some fleeing back into the house, and the others insisting on our return, we hurried back to find out that indeed there was something incredible at the farm that would be a sin to miss – a football game! Not just any game, it was Brazil's first game in the World Cup, and it also happened to be vs. Croatia. The family did ask us whose side we were on, and we honestly replied that we would usually have no preferences, but since we're in Brazil - GO BRAZIL! It must have been the right answer, because after that we were treated to beer, steak, and cheese. And after Brazil won (of course!), the father drove us home on his 4x4, and we ended up paying only two and a half dollars for the both of us.
I'm starting to really like it here. May be if we didn't have a bit of a time limit we'd stay here longer and really get the feel of things, but as it is now we have to move-move-move. We still wanted to see the animals and the National Park, so we spent the whole morning searching for an English speaking guide to take us there, and when we finally found one, he had bad news – as usual, our outdated guide book didn't say that for a few years now there were no sightings of animals in the part of the park open to visitors, due to the very heavy foot traffic it's being subjected to all year long. However, he said the beautiful flora and the amazing views of waterfalls and canyons are still there. Bummer. I had my heart set on some giant anteaters. No question we both were disappointed, but tried to make the best of it. Luciano, the guide, was not putting to much pressure on us to hire him. In fact, when we found him, he was doing laundry. I bet if he would be selling it harder we would have gotten turned off, but, like I said, everything in this place is very "tranquilo" so we went with it.
Oh. How do I love exceeding my own expectations. Best feeling in the world is when you go somewhere almost knowing there will be nothing exciting there and then discover you couldn't have been more wrong. Walking the trail itself was not terribly exciting, but the views opened up to us in the end were absolutely amazing. I thought we'd seen waterfalls when we visited Iguazu Falls, but these falls here felt even better. Maybe it was because there were no groups of tourists around clicking their cameras, or because we could feel the power of the water first hand as it broke on our backs, giving us hydromassages, but I felt like it was my own private paradise that I discovered and now going to live out my days in, if only there will be a fitting cave near by (with internet connection of course).
When we came back my, mind was somewhere else. It was here, thinking about this place, but still running from the part of my brain that will never dare having thoughts about me living in a small town, and even less - a village. How could I, a person with a twenty five thousand dollar a year education can even dare ponder of life anywhere else then in a world cultural capital or of not striving to be rich and famous? Is it still me talking, or is it my mother's voice I hear? I think it's still me. I love my mother dearly, but when it comes to life decisions, I tend to listen to no one but myself (and maybe Shurik). And now "myself" is confused. It sees me walking on, let's say, NYC streets in heels and a cool sharp outfit, carrying my portfolio, on my way to a gallery where my work is going to be sold for thousands, or to an advertising meeting where I'm going to wow the hell out some big client. However, it also beginning to see me in a village like this, walking in my flip-flops on the bare dirt road, wearing something comfortable on my way to my work space and gallery which happens to be right next door to a place called "Shurik's Internet Café" (he had expressed such wishes.) So then what is it that I want? I know that nothing beats the adrenalin rush of meeting with a client or having your work displayed for the appreciative but judging eyes of hundreds of people. But I also know that these are the kind of things that will eventually give me an ulcer, and that since I left such worries behind I had only food related heartburn. On the other hand, I can love the tranquility, but will I be able to handle it for long? Will I find inspiration, for such work as mine, in flowers and puppies? And will I not miss the Russian community, and completely retransform my identity (which I like as it is now, btw.)
I guess somebody can say here that the most important thing that my education and upbringing have given me is choice. I am in the position to choose what sort of life I want and to live it to the fullest, which I sort of thought we are doing right now. But what I can't stop thinking off, is what is going to come after. When we'll stop traveling. Will we stop traveling? We both want children, but does that mean we have to "settle down" to do it? We already know people who didn't stop one dream (traveling) to actualize another (have a family), why should we? And if already the subject is children, wouldn't they be happier and healthier breathing fresh mountain air, eating the freshest food and not playing Nintendo while eating McDonalds and contemplating how will they manipulate their parents into buying the latest iPod?
I guess what I'm trying to say here is that I'm scared that after seeing the world I will still not find my place in it. A hippy selling jewelry on the street who has traveled all over the world has told me I already have IT (my place in the world) as I am with my love, and the our location, is only a location. I agree, but am still scared. Scared that no matter how good life is, I will still wonder "what if?" and never be happy.