It was too early to be awake, but we were. Piled up into and onto a truck and went. The truck kept stopping to pick up more people. "Where is he putting them?" we exchanged stares. "The roof?" Sure. Why not. When the truck stopped at a river crossing and everybody exited to let it drive onto a barge, we saw that indeed people were riding on the roof. Most of them were locals, but there was also a French guy who complained about the rooftop ride being rough on his behind.
Truck. Ferry. Same Truck. Different ferry. Minivan. Now we are in Parnaiba. The idea was to take a seven hour boat through the Parnaiba river delta that is supposed to be one of a kind. We joined three Brazilians who had the same plans as us.
Andre and Marta, both 34, were from South Brazil and on vacation. They didn't speak English very well, but we welcomed it seeing it as a chance to practice our Portuguese. Renato was fifty four and spoke very good English. He was a pilot who at one point worked for a very wealthy Brazilian Jew flying his private jet all around the world. "It was a great job," he said with sadness in his voice, "but it was damned when my boss got married. They wanted to have children and used fertility drugs. They had quintuplets. That, plus the downturn in the economy... He sold the jet, and the job was gone."
- "Reproduction is the plague of humanity," he concluded his thought.
- "Do you have any children?" I asked.
- "Yes, a daughter. I like her."
When we all got to the pier, Renato and Andre went to ask and came back with bad news: "The boat sunk ten days ago". Since the boat sunk, there was no other way out than bus. It was dark when we arrived in Tutoia, and we let native speakers do the talking. The five of us stayed in the same hostel and agreed for tomorrow to take the boat together to see the Delta. Frankly, I had no idea what was so special about it, but then I rarely inquire about places we are about to visit. I like the surprise.
Surprise! I got bitten by a crab. Is it bitten or clawed? In any case, the purple-green beast clutched onto the skin between my index and middle fingers and wouldn't let go. I hated it and pitied it at the same time. The poor thing had only one claw and was probably scared to death. The boat driver was the one really scared. He was the one who gave me the crab to hold and, after unhinging me from its claw, rushed to get ice.
The rest of the excursion was much calmer. We rode the delta stopping at various islands and walked the serene untouched dunes that, at least today, were only ours to footprint. The dunes have a wonderful way of hiding evidence that anyone else has ever visited them and you know that in any point you have the opportunity to gaze in a direction where there is nothing. Just nothing. And that is calming. I did that a lot. I pretended no one was here at all. But when I didn't, I enjoyed looking at Shurik walk making a mental note that traveling looks good on him.
When we got back that evening, I discovered I was sun burned. God knows, I need more color on me, but I was sort of hoping to get it gradually, aquiring that can't-help-it-coz-I'm-on-the-road kind of proud tan. Renato told us that according to his dermatologist that out of sun protection products sold in Brazil only Nivea has the true SPF that matches what's printed on the label. As we just used up our US purchased Coppertone sunblock, we followed this advice and bought a bottle of Nivea this morning. So much for that tip. It wasn't that bad. Shurik smeared me in Aloe Vera and went to get me a cold lemonade. When he came back, his eyes were shining. Something was going on in front of the church. "There are people in costumes dancing and somebody dressed like a bull." We grabbed the camera and went outside. My shirt was sticking to my back from Aloe Vera, but I didn't care, this was interesting. "Festival of the Bull," Shurik said, "I read about something like this in Sao Luis." I clicked away. It took only half a minute for the local children to notice the camera, and when they discovered it was also digital, there was no getting rid of them. They all wanted to see their faces on the little screen and buckled laughing when they did.
We left Tutoia on yet another truck. Funny thing about these trucks, they say they are going to leave, but they don't for at least an hour or more from the intended time. They just keep circling the main city block until every square inch has a paying passenger on it. When we finally rode, it was fun. Just like the book said: a narrow road that often forced the truck into muddy puddles from which it emerged unstuck time after time. We ducked brush and took pictures of life passing by. Cows, people, more cows. After a few hours we took a break in Paulino Neves, changed trucks, and said good bye to Renato who decided to stay for a day or two. We continued to Barrerinhas, the entry point to the National park, with Andre and Marta.
In the morning we went to Lencois, and you guessed it, we went on a truck. In front of us sat two Indian men. I fought an urge to strike a conversation with them about India, when the older man took a bag with garbage and chugged it out of the moving truck right into the street. "Hey! There are trash cans for this, you know!" I know they knew English and could understand me. The younger man gave me an apologetic look.
Lencois was more dunes and lagoons. It was picture perfect beautiful, but not as charming as the ones we saw in Tutoia because we also had about one hundred other people around and a TV crew was filming a commercial for a clothing store. Any chances of this being an intimate experience were gone. We made the best of it splashing in the cool lagoon talking to the Indians and I heard that the younger man was from around here, but the older one was from Baltimore, MD. "This is your father?" I asked. "Exactly," the younger man relied. The conversation went on and we found out that the men were priests. "Pardon my ignorance," I hesitated, but still asked, "are Catholic priests allowed to have families?"
-"No, we are not."
-"But you just said he was your... Oooh," I realized my mistake, "he is A father, not YOUR father. Alright."
I don't care whose father he is, I thought, he still shouldn't have thrown that bag of garbage onto the street.
We left Barreirinhas the same day. There was no point to linger, we had a boat to catch in Belem, and Marta and Andre were running out of their vacation. Their last, and our next, stop was Sao Luis.
Are you tired from all these names of places? I am. They are places we go through them and we forget. Well, I forget. Shurik can still be troubled to remember most of it, but the thing is that the names become clutter in my head. Have we been, let's say, to Natal? The name rings a bell. Does that mean we spent a night there? Can't tell you for sure.
In Sao Luis the Festival of the Bull was in full bloom. We planned to stay here only one night, so if we wanted to see the festivities, it had to be tonight. We asked the men in the hostel, and he pointed us to the town's cultural center.
It's been a long four days, and I think I'm getting sick. May be I'm just tired. Our bus to Belem is late at night, and we spent the last day with Andre and Marta walking through Sao Luis historical center. We went into a few museums trying to absorb the North Brazilian culture that neither of us knew nothing about, but mostly we walked around taking pictures of building walls. You see, to combat the humidity in the air, many building in Sao Luis are covered with tiles. White and blue seem to be the dominant colors featured in many patterns, some falling apart, some newly restored. But there are also other colors, monotone, duotone, hand painted, mass produced. Most buildings in Sao Luis are either tiled or chipped and falling apart. Only a few were standing, as if out of place, with a fresh coat of paint on.