If only things had been this simple: a boy selling fish on the beach, bright blue sky, crashing ocean waves, heavy sand. I’d fooled myself into thinking, last Thursday, that this would be a repeat of the time I’d had on Ilha do Cardoso last month, wherein I relaxed for whole days on my own spot on the beach, bothered only by a bird overhead or the shadow of some cloud that passed between me and the sun. There on Cardoso I’d found a bit of paradise, and I’d grasped onto what I thought was the closest thing to it when I found out about Pouso, which is a nature reserve a two hours’ schooner ride from the old colonial town of Paraty, where I’d been twice already. Having loved Paraty before, last visiting it in April with Dennis, I figured it would be the perfect vacation, and what with the boat ride and the sparse living, it might even be an adventure of sorts.
Indeed, my friends, that was the only thing I hadn’t fooled myself about.
I should have known, after the first four hours of sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic, and after listening to our trip’s guide repeat “This is the worst traffic I’ve seen in my entire life,” that we were in for some problems. For a trip that should take five hours at most, we found ourselves trapped on a bus–all 40 of us–for nearly twelve hours. In fact, the traffic was so bad that we were actually turned away from a rest area because there were too many people there. When we found another rest area that was equally crowded, I should have picked up on the sign that said “The People You Are Traveling With Have No Consideration For Doing Things On Time” because our twenty-minute pit stop turned into an hour-long wait for our travel companions to go to the bathroom, buy beer, eat some snacks, and smoke cigarettes. It was four in the morning, and the pit stop was so densely populated with bewildered travelers all heading North to the state of Rio de Janeiro, that you would have thought it was only noon if not for the pitch black and starry sky. People lounged outside their cars, blasted music, stood around drinking, and waited in lines for the bathroom while I sat staring out the window at them waiting for the 38 other people on the bus to come back to it so we could get back on the road.
When we finally arrived in Paraty, six hours later than we should have, the weather was gorgeous and we piled onto a schooner that would take us the two hours to Pouso da Cajaíba. We spread our tired and cramped bodies out on the deck, soaking in some much-needed and well-deserved rays of sunshine while drinking caipirinhas and beer to our hearts’ content. Over the crackling speakers came Bob Marley and Ben Harper, mixed in with some popular Brazilian songs, and I must admit that those two hours would be the best of all 81 that we spent on our adventure.
From the schooner, Pouso da Cajaíba looked like a line of colorful houses against a deep green backdrop. It was similar to what I’d seen on Ilha Grande, small houses nestled into a forrest that rose to tower over the strip of beach. I was eager to get to our pousada if only so that I could rush to the beach and lie down to continue sun bathing.
As it were, we got sidetracked by the bar that made the best caipirinhas I’ve ever had and so needless to say, we all spent a good deal of time there eating and relaxing. It was late afternoon by the time I made it to the pousada, which was really nothing more than a house with some rooms in it and a porch off the front, and took a shower. This, however, was a shower with no hot water, and while that wasn’t so much of a problem that first day, it was definitely a problem the second day, as the weather itself had cooled considerably, forcing me and my housemates to heat water on the gas stove so that we wouldn’t cut ourselves on the goosebumps of our own skin while bathing.
The night I heated the water to bathe, I also used a candle to see what I was doing. It would have been very romantic if it weren’t for the fear of crabs I’d developed ever since I’d found one in that very same bathroom just hours earlier, a mere foot and a half away from the shower.
I would say that the time I spent on Pouso was wonderful and relaxing, but that it wasn’t until yesterday that it all crumbled to pieces. Like I said above, I should have read the signs about the behavior of certain traveling companions, should have known that they liked to spend their time as if there were no other people with lives to lead or business to attend to, because yesterday I spent an hour as the only person on the schooner waiting patiently for and watching said traveling companions to stroll down the beach after they’d showered and eaten full plates of food for lunch a full hour later than our scheduled departure as if they lived just a mile or two from Pouso–not a seven hour drive and a day of work the next day. No, no, it was just a happy stroll and a two hour schooner ride beneath quickly darkening skies to our comfy bus that would bring us back to Campinas.
Perhaps I am too American, but schedules mean something to me. I love vacation, but I love a stress-free vacation more. And certainly waiting for and watching stragglers board the schooner one at a time with broad smiles on their faces as the minutes ticked past and cut into our travel time did nothing for my stress level. I have come to love and be thankful for Brazilians’ ability to laugh things off and follow the credo “tudo de bom,” (it’s all good,) but for the love of God, people, we have places to go and people to see. Let’s get the move on.
If that weren’t enough, on the boat I was able to see some Grade A Brazilian meat-marketing. What do I mean here? I mean this: one guy had been prowling the same three women over the course of the weekend. While one woman’s back was turned, he would be asking another for her e-mail address. While she was down below decks, he’d be kissing the foot of another. And while she was busy talking with a friend, he’d be all wrapped up in the first girl, legs and arms akimbo doing God knows what. It may have been the sleaziest prowling I’ve seen to this day.
If you can believe it, all the complaining I’ve done about the trip so far is not complaining at all when you put it into perspective with the very next thing that happened.
When we arrived back in Paraty, loaded down with our bags and some of us with a good dose of alcohol, we came to discover that the bus that had carried us the twelve hours to Paraty from Campinas had, in fact, broken irreparably. Irreparably, that is, for a Sunday night in Brazil. What, then, would be the solution? More waiting!
We left the boat while there was still sun–or a sense of sun, anyway, as the sky had clouded over entirely. We spent the next three hours–three hours–waiting for something to happen, anywhere. This waiting included eating sandwiches, calling Dennis, walking around town, sitting, watching a television that was on in the local shopping, and watching Sleaze work his magic with his triumverate of ladies, two of whom had a clue about what was happening, and the third pathetically oblivious and young.
At long last, our leader presented us with the news that three separate 15-passenger vans would be arriving to pick us up and bring us back to Campinas. While it was not the ideal solution–surely a bus is more comfortable than a tightly packed van–it was something, and something at that point (9 o’clock at night) was better than nothing (more waiting.) Upon the arrival of the vans, however, I knew it was something I wanted no part of, yet I was hesitant to remove myself from the situation because I’d have to find my own way home. Mandy and I tossed around the idea of staying in Paraty for the night and catching a 2am bus that one of the women in the van told us about. The bus would take us from Paraty to São Paulo, but as a result we would be missing the first half of school, if not the entire day. We settled down and waited, again, for stragglers to pile into the van.
(Do you see them waiting? Just sitting back and relaxing? While the doors of the vans are wide open and ready to leave?)
Let me describe for you this van. It was only slightly larger than a Suburban with no room under the seats to store our bags. All the seats were covered with pleather and were unable to recline, which meant that we would be riding for a long trip that would certainly be longer considering holiday traffic, at a 90 degree angle. Couple this with the trouble of finding a place to put our bags and the fact that the woman directly to my right was eating an egg sandwich, my patience for getting the move on was running out. A quick look around the van to see that the window I was crammed against had no ability to open and that we would be forced to breathe in air conditioning for the length of the trip, made me glance back at Mandy to get a read on her face. She was looking around nervously seeing that her personal space would soon be invaded by a man and woman who were sure to make out at least once in the coming hours. She verbally protested, grabbed her bag, and fled the van as quickly as she could. It was another matter entirely for me, as I’d piled myself up on top of my large hiking bag and couldn’t immediately untangle myself or the bag from the car. But once we were out, we were out. We said a quick goodbye and trucked away from the group by foot, not once looking back with regret.
This left us alone in Paraty, and seeking out the rodoviaria. We’d heard from the lady in the group that there was a bus at 2am. So we discussed just briefly the idea of staying in a cheap pousada until 1:30 in the morning and waking up in time to catch the bus back. When we arrived at the rodoviaria, however, we realized that the bus the woman was talking about wasn’t going to São Paulo like she’d said. Instead, the first bus from Paraty to São Paulo would be 7 and a half hours later, at 9:30. We would have absolutely no way of being back in school during the school day. Not only that, but since we’d kissed our ride goodbye with the quick wave of a hand and flip of the mental bird, we were stuck.
And then it seemed our luck turned. Upon leaving the group only good things happened. While it appeared we were out of luck about catching a bus on Monday, we hadn’t exhausted Sunday’s bus rides. It appeared there would be one more trip from Paraty to São Paulo and that it was scheduled to leave at 11:30, only two hours later. There were also only five seats left. When I secured our tickets and looked down at the departure time, rather than seeing 23:30 that would indicate our 11:30pm departure time, I saw instead 22:00. 10 o’clock. We would be leaving in under an hour.
To make matters even better, upon boarding the bus, I had an entire row to myself, after a mother and her three year-old daughter, who had been occupying the row I was assigned to, moved elsewhere. Five hours later, we arrived in São Paulo and resigned ourselves to waiting until the earliest bus to Campinas, which we assumed was six o’clock. We would still be able to make it to school, albeit somewhat late. However, when we saw the departure schedule, we discovered that the first bus left at 4:30, putting us back in Campinas by 6am. We screamed and jumped for joy, running around the Rodoviaria Tiête drinking juice and using the bathroom in just the forty-five minutes we had before boarding the early bus home.
And so, at a sleepy 6:17 in the morning, I opened the door to my apartment and ran to the shower to get ready for my day. I have spent much of it in good spirits as today is Teacher Appreciation Day and it feels just a little like a birthday. Kids have presented me with chocolate and presents and cards and this morning the school had a special breakfast for us. The little energy I had at breakfast I used to stuff food and coffee down my gullet to prepare me for the onslaught of 7th grade wild energy, which, I would take any day over a repeat of the adventure to Pouso.
It could have been a whole lot worse. At least I’ve got a few stories.