The morning after I arrived in Brazil, I woke up with a screaming back ache. Being crammed into airplane and airport seats for over forty hours had taken its toll on me. The hard tiled floor I slept on didn’t help. But I was determined to not be a wuss. I crawled out of my bed, wiped the thick sheen of humidity off my skin and hobbled my way into the kitchen where my host was busy making fruit juice and beans. I was never much of a beans person, but I was about to become one whether I wanted to or not. Brazilians love their beans as do most countries south of the USA (even they love their beans in the southern states). Every meal would have beans in it. Beans, carbs and protein with no vegetables. My family laughed at me when I got back home because the very first thing I wanted to eat was a huge salad.
Since I wasn’t a bean person and had no idea how to even help her cook them, I decided the best way to help was to stay out of her way and wash the dishes. Arriving at the sink I received my first of many culture shocks. It’s never the big things that surprise me, but the little things. My first surprise was that there was no hot water. Hot water was such a foreign concept to my host Vanessa. The shower heads, I later learned, were electric (because water and electricity are always such a good combination) which warmed up the water for a shower but since it was so hot here, most people never turned them on preferring cold showers. One thing I know about myself…It doesn’t matter how hot it is outside, I still love a hot shower. But I swallowed my surprise, and started washing dishes wondering why Vanessa was giving me such strange sideways glances. I didn’t know there was another way to wash dishes, but apparently there is many different ways and I was definitely not doing it her way. Thankfully she was gracious to me despite my cultural clumsiness and I was soon enjoying my first taste of authentic Brazilian cuisine. Delicious. Lets just say I am definitely a bean fan now.
After lunch Vanessa took me down to the marina which she called “Orla”. For the second time since my arrival, my inner scaredy-cat jumped out of my skin as I watched all the small and large wooden boats pull up to the edge of the muddy Tapajos river. My vivid imagination turned all of the street vendors into pirates and drug dealers and I couldn’t understand how Vanessa walked so calmly among the men carrying massive loads of bananas, fish and other edible goods. Then I saw a few of them lying in hammocks on their boats and I became envious. Those had to be comfier than my floor.
After walking for four hours along the marina I came to a conclusion. I had not been kidnapped or mugged, or even really been acknowledged other than the odd pushy salesman. I decided to throw my first impression out the window and take a second look. What I saw was beautiful. What before had seemed rough and dangerous had somehow morphed into a stunning cultural mecca. Families bought and sold produce and fruits that were so bizarre I couldn’t even start to describe them. Artisans showed off their colorful handmade crafts, loud Portuguese music blasted from speakers and everywhere was the smell of food and dirty water. There was beauty here that did not rely on striking architecture, or majestic scenery. Instead here on the banks of this muddy river, I felt a strange sense of peace; I felt like it was a small piece of home despite it being a place where nothing was familiar. The first seed of the joy of discovery was planted in my heart.
That night, laying in my new hammock, (Amazonian homes are built with hooks in the wall for hammocks. Instead of offering guests a bed, you offer them a wall and they bring their own hammock; convenient and fascinating to me), I pondered this new found joy. In my life before traveling, I had lost almost all of my curiosity. I had grown stale in my willingness to stay within the known and not push the boundaries into learning new things. New became scary and I had grown slightly disgusted with my own cowardice. Suddenly like a burst of light, I felt a surge of curiosity flow through me. How much more was there to discover? New language, new food, new culture, new everything.
I’ve created a monster. I have now cursed myself with wanderlust. Any longer than a year in one place and I get such itchy feet that I literally get claustrophobic staying in the same place. The fear is gone. If anything, my family wishes that some fear would come back, that way I would stay put a little longer. But that’s the price we pay for adventure and a free spirit. Curiosity is a gift. Man was created to explore and explore I will. But first I’m getting a good night sleep in my new hammock!