Today was a most wonderful exploration. Today, I had one of those rare experiences when the travel of my imagination aligns with the travel of reality.
We set off around noon after a phone call from Jon’s friend inviting us to try out a new zipline nearby. We met said friends, a lovely Brazilian couple in their 30s named Joao and Anna, and proceeded to walk to the edge of the cliff from where we would launch. A soft rain had begun to drift down from the patchy sky by this time. We were harnessed up, clipped on, and one by one leaned into the flight which would take us zooming over dizzying heights to catch glimpses of waterfalls, high trees, and lush greenery extending for miles around. The landscape here is like something out of Jurassic Park, or The Land Before Time; dinosaurs wouldn’t look out of place roaming this great, overgrown valley.
After the exhilaration of ziplining through the mist of rain, we proceeded to dry off in the emerging sun and walk back towards the cliffs into a wooded area in search of some waterfalls Joao knew of. This involved an impromptu hike through spiky long grass and termite nests when we lost the trail, but it wasn’t difficult and we were buoyed by our jubilant and somewhat bonding experience of the zipline.
Half an hour later we seemed to have gone off track. By now the haze of humidity in the air had mingled with the dampness of my hair and the sweat beads on my brow, and to wipe them away was fruitless: my arms, too, were sprinkled with droplets. My grey t-shirt was moist, my fine hair was curling upon contact and sticking to my neck, and I was bleeding (painlessly) from scratches on my legs from the grass. My knees were muddy, my throat was a bit dry and we were almost out of water. In short, I was totally ready to strip off.
So when the waterfall came into sight in the darkened thicket below, we all smiled with relief. Although small, the fresh water gushing from up high was of an ideal temperature as to soothe and cool the battered body without leading to shivering; a clay pool was gathered at its base, and one could wallow happily in there for a good half-hour. And that we did: before we’d slid down the final stretch of slippery pathway we were already pulling off our shirts, dropping our bags gratefully to the ground, and eagerly anticipating the cool of the water.
And what a feeling! For such a relatively insignificant experience, the 40 minutes or so that we spent by the waterfall imprinted heavily on my mind and my heart. I felt I’d accessed the Brazil of my imagination. We all – Joao, Anna, Jon, my father and me – stripped to our underwear and enthusiastically splashed into the waterfall, taking turns to dip our heads beneath the hissing streams of water. It fell purely onto our unclean bodies, rinsing us of sweat and grime, nourishing our skins. At one point Jon reached down and, with the self-assurance of one well-accustomed to making use of nature, rubbed hard on the kaolin beneath our feet until he could grab handfuls of it. He slathered the pale clay over his face and shoulders and we all copied, softening the itchy scabs of insect bites and turning the water white.
This combination of pleasant company, exotic surroundings and simple enjoyment of what the natural world provides is exactly how I envisioned the ethos of Brazilian travel. I felt that my appetite for it was insatiable, but of course the rains soon rolled in and it was time to go. We shared some banana and Brazil nuts then, wet but refreshed, we headed back to the base and returned home for a good cup of tea to warm us up… how very British.