On Astral Travel
Upon my first trip to Brazil, I was hardly prepared for the language and culture shock. My knowledge of Portuguese was comparable to a third grader and if I could not rattle a response from my head, I reverted back to speaking Spanish – which to Brazilians is very insulting. “Nao fallo espanol, eu sou Brasiliero! Falla portugues!” I was hurried through customs, stared at resentfully by other Brazilian women who, looked like me, but weren’t standing in the Extranjeros line. Immediately I felt that because I looked Brazilian, that I was judged for being considered American, which is quite a prize in this Third World Country. My first night in Rio de Janeiro placed me in a traveler’s hostel in the industrial side of town. I walked briskly from the bus depot across the river of sewage and down the broken road to A Casa da Capoeira. Here, I was greeted by a large smile, much like my own, of Bethena, the owner. She showed me the humble bed in a small closet room across the hall from her store. I quietly unpacked my towel and soap and proceeded to the bathroom for a shower. The plastic toilet seat provided a sitting shower, as the showerhead was positions directly over the toilet. A small switch on the showerhead heated the cold water through electric coils, and while standing in a small pool of water, I shocked myself into the certainty that I was in Brazil and I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
After a quick shower and the residue of the eight-hour flight had flowed down the drain, I flip-flopped my way back to my small room to change. In the room next to me I heard laughter, hearty boy laughter. Gently knocking on the door, a scruffy German whisked open the door.
“Bom dia o senor. Falla ingles?”
“Yes, a bit. I am Artur, and this is Stefan,” he said, swinging the door wider to reveal the other traveler sitting up in bed. Both Artur and Stefan were tall, gangly boys, scruffy from traveling the South American gambit for the past six months. They had found themselves in the Rio hostel a few days before my arrival. They reminded me of the armied green gypsies of America, dred-locked, backpacked, combat booted and accompanied by some type of mutt. The anarchy children, of which I had made a few friends with during my travels. Stefan was sitting on the edge of the bed, nursing a swollen foot. Pinked and greasy, his big toe was purpled and resisting attachment.
“What happened?” I asked, pointing to his foot.
“Um, we were valking on the beech, and Stefan like to walk on the, uh, sand…” Artur explained.
“Yes, sand is mooch nicer to walk!” Stefan interjected with a smile.
“And ve think that he stepped on some, uh, dog” Artur began again.
“Shiit!” Stefan added, excited to use his curse word properly. “I now have a vorm.”
“A vorm?” I couldn’t get my head around what a “vorm” was, “Oh, a worm!” I exclaimed, “Oh, a worm?” I repeated, my upper lip cringing distastefully. The thought of sharing the shower/bathroom with the worm-footed Stefan turned my hungered stomach.
“Gente, agora vamos a comer.” Bethena chimed in, her head popped in the doorway, puppet- like behind me.
“Si, vamos!” Stefan answered. The Germans moved toward their backpacks, and I shuffled back to my room to gather my passport, rainbow colored Brazilian money and my English-Portuguese dictionary. Bethena’s husband, Tiago joined us. We set out walking to the bus depot down the street. It was after-dark, but the buses were packed. Sardined in between a young mother and her son, I clung to the bar above my head, growing more jet-lagged by the moment. These smiling brown faces had probably never left Rio, much less Brazil, and I felt so far away remembering that just yesterday I was nestled in my bed in the States.
A half an hour later, we exited the bus in the business district of Rio. Glowing lights of the night-traders and late meetings painted the skyline. A Catholic Pyramid, stretching over two city blocks, hid our destination, the trolley depot. We combed around the church to discover the depot amongst a closed, or perhaps abandoned, amusement park. It was amusing to wait in a silent line of working class Brazilians, for a trolley to take us around the mountain towards the favelas and shantytowns. A few minutes later, we boarded the open-air trolley and began our ascent to yet another Rio borough. At night, it was the most beautiful vision I had ever seen. The city sparkled, the streets throbbed with passionate fluttering Portuguese and music poured from doors, open windows and cars.
The trolley arrived at the restaurant stop after nearly sideswiping three compact cars and almost running over a man walking his chickens.
“Cuanto?” The mater de asked Tiago.
“Seis,” Tiago answered. “Cinco gente e um sem-fim!” He laughed.
“What is sem-fim?” I leaned into Artur, knowing that looking up the word in my dictionary; I would not get the joke for another five minutes. Tiago continued teasing Stefan while Artur explained.
“Sem-fim means, without end. He speaks of the worm! Stefan will eat for two, he says!”
I laughed, half-heartedly. Without an end. Which also means, without a beginning. I can remember falling asleep on the plane on my way to Brazil, but everything else has been one foggy dream. I have been lead around groggily by these guides, and there was never a beginning, nor will there be an end. Just experience thrust against experience, waves crashing and melding into one ocean of consciousness. Life is a wormhole without a beginning, or an end. Just a fun ride through.