.L.Y.F.E.

sits in the curve of a duck's bill

Month: June, 2013

Alice in Egum-land – my strangest experience so far.

Day-to-day life manages to bleach us of the ability or desire to reflect on the startling profundity of our situation. Once you’ve seen the sunrise 50 odd times it is harder, or maybe seems less urgent, to get a conscious handle on the fact that this is a gargantuan, close-up star, blinding the surface of a tiny wet bauble that just happens to be in its orbit, with light.

It is a necessity of sorts, ignoring the strangeness, as we do just have to get on and live, without going insane. There is only so much time you can spend contemplating the big blinders of life’s questions before your toast needs vegemite-ing, the dog walking, your GST doing and your brain threatens to fall out your ear.

It is also a deep familiarity with our surroundings that leads to a little complacency in terms of reflecting on our situation. Routines, familiar social and cultural practices that we’ve been immersed in since birth make it hard to get a handle on just how strange some of our own norms can be. We are, after all, tiny blood-filled creatures doing totally bizarre things (worshipping unseen entities, splitting atoms, collecting dolls) on a living bauble in space. Sometimes I long to get a bit of distance and see everything that surrounds me with a bit more objectivity, to revel in the true strangeness of it all. But it’s hard to do.

You know those moments when you look at something so familiar, like your hands, or you hear a word you’ve heard a million times before like telephone, for example, and suddenly the object or word takes on a foreign character, separate from the way in which you usually view or understand it. And you think wow! How totally odd my hands are. Fleshy additions to my arms with five each of their own fleshy, grasping lengths. Or wow, what a strange sounding world telephone really is! I can’t believe I’ve never really heard it before.

I think this is why Thursday night was such a special night for me. I got the chance to see something completely outside of my own sphere of norms. I got to see the weirdness of a situation that was quite normal for the other people in attendance (quite being the operative word).

Nerize, a co-fellow here a Sacatar, and I were invited to an Egum initiation ritual. I had no idea what this entailed and was invited at the last moment as Dedea, an amazing local woman who runs an afterschool program for underprivileged kids, pulled up in her Kombi at 10.30pm to collect Nerize. I had heard ‘stay away from the cult of the dead’ mutterings from locals, and being a prime candidate for reverse psychology, this made me want to attend even more. I had also seen photos of the extraordinarily dressed Egums, pictured below this post, and it’s not hard to see why they might have appealed. They are beautiful. This is all I knew about them: Egum rituals are specific only to the island of Itaparica in Brazil, and Nigeria. The Egum dress in amazing costumes. People believe that no one is inside. The Egum dance. They are worshipped and feared, and people do not want to be touched by them, will leap as high and fast as they can in order not to be accosted. To be touched is akin to the results of going onto tapu land.

We drove in Dadea’s car with her friend Marcia, Phillipe and Dadea’s grandson, Luan who is 10 and one of those really cool, self-assured kids who at times seems more grown up than the adults around him. We followed pot-holed dirt tracks to the interior of the island, way out into the rural wops. At a certain point the road became too muddy for the car to continue and we had to get out and walk. Once out of the car I could hear an insistent drumming noise from the land up ahead, and given we were a little late I guessed, rightly, that it was the ritual in full swing.

We walked up the road to a gate, and in the sliver of moonlight I could see the land around me – undulating hills covered in coconut palm, tropical forest with amber-lit houses dotted here and there in groves. Pretty stunning but the dark meant the land remained a mystery to me, as I came and went by night.

Once at the gate I could see a large building up on the crest of a hill, and I could hear urgent singing and drumming coming from inside. We stood at the top of this driveway, just waiting. We waited and waited. I had no idea what was happening. Marcia began to call out for someone to come and get us and at first the drumming and singing drowned her out. Finally, in a clear patch she caught someone’s attention, someone who we couldn’t see and who seemed to take a very long time to come and collect us. Then I saw him, crouched down by the fence a few meters away, telling us not to move. I looked further up the hill into the darkness and saw something moving under a tree. What is that? I thought. Is it a person? Are they coming to get us? And then I looked down and noticed that the hands of the stoic 10-year-old Luan were shaking like leaves. Apparently, this thing beneath the trees was not a person.

The man by the fence ushered a command and we ran, through the mud along a dirt track and into a small hut where about ten shirtless men were drinking something homemade from a green soda bottle. Nerize and I were purposefully shielded by the bodies of our companions, and then one by one, tentatively introduced to an older man, wearing a head decoration and necklaces made of kauri shells. He seemed kind, his face soft and welcoming and it was clear to me that this man had a real mana about him. He shook my hand, warm, dry, strong, and said to Dadea in Portuguese ‘She seems to be Oshun’, which means that the main Candomble God associated with my personality is Oshun, which is strange seeing as I had a whole Yemaja / Oshun confusion when first arriving here in Itaparica. See Bad Cartoons #2 if you’re wondering what I am going on about.

Anyway, he welcomed us, asked us if this was the first time we’d be seeing the Egum, we said yes and he said he was happy to have us there, but that we had to wait. As we waited I looked up the track to the main ritual house, and saw an odd sight. It’s not often these days that I am struck dumb by something I see, but this was one of those occasions. It would best be described as two double sized sheets sewn together to form a massive pillowcase, then slipped over a supporting frame of the same size. A huge red skull was sewn into the middle. Somebody (or something) was inside the pillowcase supporting the frame, and this thing walked up the path toward the house, but instead of going inside, slipped off into the forest. I was later to learn that it was the thing I’d seen beneath the tree on first arrival. But seeing it that way, without any context in which to make sense of it, made it an intensely strange sight. Disorientation might be the best way to describe how I felt, as I just wasn’t able to get a bearing on what I’d seen.

We waited until the singing and drumming stopped, and with Marcia clutching my hand, we ran. I thought we were running because the rain had suddenly started to pour torrentially, but that wasn’t why. About twenty of us hurtled up the path, bodies slamming together like a bunch of sheep being herded by a cattle dog, jostling and pushing for the door in order not to be left outside. Once inside, breathless, hot and saturated, the door was locked as if something big, bad and ugly had been about to get us all from behind.

The room was p.a.c.k.e.d. And I was the only non-Brazilian and Nerize and I were the only two visitors. This, I thought, is a very private affair. All eyes on us, but only briefly as there were far more important things going on, like the casual old ‘spirits animating fabric’ kind of deal, you know. We looked for a place to sit, but there was nowhere. We stood at the back of the room with our backs to the locked door. The room was a small hall with a very low circus tent-like roof in blue and white stripes. The whole interior was painted in baby blue and white. A single, naked bulb hung in the middle of the tent, huge moths flickering light over the crowd.

On the left side all the women were seated and on the right, the men. Standing up at the front and along the central isle were about 10 or so shirtless men and boys, each of them holding a long switch. About a third of the space was taken up by the ‘stage’ or Egum dancing area. It was littered with leaves and in the corner white candles burned to an effigy that I couldn’t make out. The very front wall of the hall was lined with a strange, mismatched collection of ornate throne-like chairs, varying in size, colour and grandeur. I started to feel very much like Alice finding herself in Wonderland.

Then one of the switch-holders came hurtling through a darkened side door, followed closely by an Egum. As the night progressed this back door would become a fascination to me – eternally dark, the outside geography a mystery, a collection of incomprehensible things coming and going through this portal to some place that will forever remain just a black, blank field of possibility in my mind.

The Egum was an extraordinary creature, like a member of some royal family, from a kingdom on a planet not our own. Dressed in rich, heavily ornamented fabric, small mirrors throwing light, a hat the shape of a large garbage can lid over which material hung, glittered beading covering the face. Hands and feet fully covered and brandishing a small wooden sword. No human parts could be seen. The Egum danced, egged on by the drumming and call-like singing of the entire room. From the back of the room Nerize and I watched the movements of the Egum, as floored and fascinated as two kids from a landlocked country the first time they encounter the ocean. What is that? We both were thinking. It.was.just.so.weird. And not weird like ‘oh my god, Tai, that’s like, totally weird’. But true weird. Like, bizarre, strange, human, wonderful.

Suddenly, the Egum rushed up the middle isle. If you’ve ever seen any of the Jurassic Park movies, you’ll know the sheer terror that takes over a heard of small herbivorous dinosaurs on the hungry approach of a T-Rex. The way they run – as if they were born solely for this moment, doing whatever it takes to survive, even if that means falling off a cliff and landing sideways on a rock, only to bounce-scramble up again and keep on going as if they haven’t almost just killed themselves. Well, it was like that, only with humans and a huge mirrored Egum reflecting everyone’s terrified faces back at them.

The men and boys with the long switches are supposed to be the protectors of the congregation. They encircle everyone and use their sticks, usually in a gentle manner, to hold Egum back from advancing any further into the crowd. They also whip the switches across the places where Egum have walked or danced, to clear any negative energy. But, this well-meaning, manly sentiment dissolves completely when the prospect of being touched by an Egum becomes a threat. The men and boys race like small dinos, flinging their body wherever there is space for them to land.

The Egum swept up the central isle and before I knew it I had been thrown sideways across a mother and her sleeping baby, my head wedged right into the woman’s neck. I couldn’t move. There were bodies on top of me and everyone was screaming. It was both very funny and scary. I craned my neck around as much as I could to see this swishing Egum right behind me, and heard a tutting noise coming from my human pillow. She was motioning for me to cast my eyes down, to not look directly at the Egum. The Egum retreated back to the stage area and people relaxed, stood up, moved back to their places looking tense but relieved.

This initiation ritual was for two young men, both of whom were to move up to a higher level of protector / switch holder (there seem to be three main levels with sub-levels between these.) They both had feathers stuck to their head, chest and back with blood from chickens that had just been sacrificed. The two men had to move out onto the stage area and actively challenge the Egum. Using their switch they would almost fence with the Egum, until, like lightening, the Egum would charge and the young men would leap gazelle-like through the air, either landing on the drummers, the women or the men, or sometimes pulling off pretty amazing acrobatics. None of this was done to look manly, talented or cool. The sheer terror on the faces of everyone and anyone who had an Egum coming at them was plain. It was 100% real fear. As real as if you opened your wardrobe one night and found that, actually, the boogieman really does exist, and he’s right there looking at you, about to make the penultimate move.

More Egum came, probably between four or five different Egum came in over the course of a four-hour period, sometimes alone, sometimes there’d be a group of three or four dancing or sitting on their thrones. The other thing that came in a few times was the large skull-sheet-on-a-frame thing I’d seen. It lurked at the darkened door and seemed to peer curiously, almost longingly, in at the crowd. However, it was in moments like these, when I had begun to place emotions and desires onto a blank, expressionless sheet, that I started to gain insight into how much you are looking at yourself in a situation like this, projecting your own version of life onto external objects.

Anyway, It appeared to have some sort of trepidation about entering. It came in, danced for a while and then left again, after rushing a few times at the congregation and being beaten back. There was another skull-sheet too, which never entered but which we could see passing by the door occasionally, sometimes stopping just to look in for motionless, unnerving minutes at a time, or using its whip round the corner of the door, attempting to hit the drummers. What I learned was that these two skull-sheets were uncivilized spirits, still many years away from becoming full Egum. The stripy skull-sheet was somewhere halfway between being a fully uncivilized spirit and a real Egum, and so it was able to come in and dance at times. However, the black one was fully untrained, meaning it was dangerous and unwelcome.

So, this is why we had waited at the gates and then run with such determination to both the shelter and then the main house. Not only are the Egum constantly out, wandering around in the surrounding jungle, but so too are the skull-sheets. The Egum do chase people though. All night the young men would come screaming through the side door, pursued by one or several Egum. If you’re silly enough to wander about the property at night, and you come across an Egum, it might try to get you (what being ‘gotten’ entails, I’m not at all sure and I don’t plan to find out), but they aren’t considered as dangerous as the skull-sheets, which are just raw, untrained spirits and will come after you without question.

In comparison, the Egum were quite lovely and cute. The way they dance is wonderful, small bouncy steps and lots of pointy hand movements with their wooden swords, a dance that reminded me of being a four-year-old and our good family friends, the Sonnes, making up a dance they named The Point Dance which they would get all of us kids to do, for stoned kicks I’m guessing (kidding). It didn’t matter to us what the motivation was, we loved it. And there was something about the Egum dance that seemed child-like, wholly loving of what was happening, entirely lost in the moment.

The Egum speak. They speak in the Nigerian language Yoruba, which is then translated for the crowd into Portuguese by a priest. The first time I heard one of the Egum speak during the ritual, was the only moment that the freaky, deathly mask of this ritual fell away for me and the event began to border on comedy, because ….. the Egum’s voice sounded exactly like the Cookie Monster from Sesame Street. Suddenly, all I could see was an elaborate version of a Jim Henson production, four or five rather bouncy, odd looking Muppets popping around on the stage, grumbling and chortling. I got a bout of hysteria, but managed to supress it. And with the silent, unnerving appearance of a skull-sheet seemingly gazing in the doorway straight at me, this wasn’t hard to do.

Here are the things that went through my mind, as I looked around at the level of respect and belief displayed by the congregation: This is a far more entertaining thing to do on a Saturday night than go to the movies. Is this just an elaborate, socially perpetuated form of entertainment? Is this like The Muppet Show for adults? Is this ‘going to the movies’ in a culture which didn’t have cinema? Is there much difference between someone putting on an Egum costume and taking on a spirit, and Johnny Depp putting on the character of Jack Sparrow? It is the same diff? Is this an example of the human pursuit to avoid boredom at all costs? Is this serious naivety, willing ignorance or do they understand something I don’t? Is this a Spookers / Haunted House scenario? Is this like an extreme sport? Does the terror help people to feel alive? Do these people really, truly believe there is no one inside these costumes? Surely, someone’s brother, father, uncle must go missing for hours at a time around ritual night, wouldn’t someone notice? Why is the skull-sheet so skinny? How can a person fit in there? How can the people in the Egum costumes make those voices? They don’t sound human. Is this real? Why shouldn’t it be real? Is this magic?

What.on.earth.is.this?

Is the point even whether or not someone is inside the costume? Isn’t this kind of like the ostrich egg in Kuki Gallman’s book, I Dreamed Of Africa? – the best part about this whole thing, is the fact that we do not know what is inside the egg or beneath the fabric? Isn’t this a beautiful, visual comment / reflection about the mystery of life? And so forth. And on and on my brain blabbered.

Obviously, I wasn’t able to answer any of these questions. Like any good life experience, it tended to open far more doors than it closed, leaving me in an even more confused life state than I was already in, which was considerable to start with.

At some point during the night someone handed me a Hall’s cherry flavoured lozenge, it sat unwrapped in my hot palm shimmering like a jewelled reminder of my distant home planet. Eat me, it said. I popped it into my mouth. It didn’t taste like anything real but had a vague yet insistent familiarity about it that I couldn’t pin down, and I felt a strange shifting, a moving somewhere inside me.

Egum 3Egum 4Egum 2Egum 1

Aloneness vs. Loneliness

earth

For as long as I can remember, I have periodically experienced a night-time kind of aloneness. It doesn’t happen often, maybe three or four times a year, and these feelings of aloneness vary in intensity. It’s hard to describe them, but I’m sure I’m not the only person who’s had them. When I’ve tried to explain them to people who say they haven’t experienced them, I’ve used terms like breath-taking aloneness and crushing self-awareness. Hyperbolic language, sure, but it seems to fit the bill. It’s a hyperbolic state.

This is what happens: I am sleeping, in what I can only guess has been a sound manner, when suddenly I wake up (feels more like being woken.) It is usually somewhere between 1-3am. Once awake I am gripped by a debilitating sense that I am alone in the universe, alone in this existence, and that I always have been and always will be, and that there is no ‘out’ to the situation. Sounds hippy dippy. Yes, I know. But, this is exactly how it happens for me. It kind of feels like I’ve been left behind on the moon by a spaceship, or at the bottom of an ocean abyss by a submarine, without any chance of being retrieved. Ever.

I use the word crushingly not to connote ideas of painful loneliness, (because I think loneliness and aloneness are very different) but to indicate the physical sense I get of being crushed by the pressure of this realization, the breath pushed from my lungs, the weight of my inescapable aloneness bearing down onto my body in a way that is almost too much to take. It physically hurts and I feel as if I cannot bear it. The thing is, it’s not an emotional feeling of needing someone. It’s more like a bare-bones ‘state’, a state that feels very much like a truth while it is happening, rather than a figment of my imagination or a result of anxiety. Which of course it could be, anxiety that is. I mean, I think it probably is a form of anxiety, of the existential order. But reading up on existential angst, it doesn’t quite fit the bill. This is not so much about the quandary of free will and its results.

The thoughts I have when I wake up at night are along the lines of:

What.if.life.has.no.purpose?

And if it doesn’t have any purpose, then why why why do I get to love people if I only end up losing them, and it’s all for what…? Nothing? If so, then what is the point of this? The love? The beauty? The pain? The sadness? What does all this strangeness mean??? How can I cope with this totally bizarre situation? Which creates a cat chasing its own tail situation as; if there isn’t any purpose then you can’t really ask ‘why?’ at all, can you? Well you can, but don’t expect an answer.

These are not original thoughts, I know. There have no doubt been squillions of books, theses, philosophical, medical, humanities papers written on the topic of existential angst. Fundamentally, the sciences and arts revolve around these big questions. Almost everything we do is either an attempt to forget or understand what is going on. I’m not trying to say anything new or make an argument for or against anything (despite the title.) It’s just that the feeling is all consuming, and paralysing and very scary. And, I find it hard to take sometimes.

I think the thing that gets me is, no matter who I love in this life, no matter how much I hold on to them, how much I allow myself to love, I know that at some point in the future I will have to let them go. And the big hitter is, I don’t know what happens to them once they’re gone. Or ….. what will happen to me, either. Do I ever get to see the people I love again? Feel them again? Know them again? And if not, then honestly ….. WTF? And I want my money back, because this is the wrong movie. I paid for the one where things actually matter.

So yeah. That’s all really.

Writing for The Volcanic

I have a weekly poetry column (and every now and again a post on other topics) at the new, Auckland focussed, online magazine, The Volcanic.

It’s a great mag and while it does focus mainly on Auckland events, arts, eats and outdoor activities, it has some really great reviews on books, film and my fave, the weekly music roundup Do Not Delete by Joe Garlick. L.I.F.E.S.A.V.E.R!! He has great taste and writes really well. I love searching for music but it is time consuming and I have writing to get done! So, he keeps me stocked with all sorts of new tunes that either break my heart, make me dance like not even a night horse is watching, or lie down and dream of the music of the spheres. Check it out.

You can check out my own posts at the links below

My foreign correspondent article, Learning to Lean Back in Salvador

A cafe review about Allpress Cafeteria

and my weekly column Poe…twat:

Poe..twat? #1

Poe..twat? #2

Poe..twat? #3 – which should be out today some time.

Ciao kids.

Halloween Crabs & Tree-Frogs / Bad Cartoons #3

Mozart

things were a lil’ too good to be true

Things have been amazing here. Yes. Blah blah the amazing food blah blah the dolphins the magic oh the wonderful people. It’s all true. It IS amazing (except maybe the food part). But just to remind me that I am in a *real* part of the world, and not some exoticised / fetishized fantasy land, two not so fab things have happened, that in my annoying way I secretly found weirdly fabulous.

1) I got REALLY sick. Like, think the girl from The Exorcist … replete with endless writhing, moaning and projectile vomiting. But, there are no stairs here so I didn’t get to run down backward like a possessed crab. This is the first time I’ve ever had a Delhi Belly kind of experience, and oh man does it suck! But …. there was something kind of cool about coming to after several days of being flat out in bed (or next to the toilet), walking outside and seeing that the world was still there, fresh, clean, airy and new seeming.

2) I got mugged. The day after I had recovered from being sick. I was walking with my co-resident Wilma in a part of central Salvador where there’s a leather market. At the end of the leather market the street carried on around a corner and turned into a longer street which sold clothes. After I’d bought a leopard print leotard (I have a problem! help me), Wilma and I were casually wandering along when what I thought was a tap on the shoulder turned into a burning sensation at the back of my neck, and a painful ramming against my left side.

One guy had reached up under my side plait and grabbed my necklace from behind, ripping out a chunk of my hair at the same time. Another guy had come along at the same time from a different direction and tried to sort of shunt the bag off my shoulder. Neither guy was successful. My necklace fell forward and I caught it, but he’d broken the clasp. And my handbag is one I LOVE so I held onto that sucker for dear life.

The two guys ran off up the street about thirty meters, then stopped, turned around and SMILED AT ME! Self-satisfied smiles, real kind of teenage-wanna-be-a-big-boy-gansta smiles. It just infuriated me so much and my natural instinct was to run after them and punch their heads in. Luckily, sense got the better of me and I turned around to walk away, and found the whole long street of people stuck on pause, staring at me.

For a split second (and I mean the tiniest of split seconds) I thought I might cry. But then I just couldn’t be bothered. Nothing had been taken. I wasn’t seriously hurt. And …. stuff like that happens here all the time I think, as it does in many other places throughout the world. I just got on and enjoyed my day.

Thursday was this ridiculous

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Thursday was one of the most amazing days I’ve had here so far. And that is saying a lot because so many of the days I’ve had here have been extraordinary. Like the day that also had a night attached to it, and during that night we went to a Candomble ritual where various people were possessed by nature Gods. Sounds like a tourist trap. A bit naff. A bit fake. It wasn’t either. It was profound and moving. The roof was hung with thousands of cut plastic bags strips, which looked like long grass waving in the breeze. The dancers moved with their eyes closed lost in trance, never banging into one another as if following lines of energy. The Gods hugged us. Gave us pieces of grass. We were fed blessed food. And when asked to leave by their minders, the Gods refused, and had to be ushered out. They wanted to keep dancing. Apparently, the Gods like it here.

Or the local celebration of Corpus Christi, where the kids were dressed like angels and many in the town held candles. They carried an idol down the street on a float of flowers and lace and then with a great singing roar they surged the float up and into the church. The church had an interior like a great pink wedding cake and with all the candles and singing it felt like the world was alive and shouting in a strange and wonderful voice that I’d never heard before. I didn’t even know the world had that kind of voice.

But, Thursday was by far the most miraculous. Danny, a co-resident here at Sacatar and the head of the Daniel Gwirtzman dance company in NYC, came to my studio window a short time after breakfast and asked if I’d like to go for a morning kayak. Not being the ‘kayak-ey’ type, and feeling I had a bit of writing in me that wanted to get itself out, I at first said no. Then said I’d think about it. Finally I realised that, yes, it was a gorgeous day and that there was no excuse not to go for a quick kayak about the shore.

By the time Antonio, one of the four guards here, had helped us get the kayaks down to the beach the tide was well and truly going out. We knew that very soon we’d be in the situation of having to drag our kayaks for quite a ways back up the beach once we’d finished paddling about. So we agreed on a short-ish kayak around to the next bay and back. Once out on the water, everything shone. It was just one of those glowy days where everything looks alive and almost stupidly healthy.

What about, Danny said, kayaking to that island over there? There was an island out in the distance, not too far away, and it looked like a nice place to visit. I told Danny that I’d had a few experiences with islands being much further away than they at first seemed. But we both agreed we had a whole day ahead of us, no time constrains and an obligation to make the most of this tropical paradise that we’ve found ourselves in. So off we set. After an hour or so things weren’t getting much closer, but we weren’t bothered.

The island is beyond this horse:

2013-05-27 17.06.42

Off in the distance I saw something glinting. I pointed it out to Danny who at first couldn’t see it. There, I said, see? It’s like a line of black rocks, like a reef or something. But …. it seems to be moving. And sure enough, out in the harbour something BIG was moving about. Something long and big and black and wet. It was far off at this point, but we were headed towards it as it seemed to make a barrier right across the main part of the bay we needed to go through. As we got closer, it became clear that they were one of two possible things. A large school of dolphins, or, a group of feeding sharks. Whatever they were, they were big and moving around a lot. Then, one leapt out of the water, they’re dolphins! I screamed like an exhilarated child. Danny screaming along with me. But then our fear took over, the fear of ‘what if they’re not dolphins, what if they really are sharks’. The distance made it hard to tell and there is something about being in a kayak out on the open sea, with a big dark group of something up ahead of you, that makes you second guess a) your eyesight and b) your knowledge of the difference between the way sharks and dolphins act when feeding.

A large boat was coming our way and just out of habit and friendliness I waved, although subconsciously I think it might have been a mini wave for help. The boat turned around and Danny and I felt utterly gringo-fied. Danny mentioning that the only thing he’d be able to say in Portuguese would be ‘BIG FISH’ while pointing wildly in the direction of the whatevers. The boat circled us and we flailed toward the group of things. It took a while but then the man yelled ‘sim sim! Golphina! No problem no problem!’. It was SUCH a relief, and so off we set again right toward the dolphins.

We paddled right through the middle of a pod about fifty strong. They were hunting in small groups but there were so many. They flipped and dove around us. It was incredible and quite unnerving. I know they’re friendly but they are so big and strong and so ocean-ey. It was one of the highlights of my life so far, as I am not a kayak person, let alone an ocean person. So this was pretty big for me.

Anyway, on we paddled and after some time realised that this island was not close AT ALL. In fact, it never really seemed to get any bigger. At a certain point we looked back and realised that our institute and the houses and building on Itaparica from where we’d come, were very very far away, but still comparatively bigger than the small clutch of houses we could see on the island we were headed to. It was very hot and Danny and I had brought neither sunscreen, nor water, nor shirts, nor shoes …. nothing actually.

Between us we had 18 reals which is about 12 NZ dollars. Not enough to buy lunch once we got there, and certainly not enough to get a hotel or a ride home. Also, it was a public holiday, Corpus Christi and everything on our island was closed. From the distance we were at it looked as if the island only contained a tiny farm with a few buildings strewn here and there. It didn’t look like the kind of place that would even have a shop to buy water from, never mind beans and rice or a ferry ticket.

We knew we couldn’t paddle back. What are we gonna dooo?! I wailed at Danny, trying to supress my rising anxiety. I am going to ask every single boat on the island for a ride home, until we get one, Danny said. I loved him in that moment. I knew I wouldn’t make the kayak home. I was barely making it there.

After about 2 and an half hours my arms started to get the better of me, and the island with its little patch of cultivated land and buildings just never seemed to get an inch closer. The desire to complain wildly and completely give up started to wash over me in strong, hard to resist waves. Danny noticed but wasn’t willing to listen and aside from a few short breaks, just kept paddling. Thank god. I guess if we’d gotten into one of those ‘survival’ situations, it was pretty clear who was going to get us through. I’d be the complaining dead-weight and Danny the hero.

FINALLY we made it, and as we came in the last 50 or so meters we realised that this was no farm but a tropical paradise. On the beach a large group of shirtless Bahian men were playing soccer, there were bars and small restaurant carts set up along the beach, there were lots of little boats in the bay. There was a stunning church up on the hill. The whole island was alive with local Salvadorians enjoying the public holiday. And, there wasn’t a foreigner in sight, and so naturally all attention turned to us –  Danny in his day-glow-yellow cap, and me with a blue cotton towel wrapped around my head like a camel herder.

There was absolutely NOWHERE close by that we could have come from. They all gazed on in an understandably miffed fashion. Ok, Danny said, they’re all looking at us and all going to be like ‘where on earth have these gringos come from’, so, lets not make a scene, lets glide in and get out of the kayaks as naturally as possible. This was like tempting the ocean gods. I tried my best, but no sooner has he said it than my kayak ran aground and a tiny, and I mean microscopic, wave hit the side of my kayak, and I fell out sideways headfirst into the shallow water, getting drenched from top to bottom. I was laughing so hard that I found it hard to get myself up.

Anyway! No sooner had I stood up than both Danny and I had been given beers, and a group of people had gathered around us asking us where we’d come from. Upon hearing Itaparica, we got a few reactions. One was of utter disbelief. One man just said over and over – I don’t believe you. I don’t believe you. I just don’t believe you. Another man said we were heroes, courageous and very strong. Other people just gasped and look toward Itaparica with large, stunned eyes, making vague pointing gestures. We agreed we were heroic and drank our beer. We couldn’t believe we’d made it that far either. About five minutes later we were offered a ride home.

Anyway …. the group of people who welcomed us, gave us beer an offered us a boat ride home, also adopted us for the day. They cooked us fried fish, took us to a compound run by an old Bahian dude who asked Danny why he hadn’t proposed to me yet, and said he would set our wedding up for us, there at the compound, very shortly (Danny will marry his fiancé this year). They took us to the island’s well and washed the salt off us in multiple buckets of cool spring water, they pointed out three chameleon looking things in a tree, one of which the main man of the group chased down into the water reserve trying to catch to show to us.

They took us to the local bar and bought drink after drink. Dropped peanuts everywhere. Made out with one another. Laughed and jibed with the youngest of their group – a 9 year old girl of quite an interesting and powerful character – a bit like a witch. Caught a tiny yet proportionally perfect snake and let us hold it. AND gave us a ride all the way back to Itaparica on their little boat.

They dragged our kayaks on board, all of us drunk and we wove off into the ocean with the sun going down. We stopped half way in the deep ocean to jump off the boat and swim about.

The tide was too low for them to drop us directly at our jetty, so we jumped out and they threw our kayaks overboard, and we paddled / dragged them the last hundred meters or so in the dying light. Antonio the head guard was waiting for us when we reached the jetty. We’d told him we would be heading out for an hour tops, and had been gone for about 8. Apparently he’d been watching out for us all day. What a guy. What a day. What a wonderful group of folk.

Beautiful Occurances

I spelled occurrences WRONG! eeep.