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:
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.