Sunday, July 7, 2013

Alcântara: Living in Fiction (Part 2)

From the shores of Livramento, gazing back at Alcântara
During our stay in Alcântara, Tania's husband, Marcelo, met up with us. Together, we took several day trips to the nearby deserted islands. One morning, we walked to the dock and asked a man to take us in his boat to one of the islands so that we could swim and hang out on the beach for the day. He took us in his fishing boat to an island called Livramento, about a 10 minute journey away from Alcântara (see a brief video of the boat ride below). On the way, he told us that the island actually had one inhabitant--a woman, called Dona Mocinha, supposedly lived on the island of Livramento. When we arrived, we weren't sure if that was just a story or if it was true- we couldn't see any houses at all when we got there.

For an hour or two, we floated up to our necks in the sun-warmed salt water. When our bellies started to rumble, we decided to walk around the island and see if Dona Mocinha was real. Before long, we came upon her house, tucked into the shade of the forest. Tania called out, and a woman emerged from the house, eyeing us with caution. Tania explained that we had been told she lived there and sometimes made food for hungry bathers and if it wasn't too much trouble, would she be able to fix something for us... Dona Mocinha was gruff at first, but after seeing we were harmless, decided that we should take a walk on the beach and come back later for a snack. And that's what we did.

On Caboclo the fisherman's boat, headed to Livramento
Guarás on the shore of Livramento
As we walked along the beach, I commented to Tania and Marcelo that it seemed Dona Mocinha must've always been in Livramento, that she sprang out of the ocean when the island had formed, and in fact was the very soul of the island, protecting its shores... but that was just a whimsical fancy, right?

We returned to Dona Mocinha's house to find she had pulled out a table and chairs and was serving the food she'd prepared. We ate right there, under a tree next to her house, on the beach, among her chickens, dogs, and plants. She sat with us and told us about how the trees kept her company, allowing her to tell them her secrets while listening to theirs. She told us how academic researchers from the university in São Luís visited her island to study plants there and how she takes them through the thick tropical forests to find what they're looking for- all the while protecting her island from getting overrun. Then Tania asked her how she came to be the sole inhabitant of the island. She said she received a call, a mystic call in a dream, beckoning her there. ...Maybe my narrative for her was not just a whimsical fancy, after all...
Dona Moçinha's house, built with buriti tree trunks, sitting right where the forest meets the beach
The "roof" under which we had lunch
Tania and Marcelo at Dona Mocinha's house - the blue kayak was used by a man called "Punk" to ferry supplies back and forth from Alcântara to Dona Mocinha

Flowers growing out of the sand, fishing net drying on a branch
One of Dona Mocinha's dogs coming over to say hello
The most delicious farofa I've ever tasted

Fresh eggs provided by the resident chickens, cooked with the most fragrant, delicious combination of spices Dona Mocinha picked from around her house
Me with the soul of Livramento, Dona Mocinha 
The next day, we explored another deserted island. This time, a man called Chico rowed us in his canoe to another island, this one completely uninhabited. Chico rowed us through mangrove to a very secluded little break in the branches that grew so near to the level of the water we had to duck our heads several times. (At this point, I was almost certain I had entered a passage from Alejo Carpentier's 1953 novel, Los pasos perdidos.)

A small section of sand fanned out between two mangrove trees and Chico told us this is where we could get out of the boat. I was skeptical at first, because it didn't look like much. But as soon as we crested the little sand dune, I was left utterly breathless. A long beach of pure white sand stretched out in front of crystal-clear water. Of course, by the time we got to this beach, the battery in my camera was completely dead, so you'll just have to take my word for it...

The "dock" we departed from before entering the mangrove
In the yellow shirt is Chico, preparing his canoe 
Off to a fictional deserted island that happened to exist (at least for one day!) 
Alcântara was enchanting- I feel I could go back there again and again and not ever worry about the magic of the place diminishing for me. And as if to confirm that hunch, Alcântara gave me the most wonderful sendoff possible. 

Marcelo, Tania, and I boarded a ferry to return to São Luís in the early afternoon. Along with us boarded and entire bumba meu boi performance group. I got to see, for my first time, all the glorious detail of the embroidery and sequins of their costumes and headdresses. But that was not all I got to see... as soon as the ferry's motor grumbled into gear and the boat separated from the dock, drums, tambourines, shakers and even a trumpet erupted into sound. The performance group burst into samba, dancing all around the ferry's deck. They began passing around 2...3...4...5 bottles of cachaça (the national Brazilian liquor), singing at the tops of their lungs, clapping in time to the music.

The music and dancing continued for the entire hour-long trip back to São Luís, where we docked with everyone still singing as loud as their throats would allow. In the middle of the trip, the boat came up against some rougher seas, with huge waves tossing the boat back and forth. Did this diminish the raucous singing and dancing? No! It just made everyone scream with delighted, adrenaline-filled pleasure as they continued to samba but changed the song to one who's lyrics were about boats tipping over....

With no batteries in the camera, that adventure, too, was only recorded by my eyes (and Marcelo's cell phone), and archived amongst my most vivid, happy memories. 

What fictional places have you traveled to?? What is the most magical place you've ever visited?? Until next time, fair petticoat rustlers... keep rustling! 

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