All of a sudden, we found ourselves standing on top of a sand dune. There were mountains, a winding shoreline, and a harbor with fishing boats lilting to the right. The water was teal and there were islands in the distance. It was as picturesque as the Virgin Islands or any other top tourist destination, only it was empty--except for the horse cart in the distance and the dog at our side.
We'd taken an all night bus ride to Curitiba, a four hour bus ride to Floripa, and another two hour bus ride on a local bus down dirt roads, stopping every so often to pick up school kids. We knew we were headed for a pousada in a fishing village where they have pick up games on a sand bank formed where the diverging river meets the ocean. We did not know it would feel like paradise or that a small tan-colored dog would follow us everywhere: when we went to the grocery store, she patiently waited outside the door; when we played and filmed within the yellow goalposts further down the beach, she sat beside our camera bags; when we returned from a day out, she ran down the beach to greet us.
Our second day, Anderson--the musician and pousada manager who took us in--drove us the five minutes to Guarda do Embau, the beach that was even more scenic than the one we were on. As we pull up, there is a man sweeping in the road. Ryan turns back in his seat to watch him and says, "I'm pretty sure we know him."
While in Santos, a man who looked like Jesus with a short hair-cut approached us on the beach and handed us fruit that looked like kumquats. (Though we aren't quite sure what kumquats look like.) Luke engaged in pleasant, friendly conversation, we said good bye, and never expected to see the man again, certainly not sweeping on cobblestone streets in a 500 person village a good ten hours away from Santos.
His name is Ilson and he tells us he's a shaman. He strolls over to us, as though seeing us is an ordinary thing. He offers to take us out on his fishing boat. We walk around fifteen steps to the beach, climb into a yellow wide canoe and Ilson uses a bamboo stick to guide us across the river to a beach. He and Anderson then lead us as we climb over rocks, up a hill, and pause at the top of a cliff. From our viewpoint, we can see three or four different landscapes--there's the green grass/boulders of New Zealand, the teal water/islands-in-the-distance of the Caribbean, and the sweeping-sand-dunes of the Middle East. Ilson randomly starts doing capoeira moves and trying to engage Luke in battle. Luke, who took a few classes in Rio, shocks everyone and actually looks like he knows what he's doing. Gwendolyn compliments Ilson's leather necklace, forgetting that if you compliment someone in Brazil, they automatically give it to you. She now owns a necklace that once belonged to a shaman.
We then continue our hike, following Ilson as we repel along the side of a cliff in our flip-flops. He tells Gwendolyn to climb onto the King's throne: a rock suspended in the air, waves crashing against boulders twenty or so feet down. (The King also has a boat that only Ilson is allowed to go on.) We return back to New Zealand-scape, hike through a herd of cows grazing above the beach, head up the sand dunes, climb through some jungle, dislodge thorns from our heels, all while listening to Ilson talk about his parents abandoning him on the beach as a baby. Luke scratches his head and tells us, "Uh, he's feral. The wolves raised him on the beach until he was four." Ilson also tells Luke that Jean Claude Van Damme is his brother's father.
In the next couple days, we boat across the river to play in games on the island with the fishermen. Two look like Fabio and wear teeny-weeny bikinis. At one point, we look up and discover that the sky that was brilliant blue had suddenly turned black. As other beach goers flee, we continue to film, not wanting to abandon our most scenic game yet. Ferg keeps panning the camera, trying to capture the lightening bolts, until Ilson says, "We must leave." We listen to our shaman, board the boat, and fly across the water as we begin to be pummeled by bullet-like rain drops. Like everyone else, we take cover in the hut-bar-restaurant. It begins to madly hail. The bar owner uses the ice from the sky to make caipirinhas in a pail. As the fishermen play, "No Woman, No Cry" in Portuguese, the pail gets passed around the bar. It is the best caipirinha we've had. When there is a lull in the storm, we walk back to Pinheira, Ilson acting as our protector. Halfway there, thunder begins to boom loudly. We are racing the storm, lightening all around a purple sky. Gwendolyn, who used to run fitness on the beach for Santos during storms, wonders why she's always on a beach when there's lightening in Brazil. As the wind makes howling noises, we make it back to our pousada and our dog.
Our four-days in an ethereal utopia comes to an end and we head for another all-night bus ride...this time to Uruguay, home of the first country to win the World Cup.