22 Jul 2013 Brazil: The Lost Island of Marajó

marajo deserted beachAfter a three-hour boat ride from Belém, I arrived on the world’s largest freshwater island, Marajó. Roughly the size of Switzerland, it also boasts a seat directly on the equator and a city, Anajás, with the most cases of malaria in all of Brazil.

I didn’t visit Anajás, but Soure, another of Marajo’s sparse towns. I had chosen to put myself in this place in the hopes that it would be a respite from my up to that point challenging life in Brazil. I needed a change of scenery, and I got one.

Pools of stagnant water screamed dengue fever, a very real threat here, as I rode into town on one of the six modes of transportation necessary to reach my final destination: a humble, thatch-roofed hotel at the intersection of two muddy ruts in the grass, where I dined on guava jelly and buffalo cheese.

marajo haunted houseMy friends and I had seen a hand-painted, chipping sign that read “Beach: 10km,” so the next day we rented rusted bikes and started off. We rode down pot-holed, dusty red roads, past dilapidated buildings being taken over by the jungle and Volkswagen vans puttering around us. These, along with the primary colors that painted the town, were reminiscent of the 1970s, but butted up along more primitive scenes they seemed jarringly anachronistic. It was as if we had traveled back in time, as if civilization had forgotten about this jungle island and left it to develop with the refuse of bygone technology. The houses were little more than cement block shacks, most outfitted with TVs, but no windows or indoor bathrooms. Some had markered wooden signs boasting, “we sell beer: 50 cents.” Old men sitting atop horse-drawn carts carrying produce yelled words of admiration as our blonde and red hair flitted past.

We rode and we rode, out of town and into the jungle, past over-sized palm tree fields and dragonflies the size of small birds, past strangely small buffaloes and horses grazing beside the road, and a lot of other creatures we couldn’t see, but could only hear slithering around the jungle. The odd sizing and suffocating greenery made me feel like a dinosaur could come crashing through the trees at any moment. My body was aching from the potholes and I had angry blisters crisscrossing my palms. The equatorial sun beat down on me. The road became even quieter and I started hearing louder crashes in the jungle. I started thinking that the road would never become a beach, that we had taken a wrong turn somehow. I thought about what we would do if one of us got seriously injured on that road, mauled by a buffalo or bitten by a snake. I felt wild. I felt lost. Then I saw it ahead, like a desert mirage: the beach.

marajo malaria houseWe threw our bikes down, shaking, sweating, and relieved, and headed toward our only option for refreshment, a rickety cantina. We gulped down coconut water straight from the source and absorbed our surroundings. The pristine sand was the color of caramel and the water was brown, but had the tide and vastness of an ocean: the Amazon and the Atlantic’s meeting place. Because of the dips in the sand, there were many natural pools of warm, calm water that extended for miles. I ambled alone to the water’s edge, wanting to open my senses wider to take it all in: the forgotten shacks lining the jungle’s edge, the far-away notes playing from the cantina, the cool, murky water lapping at my tired feet, the sheer vastness of this secluded place. I sat down under the marshmallow clouds and knew the freedom that comes from feeling utterly forgotten. I had made it to the end of the world.

About the Author: Ashley Tessarolo: I graduated from the University of South Carolina with an M.A. in Linguistics. I am currently a Fulbright scholar in Brazil.

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