Soon after I arrived in Brazil I had an archetypal travel adventure on a bicycle. It was my third day in Brazil, and I was staying in the super-calm south of Florianopolis, one of the favorite places I have visited. I rented a bicycle that had a pile of shit stuck to the front tire. My Portuguese was still rusty, and I pointed it out to the agreeably dirty woman working at the bike borracharia (garage). She acted like she didn’t see it, and then used some kind of tool to wipe it off. Against my better judgment, I accepted the bike and rode off with a random destination: the reportedly New Agey part of town, Campeche.
I biked in the hot midday sun for almost an hour, really proud of myself for tolerating the sun. I stopped for agua de coco along the way. Then splat! Explosion! The tire exploded and the bike was history, at least for the afternoon. I had no idea where I was so I ducked into a nearby restaurant. As I explained the situation to the woman working the register, another young lady overheard me and offered to go with me, wherever I was going. I had no idea where I was going. She seemed to be going to the beach, so that seemed to be a good enough destionation to me. I locked the bike by the restaurant and joined her to hitch a ride to the beach. (I wouldn’t have hitched a ride by myself, but she seemed to know what she was doing.)
Two surfers picked us up, and she got out before we reached the beach. To where, I have no idea. Such are random travel adventures. While we were at the beach, I watched the surfers’ belongings while they surfed, and I enjoyed a nearly empty, broad beach and fresh orange juice.
I remember very clearly explaining to them my plans for my travels in Brazil. Specifically, that I had no plans. They told me, Oh, you are “deixanda a vida a roular”–letting life roll. A very Brazilian thing to do, it sounded like I had found the perfect place to travel plan-less.
Ever since I visited Brazil for the first time, the topic of planning has come up. Some of my Brazilian friends argued it’s impossible to plan here (she was from Bahia). Another, from the south of the country, said that’s not true, indignantly. You can plan. The South of Brazil is much more prosperous and organized than the North.
Here I am now in Rio, and I want the vida to roular, but it occurs to me that patience is also required to dexiar a vida a roular. I am a planner. I am happy when things are happening, rolling. I admire all the Cariocas that I see standing around on street corner drinking beers at botecas (Brazilian indoor-outdoor traditional bars) on Sundays even at 10 am (hell, even Mondays on 10 am). I look at them and think don’t you need to–want to–do something?! I mean, more than drink a beer and enjoy the sun and the company of others?
I wanted to learn how to “be” more on this trip, and “be” doesn’t have to mean drink “be”er, though it certainly seems to ease the process of “be-ing” in Brazil. I am a consummate “do-er” and unless I place myself in an ashram where there is nothing to do but meditate, I don’t know that I am ever going to become more of a be-er, at least through travel.
Deixanda a vida a roular–letting life roll–seems to require that being, the courage of patience, to believe that something will happen. At the same time, what if nothing ever does? Even here in be-friendly Brazil, the people on the Rio Couchsurfing group (who are resolutely middle-class, for the most part) are constantly planning adventures–hikes, parties, board game nights–weeks in advance. Planning is alive and well in Rio.
And that brings me to right now. I don’t know that Rio is the right place for me to stay much longer than I have stayed. The city is so dynamic and full of energy at times I feel like I am holding a live wire of electricity. The dynamism is incredible. Last night, a literary festival in the neighborhood where I am staying staged a concert of women percussionists and singers called Mulheres de Chico, women who love Chico Buarque. After the festival, crowds spilled out on to the streets on a Sunday night. It was the kind of street energy you associate with Carnaval, that happens very rarely in the States. It’s entirely impressive and amazing, but the party energy never ends. And I realize I am a more tranquilo person. I need some ambient music, some quiet. Here the samba beat never stops. Literally. LIving in Santa Teresa above Lapa I feel like I never have quiet. The writer, or solitude-seeker in me, is screaming, stop the world, I want to get off!
So where do I go? Or do I stay? Is it possible that if I found a more resttful home (I am living in a guesthouse right now) I would balance out and better enjoy all the great people I have met so far, all the amazing dance and drumming classes I have found? I am enjoying getting to know a place on a deeper level and all the weird intricacies of Rio’s culture. I feel very attached to the idea of staying in one place for a while, as if all the cool, sophisticated travelers I’ve ever talked to have impressed upon me that’s the best way to travel. And I wanted to form deeper relationships than you are able to create when you are constantly on the run from one amazing sight to the next. Rio is a strange place to make friends though–everyone is immediately friendly, but it’s a place that is very structured around “doing” fun stuff.
I had a dream about Belo Horizonte and Minas Gerais while I was home in April. I really have no idea where I will go or whether I will stay. I’m not looking so much for advice about where to go but just to connect about making decisions while you are traveling–how to make them. None of it is too serious, really. Obviously they are first-world problems. But I do think there is something deeper here about letting life roll and letting decisions happen naturally without a lot of angst.
I met a young Swiss woman in line at customs when I came back to Rio this time who seemed to fly to new continents very easily. She decided to fly from Rio to New York, then San Francisco, then got bored with New York, so she booked a new, relatively cheap circuitous ticket back to Rio. I didn’t quite understand her budget, but I was impressed by her lack of attachment to a plan or the place, just going with what she felt at the time. She seemed hyper but with equanimity. I wonder if I could be like that. . . just say, OK, Brazil is over, I’m off to Asia now. That would be really badass if I found a cheap ticket and did that.
Most people must think coming to Brazil by yourself and hanging out in Rio for a while takes courage, but now, the ante keeps getting higher. I’ve met plenty of people doing this. For me, on some deeper level, I think all this travel stuff is about making decisions in such a way to maximize the enjoyment of my life. I want at least the illusion that I can control my life, and choose the things that bring me the most pleasure, the most thrill, the most enjoyment. Discerning what that is is the challenge, and that’s what I’m trying to do now. And theoretically, to let life roll.
By the way, I took the bus back to the bike borracharia and told them where the bike was locked. The dirty woman accepted the news gracefully and sent another guy off to fetch it. Luckily, I didn’t pay anything for my bike tire explosion experience.