Sunday postcard from… Ilha Grande, Brazil

Oooh, my poor body.

It all comes back to me in a wave of weakness as I slowly stir, grabbing at the tail of a dream I’m being pulled out of. I fear that the smallest movement might set a freight train on the loose.

Caipirinha only cost ten reais on the street, and for five extra, you could have it double. By the time we stumbled our way out of the narrow jungle path into the party, we were pretty baby wasted, still holding on to the last strings of sense hanging loosely from our heads but on our way into oblivion.

There was swimming in the oily harbour. Caipirinhas. Betting on two of our new travel friends hooking up. More caipirinhas. A French guy, having given up his effort to hit on me, telling me all teary-eyed about a cat his mum had accidentally crushed by the lonesome bonfire on the beach.

I feel I can relate to that cat right now.

To my great surprise, caipirinha doesn’t seem to give me a post-party headache, but my body is yearning sleep and my liver trying to claim insurance for damages. Nevertheless, a traveller never stops. I drag my withering corpse to the beach and onto a speedboat, and off we go: bumping through the azule sea as I hide behind my sunglasses and pretend I don’t understand Spanish so that I don’t have to talk to the entire Chilean family that has been chosen to accompany me, a soloist, on today’s lagoon excursion.

Porque hoy ni siquiera puedo.

***

The second beach is not more than a strip of sand in warm water, and surprisingly, a small chapel at the end of the pier. The Chileans are still at one on their headcount as I climb down, snorkel propped onto my forehead. The water sways and sparkles. It invites me in, promiscious of great wonders that lie below. If gravity stopped now and I dived into the sky, I don’t believe I could tell the difference between their shades of blue.

I slide into the sea like a wave. Underneath, the white sea bottom reaches into the murky blue of the water. The visibility is not great, but I can see a few metres ahead. A few black fish the size of my fingertips trail the row of rocks that line the edge of the island. I follow them with lazy strokes, little by little separating myself from the group until it is just me and the rocks and the shallow sea.

Then, from the hideout of the murky sea, a shadow emerges. It is so faint at first that it takes me a second to see it, but as it gets closer, it grows darker and larger and more detailed. It is huge: for sure bigger than any fish I have ever seen.

A shark, a quick thought shoots through my mind, and fear pinches my chest. I have stopped moving but the sea is carrying us towards each other. My breath runs short through the snorkel. The shadow glides towards me with silent ownership, takes shape, and there I am, in the water with a sea turtle.

His skin is cream and brown-plated marble, perfectly imitating the squared pattern that the sun draws on the sea. As he floats through the hopscotch of light, it seems to caress him from shell to fins. I can’t tell if he’s seen me – if so, his black eyes give no indication of it, or at least he isn’t letting a visitor in his waters bother his afternoon stroll. That natural squint on his face reminds me of the look of royalty: He looks confident and cool and perfectly at ease.

He changes his course and I follow him from a respectful distance of three paces, as if carrying his imagianry king’s cape. His movements are slow but strong. I can only admire the ease with which he shuffles through the sea. Every stroke carries him a distance, and for a lowly human there is no hope in following his speed. For a moment I lose him until a shadow materialises from the sea again to make a final lap.

A brush with a beautiful animal in the wild can leave you wonderstruck. I watch him dissolve back into a shadow and then into the sea, and now the sea is in my mouth because I can’t stop smiling through my snorkel’s mouthpiece. I feel breathless and at peace at the same time. An encounter like this equals approximately one yoga class, two sessions of therapy or a warm glass of wine.

I try to find my friend again but he is gone, so I return to the boat to prepare for take-off. At this point I realise I have forgotten sunscreen; with my pale Finnish skin and burned backside, I’m going to look like Ross in the one with the spraytan. Mother Nature giveth, Mother Nature taketh.

No one else has seen the turtle. I asked. They just stuck to their group and to the proximity of the beach.

I know I am going to get lonely this year. It always happens when I travel alone. But if I was ever looking for a reason for going at it solo, this must be it: just me and my burned backside and the wide open sea full of wonders.

Love, Elina

ps. Did you think I was going to let you go without showing you my majestic friend? Here is his portrait; it’s even more important since it is one of the few pictures I managed to take on my waterproof camera before it got wet and broke down. Yeah, that happened.


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