February 01, 2005 GMT
Belem

For some reason, I feel like singing "Gilda is a Punk Rocker". It is true that hours and hours spent sitting on a bike watching the road slide beneath you can have strange effects. This is one of them, but I feel it unlikely that Gilda was a Punk Rocker by virtue of her birthplace, (Fortaleza). However, she is of the correct age, dies her hair jet black, calls herself "Sheriff" or "Witch", probably rides a broomstick, is seldom sober and would have made a rather good Punk, I feel.

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She is a great character, and from the moment I told her to, 'calm down', and parked my stinking, muddy bike in the hallway of her hostel, she seemed to take a shine to me.

Like all aspects of this journey to date, people and places have found me, rather than me seeking them out. It often feels like the journey drives itself, and I am present merely to bear witness. Perhaps this is just crap, perhaps things occur simply because there need to be occurences. Perhaps all the journey contributes, is to multiply the ingredient factors, allowing increasing permutations of possibilities - so be it.

I took Gilda for a ride on the bike in order to arrange my boat tickets, although she hated riding pillion. She also invited me to the home of a friend in a Favela, where we ate a wonderful Feijoada and drank too much beer. I wondered how our host, 'Jo Jo', could afford all this, and offered to pay towards the beer. I was pleased that my offer was not refused. One of the things I have learnt on this journey, is to accept graciously the kindness of strangers, but the unexpected prescence of gringos eating all your food and drinking all your booze calls for a bit of balance.


This is an e-mail that I sent from Belem to a very few dear friends;

On the way to the internet cafe today, I passed a man with no arms or legs, just a head and torso balancing on the pavement. It made me smile, he looked so weird and happy.

Just a little message to the people who I think give a damn...

I am on my way up the Amazon tonight, 4 days in a hammock, banana-shaped. Oh boy, you should have seen the palaver getting Koritsimou on the boat. Just thought I'd let you know that despite ongoing mental problems, and a recent malaise which I put down as much to having a dose of something nasty as anything else, I am well.

I like Belem, and will be sorry to leave. It's equatorial and lush, remnds me of Guayaquil sometimes. I'm also reminded of the faded splendour and green open spaces of Buenos Aires. I cannot help thinking that the French had a hand in the architecture and sense the meddling of other colonial hands everywhere.

I was raised in a port city, and there are the same resonances here. It is cosmopolitan in an unselfconscious way. I am less of a curiousity or cash-cow here and more of a guest. It still has a little of The Frontier about it.

The weather changes in an instant here and nobody is ever ready for it. I emerged from a "cybercaf" last night with a heavy heart, 52 minutes earlier the day was hot, bright and dry and now it is cool, dark and raining. No matter, shorts and flip-flops are equally serviceable for either. And just like the rain, from nowhere, I hear the familiar sounds of a street procession. As usual, a massive PA presides, pumping out samba, accompanied by a multitude of drummers banging out a frenzied rythm on anything to hand. Everyone else gyrates and the most outllandishly beautiful women sweat sex and parade like fillies whilst crazed drunks try to keep pace. The air is thick with passion and violence, and fists fly.

I guard my pockets and folow close to the wall. This is not a show for tourists. I can enjoy for a while, but I have been here before. I am too white, too tall, a gringo, and soon the sideways glances and nods of the head will start.

This music, these people, inexplicably move something deep in me. I will take my opportunity to break away from the throng and there will be tears in my eyes.

Posted by Mick Pugh at February 01, 2005 10:52 PM GMT
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