If the TV show Lost, prehistoric times, and the 1970’s had a baby, it would be Marajó.
After a three-hour boat ride, we arrived on the world’s largest freshwater island. 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.
Luckily, I didn’t stay in Anajás, but in Soure, the largest of the three fairly easily-accessible towns on the island. Still, the pools of stagnant water screamed dengue as I rode into town. One boat, a van, a tiny wooden boat, and a taxi ride later I had arrived at my destination, a surprisingly well-maintained hotel in the middle of nowhere. The hotel reminded me of the Others’ settlement in Lost, a little manicured oasis with clipped lawns and thatch-roofed rooms in the midst of jungly chaos.
My friends and I rented bikes and rode to the beach. We rode down pot-holed, dusty red, unpaved roads, past dilapidated buildings being taken over by the jungle, and Volkswagen vans puttering alongside us. The bright, primary colors and antiquated technology screamed the 70s. The houses were little more than cement block shacks, most outfitted with TVs but no windows or indoor bathrooms. Some had signs boasting ‘we sell beer: 50 cents.’ I thought ‘this looks like Honduras.’ I’ve never been to Honduras.
The first part of the bike ride was liberating and new and fun, as I haven’t been on a bike in 15 years, and then we hit the ‘highway,’ which is just a fancy word for the paved road. We rode, and we rode, past over-sized palm tree fields and dragonflies hitting us in the face, past strangely small buffalo and horses grazing beside the road, and a lot of other creatures we couldn’t see, but could only hear jumping around in the jungle. The odd sizing and suffocating greenery made me feel like I was in prehistoric times, like a T-Rex might come crashing through the trees at any moment. I started feeling like I was in The Giver, riding my bike forever and ever, not knowing when I could stop. My ass was aching from all those potholes and I was getting blisters on my hands. The equatorial sun beat down on me. The road became 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. Then I saw it ahead, like a mirage: the beach.
We threw our bikes down, sweating and relieved, and headed toward our only option for refreshment, the rickety beach cantina. We gulped down coconut water while the owner put on American club music for us and we finally took a look at our surroundings: a pristine and near-deserted beach. The sand was the color of caramel and the water was brown, but had the tide and vastness of an ocean: the river and the Atlantic’s meeting place. Because of the dips in the sand, there were many natural pools of warm, calm water. It was surreal; such a perfect place just for us.
The next day we went to another beach that we called ‘the city beach,’ because it was shitty and full of people. We walked a strangely long way through the jungle on a makeshift bridge of rotting wooden boards to reach this ‘beach.’ I put ‘beach’ in quotes because there was no beach: the water reached straight to the jungle because it was high tide. There were trees growing out of the sand, and mud and sand intermingled in the water. Children were everywhere, yelling and doing flips.
Because of the steep dips in the sand, as the tide started going out, nearby sandbars, and then islands, started appearing. I decided to get tipsy on 3% beer and swim out to one. This was a lofty goal, because I normally won’t go any deeper than two feet into the ocean for fear of sharks and other large and/or bitey things. I’d already been told by the locals and Lonely Planet that stingrays abound in the water, that they settle in the mud and people step on them. They say to shuffle your feet to scare them away, but the mud is so deep and porous that it’s impossible.
So I did what any girl would do: used a boy as a stingray buffer. I recruited a local 16-year-old boy to swim ahead of me by threatening his manliness (‘you’re not scared, are you??). I swam for my life, inhaling gulps of brown water and thinking about how parasites were probably making themselves comfortable in the cut on my knee. I felt like the people in the book The Beach, swimming to the Thai island, reaching that point of no return, the idea of sharks lurking in their minds. I finally flopped up onto the island, panting and proud.