I made the decision in a split second. I’ve never been one to confront my problems, so the decision to pack up my things and leave came to me as easily.
So that’s what I did. I packed up my toothbrush, clothes and passport and walked out of that house forever. I hailed a taxi on the street and was at the airport before I knew it.
“I need a plane ticket,” I said to the attendant when I reached her desk.
She gave me a curious look and when I didn’t elaborate she said, “You need a ticket to where, dear?”
“Oh anywhere. I’ll take a ticket for the next plane to leave.”
I could tell she was a little frustrated by my lack of direction, but I got a ticket to Wisconsin regardless.
The next few days were a blur of planes, hotels and airports. I had travelled half way across the world before I was satisfied with my destination.
When I stepped off of the plane in Brazil I knew I was where I needed to be. The wave of hot, humid air filled my lungs and I felt like I was able to breathe for the first time in years. I ambled through the airport, stopping to look at anything and everything. I bought some postcards from the gift shop and imagined myself in all of the landscapes pictured in them; atop a snowy mountain, immersed deep in the jungle surrounded by nothing but nature in all of her glory, walking down a dusty road into the sunset. There were so many possibilities right in front of me that I was overwhelmed, and I had no idea where to start. I could take a bus to a resort, I could walk to the nearest hotel or I could cab somewhere and hike into the jungle. It was the first time in a long time that I felt free.
Like I had at the airport back home, I decided to leave the decision in the hands of someone else. So I got into the cab nearest to me and told the driver to take me to a place where I could stay for a while, and that I didn’t care how far away it was.
The driver nodded and seemed to think for a moment before starting the car. After the engine roared to life, however, he seemed to know exactly where he was going. He tried many times to engage me in conversation he must have realized that my Portuguese wasn’t great, so he switched to English.
We talked about everything; the weather, our families, good places to eat. Eventually the topic changed to why I had come to Brazil and the driver knew immediately that he had reached an unspeakable topic. I felt his eyes on me as I turned my head to look out the window. Tears started to prickle my eyes and he quickly changed tactic.
“No matter, senorita, no matter. We are almost here.” He said in broken English.
Glad for the change of topic, I asked, “Where is here?”
He smiled knowingly and pointed just ahead of us. “This is my home. This is where I was a child. This is place is magic, it cures all sickness, even of the heart. This is the village of Barra.”
We drove for another five minutes before he signalled and pulled over. I turned around in my seat to see where we were.
“This is hostel run by my cousin, Ronaldo. He will take good care of you, you just tell him you are friends with Felipe.” He said with a trace of unexplained sadness in his eyes.
“Thank you, Felipe. My name is Rachel.”
“Ahh! Raquel! You are Portuguese at heart!” He said with a wink.
I smiled weakly in return. “How much do I owe you, Felipe?”
“No charge, senorita.” He said.
“No, no Felipe. You drove out all this way for me-”
“Senorita, no charge. You just call me when you’re ready to go home and next time you pay me. It is nice to have an excuse to come home, it was my pleasure.” He said kindly.
“Well, thank you Felipe, I will see you soon.”
“Not too soon, senorita. You must heal before you go home.” He said as he handed me a card with his name and a phone number where I could reach him.
I closed the door and shut my eyes. I inhaled deeply and felt the sensation of the tightness in my lungs leaving again. Felipe got out of the cab and opened the trunk. I must have been standing there for longer than I thought because he cleared his throat and I noticed he was right beside me with my suitcase in hand. He smiled again and said, “This country air is good for the soul.”
He held out his hand for me to shake, but I shook my head. For an unknown reason I felt like I owed Felipe much more than a handshake, so turning, I embraced him. He returned the hug. We broke apart after the quick embrace and he nodded knowingly at me and said, “You take your time here, senorita. You will feel better, I promise.”
I stepped back to let him into his cab and smiled genuinely for the first time in a long time. He returned the smile and started the car. I watched him as he pulled away and waved back as he headed back for the busy hustle and bustle of the city.
I walked into the hostel and was greeted by a rough looking man. The scruff on his chin indicated that he hadn’t shaved for days, the old wife beater that he wore was stained and torn in places. He was about 40, but in many ways he looked much older. The lines in his face and knowing eyes old stories of a rough life, but there was a glimmer in his eyes that indicated something that I couldn’t place.
“Hola! Como esta?” He said cheerfully.
“Bueno.” I said and grinned as his eyes lit up. It was then that I knew I’d misjudged the man.
“I’d like a room. Felipe-” I paused to look at the card Felipe had given me, “Gallista said you would be able to help me?”
Ronaldo’s smile got even wider when he heard his cousin’s name. “Ahh, yes! I have not seen Felipe for so long, it is nice to hear his name! Of course I can help you; I will give you my best room.”
He came around the counter and extended his hand to me. “I am Ronaldo Pérez. This is my hostel.”
I took his hand and couldn’t help but notice the roughness of it. The calluses told me that he was not only the owner of this hostel, but also the man who took care of maintenance and cleanliness.
“Rachel, Rachel Wilson.”
He shook my hand more gently than I’d imagined he would and said, “Well, Raquel, I will show you to your room.”
He picked up my bags and we walked through the main entrance of the dingy hostel and out into the grounds. I couldn’t help but gasp when I saw the view from the hostel. Soft white sand stretched down as far as I could see and clear blue ocean extended into the distance even further out than I thought possible.
Ronaldo looked back and my stunned face and smiled. “The view is quite beautiful, no?”
I couldn’t think of anything to say, so I just nodded. He smiled again and led me through the grounds, pointing to different things along the way. Finally, we stopped at the hut furthest away from the lobby. We walked up the stairs and he put my suitcase down beside the door. He took a key out of his pocket and unlocked the door. He opened the door and let it swing open, ushering me inside.
The inside of the hut is small and just as dingy as the rest of the hostel, but there’s something magical about it. All of the furniture is wooden and old, but upon closer examination I could tell it had been hand carved. The floor looked dull and scratched, but it was impeccably soft on bare feet. The entire back wall of the room was a window, allowing me to see for miles out into the ocean. The bed was small and looked hard, but I don’t sleep much anyway. The bonus to this room, Ronaldo told me, was that the small door to the left led to a private bathroom, a perk that none of the other rooms had.
Ronaldo promptly put my suitcase on the bed for me and left the room.
The next few weeks were a blur. Now, I don’t mean I was so busy that I can’t remember what I did. What I mean is that I did anything and everything that I wanted whenever the thought crossed my mind.
Ronaldo and I talked every day. I walked around the small town every day, eating at a different restaurant whenever I passed one. I got a membership at the small town library, and started learning to speak Portuguese. I went to the small café around the corner from the hostel and enjoyed the best cup of coffee I’ve ever had at least once a day. I enjoyed the beautiful ocean front view that seemed present in any of the places I visited. I threw my cell phone into the ocean. I taught some of the village kids English. I went for dinner at Ronaldo’s house. I met his family, and even saw Felipe from time to time. I called my mother and assured her I was alright, that I just needed to do some soul searching. I started to sleep, both longer and deeper. I played guitar. I sang and danced at the village fiestas. I learned how to fix things around the hostel. I learned the names of all the people in the village. I worked odd jobs for some spending money. I became one of the village. My soul started to heal.
I had been there two months when Ronaldo approached the topic of going home. He did not say it in a rude way; he was just curious how long I was planning on staying. I shrugged and said “Until I’m ready,” and it was left at that.
Felipe and I sat down one evening and we talked into the night with coffees and cigarettes and beers in our hands. I listened more raptly than I ever had. He talked about life and how no matter what happens the sun will always rise the next day. He told me that all the pain and strife that I had endured had led me to where I was sitting and to never regret our past choices. He told me that happiness is always possible, you just have to look around to find it.
We talked into the wee hours of the morning and I sat on my porch drinking coffee for many hours after he had left.
Since that very day, things started to change and I had started living my new life.
It’s now been three years since that day, and here I am. I am still living in Ronaldo’s best room in the hostel in the village of Barra. I have never looked back. I have never gone back. I have made peace with my mother who has finally accepted my new life. I have made amends with my ex-fiancé who I left in the dust, he even came to visit for a few days. My sister comes to stay with me for a couple of weeks every year. I realize now that running away did not solve my problems, that it never solves anything. You must confront and solve your problems to be able to live in peace.
Before I came to Barra, I was living someone else’s life. I was focussed on making money and making other people happy. I worked from nine to five during the week and slept in late on the weekends. I got drunk to forget my problems. I hated my boss and my friends. My happiness became entwined with the happiness of my significant other’s. If he was unhappy, I was unhappy. According to Ronaldo, I was broken.
Leaving home was the biggest decision I’ve ever made life. It was also the best decision.
I now sleep when I’m tired, and get up when I’ve had enough sleep. I have enough money to get by. I drink to celebrate. I love everyone in this village, and my happiness does not revolve around anything but the here and now.
I owe this magical little village my life, Felipe and Ronaldo more than anyone. The wisdom of the people here does not compare to anything in the world. They struggle every day to get by, and it’s for that reason that the live their lives so fully. They saw that I was broken, but rather than trying to fix me they helped me until I got better on my own terms.
There are things in life that you will never forget. And this is one of them.