"Brazil 2001" story # 10

Maracajau, Rio Grande do Norte           April 22, 2001

Before my REAL fun with the pterodactyls would begin, I continued along the Brazilian coast. I arrived yesterday afternoon in Maracajau, a village of 3000 known as one of Brazil's ten best snorkelling spots.
     It was also expensive, I quickly learned. A night's sleep cost forty-five Reals (still only $20, but significantly more than the ten Reals I'm used to spending), and a boat trip to the snorkelling was twenty-eight Reals.
     Just as I was ready to begin searching for a comfortable patch of beach to sleep on, I made some friends at the Maracajau Diving Restaurant. Marcio, a short, light-skinned twenty-seven year old, invited me to stay at his house for the night. In return, I'd be offering him free practice on speaking english.
     We passed the evening in Engli-guese conversation at his impressive self-built home. We took a break to visit Francisco and Francisco, two thin but strong fishermen cousins with very dark skin and hair. They shocked me by saying they did their fishing withoat boat or net. They simply swam far into the sea, dove around, and captured octopis and lobsters to sell.
     Whoo! I was impressed. And interested.
     "Eu quero ir con voce alguma vez," I said. (I want to go with you some time.)
     "'Ta bom," said Francisco. (That's fine.)
     We talked a bit more about the animals they saw while fishing. They of course saw many octopodiums and lobsters, some turtles, moray eels, squid, and, once, Francisco claimed to have seen a twenty meter (sixty foot!) shark by the farol (lighthouse). We made plans to go fishing and diving together the next day.
     Boy, was I excited for that! When Marcio and his wife took me out to a sand-floored forro club, the next day's snorkelling was the only thing on my mind.
     ... Until I caught a girl with long, brown hair eyeing me from her seat in the club's center.
     I decided I'd make a move on her. For those of you who read and learned from MODERN ODDYSEUS' DATING ADVICE, it's time I teach you something I actually know.

     First of all, let me just say that I haven't cut my hair since I got here. It's getting pretty long. When my shaggy hair is viewed with the coconut-husk necklace I purchased in Canoa Quebrada, I rather resemble a caveman. When I want my raggety hair to look good, as I'd done earlier this night, I mash my hand in circles on the top of my head, thus causing the hair in front to stick about in every direction. (Sula had hated this hygiene trend of mine, especially.)
     My disastrous move began innocently enough, when I asked Marcio how old he thought she was. Within seconds, all of the friends Marcio had been sitting with stood up, one by one, to take a blatant glare at the girl in question.
     "Voce quer tracer ela pela praia, perto dum coqueiro?" said Marcio. (You want to take her to the beach, next to a coconut palm?)
     "No!" That wasn't my intention.
     A female friend of Marcio's, without asking me, went to talk with the girl on my behalf. I avoided looking in the direction of the girl as their little talk went on. Obviously, she was going to think of me as a giant, American dufus.
     Marcio's friend returned, without the girl, and instructed me to go over there.
     I did as she told. "Posso sentar aqui?" I said. (Can I sit here"?)
     She offered her name: Jarisa. I took my seat, and the girl and I and everyone at the table kind of looked around awkwardly, not wanting to talk.
     Before I knew it, Marcio had come to offer me help. He leaned over the table to speak, and I just laughed; I was getting less and less slick by the moment. Marcio entered into a long speech, during which he told the girl the following information about me and more:

1. He just arrived in Maracajau.
2. He's staying with me at my house.
3. He doesn't speak Portuguese very well.
4. If you speak slowly to him, maybe he'll understand.
5. He would like to dance forro with you. However, he doesn't dance very good.
6. He doesn't like to drink alcohol.
7. We've tried offering him soft drinks, but he doesn't even want those.

Just when I thought Marcio was going to pull out my dental records, he thankfully left. Not surprisingly, Jarisa's interest in me wasn't boosted. Another minute passed, and she still hadn't even liked me enough to ask my name.
     We finally agreed to dance. "Meu nome e Justino," I told her.
     On the dance floor, I said, "Nao sei como dancar muito bem," (I don't know how to dance very well) and stepped on her foot.
     We were able to survive one graceless dance together, but she kept resisting my efforts to pull her close to me. I admitted an equally graceless defeat at attracting Jarisa, wished her a good night, and made a note to myself to go back and re-read my previous dating advises.

Nothing could disturb my good Maracajau mood, though. The next morning, bright and early, I was going fishing!
     I slept briefly on Marcio's porch in a hammock. My generous host fixed me a nice breakfast of mangoes, papayas, cantaloupe, and goiaba juice for me to later throw up at sea.
     I walked with Francisco and Francisco. We would actually be using their brother's jangada for the day, which would save me from having to swim too far.
     The blue, homemade jangada, or Northeastern fishing boat, was an eight-by-three foot flat surface wiht a rounded bottom. Two long sticks made up the sail, and other wooden contraptions made up the seats and the rudder. We pushed the jangada to the water by rolling it across heavy logs we had to keep carrying between the back and front of the boat. We set sail for the sea. Francisco said the water near the lighthouse, about a mile out, was clear.
     "Vamos a farol? Onde o grande tubarao mora?" I said. (We're going to the lighthouse? Where the 60-foot shark lives?) I gave a worried look.
     The older Francisco laughed. He said he was thirty-two years old, but he looked much older. He only had three visible upper teeth, and his skin was wrinkled and his hair a bit gray. He smiled most of the time.
     The other Francisco was twenty-eight, shorter, and with a dark moustache. They stood as the boat bounced over waves the color of frozen peas, spilling water across the jangada where I sat.
     Near the lighthouse, we put on our black flippers and masks and jumped in. In ten feet of water, the coral was flat and unspectacular, but the fish were beautiful. I saw a footlong fish that resembled a black spade with tiny yellow dots. I saw a white, toad-faced fish with black and gray spots, a fish with a bright-blue top half and a bright-orange bottom half, schools with light gray bodies and dark gray fins, and many more.
     Meanwhile, the Franciscos went to work. They searched every hole and ledge in the coral. When they found a lobster, they flushed him out with a stick, grabbed him with a gloved hand, and crushed his belly with the stick's blunt end.
     We swam around a bit. Suddenly, the Franciscos called me near. They'd caught an octopus, one of my favorite animals but also something I'd never seen in the wild. The younger Francisco held the oozing, clay-colored, giant-headed, hand-sized animal. I reached out to touch him. The octopus turned vermellion, and I pulled my hand back scared. The older Francisco laughed.
     I reached again and touched the octopus' underside. Only a few tentacles touched me, but it was tough getting them to let go. The younger Francisco speared the octopus through the mouth and swam away.
     "Vamos pelo farol," said the elder, bobbing in the waves. "Tem mais lagostas." (Let's go to the lighthouse. There are more lobsters there.)
     "Tem o tubarao la tambem," I said. (The shark is there too.)
     We dove for almost two hours without a break. I spent my time diving around and admiring the fish, and the fishermen spent their time collecting the small octopoodles and lobsters.
     The thirty-two year old and I returned to the boat. We ate some oranges and cracked open coconuts to drink. After having swallowed so much salt water, the coconut milk soothed me like a log cabin would soothe an ice fisherman. However, I still got quite ill.
     We jumped in one more time. The wandering younger Francisco called me over to see a bigger octopus, the size of a soccer ball, hiding in its den. I couldn't believe he'd actually located the thing. Only it's eye and part of its head showed from a small burrow in the coral. Francisco smiled big, proud that he could show me my first octopus in the wild. Soon after, he stabbed it, and moved on.
     I came to a pretty piece of bumpy, peach-colored coral. Black fish with yellow stripes swam near. I looked beneath the coral, and a big, orange, spade-shaped fish with random blue dots flushed out. It was very pretty. Some of its dots were placed to make it appear to have eyebrows arched angrily.
     We returned to the boat. The day's catch had been good. The biggest lobster caught had a yellow tail and thin legs of purple. We headed for shore below the hot mid-day sun. I puked some more, and the Franciscos were amused.
     They told me they liked their life a lot. They pointed to a spot along the gentle, sloping beaches in front of us. It was about three kilometers away from the lighthouse or more. The older Francisco said that six days a week, for the past twelve years, he'd swam from that spot, helped by the current, to the lighthouse and then to shore. The journey was three hours, and they could earn about $5 doing it.
     Their fathers had been fishermen. I figured their sons probably would be too. When we got to shore, the older Francisco's family was waiting for us. He had four thin, young kids. They were very pretty handsome, with brown skin given a tint of ash, and hair lightened brown from the sun. It seemed like a pretty nice life.
     I liked Maracajau, Marcio, and the Franciscos a lot.
     However, it was crazy to think that the Franciscos had never studied and went through life knowing nothing but to fish for lobsters and octopiarians. I could only imagine how them at a party.
     "Hi, I'm Francisco. What do you do for a living?"
     "I'm an accountant. What do you do for a living?"
     "I kill octopuses."
     "How's that?"
     "Well, basically, I try to think where one might be hiding, I grab him, and I stab him in the mouth. They pay me for it."
     "No one said life was gonna be easy."
     "Somebody's gotta do it."
     "It brings home the bacon."
     "It's all in a day's pay."
     "We all put our pants on one leg at a time."
     "I know you are, but what am I."
     "What were we talking about?"
     "I don't remember. This party's pretty lame. I'm leaving."
     "Me too."
     "It was a pleasure to meet you. I'll call you when I'm having my taxes done."
     "Great. And I'll call you when I ... what was that you do again? Sell houses?"
     "I kill octopuses."
     "Oh ... well, then."

Modern Oddyseus.

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