April 28, 2011 – Checked email in the morning after delicious buffet breakfast. My Amazon query to a particular tour guide was not responding, to my dismay – he had come highly praised by a connection, and I had been hoping that my next stop in Brazil – a cruise in the Amazon – would be guided by him. The last email from him had stated “see a doctor at the airport about the yellow fever vaccination,” and I had responded that I WAS a doctor, and that I wanted to come on his tour, and that yellow fever vaccinations were not mandatory. Since that email of mine back to him, I had heard nothing….it was not looking hopeful to attend his tour.
There was another tour I was also checking – Antonio’s Jungle Tour. My first email to them had received a response that said they would pick me up at the airport – no stipulations about yellow fever vaccination, no muss, no fuss. It was looking like they would be the tour I would most likely take, no matter how highly acclaimed the former one was.
The day in Lencois was gorgeous. I was in a peaceful, contemplative mood, and walked about the beautiful town taking pictures. I would be leaving that evening on the night bus back to Salvador, then catching a morning plane to the Amazon.
Early in the afternoon, I decided to walk up the red river to the swimming holes that were naturally etched into the river strata itself. I had heard a lot about them, and thought they would be a nice last trip of things to see in the area before departing. They were supposed to be a short walk up the river bed, beyond the clothes washing rocks where the local washer women washed all the townspeople’s clothes.
I quietly meandered up the river bed, lost in thought and peaceful solitude. After I passed the washer women, no one was around, and I hiked calmly, quietly, up the beautiful red, smooth rumbled rock of the river. I held my camera in its hard case in my right hand, ready for extraction should I spy a picture that needed to be taken. Otherwise, I was relaxed and in a mode of being at one with Nature, peaceful and contemplative.
Suddenly, I noticed a tall young man, maybe 18 years old, striding quickly down the river bed in my direction. As he approached and was about 20 feet away, I called out “Bon Gia” (Good Morning), but he did not return the greeting as most Brazilians do. Instead, he continued walking directly toward me, in quick steps, staring straight at me, and not smiling. Just as we were passing he quickly reached out and grabbed my camera held in my right hand.
For a fleeting nano-second, I thought he was joking. Instantly after that thought, I knew he was not. As the realization flooded over me in less than a heartbeat that he was trying to steal my camera, I became another woman. I am sure to him, as he approached me, that I was a sweet, white-haired, gentle older woman out taking a calm noon-time stroll upriver. A perfect target, an easy crime. Steal her camera, run off, no problema. He misjudged.
The woman I became scared the shit out of him. Later, when I looked at myself in the mirror with the face I’m sure I showed him, it scared me, too. The instant I realized he was trying to steal my camera, a wild, angry beast arose in me, and I fought for my camera by grabbing it with my left hand, and with both hands holding it firmly, I yanked on it with back and forth pulls while glaring at him with wild angry demon eyes and yelling loudly and angrily, “What the Hell are you doing, you Son of a B…ch Mother F…..r!!!”
After three or four vicious yanking tugs back and forth trying to rip free my camera from his grip, I let loose a well-aimed swift kick at his groin with my hiking-booted right foot. He leapt backward, whereupon he lost his footing on the uneven, smooth, river-rock surface, and his flip-flops went flying off in two different directions. To save his balance he had to let go of my camera. He scrambled to regain his footing and raced off downriver. It all happened in 3 or 4 seconds.
I was on the highest adrenaline rush that I can ever recall, and reached down to pick up a large, rock-hard, club-like stick, whereupon I sarted slapping it into my open palm and yelling after him, “Come back and fight like a man, you Mother F…..r” I picked up his sandals and for a few steps went after him, then discarded them and headed upriver again to the swimming holes, slapping the club stick into my open hand and keeping an Eagle-eye on all surrounding areas. I was literally ready, in adrenaline and weapon, to go into battle with him, and I had no doubt, no fear, that I would win. I wanted and was ready to take him on, in full fury and force.
Later, in looking back at these moments, I was alarmed at what the anger and sense of injustice and adrenaline had caused me to feel. Literally, I could have caused serious harm to the young man if he had come back, or stuck around, and if I’d gotten the upper hand. I haven’t had that kind of feeling EVER, that I can recall, and it made me contemplate what the young men in the military must feel in a foreign country when they feel threatened and have a weapon in their hand. It’s no wonder the world is in the state it is…it was a side of myself I’d never experienced before, and I was startled and dismayed at how quickly it arose in ME, a peaceful, loving, humanitarian person. It was like a Jekyll/Hyde experience.
The rest of the hike up the riverbed, which wasn’t that much further, I kept an Eagle-eye out for the young would-be camera thief. He did not show his face again, though as I approached the swimming holes I imagined that the older men selling soft drinks under the umbrellas may have known who he was, and may even have been his friend.
I relayed my tale to them, repeatedly slapping my rock-hard club into my open palm. They stared at me as though they wanted no involvement, and I could bet they didn’t – no telling what a wild-eyed, white-haired crazy woman, with a club and high on adrenaline, might do to one of them! They saw the shoe was now on the other foot, and I thought I saw a little fear in their own eyes looking back at me.
Within minutes, a young, attractive, fit man strode into the scene from a nearby hiking trail, and after a few minutes of chatting with him and relaying my adventure, he told me he was a policeman here on vacation from the NorthEast of Brazil! What a strange turn – one minute I meet an 18 year old thief, the next a 26 year old policeman! I was in the land of juxtaposition – the land of opposites…bizarre! While my brain was trying to wrap around the thief-policeman meeting, he asked me if I would like to hike with him. I said yes, as I felt he was apologetic for what had just happened to me, and that he was a good person.
Keeping my club in hand, we hiked further upriver, past the swimming holes, to further river pools, and to archaeological sites. It was beautiful, but the after effects of the adrenaline rush had worn me out and I was growing weary. I just wanted to go back and dip in the original swimming holes, head back to my Pousada and pack for the evening trip. Parting paths, we said goodbye to each other, and I headed back downriver to Lencois.
Back in town I walked around and took pictures, talked with a couple German women and had a bite to eat with them. One of them had only 10 days left in Brazil, but she was determined to go visit John of God, as she had just learned about him and was highly intrigued. I planned to visit his place just after the Amazon.
I loved Lencois and would go back in a heartbeat. The entire experience there was wonderful, save for that 4 seconds of fight over my camera. The town looks like somewhere in Europe, the food was fantastic, the people were great, and the countryside is stunning. If you ever go to Brazil, you must go to Lencois and the Chapada Diamentina. It is breathtakingly beautiful and an amazing place. I caught the night bus out of Lencois for a sleepless ride into Salvador, arriving at 6 a.m. to catch a morning flight to Manaus in the Amazon.