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Published: September 13th 2016
The air was heavier, denser. The heat slapped us when we walked off the plane. Immediately Jon’s shirt came off – his official unofficial uniform for South America. Greenery seemed to eat up the landscape, leaving the road inches from its own solitude. For miles -- or kilometers rather – we drove deeper and deeper into the jungle. So deep, that instead of seeing ‘Deer Crossing’ signs on the road, the signs had animal silhouettes that I didn’t even know existed. I was Dorothy and we weren’t in Kansas anymore.
The taxi dropped us off at our hostel. We couldn’t see the place from the road and had to lug our packs through a marked trail to get there. Jon had booked the place, so the anticipation was killing me to see it. A short distance walk from the main road led us to an orange wall and metal gate, wedged between the sea of trees. Jon pulled open the metal gate.
Cabanas Luces de la Selva was an oasis. In-between the umbrella shaped Paraná pines, fern bushes and palm trees were cobblestone paths that led to various bungalows. In the middle of the cobblestone
spider web was a very inviting, very blue pool. This would be our first stop post check-in. The man who owned the place was a soft-spoken, very relaxed Argentinean man who didn’t know a lick of English. Good thing Jon and I were level expert on the body-language front.
He led us up to our bungalow. Every part of it was magical, even down to the room keys. The keys were shaped like the old medieval iron-cast keys with the long stem circle handle. Cool to see, a bitch to use. No wonder society upgraded. The bungalow was equip with a full kitchen, flat screen, and, most importantly, air conditioning.
We weren’t the only ones at the pool. Families from neighboring cities and countries were swimming as well. The familiar callings of “Marco Polo” bellowed from the deep end. I found it comforting that no matter how far away you are, the ubiquity of that game felt like home.
One of my favorite things about the town was that the main source of transportation is your legs. You can walk everywhere! Jon and I walked to dinner under the
stars. I had forgotten how many stars one can see in the night sky. All my years of living in big cities have been surrounded by light pollution. It was a true refreshment to stroll around a dimly lit town, guiding our way by the stars. We ate at Restaurante La Vitrina, a steakhouse near our bungalow. We split a platter of the famous Argentinean Asado everyone has been raving about.
The assortment of meats was about a 50/50 split of oh my, delicious and WTF is that? As such in the American style, I asked for a to-go box for all the meat we didn’t eat. Naturally, in the foreign style, they looked at me like I was nuts. It was going to a good cause though! We made it – well, more like I made it – our mission to find the hungry dogs we’ve been passing by all day and feed them. I know, such the martyrs we are.
The next morning, we woke up to a knock on the door. “Breakfast!” Someone shouted in very strong accent.
I made Jon wake up and answer the door. When he came back in, I rolled over and uncovered my beloved eye mask to find Jon carrying a breakfast-in-bed tray holding a spliff between his lips. Not a bad way to wake up, if you ask me. The breakfast-in-bed tray comes every morning with Cabanas Luces de la Selva, with assortment of fruits, bread and jams. Plus, real fruit juices that make me realize how much sugar they pump into our juices at home.
Our first order of business is to go to the Brazilian embassy, conveniently located in walking distance of our bungalow in the jungalow. On our way, we passed by another hostel called Mango Tree. It was a bright yellow, one story house with island decorations hung all around it. Colorful balls of light hung stretched from the main entrance to the front yard. The front yard had a foosball table and a row of rainbow Adirondack chairs. Before Jon and I could pass by, a boy came out. He was our age with short curly black hair and dark eyes. He introduced himself as Jose.
“Welcome, my friends!”
He said as he galloped down the stairs and up to us.
“Hello, man, I’m Jon!”
“Jamie, hi.” We all shook hands.
“We were about to go to the embassy,” I said.
“Well, you have found it,” Jose pointed, “It is just right there.”
“Is there a party going on here?” Jon asked.
“Look around my friend, every day is a party! The embassy isn’t going anywhere. Come inside!”
Jose led us inside. The first room looked like a living room straight out of Home and Gardens: Music Lovers Edition. It had records and pieces of record player decoratively hanging on the wall. It had a DJ booth in the corner and a disco ball attached to the ceiling. The couches were a vibrant red and surrounded by books: travel books, music books, book-books. In the back there was another door that led out to the pool area. It was a jungle oasis. Palm trees circled the pool and led up to the tiki bar that was overlooking the pool. On the other side hung two hammocks. Before I could look twice, Jon shirt was off and he was
swimming. I told him I would run over to the embassy and come back.
The embassy was a small building, with no colors and no smiles. Everyone inside looked miserable. I went up to the front desk. A short dark man approached me. His scowl seemed meaner than the rest.
“Hi! I am trying to get a Brazilian visa.”
“To…to get into Brazil…obviously.”
“I, um, yo nes—“
“Passport.” The man demanded. I felt like a criminal handing it to him. I could see the look on his face, American. “Do you have the money? It will be R2500.”
“2500!” I was shocked. It was so much money! He pulled out a chart of visa costs. America was at the bottom, the cost far exceeding all the other countries. I sighed and nodded.
“Come back tomorrow. We are closing.”
“But it is only one o’clock. Does it take that long?”
The man didn’t say anything. He walked away and shut the door behind him. Outside I could
hear Jon speaking to an Asian man with a very strict accent.
“This is bullshit!” The man said. Jon stood there, wet from either the pool or sweat. He turned to me.
“It looks like the visa thing might be harder than we thought. Bloke here says he’s been waiting three days and it still hasn’t come.”
“Really?” I asked.
“And now I have no place to live. I check out of hostel this morning. This is all bullshit! Why they close? It is only afternoon. This is bullshit!”
Jon and I backed away slowly and went back to the Mango Tree hostel. We figured that if I couldn’t get my visa today, we might as well spend the afternoon at the pool. Jose greeted us once again outside the hostel.
“You are staying?!”
“Looks like it, embassy won’t take my paperwork because it is too late in the day.”
“Come come, I will get you drinks!”
Jon and I get back into the pool. I couldn’t believe we were the only ones taking advantage of this gorgeous place. We heard
Jose bang on the door next to the bar.
“Sven! Wake up man, these people need drinks!” A Russian with blonde hair and blue eyes came out rubbing his eyes.
“Okay, okay…” He mumbled. “Hello everyone.” He turned to greet us. “Sorry I had a rough one last night. What would you like?”
We preceded to let our new best friend, Sven, make us whatever he wanted. The drinks were great…individually. But once again, I committed the cardinal sin of mixing all the different types of alcohol together – vodka, then rum, then tequila, etc. That night it was me and the toilet in the bungalow, spooning like only a toilet knows how.
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