As previously mentioned, I am now in São Luis, State of Maranhão.
The city, founded by the French in the early 17th Century in honour of medieval king Saint Louis, was taken over a few years later by the Portuguese. It now has a run-down colonial look which is quite pleasant, when combined with the laid-back atmosphere of the historical center which can be admired with a reggae background (São Luis is now the Brazilian capital of reggae music).
A couple of days ago, I went to a beach north of São Luis with Nana, an Argentinian primary school teacher I met in my hostel. It wasn't an exceptional beach, but was deserted and thus very pleasant. We also met a group of three Brazilian kids who were extremely friendly. As tourists, you're often used to groups of kids asking for money, offering tours or selling bits and pieces, so it was rather refreshing having a conversation unpolluted by material interests. As we offered to share a plate of chips with them, the most eager to talk, Israel, who also seemed the most mature, asked a serie of interesting questions about where we came from, what food we ate
there, did we celebrate São João in June and many other things. As one of his companions left the table to go somewhere else, Israel then explain that that kid wanted him to stay over at the beach till late, but he wouldn't because he knew it was really dangerous at that time, and heard horrible stuff had happened to some kids there, advising us to return before sunset. From there, he started telling the story of his uncle, who had a run-in with someone during carnival, and got stabbed in the back. The police had arrived and starting talking to his wife whilst he was bleeding on the ground, not calling an ambulance until it was too late. It was strange to see Israel disclose such an intimate piece of information to total strangers, and what's more in a rather matter-of-fact way (although you could see his eyes get rather watery). He hoped the police would find the man, who had fled into the favela, because it was the third person he had killed, and he should pay for his mistakes. We came out deeply impressed of our encounter with that kid who seemed to have aquired a maturity
that his 14 or 15 years of age would not allow in most people.
Yesterday, Nana and I went to Raposa, a fishing village North of São Luis. As often when you travel, it's when you don't expect much that you end up enjoying yourself most. Raposa was at the meeting point between a river and the see, so you could cross the water by boat to a fantastic stretch of dunes. Warm sea, amazing seashells (see photo), almost deserted beach. After only about an hour and a half, we started making our way back to realise that the tide had come out so much that you could almost return to Raposa by foot, and that the speed of the water's retreat had left many fish stranded on the beach. Very impressive.
The long bus trip back was also eventful. By the time we were on it, night time had fallen (at 6 o'clock, as night falls early near the equator), and the bus quickly got packed with people. Day dreaming along the way, I was brought back to reality with a start as I heard a big BANG! It was a few seconds before I realised that
again way too lazy to find names
someone on the road had thrown a rock as big as my hand onto the bus, which had gone through the window and had struck someone straight on the side of the head. During what could have been 30 seconds, a minute, maybe two, the man's head lolled from side to side, clutching the place where the stone had hit, chocking, apparently having trouble breathing. No one moved. The man sitting to his right, a baby in his arms, looked at him calmly and passively. Everyone around did nothing, simply staring at him. It wasn't until I called out to someone to ask the bus driver to stop the bus (he had carried on, perhaps unaware of what had happened) and call an ambulance that some young people, who seemed either drunk or high on drugs, started talking to the man, shaking him to make him wake up. Eventually, he got back to his senses, and didn't seem badly wounded, but simply in shock. So were we. The bus continued to the central station, travellers returning to chatting and joking as if nothing had happened.
Whilst walking back to the hostel, we talked about that particular incident, the overall
violence, as well as the pregnant teenagers you sometimes see walking around the streets, asking for money. I think Nana nailed it when she said: "It just seems like life has no value, be it in creating it or in taking it away".
PS: I must apologise for the fact that all of my large entries are about rather depressing stories. These are the most striking, however, so this is what sticks to my mind when I write this blog. Sorry.
I am leaving in a few minutes for the Rodoviária to get bus for the Lençóis Maranhense, for perhaps a week or more. Probably no blog entry until then. Should be amazing though (but should have learnt not to build up my expectations now!).
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