Growing up in the 80s and 90s, I was always told I could do and be anything I wanted, and I believed it. We, as a generation, were told to reach for the stars, that the sky was the limit, that the world was our oyster, that it was at our feet, in the palm of our hands; we were brought up to believe possibilities were endless and the only limits we would face were those we imposed on ourselves. I spent my life dreaming of the things I would do when I grew up, the places I would see, the things I would find, the love I would discover in everything the world had to offer, and I was determined to make those dreams come true.
Being a young girl in the 90s, I’m no stranger to TLC’s Waterfalls, which talks about sticking to the rivers and the lakes that we’re used to; and although I love TLC and I love that song, and I know it deals with much deeper issues like HIV and drug abuse, I never could understand how “dreams are hopeless aspirations / in hopes of comin’ true” was the kind of advice we were getting from three women who were obviously on top of their game. How could they be telling us not to chase waterfalls? How was chasing waterfalls, metaphorical or literal, a bad thing? I honestly think listening to this song only made me want to follow my crazy dreams more fervently.
With every place I visited, my desire to travel and see the world grew stronger and deeper. Last year, when I was living in Palomino, a small town on Colombia’s northern Caribbean coast, I got a call for a seasonal job in the Pacific coast–probably my favourite place on Earth–so I packed up and left. It wasn’t the first time I’d moved around the country, or the world, on a whim, but it was the first time I realised it was the only life I knew, and finally accepted the fact that I simply cannot stay in one place for too long, nor do I want to. Once I embraced the possibility of a truly nomadic life, I started preparing to go to Brazil and see the country’s entire Atlantic coast, from the Amazon to its southern border with Uruguay, and everything in between.
“Where did you go now?” was the first question I asked myself as I climbed a long, steep avenue in the small Amazonian city of Presidente Figueiredo, with nearly 30 kg of lugagge on my shoulders. Sweating and exhausted after the short trip from Manaus–a 2 hour bus ride that stretched out forever as I lugged my backpack from one bus to the next–I arrived at the Figueiredo Green Hostel, where I would stay the following week. When I walked in and heard the bossa nova playing, I knew I was in the right place.
Presidente Figueiredois the cupuaçu capital of Brazil, and although I was either six months too late or too early for the yearly festival, this delicious fruit that delights and obsesses me isn’t the only reason I visited this town; besides getting out of Manaus, where I was already feeling slightly trapped, I wanted to discover the jungle and find the water. Located about 100 km north of Manaus, the Amazonas state capital, Presidente Figueiredo is surrounded by tropical waterfalls that spring from deep within the jungle and are perfect to cool down the hot days of the Amazon rainforest.
The first place I went to was Urubui, a small beach by the river, surrounded by kiosks and restaurants, about 20 minutes away from the hostel. The river rocks are porous, red and yellow, and form small billabongs, making it a perfect swimming spot to cool off and enjoy nature. The water is refreshing, a relief for the body which feels like it’s cooking under the oppressive jungle sun. But Urubui was only the beginning.
On a sunny afternoon, I went to the Orchid waterfall, a much more natural place where you actually feel like you’re in the jungle. After a 20 minute walk through the trees, you can hear the roar of the water; a few minutes later, you finally come upon the waterfall, just a couple of metres high, that plunges into a rocky and refreshing natural pool. I ended up visiting it again just a few days later, unsatisfied with the short time I spent there before the sun set that first day.
But the Natal waterfall was my favourite; it filled me with so much joy that I seriously considered not going back to Manaus. Less than an hour away from the hostel along a dirt road is this wide waterfall where the water drops forcefully into a rocky pool, deeper than the ones at Urubui and Orchid. I let the water pound on my shoulders as I sat on the rocks, watching the jungle through the curtain of water. It was a cleansing of the body and soul, an energising and revitilising meeting with nature.
And that’s the thing, despite what some of my favourite 90s songs say, it seems no matter where I go I’m always running into the water, toward it, chasing not only waterfalls but rivers and lakes, oceans and pools, and the rainbows they create. Water to me truly is life, and being under a raging waterfall in the middle of the Amazon Rainforest makes me feel so alive, it’s almost unbearable; like it’s almost too much life, too much joy for just one person to experience. And I wouldn’t change it for the world.
Sitting under that waterfall, I realised that this is what I’ve been looking for, this is the road I’ve been searching for ever since I was dreaming of running away, of wandering the world, of discovering hidden treasures, of learning a new language, of giving up on stability and material wealth and embracing a Nomadic Life: I’ve always dreamed of the jungle, of the water, of the beauty of waking up to a bright blue sky smelling of sunshine, or even a grey one smelling of rain, and not knowing where I could be swimming next.
Eventually, I had to return to Manaus to collect my temporary resident ID, but the jungle revived me, pumped me up with the energy to continue on this journey, to see my affair with the Amazon River through to the end–to the river’s end in Belém, on Brazil’s Atlantic coast–and to keep searching for water, for beaches, sunsets, novelty, and adventure.