I hope my Little Mermaid facecloth will detract attention from the rest of my mess; I don’t have much privacy and the place for my stuff is, well, the floor. Just now, as I was trying to tidy up my things as neatly as I could against the wall I’ve claimed as my own, I started thinking about how I feel when I’m unpacking at a new place, and how I feel most at home when I can properly unpack. Preferably on a shelf, but a locker works…the floor? Not too homey. Then I thought about how having my stuff on display for everyone who passes through the front door to see has at least made me more organised than in other places I’ve stayed at, where I’ve been able to hide my clutter, my messy little secret, behind a closed door or curtain.
As I closed up my bag, I wished I had photos of all the rooms I’ve been in, the lockers I’ve used, the shelves, the beds, the hammocks. And why didn’t I have photos? I think every time I thought about doing it–when my things had exploded out of my bag like a piñata–I was rushing off somewhere, probably already a few minutes late, and snapping a shot of my mess was only going to perpetuate this embarrassing reality. So I didn’t.
But I’m a documentalist and I should be objective about documenting reality, daily life, as I see it and maybe put the lens back on myself, sometimes. I’ve decided that from now on, I’m going to photograph all the places I stay in, mess and all, because I’ve already missed out on some great ones: the terrace with the hammocks and the dining room with the best view of Manaus; my private room and the heavy handmade wooden chairs and tables in the long white corridor in Presidente Figueiredo; that spacious bathroom with a back-lit dressing room style mirror and the beautiful Portuguese tiles on the walls of the downstairs hallway in Belém…
Now I’m in Barreirinhas, a dusty orange town built with bricks on white, powdery sand, the weight of the houses barely containing the dunes that try to reclaim their territory by sneaking back into the city, lumping against walls and in gutters, climbing onto sidewalks, leaving little opportunity for grass, coconut and caju nut (cashew) trees to grow. I’m here, sitting on the verandah, looking out at the town in front of me and all my things behind me, wishing I was closer to the water, wanting to move my mess elsewhere.
I came here because Barreirinhas is one of the gateways into the Lençois Maranhenses National Park: 155,000 hectares of sand dunes surrounding the Preguiças River, which snakes out into the Atlantic at the shores of Atins, a small fishing village a few hours away by boat or 4×4. The heavy rains fill the spaces between the dunes, forming freshwater lagoons, making for hallucinating landscapes. But here’s the thing: it hasn’t rained and the lagoons are dry.
So rather than sitting here dreaming of the water, of a shelf or locker, I’ve decided to go to Atins rather than the dunes; I guess it’s inevitable that I would choose the beach over the desert. I should be there for about a week, provided I can find an internet connection for work; otherwise, I’ll be back here in just a couple of days.
Although the Lençois was at the top of my ‘to see’ list in Brazil, I might just have to wait until next year when I come back up the coast to see the lagoons displaying their intense colours amidst the sand. For now, I’m pretty happy with the thought of hanging up my hammock near the ocean, where I can hear the waves and smell the salt, even if it means I have to leave all my things on the sand.