My Nomadic Life: Parallel Universe

As my thirtieth birthday approaches, I find myself constantly thinking about time. I think about its role in our lives, how it influences our decisions and our actions; I think about how we try to manoeuvre it, wishing it to bend to our desires; I think about our perception of it when we look back, and what we imagine it to be when we look forward.

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Olinda, Pernambuco, Brasil

We live in a world that tries to manipulate time; we name it, measure it, count it, as if nomenclature could give us control, as if we could ever master it. This notion of control is fundamental in our understanding of the world we have constructed, and it rules most of what we do, from when we eat and when we work, to when we’re supposed to hit milestones like marriage and parenting. But I’ve always known that’s not the world I want to inhabit; I love living in a world where time is a concept as flexible and untameable as space, where the constraints of forces greater than us are respected but not idolised, where time is considered our greatest asset and most valuable currency. So I changed my world by starting on an exciting nomadic journey.

Although the ‘real’ world and my nomadic world occupy the same space, and exist simultaneously, the world of the traveller is one in which time works for us rather than against us; we who inhabit it have chosen to give up control and have freed ourselves from the traditional restrictions that attempt to overpower nature. Like-minded people live in this parallel universe, floating from one adventure to the next, sleeping in hammocks, sharing music, swapping stories and sometimes more, making friends, re-routing plans, falling in love, learning to say goodbye, following our hedonistic whims to the nearest paradise, all while blissfully unaware what the day of the week it is. Many might say we’re living in an unrealistic, utopian dreamworld, detached from responsibilities, but we like to think of it as controlled chaos, spontaneous planning, a sustainable life of surprise that lets us follow whichever path we choose on any given day.

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Morro Branco, Ceará, Brasil

In this universe, Monday and Thursday and Saturday are the same as the other four days of the week; for me, any day can be a day off, any day can be a work day. We don’t gauge time by numbers on a calendar, but by what we can get done in that space of time. That doesn’t mean we disregard time altogether, but we perceive it differently. Rather than filling in slots on a roster, waiting for the clock to hit that magic number so we can run out, escape the burden of pretending to have the ability to ‘manage’ time, we strive to answer questions like: How long can I spend by the beach? How much work do I have to do before, during, or after? How long will the bus take, how far do I have to walk? How many beers can I drink in the meantime? When does my visa run out?

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Maragogi, Alagoas, Brasil

When we travel, we learn to really appreciate time; how quickly it can move, how flexible it is, how much we can squeeze into any given hour, week, or year, and how easily it can be lost. Right now, it seems impossible to me that only twelve months have passed since last May—it honestly feels like a short lifetime ago. And yet it feels like it was just yesterday. How many lives have I lived in the past year, I wonder? How many soulmates have I met, how much have I learned, discovered, let go of? The last year of my life seems to live simultaneously in the distant past and the present; so much has happened since that I can’t help but question the veracity of the calendar’s claims to measure my experiences, to quantify them into numbers so that they’re more easily digestible.

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Recife, Pernambuco, Brasil

As the months pass by, I realise I can only tell them apart by the cities, accents, faces, and beaches that are attached to my memories, and as I move—on, away, back—I learn that time refuses to be measured or constricted, morphing into whatever shape suits it best, unconcerned by our desires or needs and specially our plans. And as travellers, we have learned to not only accept but embrace its rebelliousness; we have learned that hours only matter in terms of bus schedules, months in degrees and millimetres of rain; we have learned to prioritise weight and distances. Our search for adrenaline and novelty takes over as time becomes an impatient ally who we know can choose to stop being so generous at any moment.

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Lagoa Bonfim, Rio Grande do Norte, Brasil

So maybe we are running away, maybe it is irresponsible to live off the grid, allowing politics and monthly bills to become nothing more than a faraway memory; maybe we should care more about appearing in countless photographs wearing the same ragged clothes, eternally highlighting our simple but functional wardrobe and our unwillingness to conform to fashion trends or societal expectations of what we should look like, in this day and age, at our age. But we are otherwise preoccupied experiencing beautiful moments, fulfilling dreams, and creating collective memories. We have forged a supportive community that strives to live sustainably, happily, and fully, and in a world that seems to have lost its way and identity, we have chosen not to be bound by time, but rather freed by the possibilities it offers.

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My Nomadic Life: Finding Freedom in Nature

Before I reached Fortaleza, I was feeling a bit stuck in Barreirinhas, not feeling quite at home, dreaming of the beach and the Lençóis Maranhenses, a national park in Brazil’s state of Maranhão. The park is made up of 155,000 hectares of white sand desert, and during the rainy season, hallucinating lagoons fill up the spaces between the enormous dunes which can be up to 40 metres high. Sadly, I was there during the dry season and only one of the lagoons had a tiny bit of water. Determined to see this place, even without the water, I decided to walk there from Barreirinhas with one of the local guides, Maduro.

I wanted to connect with nature like I did in the Amazon; I wanted the freedom that I only seem to get from physical exercise in a natural setting. I was so excited to get there, I didn’t worry about getting there and didn’t really consider what walking there would entail when I agreed to go. I got up at 4:15 am when it was still dark and even a bit chilly, had a quick, cold shower to completely wake myself up, gulped down a huge cup of coffee and some bread, and by 5:00 am, Maduro and I were walking out of town.

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At about 5:20 am, we crossed the beautiful Preguiças River on a small ferry, and my struggle began as soon as we got off at the other side in Cantinho. The roads aren’t paved in Cantinho; in fact, they’re more like flowing rivers of sand than paths. And because it had rained overnight, the sand was wet on the surface but still loose underneath. This made what would already be difficult so much harder because a thick layer of sand got permanently stuck on my bare feet and grew heavier with every step, weighing me down and making me sink ankle-deep into the sand.

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Maduro wasn’t struggling, of course, having walked through the sand his whole life. I would lose him sometimes beyond a curve in the path, behind the shrubbery, and consider running back, giving up, escaping this endeavour that was requiring way more effort than I had originally intended to exert. But I kept my mind focused on the sand dunes, on the sheer magnitude of this place I was about to see, and my stubborn reluctance to give up persevered.

We walked for about four hours over the wet sand, surrounded by shrubs and cacti, a few caju (cashew) trees, and plants that breed all sorts of strange and delicious fruit, like the jatoba and guajiru, which I greedily gobbled up as I told myself to enjoy the journey and not worry about how long it was going to take… But, how much longer will it take, Maduro? All he’d answer was, “What, you tired?” smile, and effortlessly walk ahead.

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I was sweating so badly, I was licking the sweat off my own face to rehydrate. OK, catching the sweat with my tongue as it dripped down to my mouth was most likely just a reflex, but as I tasted the salty liquid that was mercilessly pouring down my face, I convinced myself it was probably a sustainable method of rehydration.

Just over half-way there, I looked up and saw a wooden bridge. I couldn’t believe it, firm land! I did my best to run toward it, sinking in the sand, blinded by the sweat, exhilarated at the thought of walking on solid ground for just a little bit. And it really ended up being a little bit—just over 4 metres to be exact. It was incredibly  satisfying, so we stopped to rest for a few minutes and drink some water (rather than sweat) before moving on.

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I kept telling myself, “You’ll make it, you’ll survive, don’t even think about the way back,” as I tried to keep up with Maduro. And then I saw them: dunes so big and white they looked like snow-capped mountains. I couldn’t believe it, we were there, I had made it to the Lençóis Maranhenses! At that moment, the exhaustion left my body, my legs were reenergised, my mind clear of worries or anxieties, and my smile huge and breathless.

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We walked up one of the big dunes which led to one of the most incredible landscapes I’ve ever seen: rows and rows of white, yellow, and orange sand dunes, carved by deep crevasses (where the water gathers when it rains) and dotted by bright green shrubs and a few wind-swept trees. The immensity of this place left me speechless and made me feel so small; we were no more than specs moving along this unforgiving terrain. We walked toward the only lagoon that had water in it, to satisfy the promise of cooling off and taking a rest.

We reached the small Lagõa do Peixe—Fish Lagoon—which might have had 30 cm of blackish water at the most, but we dove in happily as a light rain started falling. I rolled down a dune and fell straight into the water, swimming among the tiny fish. On land, miniature frogs the colour of the sand jumped almost imperceptibly away from us. It definitely wasn’t what I’d seen in the pictures (do yourself a favour and Google this place), nor what I imagined as I looked at the deep spaces between the dunes, where traces of the water were still visible, but it completely stole my heart; the channels that become rivers after a heavy rain were teasing me with the promise of turquoise lagoons amid the white sand, and it was absolutely spectacular.

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While Maduro took a nap under a tree, I explored the dunes with my camera. After a couple of hours of roaming around, being extremely careful to not lose sight of the lagoon, and eating some sardines and crackers, we saw a group of tourists arrive in a 4×4. Just like he’d planned (but refused to promise), he spoke to the driver who agreed to give us a ride back to town. Despite having spent an amazing morning in one of the most beautiful places in the world, hearing the news that I wouldn’t have to walk all the way back was one of the best moments of the day.

As we walked under deep, grey clouds to where the cars were packed, Maduro turned around and said, “It’s about to rain…hard.” About 30 seconds later, a storm exploded over our heads. The wind was so strong, I wasn’t sure if it was the water or the sand that was blasting against me, but it hurt! I was soaking wet and so happy. The rain slowed down by the time we got in the car and started making our way back. The ride was bumpy and branches were whipping my legs and arms as we raced through the trees, but it was still better than walking back.

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Nomadic Life: Home is Where I can Unpack

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.

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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.

Barreirinhas 2But 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…

Barreirinhas 19Now 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.

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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.

Barreirinhas 9So 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. Barreirinhas 22

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.

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Nomadic Life: Chasing Waterfalls in the Amazon

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.

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Cachoeira Natal, Presidente Figueiredo

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.

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Cachoeira Orquídea, Presidente Figueiredo

“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.

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Urubui, Presidente Figueiredo

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.

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Cachoeira Orquídea, Presidente Figueiredo

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.

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Cachoeira Natal, Presidente Figueiredo

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.

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Cachoeira Orquídea, Presidente Figueiredo

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.

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Cachoeira Natal, Presidente Figueiredo

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.

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Urubui, Presidente Figueiredo

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.

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Nomadic Life: Finding the Road from Manaus

Manaus - parqueFor a few weeks now I’d been trying to write about Manaus, this strange, crazy, concrete jungle of a city which I can’t quite figure out but have loved from the night I arrived. Located in the middle of the Amazon Rainforest, Manaus is home to 2.5 million people aManaus - ruand spreads out over 11,000 km² along the banks of the Rio Negro. I’ve spent my days visiting its old buildings and walking its pot-holed streets, wondering what I can write about this exotic, weird place.

I’ve been here for over a month and yet I was stuck, unsure what to say about this grey oasis that only hints at the great jungle that surrounds it, lulling us with its oppressive heat into forgetting where we are, offering no respite from the giant, hot sun, unapologetic for obscuring nature with its tall buildings and cracked asphalt, still clinging on to the remnants of the rubber boom that built the city amidst the thick jungle in the late XIX century.

I couldn’t write, I wasn’t sure about anything anymore, and I was starting to feel unsure of my purpose. And then I read my friend Carolina’s blog post about her first month of travelling solo in South Asia and how she, too, had writer’s block until she realised that everything turns into something different than what you planned when you’re on the road, and that’s the beauty of it, that is what we seek. When I was reminded of that, I was inspired, not only to write, but to make an actual plan, to set goals for myself that I could methodically work toward. I love the nomadic life, how unexpected and chaotic it can be, but in both writing and life, I like turning chaos into a more tangible, spontaneously planned state of disorder.

Manaus - orelhaoSo I started planning, and changing those plans, and guessing, and second-guessing, and I finally came up with a schedule and budget of sorts that should see me through to mid May, 2016. I figured that having an idea of what I’m doing for the next five and a half months is enough planning, and now that my calendar’s filled up with the names of exotic locations, I can go back to dreamily drifting through Brazil’s hallucinating Amazonas and north-east coast.

During the next five and a half months I’ll travel nearly 6,000 kms away from Manaus and its incredible market place, its colonial architecture, its history and culture, its freshwater beaches, churches, and of course, all the cupuaçu picoles and din-din (tropical fruit popsicles and frozen juices in a bag) I could dream of! I don’t know what will happen or who I’ll meet, but I do know I’ll be in Belém for New Year’s, in São Luis and the Lençois Maranhenses in January, in Fortaleza for Carnaval, in Recife in March, and then back up to Natal in April. I know I’ll visit the beaches of Pipa and Olinda along the way, and sometimes wish I hadn’t planned so far ahead.

I know I can hinder myself and the possibility of taking spontaneous opportunities by schedulling the next six months, but having this purpose, this trail, gives me a sense of responsibility to myself, to fulfil this plan, to follow through and make my way down the Atlantic coast, all the way to neighbouring Uruguay, then Argentina, and then finally back to Colombia… before going to France.

OK, so I’m a compulsive travel planner! But life is short and full of wonder, and it’s too easy to get lost in the mundane, in the comfort of stability or instability, and I don’t want to miss a beat. To see what comes next, follow me on this uncertainly planned journey of discovery and learning.

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Nomadic Life: Running Toward the Water

Now that I’m face to face with the start of a nomadic life, I can see that preparing for this change goes beyond travelling light; it means starting from scratch, learning to do things in a different way, and being more spontaneous; it means allowing myself to be guided by what’s inside of me—that thing that doesn’t allow me to sit still. It’s essential that I accept and be content with the (perceived?) insanity that drives me to leave behind stability, and instead choose an uncertain and mobile life.

It probably all started in childhood, on my first birthday, when I took my first steps on the black sands of the beaches of Cartagena, walking toward the sea, hypnotised by the water. I imagine it as some sort of hypnosis or magic spell, because ever since then, I can’t stop chasing tropical waters. All my life I’ve been running toward the water; always going to the sea, or searching for waterfalls hidden behind mossy rocks, or exploring marble caves through which cold rivers run on their way down the mountains.

My fixation with discovering the Earth’s hidden secrets grew with the first maps I pored over, fascinated by the idea that the world expanded further than my house, my city. The first books I devoured were full of animals and exotic places, inhabited by fantastical people, living lives so different to mine, enveloped in other colours and smells, wearing different clothes and speaking different tongues. I’ve always wondered what life would be like on the other side of the world, and I’ve tirelessly searched for the answer, making this question the thesis of my life.

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Hikkaduwa, Sri Lanka

An inflatable plastic globe from the days of the Soviet Union stole infinite moments from me, allowing me to dream that someday I would step foot on those oddly shaped countries. Some captivated me more than others, like Sri Lanka, that tear-drop shaped island that hangs off the Indian subcontinent; or the islands of Polynesia, scattered across the South Pacific like emeralds lost in the infinite blue of the ocean. I’ve been especially fascinated by oases and desert islands—two natural paradoxes found in tropical landscapes. It might have something to do with the implicit loneliness of these remote places, places I saw in photographs that looked like paintings made by artists from other worlds.

I was passionate about geography and my head was filled with questions about these faraway places—so foreign and familiar at the same time; places I could look at but couldn’t touch; places I could study but couldn’t smell their air. Not knowing them, walking on their soil, smelling their smells, was never an option for me, my stubbornness abolishing any doubts that reality dared impose.

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National Natural Park Tayrona, Colombia

Travel, the tropics, the jungle, and the ocean, are passions so deeply rooted in my being that they are now part of my very fibre, making me feel that I am made of sand and saltwater. I roam around possessed by the need to see the world; obsessed with holding on to the memories of the warm breeze of every beach I’ve visited; with tattooing on my soul the sound of the ocean crashing on the rocks. I’m so entirely lost in maps and dreams, trapped by hallucinations of turquoise waters that run through seas and rivers, that I have finally decided to let myself be taken away by my attraction to movement, to change, to the unexpected.

In a week, I will set out on a journey through the Amazon, from Colombia to Brazil, from the Caribbean to the Andes and beyond, toward the great rivers that cross the jungle. I’m off looking for who knows what, travelling over the black waters surrounded by every shade of green imaginable; waters that will take me to the sea, to that magical Atlantic coast that still holds the shape that fits into Africa. I want to be there, on the shores of that bellybutton, of that mouth that juts out as if signalling to the old continent, calling its motherland, begging the seas to bring the lands together once again.

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Cayarú Swamp, Peruvian Amazon

I hope to share my journey, from the physical process of leaving it all behind to the dark waters of the Amazon and the enigmatic Atlantic coast. I will document my experience of letting go of material possessions—well, except for my indispensable aromatic spices and tiny wooden spoons—; of the three-day journey from Leticia to Manaus; of the impermanent beaches of the rivers of the Lençóis Maranhenses; of the unexpected and the magical that only the road can reveal.

I’ve been lucky to know many of these places I dreamed of; I’ve been lost in several continents already, falling deeper in love each time with the infinite possibilities that exist when I’m travelling and learning. And soon I will fulfil another one of my dreams—conjured one day as I looked at a map—of knowing what exists between those thin blue lines that transport water from land to the ocean.

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Where I Came From

I jumped from the edge of Angel Falls. The trees looked like a fluffy, green carpet below me, getting closer and closer with every second. But I wasn’t scared. As I fell, I smiled at the wonder that I could fall but wouldn’t get hurt: that when I shut my eyes, I would be transported anywhere else I could imagine. The freedom of falling without consequences had become my newest addiction, and I was searching for, and sometimes even creating, my own peaks, each one higher, more isolated and more alive than the last. I hadn’t been back for long, but I was quick to remember that adrenaline was possible even without a body, and that with the few memories I conserved of the physical earth, I could conjure up the sweet exhilaration in beautiful settings, without the fear of death.

I was quickly approaching the canopy so I started thinking where I would go. But before the branches came into focus, even before I had decided what my next adventure would be, I found myself trapped, in a narrow channel, struggling to breathe.

I felt a pair of slick hands grabbing me, patting me on the chest, fingers in my mouth. I instinctively started crying. Crying! I hadn’t cried since… I’d last been in a human body. The thought that I’d been brought back to earth, to live a new life, made me cry even harder. I don’t remember much after that, except the warmth of my mother’s milk and the sensation that rather than being found, I was once again lost.

For years I felt out of place, but I easily forgot about my origins and assumed my new body as my only reality. Even though occasionally, when I slept, I felt myself come alive again. The sensation that life was no more than what was physically around me was quickly becoming all I knew, and with this acknowledgement the deep sense of loss that I couldn’t understand oppressed me a little bit more each day.

By the time I was twelve, I had no memories of my world before this birth. I’d also lost my memories of my previous lives. I was starting all over again, except this time, the feeling that I wasn’t where I belonged was more overpowering than ever. My sadness became obvious and my mother worried constantly, which made her pay more attention to me than I wanted. All I knew was I was meant to be somewhere else, somewhere I could be free and jump off mountains. I said this to her once which led her to take me to see a psychologist. They both agreed I was slightly suicidal. I tried to make them understand that I wasn’t actually going to jump from a mountain, but that I had the sense that I should be able to. Of course, they didn’t understand what I meant.

Then, when I was sixteen, I dreamed of Angel Falls. I had never been there in this life but I knew exactly what this place was. I knew it better than I understood the physical world; I had strange, fading memories of it. In this dream, I was standing atop the waterfall, looking down at the narrow but endless trickle of water that fell through the cracked stone. I looked down tentatively, wondering why I so desperately wanted to jump. I didn’t that time, but the feeling that I’d jumped before lingered long after I awoke.

I started sleeping more. I would spend all my free time sleeping, which of course worried my mother and my psychologist even more. But I was tired of explaining it to them. At the time I didn’t know why they didn’t understand, I just knew they couldn’t. Later, when I went back, I learned that they were new souls and were living their first life on earth. They had never felt the feeling that someone who had already returned home could get from a dream; that memory of lives past, of where we came from.

So I slept and slept, each time delving deeper into my dreams, into my subconscious. Each time I remembered old memories, old places, old sensations, all of which felt new and timeless all at once. But despite my reveries, the oppression never left my chest and it was the first thing I felt when I woke up every day. I was convinced I had been pulled out of my rightful universe but I didn’t understand why.

Finding no solution to my depression besides sleep, and feeling overwhelmed by the sensation that when I slept, I was home, and when I woke I was lost, I forced myself to stop sleeping. I need to find a way to feel at home on earth: I needed to find a reason for my emptiness, and I couldn’t think logically in my sleep. Also, despite my dreams being sweet beyond reproach, the pain of waking up was more than I could bear. And so my self-imposed insomnia began. I would sit and concentrate on remembering my dreams: the places I most loved and what they made me feel, even the different identities I embodied, the different people I’d become. After a few years I had mapped out an intricate diagram of my dream world, of its dimensions and spaces, and the emotions it carried. I learned which places were conducive to good dreams, to adrenaline, to excitement, and which let to nightmares and anguish.

I hadn’t found my peace on earth, but I’d found a way to feel more at home, and once I understood it well enough, I was ready to dream again. It wasn’t easy to sleep after years of forcing myself to stay awake, but a few months later I was returning to my world, each night for a little bit longer, going a little bit deeper. I found that the memories that had helped me map out my dreams were accurate: what I remembered from my insomnia weren’t hallucinations but dream memories. The further I walked into my dream world, the more conscious I became in my dreams. I was distancing myself from the physical world more and more as the years passed, causing my mother sadness and confusion. But I had realised our realities didn’t coincide and I couldn’t take on her insecurities. I was diagnosed with clinical depression and given high-grade anti-depressants, but I never took them because they made it harder for me to dream.

In my thirties I was told I lost my mind. I had disconnected myself from my body and all that surrounded my waking moments. I had created a life of peace and beauty and fun in my dreams and it seemed to me earth simply could not compare. Sure, I had taken elements from this reality to create my world, but this shattering planet didn’t feel like home to me, not even temporarily.

My body suffered but I didn’t care. The longer I survived in this body, the longer it would take me to return home. So I allowed myself to perish, slowly, ignoring hunger and thirst and the need for activity. I also ignored my family’s pleas and their need for me to survive. I slept and dreamed, and started jumping off mountains again.

By the time I turned fifty, I was alone. My mother was unable to live with my indifference, as she put it, so she packed her things and left to a small town to live out the rest of her days in peace. She said she was sorry but couldn’t waste her life worrying about me. I said I was glad because she should enjoy her body while she had it. She said I should do the same, but I told her I’d had many bodies and I was tired. I said all I wanted was to be free and that’s why I chose to sleep and dream. She still didn’t understand, so she sighed, kissed my forehead and left. I never saw her in that body again.

I was dying on my 67th birthday. My body was finally giving up and my soul was starting to vibrate with the promise of freedom. When I left my body, I saw it was smiling. I rose with excitement and found myself back atop Angel Falls. But it looked different. The trees were grey and bare, the waterfall no more than a few droplets, lazily falling from the depleted stream above. I sank with confusion and sadness. Where was the beauty? I decided to jump, maybe the fall would bring it all back. But I just floated, much like the drops of water, and nothing changed. I landed softly on the hard ground. I had never seen this place look so bad, I had never fallen like gravity wasn’t a force that could act even upon my soul.

I sat on a boulder for what could have been nearly an eternity. Nothing changed or moved besides the falling droplets. No leaves grew from the trees and no happiness returned to me. So I started thinking about life on earth, much like had I sat and thought of my dreams when I was last there. I analysed my memories, my lives, my bodies. I thought of what I learned, what I forgot, and what I had to learn again. I remembered laughing and the feeling of life slipping away. I remembered not remembering that I had lived and died before; remembered when I didn’t know that my dream world was waiting for me after my body gave out.

And then one little drop fell right next to me and I saw a green leaf come up through the cracked, dusty ground. I looked around but it was the only one in sight. Then it started growing, growing fast and high, hardening, turning into a tree. And then it spoke to me and I recognised my mother, who had had her first death and after exploring and enjoying her own paradise, had come looking for me in my dead falls.

She said she understood now why I wanted to come back. She said she never could have imagined that her dreams were her home, she’d been so caught up in the physical world. Then she asked me if she would ever go back.

“Yes,” I said. “You will be sent back until you find your true self.” She laughed, excited at the thought of returning, of having another opportunity, of enjoying herself more the second time around.

“And what about you?” she asked me. “Will you go back?”

I thought about her question, about being born again, about having to wake up again, about dying. I was going to answer, “no, I’m finally back where I belong,” when I saw another little drop fall and evaporate in the dust. I thought about all the times I had been there after a death and how much more beautiful it had seemed after each life lived on earth. And I realised I had not lived my last life as I should have: I still hadn’t truly found myself. I had to go back, just one more time.

*

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