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.

Olinda

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.

Morro Branco 5

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?

Maragogi

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.

Recife Antigo

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.

BomFim

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
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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.

Barreirinhas 17

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.

Barreirinhas 6

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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My Nomadic Life