Appreciate the people who are down to surf in anything, even the slop

Rafa was in the lineup during our first surf in Brazil. His face was covered in zinc. I could tell by the holes in his wetsuit  and the gaps in his teeth that he had seen some action. He asked us a question in Portuguese, to which we responded, “desculpe, no falo Portuguese.” Through a mix of Portuguese, Spanish, and English, or Spantuglish, he asked us if we were the ones on the sail boat earlier, trying to drop anchor in the 8 foot swell that was rolling into the bay. “Sim”, we admitted. When our bow rose up the steep face of a set wave and then plunged underwater on the other side, we decided to anchor elsewhere. 

In the water, we held back at first. Letting a few sets roll through for the locals, until “Vai gringo! Vai!” became a common holler. Rafa told us about his house, how he’d built it himself up in the mountains, a steep climb on foot lugging materials over his shoulder, piecing it together using mostly hand tools. When he mentioned the word permaculture, I knew I could trust this guy. He offered to show us around the island, or, his garden as he referred to it. 

Soon after, I was in the backseat of his car, nestled between his dog and a stack of surfboards. Iggy Pop, a blend of Brazilian music, and Sublime, played through the speaker tucked between the windshield and the dashboard. I held my head out the window, watching as the bright colors of the flowers and buildings passed by, the damp and floral tropical air driving through my nose and deep in my lungs. When the car stopped, I tugged at the rope that replaced the door handle and let myself out. Eli and I had both forgotten our shoes and walked barefoot through the puddled streets to a small sandy trail. We could hear the waves before we saw them, but could tell they were going to be small. 

Rafa put his umbrella in the sand, and Chico, his dog, cuddled up beneath it. It began to pour, the sheets of rain softening the swell into small bands of gray across the surface of the ocean. The surf was small but crowded. We watched for a bit as people of all ages and abilities played in the rain rippled sea. Just when we reached the water, a gust of wind blew the umbrella inside out and Chico ran from his shelter with his tail between his legs. Rafa sprinted back to his companion, tying the edges of the umbrella down with his surf leash. Leashes were an optional accessory in his mind. After building a little wall of sand around Chico for added protection, we paddled out. 

The rain came and went, the clouds moving about, revealing more and more peaks in their absence. After a few playful waves, we were back in the car. Chico and I sat together in the backseat, both of us soaked and stinky. At a grocery store, we stopped for açaí ingredients, all of us without shoes. He was distraught over their lack of bananas, a crucial ingredient. As we cruised through the speed bump laden streets, he would slow down at each store we passed, stopping to see “Tem banana?”.  

He parked his car at the bottom of the hill, jamming rocks under each tire. The climb up made any infamous San Francisco street seem tame. Wet and slippery from the rain, Rafa taught us the Inca walk. We zig-zagged our way up the concrete path, making the walk a bit less tiresome. When the path turned to dirt, he pointed up to a red flag with a peace sign laying damp and limp against the pole. 

His home was humble and perfect. Constructed by hand using simple wood framing and some second hand materials, he’d carved out his paradise. A kitchen, a couch, and bed, all looking out across the bay, past a small section of fruit trees. He had what he needed and nothing more. Rafa and I dangled our legs off the porch, Eli in the hammock, while we ate our acai with all the fixings, minus banana.

It’s people like Rafa that make traveling worth it. Without someone like him, I find adventures to become superficial. It’s easy to go to a new place, see the sights, and carry on to the next, but when someone grabs you and subconsciously says, “Wait! Stop! Don’t go quite yet. Have a look around,” is when the real experience begins.