A book that I was reading prior to leaving the States used the metaphor of crossing over a threshold to describe the departure of a trip. Crossing a threshold signifies movement from one space into the next, leaving one area in order to enter another, passing from inside to the outside. And as it was described, so it has been. The moment that I sat down on my seat in the airplane and felt that inevitable rush as we left the ground for the air, there was a change in my mentality. The months of planning, preparing, studying and stressing were suddenly a thing of the past. The time had finally come to leave all that to rest and instead open my mind to all the newness that comes with a trip abroad.

That was Monday, and now here I am only a week later, in an entirely different realm. When I think of what I was doing a week ago, it blows my mind. I have traded errands, phone calls, driving, and routines for beaches, backpacks, boat rides, and Brazilian. It’s as if I have entered a new world. And what a world this is! Each day walking through the streets I feel like a child. Everything is new and different. I feel a general sense of wonder with each new encounter. New friends drift in and out of my life on a daily basis, and I never know what a new day will bring. It’s wonderfully refreshing.

Right now I am sitting in the town square of Alter do Chao listening to the chatter of Portuguese all around me, children running around and the local artisans selling their jewelry. We have spent the last two days and nights in this utopian town. The fact that a place like this even exists amazes me. Imagine a quaint town located on the bank of an Amazonian tributary, white beach lining the entire length of the town and jungle in every direction stretching as far as one’s mind could dream. (No, that doesn’t do it justice… No words could. But you can still try to imagine anyway.)

Our hostel is lovely: a large, sliding door leads into the compound and then wooden plankways zigzag to the different rooms. Everything is open air and the plants, birds, us all share the same space. The people are lovely: we were invited to dine in the house of a man who we asked for directions when we first got to town. We saw him sitting at a streetside table with a friend as we entered town last night and he offered to take us to his house for a barbecue. We accepted, and he proceeded to buy pounds of meat, bottles of beer, a variety of vegetables (solely because he knew I was vegetarian) and invited a few friends to what turned out to be a great dinner. The beach is lovely: fine, white sand, unfathomably warm water (maybe a little too warm), tables placed in the water for beachgoers to dip their feet as they drink their beer. The food is lovely: fresh mangoes, pineapples, bananas, melons every day. How many times am I allowed to say “lovely” in one paragraph? Whatever it is, I think I’ve exceeded it… Anyway, you get the picture. Our experience here has been quite… lovely.

We came here on a barge down the Amazon River from Manaus, which was a great event in and of itself. James and I were pretty much the only gringos on board with a literal boatload of Brazilians. The ride took about 36 hours, 26 of which we were subjected to deafening Portuguese music that drove us half crazy. It was turned on with the first light of the morning sun and went until well past dark when the last few passengers were bedding down for the night. And always at a ridiculously unreasonable volume. It would have been fine had it been turned down, but that seemed not to be an option… Anyway, the music is only one detail of what was a truly authentic affair. We slept in hammocks at night, and all three decks were a sea of the brightly colored slings hanging from all corners. We ate the food that was prepared on board: noodles, rice, pinto beans, chicken and mixed salad. We showered on board, James in the open air shower on the top deck, and me in the slightly smelly private shower below. There was not a lot to do during the day, so we read and wrote, napped and drank some beers with our instant friends Maicol and Alberto (from Porto Alegre and Cordoba, respectively.) Maicol was this crazy guy: a super animated talker who wore a black and white plaid bucket hat and pronounced James’ name in two syllables, Jay-mez. He kept us entertained. The whole experience was really a great study in culture. To be in that close of proximity with the same people for two days straight provided an opportunity to see how people here eat, bathe, take care of their children, interact. It was a great way to start off the trip. And now we are in the paradise of the Amazon. A great first week, I’d say.

This is our last night in Alter do Chao and then we are taking the short bus ride to Santrem tomorrow morning to carry on. I’m a little hesitant to leave this place after only a couple days, but that is how it goes with a trip like this, I suppose: always saying hello and then goodbye shortly after. There are so many places to see, many of which I will fall in love with I’m sure. So, I’m going now to cook a delightful vegan dinner with James for our friends at the hostel and then maybe down for a night swim at the beach. It should be a great way to spend the last night here.

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