An idea that has been running through my head with certain regularity is that it’s amazing the adventures that you can find if you maintain an open schedule and an open mind while traveling. As I pondered this concept, I realized that all my adventures of the past couple weeks haven’t exactly been encounters that I have sought out and then consequently found. In my experience thus far, my adventures have found me.

 Although my intention for this trip in general is to quest for adventure, the specific encounters in which I have found myself are not scenarios that I dreamt up and then went looking for. This is why the open schedule/open mind piece is of such importance. Sure it’s possible to have exciting and wonderful excursions while sticking to an itinerary, and a more tightly planned trip removes some of the unexpected delays that can be quite frustrating. Despite this truth, for me the thrill of the unexpected and the wonderment of scenarios that I never knew existed far outweigh the benefits of following a schedule. With that said, I now present the most thrilling of the recent adventures that have found me:

 

James and I found ourselves more or less trapped in the Amazon after our plans to head to Belem last week were hindered by a confusing and infrequent schedule of boat trips heading east down the river. We decided to make the most of it and so went to a town called Alenquer where we rented a moto and headed for Vale do Paraiso. A vague description in the guidebook described Vale do Paraiso as a small community nestled in the forest with a charming guesthouse for visitors. Based on that description, I imagined a small town with a few friendly families and maybe a little restaurant based out of somebody’s home. It turns out that the guidebook’s descriptions and my perception of reality are often not aligned because what we found when we got there was entirely different:

After roaming around the rural countryside outside of Alenquer, pulling up to bewildered farmers to ask for directions in mangled Portuguese, we finally parked our bike at the entrance to the place. A narrow path shaded by palms descended a way until we reached the top of a staircase. At this point we caught a glimpse of a pool of water in the bottom of a rocky basin and heard the chorus of dozens of birds chattering amongst themselves. We went down the  steps and found ourselves walking through a large kitchen and dining area of what appeared to be some sort of commune. We passed trash cans  filled with cans and bottles, a pile of laundry heaped on one of the tables and condiments placed on the tables – all sings that there had been people occupying the space not too long before that point but there seemed to be no one around. We called out, but got no response and so we figured that the owners of the place must have gone to town to  purchase supplies. Anyway, it was a very interesting place so we decided to explore a bit before heading out.

A narrow, wooden bridge crossed over the stone slabs of the dry riverbed, so we followed it accross to the other side where there was a wooden cabana and five or six brightly-colored guesthouses. Adorning the entire compund were odd antique decorations: dozens of old sewing machine stands used as tables, planters made of hollowed out logs, cabinets and dressers and mirrors scattered around the cabana. It all created a very mystical, enchanted atmosphere.

The door  to one of the guesthouses was wide open and the beds had ruffled sheets on them. Every odd little detail of the place made for such an eerie atmosphere and the entire scene was shrouded in mystery. What creatures were watching us from their hiding places among the jungle trees? Would the owners return to catch us occupying the place in their absence? And what the heck goes on in this strange location? Cult practices? I was partly scared but more intrigued so we poked around a bit and then set down our daypacks to go walk down the riverbed. 

This led to a trail through the surrounding forest and in the middle of wandering down the path, the rain began. What a mighty storm that turned out to be! Huge raindrops quickly turned the dry river into a flowing one, and the trail was soaked. By the time we made it back to the compound of Vale do Paraiso, we were both completely drenched and figured there was no way  to leave the place on a motorbike through what would have been sloppy, muddy roads. Luckily, we had our hammocks and so we hung them up and I changed out of my sopping clothing into the only other garnments I had brought: my swimsuit. And so we spent the rest of the evening huddled under the wooden bungalow in our swimgear, sitting in our hammocks and listening to the pouring rain that persisted for the rest of the evening.

It was dark after about an hour so we read in the light of our headlamps and then decided to brave the darkness to explore around the deserted kitchen. On the way accross the bridge, a  cat came up to us howling through the night which we both found to be very creepy. We saw a hen huddled on a shelf in the dining area which was equally as strange as the cat encounter. The haunted kitchen was slightly terrifying so we retreated to the safety of our hammocks with a couple candles that we found, our new cat friend tagging along. The rest of the evening was spent writing by candle light with the cat curled up in my lap. I gradually got tired and spent a restless night trying to sleep while listening to the millions of tiny creatures screeching, chirping, humming and groaning in the night. I could not shake the idea that our situation made for the perfect start to a horror movie. 

By the light of day, the place felt less frightening and the beauty of the natural surroundings was apparent, so we lingered the next morning. I practiced some yoga on the rocky ledge overlooking the compound which was quite incredible with the sun coming up over a wide panorama of the forest valley. And then we left the place just as we had found it: deserted and ready for the next confounded visitor to stumble upon. So this is the story of how I became an unintentional squatter in the most bizarre of circumstances. Like I said, not an event I could have planned, not even invented in my imagination. It was more like an odd dream realized and by far the most unique adventure of my life so far

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