In mid 2014 I quit the job I loved and travelled the world for a year. I was heading back to Singapore from Dubai, the long way home.
After a 14 hour direct flight from Dubai to Rio de Janeiro, I stood at the end of a bus queue in the terminal, wondering to myself. What are you doing? Backpacking in South America, without a plan. Alone. I had bought my ticket just days before. Travellers that I would meet later told me that they planned for months. Brazil is almost like a continent. How do you know where you want to go? Lencois, I would answer. It’s a desert with lakes. During the winter in the North East of Brazil, the valleys collect rain and pools form in the valleys until they disappear again at the height of summer. And they listen, amazed and jealous.
It was as magical as I had made it out to be. Soft undulating curves that went on forever, murmuring last summer’s secrets under the wind, like a Renais film. I bumped into people I had met on the way to Atins that afternoon I arrived on the beach. Come for a walk, they said. We have a guide. Yes, why not, I thought. Even the pretty white dog who was following me, agreed. What I thought would be a nice leisurely evening walk became a four hour hike up the dunes. The sand was too soft for us to wear shoes. And every time we took a step, we would sink. Ankle deep in the sand as soft as cream. Eventually, even the dog gave up. After the third dune, she left me, dust in her heels, without even looking back. It was her loss because we found ourselves swimming in one of the pools with water clearer than rain. After we watched the last rays of the pink sunset slip into the sand, we found our hard earned dinner in a hut where we met other travellers. An American stylist, a German student, and a Greek dentist, amongst others. We exchanged stories first, names last.
And then it was another two hour walk back to the pousada. The only twist was that we had to walk back in complete darkness on the riverbed. No light! No light! The guide urged. It was terrifying at first, to put a foot down where you couldn’t see. After an hour the guide stopped. Look! I lifted my eyes and saw the sky, swimming in stars, like freshly poured glitter in black syrup. The constellations were so dense that I could make out the shape of our planet, from the convex carpet of the stars. And from that, I saw the eternity of our universe, in a single minute, quietly storming in the burning infernos.
It was another 10 countries after Brazil before I reached home. I was in shards by that time. My body was in splinters but my memories were in technicolour. Streets streamed into each other, like the stories I had collected along the way. Where did I meet you? When? Some places stuck out (Medrano y Sarmiento). Some people too (pancakes and a leek pie). Since then I’ve often returned to that night. And all the things that happened in between. It seems like forever, since that night in the desert of lakes.