By Cristina Bresser de Campos
Long ago, I visited Chapada dos Veadeiros, an esoteric wild site at central Brazil. One day, I went to a dining in Alto Paraíso de Goiás, a small village in this natural park. The waiter was a tall bald hippie in his fifties. Although he had an athletic body, his skin face exposed his age. He was from São Paulo. Educated, keen on chatting, and I was very interested in his story.
¬ How come you ended up here, so far away from São Paulo?
¬ I graduated from university over twenty years ago. I worked six days a week, twelve hours a day. I had a car, a bank account, and social insurance. One day I went on vacation, and I never returned. Nowadays I work sometimes as a waiter, other times as a gym teacher. I go for whatever job I find along the way. Before coming, I spent three months traveling by the Brazilian cost, teaching gym classes in a recreational ship.
¬ You may have met peculiar people, heard some alluring stories.
¬ You bet. There was a fascinating old lady who lived on the ship.
¬ No kidding.
¬ Soon after her husband passed away, she went on a cruise to Europe. The old woman fancied the experience and repeated it. Her children were adults with their own families. After a while, she realized those trips were less expensive than living in a sizable condo with boring neighbors. In the ship, beyond getting company, the lady had a physician on board, gymnastic, shows and recreational activities. The matron sold her property last year and now she travels by sea.
¬ Does she leave a ship and boards another one?
¬ Yes. When a cruise is over, she disembarks, stays in a hotel near the shore and boards in another route within two or three days. The old lady spends her life traveling, meeting different people at each new trip. Chambermaids, waiters, artists, they are all acquaintances and cherish her. She purchases tours from the same sea line to feel at home. At present, she lives on boats.
¬ Audacious! Does she wonder for how long she is going to live that way? What about when she becomes even older, with a disability, in need of caretakers?
¬ I believe this woman and I share the same mindset. Live one day at a time. No one can envision the end of his life. Why worry? It is pointless not living the present by fearing a future that is only a possibility. Anyway, she confessed she had already saved the diapers’ money. I laughed and inquired its meaning. Good spirited, the old woman replied:
¬ Son, I do not expect one of my offspring to shelter and tend me in illness or senility. I saved chips and registered instructions in a notary’s office. When I cannot travel any longer, I have chosen the elderly home where to be dropped. Oh, because they will leave and forget me there. Made peace with that. Until then, let us appreciate this sea, because the path matters, not the arrival, isn’t it?
¬ A wild old woman, but not a jolt. A few months ago, we went to São Miguel das Missões, extreme south of Brazil. I was part of an off-road expedition aiming to reach San Martín de Los Andes, Argentina. At the hotel entrance, waiting for my companions, I started a conversation with a woman in her sixties. I was feeling bold telling her our challenge. She paid attention to my narrative. When I finished, she confessed with a bashful smile:
¬ I retired two years ago, after teaching preschoolers for third years in Porto Alegre. Single, no kids, got my car and now I travel around the region. I spend fifteen days here. Later on, I go to Passo Fundo and stay for two months. When I get unsettled, it is time to move to Vacaria. During wintertime I dispense more days to Gramado or Canela, they are famous for the frosted landscape. I always reserve three weeks for the wine region, Caxias do Sul and Bento Gonçalves. I adore the later. Afterwards, I start over again.
¬ I couldn’t refrain my curiosity and asked her if she had no family left. The woman told me about siblings and nephews. She spent time with them during Christmas and New Year Eve. After that, the former teacher grabbed her old Volkswagen and headed to the road again, nobody can stand family for a long period. She added:
¬ People say, darling, visitors are like fish: stink on the third day.
¬ See? There are other old nomads in the world, my new friend commented, laughing.
¬ Do you know where to go afterward?
¬ I stay in Alto Paraíso for three more months, then to Cuzco, A Peruvian friend will find me a job. From Cuzco, who knows?