Time is always an issue with this job.
If December had never had such memorable occasions such as Christmas or New Year’s Eve, I would have probably arrived at the end of it, looked behind me and in all seriousness ask myself, Where has this month gone? Luckily for me, and my sanity, the holidays, visiting home and festive celebrations kept me grounded and securely tied to what the rest of the world was doing. If I look back now, if I even glance at the map hanging on my bedroom wall, I can realise why. In December I was in seven different countries, spread out over five continents. Even my wildest dreams wouldn’t have contained it. Just goes to show how you must never be afraid to dream bigger. And wilder. Don’t set yourself limits to what you can do. Because what you might have thought impossible one moment, a dream discarded because it was as flimsy as smoke, could very well become a reality the next. In any case, the impossible is always defined by the opportunities you say no to.
So just go for it. Carpe Diem. Five continents in a month? Why ever not?
I can safely say that Sao Paolo is like nothing I have ever seen before. And although I knew it was huge, I was literally blown away by the sheer immensity of it. On the way to Sao Paolo, I talked to a passenger who was from the area and he used the words “concrete jungle” to describe it. Never have two words paired together made so much sense than these to describe this city. The day started out normal enough. I went out early in the morning for a short walk around the hotel. I had breakfast at an open cafeteria nearby and just mingled with the locals, very few of whom spoke or understood any English at all. Everyone insisted on speaking in Portuguese, even if you couldn’t understand, but the warm smiles on their tanned faces softened you to the point of forgiving everything and reverting to nods, gestures and smiles, the only true internationally understood language. I then met up with a couple of girls and we went wandering in the centre of Sao Paolo. We walked through bustling roads and riots of colours to get to the Mercado Municipal, a market of sorts which mostly sold local food and where we had the famous Mortadella sandwich. From there we walked to the Cathedral de Se, one of the largest Latin American cathedrals in the area. Poverty was rife here but despite the bare feet and the ragged appearance, people were dancing in the square, their feet brushing the cobblestones, careless of the holes in their shirts, of the worries the next day might bring. They were dancing, maybe because it’s in the Brazilian blood, this urge to move and sway with the music. Maybe because they wanted to forget. Or maybe they were just content. We are always so keen on discovering why people do certain things that we tend to forget that sometimes, people do things not because there is an inherent reason but because they are just happy. Because doing that action, at that time, makes most sense. Not everyone is trying to mask a deeper emotion. Some people find it easy to just do what feels right. Some people paint, some people write. Others just dance.
From the Cathedral we went to a cafe situated in the highest storey of a skyscraper. We were recommended to go there to get a taste of what Sao Paolo was really all about. The cafe commanded a view of most of the city, or at least as far as the naked eye can see. From that point, Sao Paolo looked infinite. There was no end to it. It was a sea of buildings, with waves as skyscrapers rose and fell in the horizon like currents set in cement. I had never seen anything like it in my life. So we snapped away like mad and when we went back down, we realised we were just tiny specks swallowed by a city so big it looked boundless. There were stalls set up nearby and we went to have a look. There we found a small market selling hand made objects. I bought a wooden owl for my collection as well as other small knick knacks which are currently exhibited in my room-turned-museum. Sao Paolo is not the soul of Brazil. It lacks the natural beauty of places like Rio but it is still breath-taking in its own way. It truly is a “concrete jungle”, a kaleidoscope of colours, sounds, smells, tastes, enveloped in this genuine joie-de-vivre.
Let us traipse to the other side of the map, another continent and another story. When I told my friends I had Perth (Australian West Coast), most of them shrugged, told me there was nothing much to do. Not about to give in so easily, I did my research and found a couple of spots I would like to visit. I met a sweet girl on the flight and we planned to stick together and make the most of it. On the bus to our hotel I was extremely impressed by how utterly clean and groomed everything looked. From people’s lawns to the clean cars on the road, to the symmetrical way everything seemed to be built. Everything looked so peaceful. I believe I had already made up my mind that I would enjoy my stay there even before we arrived at our destination. The initial plan was to take a ferry across the lake close to the hotel and visit the zoo but it was too late in the afternoon to do that. Instead we took a bus to King’s Park, grabbed a coffee and sat on the grass in our light dresses, enjoying the view of Perth. It is one of my fondest memories to date. The park overlooked the city as well as the lake and South Perth, all the way to the beach on the other side. It was perfect weather and we just lay there, taking random pictures sprawled on the grass and watched as the sun set, rays splayed out in pink and orange hues and the water glistened, threaded with gold. In the evening we went to an open air symphonic orchestra and heard music by Hans Zimmer and Howard Shore. We sat on towels on the grass under the stars, munching on Nachos with chicken. Yes, life felt good that day.
The next day we set out early and took the ferry to South Perth where we visited the zoo. I was craving to see kangaroos and koalas and when I finally did I wished I hadn’t. The koala looked ridiculously adorable as it made its slow way up and down a tree, at peace with himself and everything else around him. Needless to say, I wanted to steal him away. The kangaroos just lay there, chilled out, indifferent. All they lacked was a beer, an umbrella and some shades. In the Australian heat in December, it wouldn’t have seemed out of place. Even next to a kangaroo. On our way back we stopped to have an Iced Coffee next to the pier and mused about how we managed to pack in so many things in under 24 hours. And we felt very proud indeed.
And that was December, 2013. From Sao Paolo to Mauritius to Perth to Rome to Dublin and finally Malta, with snatches of Dubai in between and a turnaround to Cairo. To think that I probably haven’t travelled as much in 24 years as I have travelled in one month makes it feel absurd almost, like I’m living a surreal life. Like I’ll wake up someday, decide it couldn’t have happened and go back to the usual routine, dismissing all memories. It’s only when I sit in front of this screen, when I manage to string memories together, when these experiences start unravelling into words that I realise that I have been there. I’ve managed to scratch I was here on so many different places already that it astounds me too. And I also realise that I should make the most of it now, while I can, because tomorrow is not a guarantee. And because these days, once over, will never come again. I write because it helps me recall the good I’ve been through with a sweet nostalgia and it urges me on, makes me thirsty for more. And I urge you all to write or paint or do what you do best so it will stand the test of time. So that one day, when we’re old and bent we can read a book called life and smile.