While we were WWOOFing in Brazil I wrote a bunch of vignettes about moments that defined the experience there but couldn’t be photographed. I’m not talking about some existential this-is-beyond-photography-ness. I’m talking practical considerations like that it was pitch black outside or, as in this first one, I was in a lagoon. I’m accompanying them with photographs anyway because that’s way more fun.
Swimming to the Waterfall
The water is freezing. I know it will be and brace myself for the moment of impact when I know I won’t be able to breathe or see. No matter how many times I jump into cold water, how much I know exactly what it will feel like, the shock never wears off completely. The first second always terrifies me.
The lagoon at UOAEI looks like chocolate milk. The lack of visibility as I leap off the log that juts out over deep water strengthens the shock of impact. Today it is drizzling, but because of the of layer of clay and mud on my body, the cold and rain are refreshing. It’s not the kind of weather for floating though. You really have to move to stand being in the water. Por eso, Judy says we’re going to swim to the waterfall. Judy is tiny. She has almost no fat to insulate her wiry body, which blooms red as soon as she hits the water. Of course she wants to move. It’s not a command nor a suggestion, just a statement. “We’re going to swim to the waterfall,” so we start to swim. Freestyle, breast stroke, doggie paddle. We make our way along the length of the water, into the jungle.
It’s not so far. I’m a terrible judge of distance, but it can’t be more than two or three hundred meters before our feet touch the slimiest softest most delicious mud. So fluffy is this mud, that with each step or small movement we make, bubbles rise around us, tickling their way up our bodies, and—when they burst through the surface tension– making it look like everyone has horrible flatulence.
We shiver and shake but stand. I am unsure what paralyzes the others, but I am stuck in place by the uniqueness of the moment. For every reason it will never happen again. The setting is remote, the action spontaneous, the people involved are arbitrary and come from far dispersed places like Brazil and Slovakia. For all our hopes and hugs, it’s unlikely I’ll see any of them again anywhere.
When the cold overcomes us we make our way back, resting among the lilly-pads with the iridescent blue insects who have also chosen that spot for a break. It seems to take longer to reach the dock than it did to find the waterfall, the opposite of how I usually experience time. Return trips are almost always shorter.
We go at different paces. The men swim ahead, Martin’s long skinny body appears, dripping and naked, on the shore and then disappears behind the trees in search of an end to its quivering. When the rest of us make land we’re hungry to be dry. The waterfall is behind us as we scurry back to the house.