I stared at the elevator. The numbers indicated that the elevator was on the 55th floor. This building has 20 floors. The power had been out since a surge five hours before, which turned the building dark and destroyed any running appliances. Should I take the broken elevator or walk down twenty stories through the emergency exit? Decisions, decisions.
I took the elevator. The man at the building’s entrance told the gathering crowd that the power company claimed the electrical problem was the building owner’s responsibility, while the building owner claimed it was the Fortaleza electric company’s responsibility.
The building owner won and an hour later the power was back on. Half the lights in the apartment had been destroyed, as had my fan. I could sleep without the fan cooling me, but I had trouble without the fan’s noise. Bzzzz said a familiar voice inside my head. The noise of the fan at night kept my tinnitus under control. Bzzzzzz. I got ready for a long, sleepless night.
I had been so comfortable in Fortaleza that I had almost forgot what travel felt like. I had been in denial about the life I chose. Now I remembered.
Somebody steps in front of me every block along Iracema Beach trying to sell my bus tickets to Jericoacora. I first told everybody não, obrigado when they approached me with pictures of a pristine beach, sand dunes, and kite surfers, but eventually did my best impression of a local and ignored them. The pictures finally wore down my resistance last week and my girlfriend and I made plans to go to Jericoacoara for the weekend.
The night before the trip we stood inside one of the bus agencies and wondered if the man sitting behind the desk was trying to scam us. Eighty-one reais (twenty-five U.S. dollars) sounded too expensive for a one way 200-mile bus. He recognized the glances my girlfriend and I shot each other and told us that we could buy the tickets online or come in at 7:00 the next morning and buy tickets before the 8:00 bus left. We checked the agency website an hour later and learned two things: He had been honest about the price, and we couldn’t buy the tickets on the malfunctioning website. We showed up at the agency at 7:30 the next morning to buy tickets. It was closed. “It’s raining,” explained the bus driver. The business office was closed on a rainy day, because South America. After thirty minutes of explaining, begging, and glaring we convinced the bus driver to let us ride and pay when we arrived at the station where we would switch buses.
The eight hour, 200-mile bus trip was just as slow as it sounded: After several slow, rainy hours of driving, the bus stopped in front of a restaurant where everybody was forced off the bus and went into the restaurant to get out of the rain; after another round of crawling along the highway we found ourselves at a gas station waiting forty-five minutes for the next bus to show up; after a few hours of slow driving over narrow, sandy roads, I realized that my mind was in the wrong place. I had been more impatient before, but not since 2015, when my ugly glares and short responses cost me a relationship and a steady life. This time around I was more careful to conceal my bad mood. As soon as I stopped thinking about how slow the bus was, we arrived in Jericoacoara.
The pristine beaches and beauty of the small town made the overpriced eight-hour bus ride an afterthought. Jericoacoara looked like paradise. My smile disappeared when we checked into the hotel. The too good to be true price advertised on the booking website we used was only the 50% deposit, which wasn’t stated on the website or the website’s confirmation email, but was stated in the confirmation email we ignored from the actual hotel. Our choice was to lose the deposit and try to find another hotel for less than the 50%, or to swallow the loss and pay the other 50%. We paid it, dropped our bags, and made our way to the beach.
Uncrowded, cooled by a sea breeze, and free of the pushy salesmen at every other popular beach on earth, the beach in Jericoacoara was perfect. The waves and sand dunes we looked at were perfectly suited for postcards and reminded me that no matter how much I deny it, I’m still a tourist, and that’s not a bad thing.
I pretended not to see the mold on the ceiling in the same way I pretended not to see the flies and mosquitoes the waiter brushed from our table with a wet washcloth. Tiny frogs jumped on the floor, which are better than cockroaches, right? I tried to convince myself that the frogs were there to get rid of insects. We had gone away from the main street in hopes of better food and cheaper prices and we found it in a terrarium with a pizza menu in the front window. Budget travel, I reminded myself. You weren’t too good for it on your last trip and you’re not too good for it now. We spent the next hour eating cheap pizza before heading back onto the main street and enjoying street musicians on the way to the beach.
We spent the next thirty-six hours alternating between hammocks, a pristine beach, a sand dune overlooking the sea, and watching the wildlife around us: surfers, lots of cats, and the occasional iguana. Life was good.
The bus ride back to Fortaleza again reminded me how travel worked. I spent several hours reading and several more reflecting on the bad decisions and good luck which had led me to wherever I am in life right now.
The bus ride was a microcosm of travel: reading, wasting time, and trying to keep yourself entertained on the way to or from adventure. Many are in denial but inside they know the truth. For every picture of a colorful paradise which makes it to instagram, there are many mundane experiences: Waiting for a late bus; fighting off scammers; taking a cold shower on a cold day; playing charades to communicate in a language you thought you understood; praying for the internet to work so you can print off important documents; eating tasteless food; and sleeping on airport floors.
The bus ride was the real side of travel, the part which makes the sunsets, waterfalls, and parties so rewarding.
I woke up this morning in my Fortaleza apartment and smiled as a cockroach scurried under a cabinet and a chirping gecko clung to my ceiling, staring at me. This is paradise. This is my life.