Tudo Bem… a Portugese expression that roughly translates into… “It’s all good”.
Hanging in my harness 2,000 feet above the earthen floor; I clicked my headlamp off and immersed myself into the blackness. I was afraid and alone; I watched my climbing partner (Mayan) descend into the dark to go find a set of rappel anchors.
A storm cloud approached and as I tried to see the last of stars before they were eaten by the encroaching darkness, I felt worry. Thoughts crept into my mind about the last 15 hours, what could I have done better? I sat consumed for over an hour as Mayan worked methodically down the headwall. Pangs of defeat etched into me; so much work, so much energy, only to be turned away at the last 50 or 60 meters. The danger was too high to continue upwards, but I couldn’t help but wonder was there another way? As I sat and contemplated every agonizing scenario; I began to become lost in negatives.
Her light had long disappeared into the encompassing darkness.
I was becoming consumed, I was tired, hungry, thirsty, and stressed. Which is not good; and always bad when 2000 feet up in the dark — I needed to pull myself together. The danger was small, not much at all really, but I had never had this before… so I was scared and lost in my own mind. The experience was twisting my sense of confidence; I knew in a rational sense I was fine, but emotionally I was separated into fear.
Life is funny sometimes, it gives us what we need when we need it… even though it may not be what we want. An invisible safety line to grab onto. We just have to be clever enough to notice its threads.
I clicked off my head lamp in an attempt to regain control. Gazing into the darkness the moon began to spill through the cloud; lighting my world just a little. Enchanted; I watched little streams of silver pour to the ground. The darkness began to lift, and the valley floor became illuminated. I could see the world. My eyes drifted upwards and the stars untouched by human light danced overhead. My breathing slowed and for a moment I was lost in a different time and space. My negativities didn’t matter… I was a speck hanging on a wall, on a rock, on a planet, in a galaxy hurling through a universe most unfathomable. I found comfort in that and smiled… one phrase coming to mind–
Years before I ever stepped foot in South America a team of four explorers struggled, bolted, and freed an 850 meter gem in heart of northern Brazil. Sitting on their porta-ledges enduring heat and cold they sky hooked, drilled, and then free-climbed a route that would be named; “The Place of Happiness”. This all occurred in 2009. Stefan Glowacz, Holger Heuber, Klaus Fengler, and Edemilson Padilha forged an amazing 7c+; in 2014, Mayan and I had our eyes set on repeating the route in a single day. 18 pitches silently lay waiting; patient and timeless.
The plane touched down on the tarmac in Rio De Janeiro, feeling the familiar rise of adventure and energy I tried to catch a glimpse out of an adjacent window. I had been to Brazil prior with Kevin Jorgenson and felt like I had a pretty good expectation of what was to come. How wrong I was; very little can prepare you for what lies ahead regardless of where you are at.
Our team had barely been in Rio for a few hours; and already signs of crazy were creeping. One of our rental cars had been given away, which caused a slight damper in our time frame. With patience, negotiation, and help Frank managed to secure a Volkswagon Van that he had been hoping for. Mayan and I had our own car to help alleviate and create space for the expedition gear and people.
Frank Kretschmann is a talented and artistic photography from Germany. He is quite a character. Very different from most people I met in Germany. His demeanor and overall tone spoke of a relaxed, super-easy going man; who has both experienced the positives and negatives of life. He had just become a father, so we got to hear his stories and excitement; which is always welcomed during a long trip with people you are just learning about.
Capable of making a plan and then breaking it, he was perfect for an expedition through this country that seemed to have its own set of rules and little caring for people with time-frames. Frank was the logician of our trip.
Rio was preparing for the world cup; so there was lots of construction, insane traffic jams, and nicely positioned on each corner military police. Still not positive why; but rumors circled around the unwanted repositioning of the residents in Favelas and perhaps a slight uprising? Luckily; our destination was north to a small little town, Sao Jose Do Divino. We took the day in Rio to research our route and make sure we knew where we were going.
Theoretically our trip to Sao Jose was only 10 hours… but I learned with Kevin, time and a half. I guessed 15. After a little exploration, being caught in a ridiculous traffic jam, the team went to sleep to prepare for the long journey ahead.
We awoke early the next morning. Cars loaded we began the journey to the North as the sun began to rise. Our friend and guide on this trip was an incredible Brazilian named Ruddy Proenca.
A lengthy, thin man in his thirties; Ruddy moved with a slow tranquil pace. He takes in his surroundings and exists in the present. Time is a factor; but not the most important one. Very different to the pace that I was used to at this point. Though Ruddy had many endearing qualities the main characteristic that made Ruddy special, was his genuine smile. As I learned more of Ruddy through our trip, he grew up in a Favela and led a more difficult life than most. But his smile comes from his soul and shows through his eyes. He was the perfect navigator for Brazil.
Ruddy warned as we piled into the two cars that the highway was dangerous, and that the trucks drove like mad men. As he smiled we all thought, how bad could it be?
Turns out… kind of bad.
Mayan and I were following the Volkswagon Van; which we named the mother ship. As we drove every once in a while we would see what looked like a small accident with motorcycle pieces laying on the ground with red discoloration surrounding the area. Not thinking much of it we continued the journey; when all of a sudden the mothership encountered her first epic of the journey.
I watched as the Van swerved slightly towards oncoming traffic, then jerk back into the correct lane. I glanced over at Mayan and muttered something about crazy Brazilian drivers, when the mothership began to drift slowly onto a pull section of the highway. Something real was wrong. The van slowly drifted onto the side of the road and came to a complete stop. Confused, I got out of the car and approached the Van. As I looked into the driver side, I couldn’t really understand what I was seeing. Ruddy was driving… and well apparently he was really wanting the steering wheel. So he ripped it off of the steering column… I started to feel right at home again… it was going to be that kind of a trip.
After using a paper clip, some gum, and a discarded spark plug; Ruddy, Frank, and Hans found a leather man multi-tool and replaced the steering wheel enough to make it to the next town. There we found a mechanic who very kindly reassembled the steering column and placed the wheel into its correct position.
With that out of the way, we all began the long journey towards the North. Always North.
I watched the journey from both driver and passenger perspective; and Ruddy was right. The rules of the road in Brazil are different. Trucks flew past us around blind corners, or while overtaking us almost get hit by oncoming traffic, avoiding an accident they would then try to fit into impossibly small gaps. If the gap wasn’t an option, just run the car next to them off the road. We watched mother ship go off the road once or twice. Travelling for ten hours at this point and the sun was beginning to set.
The drive was becoming long and weary, and we began thinking about food, when I glanced up ahead and saw something I wasn’t quite expecting. A large crowd of people were on the side of the road; I slowed the car to avoid rushing past them and potentially getting into an accident when I began to notice a trail of motor-bike pieces. My first thought was someone went of off the road, but as we passed the crowd my brain took a snapshot. I only experience this when I can’t quite process what is happening, so all the information around me is taken in and then sorted through later; but this is what I saw.
Half-ringed and staring at the ground a group of people were in shock. Standing in the center of the ring was a woman in her teens or twenties crying uncontrollably; while her friend was trying to console her. There had been an accident; a car had hit a motor-bike and the driver of the motor-bike was dead and headless on the ground.
No sign of a clean up crew in sight.
I glanced over at Mayan, even this was outside my normal realm. I had seen a lot, disease, poverty, violence, but this was new. As we began to put some distance between the decapitated corpse and us I didn’t know what to think. So I didn’t and still don’t.
We continued on into the night… a little more wary of what the red-colored splotches with broken mechanics on the ground probably meant.
6 hours of driving later; with only a few incidences of being run off the road, or nervous about crazy drivers, our team arrived in Sao Jose Do Divino. We were still an hour from the wall; but it was midnight and we had arranged to stay with a local named Edimelson (not the same one who helped create “The Place of Happiness”). We were on day two, and exhausted… we had traveled somewhere between 15-17 hours straight and sleep was necessary.
As I lay down that night, I began to think of the weeks to come. This was day two in Brazil… and already I had seen a lot. I wondered what the big wall would have in store for us… this was only my third time up one.
That night, the image of slumbering giant cloaked in blanket of white took hold of my dreams; I awoke nervous and afraid… but remembered…
(more to come…)
There are adventures out there… and if you’re lucky enough to pursue them do!