One advantage of not eating with knives and forks, or plates for that matter, is you have little to wash up when the meal is done. Your hands and face do tend to get a little greasy, especially when dining on breaded fish pasta, but all it takes is a quick rinse with seawater after the meal is done, and there you are — good as new.
It would be a stretch to say I felt “good as new” after eating that meal. I was much closer to the other end of the, Good As New—All Used Up spectrum, and this after only three days on the jangada; three days of sitting and watching while other men worked. It got me thinking: how well would I do in their shoes (provided they wore some)? Could I make it as a jangadeiro? Could I survive as an artisanal fisherman? The short answer is NO! Capital N. Capital O. Exclamation! (Brutal, I know, but there you have it.)
Had I been born in the village and started fishing as a boy, I would no doubt be stronger and maybe, who knows, a better fisherman too. But to obtain that level of skill and toughness when I was already a grown man?
No effing way.
Even if I was stronger there is one thing I could never change, no matter how many pushups I did — my skin. My glow in the dark, hyper-allergenic, avoid prolonged exposure to, discontinue use if irritation persists — skin. It would take more fish than I could ever catch just to pay for all the sunblock I would need to be out there.
There was a boy in Prainha who looked a lot like me as a kid — fair-haired and freckled, sunburned and peeling. His father was just the same, and the first time I saw him on the beach I winced, seeing myself as a grown jangadeiro. He was in his mid-thirties but looked much older, his skin so damaged by the sun. You could see he was one tough cookie — strong, rawboned, raw skin — a real Viking. But it was clear that he suffered from his unfair fairness, all resulting from a genetic roll of the dice.
What was he doing in a village where the average skin color ranged from Mediterranean olive to African black? Such stark differences are not atypical in a country as racially diverse as Brazil, where miscegenation has produced some very beautiful people. (Just look at the world’s top models.) The ancestors of this fair-haired jangadeiro were probably Dutch. The Dutch had a colony in NE Brazil in the 17th century, but they were eventually kicked out by the Portuguese — so say the history books. Having been there myself, I know the real reason why the Dutch left. It was the sun: the scorching — the broiling — the blistering sun.
It is relentless!
Next chapter: My Two Legs