my first week on the Caminho da Fé

As I recounted in my previous post, I started on my hike from Sertãozinho to Aparecida along the Caminho da Fé one week ago. In that time, I’ve covered slightly more than one quarter of the 571 kilometers of the trail (plus many detours) in slightly more than one quarter of my allotted time. So, I should be on track for success unless the unintended detours become more severe.

My first major detour was to Ribeirão Preto, which science fiction nerds will recognize as the capital of the Hegemony in the Ender saga. The very helpful hotel manager in Sertãozinho had gone to great effort to make it clear to me that I should not enter Cravinhos—two towns down the trail—after dark. Unfortunately, I couldn’t really avoid doing this unless I left the trail before Cravinhos, walked an extra 10km to Ribeirão Preto, waited there overnight, and then returned to the trail so that I could enter Cravinhos by day.

I’m a foolhardy person. Some people mistake this for bravery. But I’m not stupid. I took the inconvenient detour… and I’m glad that I did; not just because it gave me the chance to see the quite pleasant city of Ribeirão Preto, but also because it turned out that northwest Cravinhos by day was at the limit of my tolerance for feeling afraid and threatened. I’d compare it to the Downey / East Los Angeles area that I used to walk through from Pasadena in the early ’90s to go to my great aunt’s house: hard-looking, unsmiling, shirtless, tattoed young men eyeing me as I passed. I just kept walking.

Central Cravinhos was nice, though.

When I stopped to get lunch, one of the restaurant patrons came over to my table and put a Coke in front of me. He said that he had heard me tell the waiter that I’m from the USA, and he wanted to ask me about Donald Trump. In time, I had a small group around me as I tried with my limited Portuguese to explain such things as the Electoral College. This Coke in implicit exchange for conversation was neither the first nor the last instance of such an exchange; my waiter the night before had apologized for bothering me with so many questions (also about Trump) and had given me free beer and sushi. The immense amount of free food—guava, orange, banana, apple, sugar-encrusted(!) popcorn—from a pousada near Dumont was not in exchange for conversation; it was just some old ladies being nice to a pilgrim.

Oh, that’s a weird thing. I never would have guessed that I would be a “pilgrim”, but that is the word that people use for me here. “Você é peregrino, está fazendo o Caminho da Fé?” (“Are you a pilgrim, doing the Path of Faith”) is the question that I get from many people every day as we pass one another on farm roads, city streets, et cetera.

This is not a tourist area, so I’m certainly a novelty.

One thing that surprised me is that virtually everyone thinks that I’m Argentinian when I first speak, and they are incredulous when I say that I’m from the USA. After three people yesterday guessed that I was Argentinian, I asked the clerk at my hotel why he guessed that. His answer was that my Portuguese was not good enough to be native Brazilian, but it’s good enough that I must be local. Given my skin color and our location in southern Brazil, Argentinian is the most likely guess. He has never encountered someone from the USA who speaks Portuguese. If anything, the folks from the USA who come through here (Tambaú) try using Spanish, which kinda sorta works. So, if my goal is to fit in as a native, I have failed, but I think that seeming like someone from the correct quadrant of the continent is a good first step.

One part of not quite fitting in is having a difficult first name. First, they see the ‘o’ and want to pronounce it like the English word ‘awe’. Second, Brazilians have a very hard time ending a syllable with a stop consonant, as at the end of ‘Todd’. They will insert a vowel after the consonant to “fix” the word. Since the inserted (epenthetic) vowel is virtually always an /i/ or /e/, and since most Brazilians pronounce ‘di’ as if it were ‘dji’, this means that most Brazilians will say my name as an English-speaker would pronounce ‘Tawjee’. I’m sure that my attempts to correct people are undermined by everyone’s common experience with this brand:

I’m writing this blog post from the lovely Hotel Tarzan in Tambaú. Yesterday was a hard day, and I got in very late, so I decided that today would be a recovery and laundry day. Washing clothes in the sink and the hanging them off one’s backpack to dry during the next day’s hike can work adequately to remove stink, but really doing laundry once a week is nice.

The main thing that made yesterday hard was the ~20km of trail that was made of such fine sand that I’d call it powder. Walking through deep, powdery sand is… well… a slog. Yesterday was supposed to be a 39km day, so even the planned distance was going to be hard in these conditions. On top of that, though…

The place where I had counted on refilling water halfway through was a bust. No one was home but the dogs, and they wanted to kill me. I eventually convinced the dogs to let me live, but that caused its own problem: we had gone from being mortal enemies to best friends, so they followed me for the next few kilometers to protect me from pigs and other dogs.

Much though I liked having a posse, I didn’t want to be responsible for someone losing their pets. I failed at making them leave me on the trail, so I had to backtrack all the way back to their place. When we got there I felt like a tremendous asshole when I had to act aggressively toward them to convince them that I was foe, not friend, and should not be followed.

The next place where there was potable water, the spout was protected by wasps. Lots of angry wasps. If you know me at all, you know that I have a phobia of flying stinging insects. But I was also nearly out of water, a 20km hike from the next town, in 80-something-degree-Fahrenheit weather. So I attempted to get water. One sting was enough for me to say “Fuck that!” and continue back on the trail. I had set out in the morning with enough water to survive and be functional—just not enough to be comfortable and happy.

Eventually, hours after sunset, I reached the outer neighborhoods of Tambaú. I have never been so happy to buy a Coca-Cola and hamburger. By the time I remembered that some people had asked for a picture of a sandwich with crispy fried shoestring potatoes on it, this is all that remained of my hamburguer saladão:

Tomorrow morning, I continue on to Casa Branca, through more farmland and rangeland, as I climb from the sugarcane behind me into citrus and livestock and coffee in front of me.

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