One day, some months before turning sixty, I woke up with a voice in my ear. It’s time, said the voice. Time for what, I asked. Time to learn a new language and skip town. Um, for how long? And with whom? For a while. And you’ll be going alone.
The voice was telling me what I already knew: that I needed more adventure in my life.
Twenty-seven years earlier I had studied Japanese and gone to live in Japan, where my knowledge of the language made all kinds of wonderful things happen: deep friendships with Japanese women, a romance with a Japanese doctor, and a travel memoir that won a national award.
I just had to repeat this type of experience at least once more before I died (minus the romance: I’m happily married now). My husband would have to understand.
Brazil had always loomed large in my mind, a great hulking mass that begged to be explored. And Brazilian music filled me with a longing that went beyond words. Brazil it would be, then. I hopped online and ripped through the Duolingo course in Brazilian Portuguese. Next, I began meeting up with Brazilians living in Toronto (thanks, Facebook) for conversation exchange, while Brazilian soap operas (thanks, YouTube) helped boost my comprehension.
My agenda is simple: pretend I’m twenty-five and see what happens.
I’ve been in Brazil for a month now, with a return ticked booked for mid-May. After spending three days in São Paulo with friends of friends, I landed in a charmed island city called Florianópolis, which boasts 42 sandy beaches, sand dunes, fresh- and salt-water lagoons, pokey restaurants serving the morning’s catch, an assortment of dive bars, and fishing villages dating back to colonial days.
While the city is a state capital and has a half a million people—a million in tourist season, which happens to be right now—the mountains that slice through the island put firm limits on urban sprawl. In fact, I would call Florianópolis (handily shortened to Floripa) a collection of towns, each with its own character, rather than a true city. I would also call it paradise.
Quite a bit has already happened, in fact. I’ve danced to live Samba music, tasted impossibly juicy Brazilian fruits like cupuaçu and maracujá, bought a bikini (nobody, and I mean nobody, wears onepiece women’s bathing suits here), and landed a part-time job teaching English. I’ve dressed in white on New Year’s Eve and run into the ocean—a tradition in Brazil—where the surf-grade waves knocked me off my feet. Oh yes, and celebrated my 61st birthday.
This is not like Germany or Holland: your average Brazilian resident does not speak English, which means I’ve had to step up my language game. At the end of each day my brain cells are crying, but there’s nothing like total immersion to get you up to speed.
I’ve known days of loneliness—loneliness as deep and wide as the oceans and sky separating me from my husband and grown children. I’m also making new friends. Brazilians are extraordinarily welcoming, and I’m learning that a little effort pays off in buckets of conversations, outings, and caipirinhas (Brazil’s answer to margaritas).
Above all, I’m learning that adventure has no expiry date. p.s. My husband, bless his heart, did understand.