How A Brazilian Farmer Was My Guardian Angel

For all the great use of guidebooks and travel guides, the best way to find the hidden gems of a country is always to ask other travelers. Whether it be how to get to a small town, what are the best indigenous festivals or ways of avoiding rampant hippopotami, people on the same trail as you always know best. That is how I ended up (and almost didn't) in Lençóis. After hearing numerous recommendations, I decided last week to head to the there - a small city in the interior Brazil - for the Festa de São Joao, supposedly the best location to witness the state-wide not-terribly-religious Saint's holiday.

I was spending the weekend in the nearby city of Salvador when I had the Festa recommended to me. I tried to head to Lençóis on Tuesday but was stopped before I started. It turned out that all buses to Lencóis were sold out until the 26th, and the festival ran only from the 23rd to the 25th. In an all-too-typical bout of pigheadedness, I was now thoroughly determined to make it to this city that I had never even heard of one day previous. I bought a ticket for Thursday to go to the tiny town of Andaraí, 40km shy of Lençóis, and hoped to hitch a ride in on Friday to make it to the Festival.

I arrived at Andaraí at the spritely hour of 4:00 am, greeted by a 30-man drunken brawl in the streets and music blaring from every restaurant. The Brazilians know only two volumes, Loud and Off, and even at 4:00 am all that could be picked out was a constant clashing of harmonies from different locations. The sweetest moment of irony came when screaming out of our restaurant's stereo came the Portuguese version of Simon & Garfunkel's "The Sound of Silence".

I ended up eating dinner at five in the morning with a Brazilian woman, who talked to me during the meal, but in combining the time of day, the language difference and the ear-splitting music, I couldn't make out a word. I just nodded and smiled, as I often do when I haven't a clue what people are saying, for example, in all of my high school Physics classes. When I woke up the next morning, I found out that I had hired two donkeys to take us up to a hippie commune in the mountains. I hightailed it out of town as quickly as I could.

It was Friday morning, and I headed out on the hike, which follows a dirt road past small waterfalls and through stunning, deep orange-red rivers, which are caused by the minerals in the water. I had been on the road for about two hours and had not seen a soul on the road, due to the fact that it was a holiday. Suddenly, a young Brazilian couple passed us by in their jeep and agreed to give me a lift 5km up the road, along with two other travelers whom I met up with on the route.

We went along with the couple - Sandra and Andre - bumping and bouncing along the mucky road, laughing happily and breaking our asses on every rock that we hit, until we turned, skidded and slid directly into a two-foot deep pile of muddy water. Off came most of our clothes as we hopped into the filth and tried to push the jeep out. No luck. We found rocks to put under the tires for traction and tried again. Nothing. We tried prying up the back of the jeep and reversing out. Not a damn thing. It had been two and a half hours, and the plot was thickened by the fact that it was two hours to sunset, over an hour to the nearest house, and, due to the festival, likely no one would come down this road for about three days.

We agreed that at four o'clock, after three hours of effort, it would be our absolute last chance to get out of the mud, lest the night get too dark, too soon. Sandra revved the engine as the others of us tried this one, last, single time. We pushed, heaved, screamed, yelled, strained, and finally, ultimately, failed miserably. Andre was on his way to the nearest house when a villager on a bicycle passed by and agreed to help. He would have been four foot high with shoes on if he had only had shoes, the farmer jumped right into the mud, reorganised the traction and started to push with the rest of us. We felt the jeep start to rock. We pushed harder, and felt the wheels begin to catch. We lowered the angles of our bodies until we were virtually horizontal, pushing as hard as we could, screaming profanities in various languages, until finally, finally, it worked. The jeep grabbed some traction and yanked itself out of the mud, leaving all of us slimy and dirt-covered, yelling at the top of our lungs and giving high-fives.

The party was fantastic, when we finally made it; music on Loud music and people dancing until 7am every night, with adults and children alike parading through the streets. Fireworks lit off everywhere and bonfires set in the middle of the road. And I managed to sleep through most of it.

As for the recommendation, Lençóis is a lovely town, definitely worth coming to, particularly if you can make it for São Joao. And my recommendation? BOOK A BUS TICKET IN ADVANCE.