DARKER TIMES

Again I was travelling alone. Compared to travelling in the Andes, where traveller solidarity and camaraderie was strong, Brazil's strong European population meant that "picking" travellers was difficult, even impossible.

As I reached Salvador I found out what it was like to be a minority. It seemed everybody was black. Even with the quickening pace of my browning pigments, I was obviously a white. At first, being a minority was distressing, then a cleansing situation. This was travel experience, life experience, all going first hand and cheap.

I meet a Frenchman at the fresh fruit drinks stall on the street corner, near our hotel. He is eager to tell me that he's been travelling for over a year and has averaged to spend almost nothing. My calculations tell me he's on about two dollars a day. I'm wary. I think he's lost the point somewhere along the line. Where had he been? Galapagos .... no! The great train rides .... no! Bull fights .... no! Rio .... no! No! No! No! Oh, well!

Even though I'd spent the epicentre of carnival in Morinho's town, Saquarema, I was now in Salvador experiencing another flavour of this vibrant and uninhibited celebration. Music and dance were inseparable twins and they roamed the streets on the backs of gaily decorated trucks. Backstreets throbbed day and night. Festivals enlivened every park or plaza.

The toxicity of the samba percussion groups was knockout material. I had learnt to feel at ease with joining in, ad lib, dancing, clapping and cat-calling. Living culture was something very "alive" here and I was consumed in its spirit.

My hotel was purely a base for sleeping, my body purely a mode of transport for a mind in solidarity with party vibrations. Wandering; some arty markets selling weavings, jewellery, carvings and musical instruments. I engaged some young vendors in conversation. More likely, they had befriended me. They spoke reasonable English and I was glad to stop and chat as I had been feeling quite lonely all day.

Drugs. The sale of marijuana or cocaine was their ulteria motive. I basked in the sinister nature of it all, asking prices, and how I might procure some "grass". I studied their ways and knew not to trust them; this lady with her long brown hair and sultry, tempting smile. The boyfriend with the limp, the thick black moustache and eyes which were fired by more than a lust for freedom and clean air.

There arrived a point when I should have made an exit from that scene. A deluge of German tourists momentarily took their attention, but I was enjoying just sitting and talking in English. I had spent that afternoon partying on the streets with a "local" percussion band. Dancing, and even consuming some beers, I was now feeding myself with a stimulus of adrenalin. Then, as if pushing to the limits, I arranged to buy a "bolsa" of "hierba", (bag of herbs!).

Awareness was my forte. Even in this situation, I was acutely aware of stories that went with this area of Brazil, of people being lured by drugs into back streets, then being surprised by bandits with guns and being robbed bare. I knew I had over a hundred dollars worth of cruzeiros, plus my passport as well as about five hundred dollars in US dollars cash on me. Big risk!

Our arrangement was that I'd meet them at the edge of the central plaza in an hour. The reason was that I didn't have enough money on me and I'd have to go change a traveller's cheque. The truth was that I'd return to my hotel, depossess myself of my wads and passport, and return to my rendezvous with the bare minimum of "robbables".

Momentarily I sit still and quiet on my bed. I recognise what I'm doing, where the motivation is coming from. I stare into a dark corner of the room and let the nothingness of it relax me.

My Reason

Treason to the soul and poison of the mind
I think that's it
Of course it is
It'll all be clear within time

Is it possible to make a reason for everything
Of anything
Concerning myself
As long as the reason isn't just in the doing
And the reason must rise of just and moral cause
Now we're getting somewhere
All becoming clearer
And naturally relating to legal laws
Everyone has one, or two or more
Not me
I don't have "at least one"
They'll need them, to go through life so sure

Look, it's easy, truth so black and white
Seems slightly sooted
Some wild hypothesis
There's a will, a way, and surely that's right.

Approaching the designated meeting place, I tone down my pace. I don't want to seem edgy, and slip through the gears to a "non-plussed" amble, more interested in taking in some window shopping than making my first ever "scoop". Only years earlier, I remembered, I had felt "let down" when I found out a close friend of mine "smoked". My rebellion at the wasted "life" that resulted from drug abuse, in Broken Hill's case alcohol, had been complete. Absolute rejection; a teetotaller till the age of twenty-four-ish. Now at twenty-five I was about to "score a deal".

Both the girl and the limpish man casually approached me. He caught my eye and motioned me to follow them. Perfect theatrics. Bravo. And for my part an Oscar, as I let them go a few paces before continuing to follow them. Peripheral vision hard at work so as to fool all those undercover narcotics police who were watching. My heart beat on the increase and my palms becoming moist. I noticed the girl turn around to see if I still followed. I wondered what they were talking about.

Some blocks later they disappeared into the entrance of a shabby old building. I followed and, once inside the doorway, met her calming eyes. We climbed a set of stairs and they beckoned me to wait in the empty room to the right. At this point I became nervous and started to imagine gruesome scenes of my body being found days later. Killed and robbed all for the lousy thirty dollars I had on me. Time seemed to suspend itself. Sounds magnified. My pacing up and down seemed louder and louder, a sure signal to them that I was edgy. I stopped by the window and looked out on Salvador. Black city of masquerading gaiety. More beggars than I'd seen anywhere on my travels, and a general aura of delapidation. Desperation that mirrored the effects of a drought that was having startling effects on the areas inland from it. Rural area in pain.

Voices outside signified the time of truth. The intermittent rhythm of feet meant the limpish salesman was approaching. I brushed my forearm against my swiss army knife that I'd decided to bring "just in case". I wondered if I would have the nerve to defend myself with a pocket knife. I often wondered about how far I might go if I were really threatened; pushed?

The moustachioed "bandido" came in. "Fifteen American dollars, please." Low cost thrills, I thought. I became cocky and asked to survey the "haul", almost simultaneously realising I'd have no idea what to look for. I imagined myself nodding with professional justification at a bag of weed and lawn clippings. I paid, thanked him in a cool manner and said I'd probably see him around.

I couldn't descend those stairs quickly enough. The welcoming openness of the street being the ultimate freedom. But what if it was a set-up? What if they were working in conjunction with the police to scam bribes and pay-offs from taunted fools like myself? A short burst of speed would sort that out. Running along the street wasn't an abnormal situation and would surely animate any pursuers. Jogging all the way back to the hotel seemed both a good security blanket as well as a way for relieving the vent of adrenalin that had been in overdrive for the last hour.

Smelt like cow manure and looked, indeed, like dried weeds. Ah yes, "weed", of course!! I stashed it behind the old cupboard, bright green paint peeling from its doors, the obvious vault.

Lured by the throb of percussion, I waft through the streets of Salvador. A couple of beers with dinner, and the after dinner mint. The green. A wild street scene envelopes me and I dance, the perspiration and light evening breeze acting as the perfect evaporative air cooler. Interactions with the people seem easy; no need for linguistic fluency here as the pulse is magnetic and the energy on high. Dance, dance, dance and drink till you drop, then when you find a remote spark in your soul, let it ignite you to flail arms and legs to the spirit of celebration. The carnival. An individual's right to celebrate their own existence.

Our street scene momentarily rises to a new plateau. A flamboyantly decorated truck curls past us slowly. On the back are a band, dancers; the celebration sprawls and I join in the trail of bobbing heads behind the truck. I'm enthralled by the movement of some of the dancers and try to copy them. The hips this way, the legs that. Upper body an adornment for the balancing arms. My mind the flower, and blooming!

"ABOUT LIFE AND DRUMMING ...... it's all right to lose it, don't lose it for too long, and pick it up before, the whole world notices, you've blown it badly." P.K.

Without preconception I enter a sleasy below-ground night club. It was a dull version of something I'd seen on Kings Cross, the typically revolting mirrored ball turning slowing above the dance floor, western disco music beating its curse to wayward characters hidden in shady corners. A drunken man greets me in German and I respond in Spanish, he invites me to have a beer with him in English. A surly set of arms and legs is he. Achtung! Other phrases I know in German appear in front of me on some momentary monitor. Don't mention "the war"! Don't. Just do not. Never. Not at any point .... ever, ever .... mention even a snippett of ....? Off-beat Python humour - Just don't!

Lady of the night, her lowered head and hair held high. Widened eyes, Brazilian delights. "Buy her a beer and she's yours," says the "swine". His eyes of hook, line and sinking, the artistry of his arms in full display. I don't even feel like trying to make conversation with him, so I abscond to the bar. How effortlessly I turn my back on him, almost talking myself into believing that I didn't understand him.

My communication is in meltdown. I can't even explain to the barman what I want and he's starting to show signs of aggression. A lady manoeuvres next to me and makes the order for me, looking deep into my eyes as she does. It's a scripted part. More alcohol, close dancing and an imagination swollen oversize. I want this to happen and yet it sickens me.

Next day I arise from a stupor in the early afternoon, my party having left the room at some early hour of the morning. My wallet lying open and empty on the floor as testament. A dark and silent tunnel, times of learning, growth and experience. At what cost, I didn't know. I had been foolish; I had been wild; how much searching could I afford in one such lifetime? Where did the value of experience start and end? My breath repulsed me. I needed to wash my entire body, almost a ritual cleansing, the cold water dribbling over my facial contours. I tilted my head upward and blew water bubbles, humming long deep notes so as to help release the clamp on my temples. My mind was numb. I didn't want to be in Salvador, I hated my room. I always disliked rooms without windows to the outside; me, the connoisseur of airs! Take me back to the Andes, these were discoloured times.