THE MOMENT

A premeditated time of silence and aimless tourist wonderings. Markets full of leather goods and crude musical instruments, replicas of those I'd seen on the streets in the previous weeks. A musical bow which played accompaniment to an exciting street dance that I'd seen, really interested me. The hypnotic music counterpointed against powerful karate-like movements; kicks, swirls, and tumbling. The "capoeira" was a "fight" dance, a tradition passed on since the days of slavery. A way for slaves to amuse themselves; a way for these men to capture the tourist cruzeiro cash. But at nearly a metre and a half long, the berimbau was a total impracticality to a backpacker soon to travel some five thousand kilometers overland in less than six weeks. The moment had arrived where I knew it was time to start my return to Lima. Heading home.

Packing to leave any place was now a system, repetitive in nature and yet this time seemed symbolic. I took my time, shaking the empty pack to get rid of unwanted items, sand and paper. My sleeping bag was eternally wrapped in plastic to protect it from moisture. It hadn't been used in weeks. The naked body atop a sheeted bed had been sufficient for all of Brazil and most of Argentina. Likewise, my efficient MSR stove had been rendered defunct since its glorious days in the bite and cold of southern Argentina.

I picked up my sketch book and flicked back through several pages, stopping momentarily at my two cartooned impressions of Lima. It seemed that Lima had been the type of city that made you want to leave it; Salvador had made me want to return. I mused at each city's place in my travels, shut the book and packed it. Rainjacket, towel and some leather souvenirs in the separated compartment at the top. Socks and jocks squeezed into corners. Shirts upon jeans and shorts. Camera into the day pack; water bottle and walkman, a novel and Time magazine, my bible!

A plastic bag with shampoo, shaver and soap sat on the tent, a small bag of odds and ends, torches, tablets, jewellery making bits, crammed to the side. "Five thousand miles from home with my house on my back," I sang to myself. A song of my long-time friend, Gavin's, at least that was my recollection of it.

"Adios, Salvador, goodbye Bahia!" It hadn't been the paradise I'd imagined. I had seen but a few of the white sanded beaches and palm fringed shores as promised by the postcards. Instead, my vision was of a dilapidated city, run down centre, disorganised and dirty. There was more poverty, more beggars, prostitutes and there were starving children and squalid shanty towns if you ventured into the back blocks.

It was yet another focussed contradiction of human life. A vibrant, energetic, lively and colourful wind swerving in and out of a valley of despair. I wondered why it was that we didn't have a carnival in Australia. Surely we had a lifestyle, an economy, a government, a standard of health and democracy that demanded that we celebrate? In comparison to Australians, it seemed Brazilians had little to celebrate! These thoughts further spawned a lack of respect for popular Australian culture. I regretted a background of such an unimpressive and conservative identity. A chequered history played with an indulgence in inordinate numbers of white pieces.

A small bag of shells I'd collected on the beach the day before, reminded me of the unruly scene that I had witnessed. A young lady dressed only partly, being led to the water's edge by six or seven ladies. All very dark skinned and looking resplendent in puffed white dresses. White scarves covering their heads and motiffed by endless gold and silver bangles and bracelets. Necklaces of threaded cowrie shells, glass beads woven in sculptural ropes around their shoulders and rings with insets of turquoise. She was captive to their power and wriggled violently. At one point I projected a particular scene from the film "The Exorcist" onto them and saw little difference between the extraordinary body spasms, gross movements, being exuded. They were chanting; screams pierced the air, racing in purity across the small bay to where I had been sitting on a rock. Black magic was a well known part of northern Brazilian life. Good and evil. What did they mean? I suspected that my Catholic upbringing scorned their existence, but I would like to know more. I placed the shells on the small table at the end of the bed, along with other pieces of rubbish; a has-been toothbrush, and trusty thongs, which had now been replaced by hand made Brazilian leather sandals.

I hopscotched back to Rio with several exploratory one-day stopovers down the line. A mail pick-up, and a telephone call home were on a shortened list of "have-to-do's". It a was now some weeks after the documented carnival time, but the music still raged. Street percussion competitions, impromptu "jams" and Brazilian music nightclubs. The big party. Onward to Uruquay.