Report from Very High Latitudes; A Personal Account of Northeast Brazil Climbing

Posted on: June 13, 2008

Felipe Pontes

Sited in front of my computer, with that awakening courage of doing nothing, typical of very early times of the morning, I noticed there was only one impetus that inspired me to stand up from bed and cross my room to sit on my computer chair. From there, looking out the window, I’m granted with very colorful and bright scenery. The turquese blue sea stretches out to the horizon line. On land, the only movement is a procession march of weekend vendors, the first to get to the beach on weekends, walking toward they semanal labor, which is wonder around hot sand selling (coco)nuts, fruits, hot dogs or pirate dvds. Palm trees and countless white skyscrapers frame the picture.

I can't feel tired from every single day appreciating that view, although I still can never find the object of my early morning inspirations in it. Nevertheless, I filled with joy by the pretty sight of the ocean, called my bro and requested his company in the fulfilling of an overwhelming innermost motivation. This last act reminded me of how important is sintony-with-a-partner, as he promptly answered: "I was about to call you for the same thing, it's all set and we have to meet the guys in front of the hardware shop in 1 hour".

Active mode turned on; I filled my pack with all goods necessary, three or four objects, and flea the building. Coming outdoors is impacting, as the tropical brightness and heat dazzles. Approaching the bus stop, the figure of a man, with what seems to be a huge suitcase, gradually got less and less blurred by the flaming asphalt heat. Is Diogo, waiting. A cow crosses the street.

We hoped on an empty, black smoking, minibus and stare at the traffic flux coming, while we go. Soon we hit a junction though, with very heavy transit. The sensation is of going through a pump, resembling a heart, which from an inside pressure spills pedestrians, bikes, buses and trucks in every direction, to the arteries of the city. The core of this place gives the impression of the world’s most dense demographics. Open-air dirty markets share space with eletric products exposed on sidewalks and an orgy of small credit shops and small money ever changing hands, along with loud speakers pouring ‘brega’ (a local dancing-erotic music style) on the air, all suggest a vague interpretation for the somehow ironic neighborhood name: Prazeres (pleasure).

We hoped off and try to walk across this tumult in an intrepid manner, but we couldn’t help feeling frivolous, in the pursue of our own goals, as the crowd hassled around for a living. Truly no one bothered to acknowledge our existence, but all eyes seemed accusatory of something intriguing out-of-place in our selfishness. We kept going.

Finally arriving at the meeting spot we were again motorized and packed in a cheap small car stuffed with people and foam, thus heading to the highway. At the 15km plaque sit a roadside garden plants shop. From there, an entrance to a fenced field gives access to two adobe constructions where reside a family of peasants. We badly verbally communicate with these local people, but there seem to be a tacit agreement of respect, as at least while we’ve been coming here we were never expelled. In years, handguns assaulted us only once. A bull’s-eye one, as it was a matter for a hijack. But that’s another tale.

Popping from the ground, just five meters from the road, a labyrinth of black rock boulders, hard grit stile, covers 10km2 of small hills. Around the year there is a rotation of fields in the plantation of cassava (“macaxeira”) which determines which sector is more accessible than other, as the vegetation, when let to go wild, produce countless and omniscient poison ivies, growing grabbed anywhere their seed lands on, like inside crimp holds, for the worst. “Urtigas voadoras”, (“Flying Poison-Ivies” in English) is the name for one of the hardest routes of the whole place. Not graded. Quality of the rock is not the most popular in the world of bouldering, but there are fanatic lovers. Abrasion is extreme, tearing the softened - by the 80% round-year air humidity - fingertips in a matter of minutes. Holds are rare and establishing problems is like gem hunting. Beware of religions dispaches found on boulder, better not touch them.

Topping out a good problem on the summit of a hill it stroke me a line of thought. I realized, looking at the view of the city skyline, made by innumerous high buildings against a blue background ocean - still bounding the horizon - that hardly 10 persons regularly practiced ‘bouldering’ (word with no translation in Portuguese) in that 2 million people metropolis, and those who didn’t, couldn’t even vaguely conceive it existed such an activity. Then I looked at my feet and saw the holed ungluing rubber of my imported climbing shoes, thus remembering it would take at least a month to dribble the prohibitive taxes and smuggle a new one in. Finally, I thought that somehow in the local x global paradox of our times, my few friends and me were segregated resistors of a practice fed by the virtuality of Internet videos and foreign magazines. Nevertheless we became all around good climbers, traveling around the country ascending from boulders to big walls. Stunned me the fact that what made us continue doing it was not, in any sense, the recognizal for what we’ve already done, the routes we sent, as this was none existent. What made us prosper in such a non propitious environment, was such and only the nostalgia of all the places we knew we still haven’t been, of climbers we’ve never met yet, of routes we never seen till then. Is the same reason why the whole joy of climbing is not related to reaching the top, but with puzzling the way up, with imprinting human meaning to some raw chunk of nature.