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Paradise Lost

The barrachudos were nothing -- at first. A droplet of blood on your skin being the only indication you had been bitten by these little flies. It took a day for the bites to reach their peak intensity of itchiness that didn't allow you to sleep for days.

Brazil was beautiful and the island we were visiting, Brazil's largest, was a tropical rainforest reserve. On the west side, the tourists piled into jeeps to go see the other side, have a few drinks at the bar there, and return. Scott, Chris and I decided to walk it and camp on the far side, returning the next day.

Before we began our hike, our two Brazilian friends, Thiago and Prema, walked us to the trailhead and swam with us in some of the island's spectacular waterfalls. Upon leaving, they realized they had lost their money in the river. We gave them all we had, saving just enough to take a ferry back to the mainland ourselves.

The hike was beautiful. Gorgeous flowers and trees, the sticky-sweet banana trees with their obvious sex hanging there like prostitutes on display in a red-light district. We stopped halfway across the island and ate a lunch of black beans, polenta and fruit. The polenta was a bit sweaty, having been in a backpack all day in the 100-degree, 100 percent-humidity weather. But it tasted fine, and I was too hungry to let it go to waste.

We arrived at the other side at dusk and had just enough time to build a fire and stare out into the Atlantic Ocean.

By dawn my stomach seethed with a pain so intense I surely was about to expel the contents of my entire abdominal cavity. Quickly I dug a hole in the sand. I dared not leave the protection of the bug netting, so I prayed the two friends sleeping next to me were not awoken by the sound of the torrent of hot brown water forcefully escaping my body. The rancid odor and sheer force required me to dig a new hole with utmost speed, just to catch the liquid mud streaming from the other end.

This continued throughout the day -- a gorgeous day on the beach of a tropical island.

Between spells of elimination, I watched through the netting as my friends swam with nearly 20 dolphins. I thought with absolute horror about the 15-mile hike back. We had no food, no money and a very small amount of water.

I doused myself in yet more DEET, paying no attention to the warning not to use it on open wounds. My friends began begging the tourist jeeps to give me a ride across, but no one believed these gringos really had no money. Finally we gave up and began walking.

I would have cried had I not been quite so dehydrated.

About a kilometer into the jungle, a jeep with something along the lines of "health department" written on the side stopped and gave us all a ride across the island. After a ferry and two buses we were back at Prema's house. By then I had recovered from the food poisoning ... just in time to appreciate the full misery of the barrachudo bites.

Hands off Rafah protest in East Liberty
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Hands off Rafah protest in East Liberty

By Mars Johnson