by Andrew Foote
'The Final Countdown.'
Our time in Natal was spent repairing the rigging, relaxing and not much else; unless keeping out of the rain, or when the sun was shining keeping out of that, counts as an activity!
We drank too much beer, and why not? This was something reserved for stop-overs, never something we did at sea and so we figured we'd earned it.
Aruno spent time honing our mastery of his native language and by the end of week two, decided that we would be understood well enough to cope, but to use it as often as possible until it became second-nature.
For someone who had struggled at school, only managing to get a pass grade in O Level French, by my reckoning, this was quite an achievement, so where possible, we spoke it between ourselves.
The constant and continual rainfall was easing off giving way to short, sharp deluges; the worst of the rainy season would soon be a thing of the past and we could expect the temperatures to moderate to a balmy 28°C with very little by way of rain.
February was supposed to be the hottest month with averages in the region of 30°C which actually, was less than I'd expected and perfectly acceptable, however the humidity, what with being so close to the Equator, was a killer. Strip off and we risked frying, - cover up and risk melting!
We invested in a bulk order of Factor 30 and be damned!
We had the local medic top up on our inoculations against all manner of nasty and completely unpronounceable tropical diseases, then on day twenty-five, we made our farewells, thanked everyone for their help and support, and cut loose for the main island of Fernando de Noronha and the secret I'd known about ever since Totnes, Suriname.
The journey was uneventful with blazing suns, a beautiful sunset and a dawn sky to die for as we entered the harbour of Fernando de Noronha.
The main island was a mix of the very modern and traditional.
This was a place to holiday at if you had the money.
Large yachts held sway together with smaller power boats. Surfing was obviously an attraction, and that, coupled with the posh hotels, got me thinking about Aruno's comments about how isolated his village was.
Okay, his village wasn't on this island, but what's stopping the rich guys from visiting it?
Answer; His Island was a World Heritage Site – controlled and protected due to the abundance of flora and fauna unique to the Island. The spring-fed river that emptied itself into the sea meant that it supported life, - life able to thrive in both fresh water and the diluted sea.
We ploughed on, but Aruno – instead of bouncing off the walls, was quiet.
He was staring out of the windows and I noticed his shoulders shake.
"What's up babe?"
He turned to look at me, tears – the first I'd ever seen him cry, were running down his cheeks.
"Come here for God's sake! What's the problem? You're almost home! Tonight, the main Island – tomorrow or the day after, – your village. You should be happy!"
He flung himself into my arms, and his crying took over saturating my shirt.
"I am being so selfish Mimi-cu!
I want to go home - I need to be there, but I never wondered if you would find happiness there.
Then there's my sister and Rob. All of you have gone to so much trouble, taken so many gambles and risks and all because of my selfishness.
I love you so much and had you refused to come with me, I would've killed myself rather than lose you. Not just idle talk Mimi-cu, - I have the means and I had the determination to do just that. Maybe what was written was wrong. Where is the medicine woman – my Mother and her bonded one? They're not with me! I want to believe – I really do but……"
I pulled him close and chocked the wheel before replying. "We're together because we're in love.
Neither of us have a life if we're not together, and if you believe in your gods, our journey was a test of that love – a way of proving our devotion one to another, and if you'd told me six months ago we'd be doing what we're doing, made such a journey together, I'd have had you sectioned.
What life did I have back in England? What were my prospects? What we're all doing was written – you told me that, and so far it has been proved to be correct!"
"But where is my Mother? She should be with us! It's written!"
"That was two hundred summers ago, maybe it wasn't accurate or perhaps it spoke of an English summer rather than a Brazilian one.
There is time my lover, - time enough for wise words to become truths.
Settle down. I will be happy – I'll be with you!"
With the Island in sight, Cathy radioed the harbour for permission to dock and we were requested to go directly to the immigration quay.
It was here we would enter Brazil proper so passports, visors and other documentation would be checked and verified.
We had already been cleared by Customs at Natal, but this being the final leg of the journey, here is where our biometric identification cards would be issued.
Aruno flew through as he held dual nationality then it was my turn. I was taken through to an office and my documentation studied.
"Welcome to Brazil Signor Woolacott. Everything is in order and I wish you a most rewarding life on our Islands.
Do you have any questions?"
"Thank you. I do have one I need to ask.
How do I find the Hotel Grande?"
"It's two blocks down opposite the Government Plaza. Do you need a taxi?"
"No thanks. I need to stretch my legs – the walk will do me good I think!"
I left the office just as Rob was called through, and spotting Aruno pacing about outside, called him over.
"I've got a bit of business to sort, so I'd like you to go back to the boat and organise fuel for me, check our provisions and then move her when you're told to. Give me a shout on my phone and let me know where you are – okay?"
"Can't I come with you?"
"No. Someone has to stay on board until we've got to our overnight mooring, and as this errand is something I must do, you're the man who sticks around!"
"Okay Mimi-cu – don't be too long."
Finding the hotel was simple – a ten-minute walk at most although it took me longer.
This was going to be a place I would – we would - be visiting regularly and I needed to get a handle on the geography of the town which, I have to say, was immaculately clean and well cared for.
I was greeted at the reception by a girl – no older than Aruno.
She spoke to me in English, which came as something of a relief, what with my Portuguese being terminally flawed.
"How may I help you Sir?"
"I'm looking for a Mr and Mrs Penfold. Are they here?"
"They're taking afternoon tea on the terrace. I'll have a porter show you the way."
I was taken though the main dining room to a set of open patio doors.
"Mr and Mrs Penfold are over in the corner to your right – the table which is being served now.
Shall I announce you Signor?"
"Thanks but no, – this is meant to be a surprise!"
"As you wish Signor."
I made my way over to their table, and once I was in earshot, said, "I hope everything is to your satisfaction?"
Anita spun around, and on seeing me, stood up and gave me a massive hug, followed by Arthur, standing and shaking me by the hand.
"You made it safely then? This is so good!"
"Yes, we're fine – all of us."
"Where are the others?"
"If not still in immigration, they'll be back on the boats. I didn't let on about this or Cathy and Aruno would've wet themselves! I just thought I'd come and tell you we arrived about three hours ago personally rather than getting caught on the phone!"
"Then all of you must join us for dinner tonight. We'll book a table for the six of us for eight o'clock if that works for you.
What are your plans for sailing?"
"Entirely up to you but not tonight. That supper invitation sounds too good to turn down!"
"Just get Sam to wear something other than that bloody thong – tell him this place has air-conditioning or something."
"He won't know where he's going, but I'll try.
I better make tracks or they'll be sending out a search party.
See you about seven-thirty."
I had known about the possibility of them coming back to Brazil since we were in Panama.
Anita was making enquiries about dual nationality just as soon as she got the nod from the UNHCR being more than happy for her to return – more especially in the company of her husband.
Keeping this from the guys had been torturous, and then there was that episode on the way across from Natal where Aruno had doubted the wisdom of the writings.
That had to be the hardest thing for me to deal with. Seeing him in tears broke my heart, but better that than telling him what I knew and spoiling the surprise for everyone.
I tried to look relaxed when I got back, but they were curious as to where I'd been.
"Just booking a table somewhere nice for us to eat tonight. Nothing sinister, honest! Just smarten yourselves up for once; tonight is going to be well special."
We dressed in our finery – well if light cotton trousers and open-neck short sleeved shirts for us with Cath wearing a full length cotton shift could be deemed finery, and made it to the hotel at a little after 7.30pm.
The head waiter recognised me and we were shown to our table – set for six, something Rob picked up on.
"What's going on Simeon?"
"I don't know what you mean! So it's set for six people, maybe they just made a mistake."
"Piss off! Places like this don't make mistakes! There's something going down, something you're not telling us!"
"Okay, okay. Just bide your time and all will become clear."
I called the waiter over and handed him a slip of paper which he read and promptly hurried off. After about ten minutes, I saw Anita and Arthur walking into the restaurant, so I stood up and announced their arrival.
Cathy screamed, Aruno damn near feinted and Rob was rendered speechless!
Finally, Cath managed to pull herself together just as the bubbly arrived, and disentangling herself from her Mum and Dad's embrace, asked the obvious.
"What…… I mean why are you here? I mean it's lovely to see you but…… why?"
"Oh, we just thought we'd pop by as we were in town!"
"Oh sure. You just nipped over to do some shopping then did you? Like it's not unusual to travel the best part of twelve thousand miles just to catch the sales! That's just so much bullshit!"
Anita giggled. "Not just to catch the sales! There was another motive.
After you left, we got to thinking about our future.
Tresgillith is nice, but with you lot gone, well, without wishing to put too finer point on it, we were bored out of our brains. I thought about going into general practice, but my sphere of expertise is tropical medicine and Cornwall doesn't provide me with much scope for that sort of thing.
After that terrible episode with Dad getting kicked about, and with him having no wish to go back to fishing, he applied for a position with the VSO, Voluntary Service Overseas. I got in contact with the UNHCR with a view to coming back to Brazil and so long as we were granted dual nationality, and with no one having filled my role in the village, Dad could work alongside me, so here we are!"
"How long will you be staying?"
"Indefinitely. Dual nationality means there are no constraints placed upon us.
We've not burnt our bridges, the cottage, Dad had offered the Company who are opening up the mine for visitors as a long term rent and one of the senior managers and his family are living there as we speak, so we might retire there or, depending on how things pan out, live out our lives on the shores of a tropical paradise."
"That's excellent! Maybe at last we can function as a proper family!"
Arthur chipped in. "That's how we saw it, but I don't want you to think that we'll be interfering with your lives. This is primarily your gig and you have to be free to go your own way. And you lads?" looking at Rob an me, "How do you feel about us being here?"
Rob gave our answer. "It'll be good – very good!
Do the villagers know we're coming?"
"I wouldn't have thought so. Certainly no one knows about you and we specifically asked the UNHCR not to go saying anything about us. They might guess that something's going on because the other day, we supervised the loading of the container that has your Landrover in it. It was delivered to the Island on like a landing craft and you're to let the people took it t here know when it's convenient to go back to collect it. That'll give you time to get her running again.
There's nothing on the container to link any of us with it, but you can bet your life the villagers will be suspicious!"
We adjourned to the bar for drinks and more conversation, then at midnight we said our good-nights agreeing to meet the next day so we could load their possessions and medical supplies then leave the following day for the absolute final leg of the journey.
[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. If the email address pastes with %40 in the middle, replace that with an @ sign.]