When I was a child I went on a car trip that I spent decades wanting to repeat. At the time, my family lived in a tiny inland town in northeastern Brazil, where its 3,000 or so residents live perched on a beautiful mountain 900 m above sea level.
An older cousin who lived with us was getting married at what was then considered to be the “ripe old age” of 25 and needed her baptism certificate for the traditional Catholic Church ceremony. This needed to be picked up from her native town several hours away.
The excitement for the trip began by the name of the town. São Sebastião do Umbuzeiro, a.k.a., St. Sebastian of the “Umbu” Tree (a mouth-watering fruit native to the Brazilian semi-arid region) sounded like an exotic and deliciously weird far-off place that I could later brag about (which I did).
Indeed (and given that I had recently moved in from Washington, D.C.), the long ride to reach the town, through a mix of poorly asphalted highways, dirt roads across the semi-arid landscape and a series of wrong turns was quite an adventure for a six-year old.
At that time, the small towns of the “interior” (as we say here), being relatively untouched by many modernities, had a special secluded feel to them.
Still a luxury to most, TV was watched collectively in the city square and was only turned on for the evening news and the soap opera that followed. Long-distance calls were made to the city’s “phone station” and the operator had to run off to people’s homes when an unscheduled came in.
To this day, I still get a warm feeling when I remember that sensation of being in an entirely new and special world.
This Easter, almost 30 years later, I was finally able to repeat the trip. Although I couldn’t convince my husband to travel solely for this purpose, we agreed to take the same route my family had taken years ago on the way back from another trip.
When I first told my son (coincidence or not, now six himself), he didn’t get too excited about it. However, he started counting the days when I told him the details of my own trip. He was especially thrilled by the idea of seeing the same alligator I had seen when I was little, which lived in an terrarium of sorts in the city square of a town called São José do Tigre (“St. Joseph of the Tiger” – I remembered talking about than name for weeks, I thought it was so cool!).
We joked the alligator would have a beard by now, and we also spent several days trying to guess how the town name came to be (just for the record, there are no tigers in Brazil, which contributed to the mystery). Was it a tiger that escaped from the circus? Did the town have some kind of menagerie in the past? What did the saint have to do with the story?
The time of the trip finally came, and I was able to check what was true from my memories and what had changed in all of these years. The town of São Sebastião do Umbuzeiro is, of course, much larger now. I remembered it as a string of houses around a great, circular plaza, but we found no such place.
The true name of São José do Tigre turned out to be São João do Tigre (St. John of the Tiger, and not St. Joseph), and by that point my husband and I realized it is probably a reference to the Tigris River, which is called Rio Tigre in Portuguese (so much for the mystery).
It turned out to be a beautiful little town with a square full of colorful flowers but…no alligator or any sign that there had ever been one (in fact, the square looked completely different from what I remembered). We asked around and no one knew anything, until one woman said she vaguely remembered there being an alligator in the neighboring town, Jataúba, several years before.
So off we went to Jataúba, where we had to pass through anyway (by the way, Jataúba is a type of native stingless bee – for some reason that name didn’t stick to my mind when I was six). We had to ask around a lot until finally a guy at the gas station told us there used to be two alligators in the town square, but one had died and the other had been transferred to the state capital’s zoo over 20 years ago.
Overall, we all loved the trip, although my husband wasn’t too thrilled about driving so many hours on dirt roads! The baby pretty much slept the whole time. My son enjoyed seeing the different towns and learning more about the plants and animals of the caatinga (a kind of dry savannah). We even crossed a stream on the road, which he thought was one of the best parts.
I had thought most of the roads would have been paved by now, but we drove through more than 80 km of dirt roads. On the other hand, when we passed through São João do Tigre we were able to stop at a cyber café and check our route on Google Maps.
There were teenagers surfing the social networks and playing online computer games. We also stopped at a little gift shop which sold Hershey bars and plastic toys from China. So, for good or for bad, things have changed considerably.
In addition to being fun, this trip was a great opportunity to begin talking to our son about our family history. Like most families, there are many interesting stories to tell, and depending on how it is done, I believe passing on the family history to our children is very important (in fact, I am becoming increasingly aware of that lately – it will probably be the topic of a future post).
And you, did you go on memorable trips when you were a child? How were they important to you? Have you repeated any of them with your own children? If not, would you consider doing so?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Eco Ziva of Brazil.
Photo credit to the author.