Lovely Paradise

This is an adventure of a lifetime! We have not even been here a week and yet it feels like forever; each and every moment has been saturated with Brasilian bliss and richness. I have some very exciting news to report, so make sure you read through to the final chapter!

Chapter 1: Serra Grande

We are staying in Jeff’s little dreamy apartment in Pé de Serra, and it is glorious. Every window in the little house is open with a warm breeze flowing through, out my left window is white sand beach, palm trees and turquoise waters; out the window to the right are lush green mountains and farms. Life is very simple and delicious here. This part of the world in Southern Bahia is as magical as I remember it.

In the evenings we eat food and drink Schols mostly in the dark, warm blanket of night with the locals, speaking Português and listening to all the jokes for hours. Our sweet neighbor Meili knows I don’t eat anything with eyes, and prepares me special vegetarian dishes. But we’ve practically become fruitarians, eating every tropical fruit in the book from maracujá (passion fruit) to ciruguelas, chirimoyas, acerola and guavas, to umbú, açaí and mangosteen, often blended. When we’re not eating fruit, we’re eating tapioca pancake like wraps with either cinnamon, plantain and coco or arugula and tomato. Beleza.

Pé de Serra is the small town at the foot of the mountain with very few people – tranquil. Our host and one of Erol’s very best friends, Jeff, is so wonderful. He knows everyone in this little town and they all love him so much, we are practically celebrities here. Our casa is on the beach front and each morning I walk the whole coastline and stop to bathe in the little rippling pools that form at low tide. The sand is so white and so fine, with glimmering gold pieces in it, it is a slice of heaven.

Pé de Serra Sunrise

The boys go surfing at least twice a day and I even paddled out for the first time ever a couple of days ago, but I got my ass kicked by the sacred ocean goddess Iamanjá. I either walk the beach, do yoga or write in the hammock on our porch overlooking the ocean, listening to the sound of waves crashing, high pitched bird songs and the rustling of coconut palm fronds in the tropical breeze, water drops running down the back of my neck from a wet bun, wrapped in a sarong with my skin scintillating from the fresh salt water refreshing my cells.

Chapter 2: Rico (pronounced hee-co) the Ladrón (thief)

The morning I paddled out to surf with Erol, I realized right at the water’s edge that I still had all my jewelry on. Rather than take 3 minutes to run them to the house, I decided to hide them under a big piece of seaweed up by the volleyball post. Normally I wouldn’t do this, but I practically know everyone in this little village and there was no one to be seen on the 3 km stretch of beach so it felt very safe. We paddled out, got swept way down the coast, walked back, went out again, and then got rocked real hard on what I decided was my last wave. I walked back to retrieve my turquoise and silver…and it was gone. My heart sank!

A sweet local named Boruka who apparently never speaks came running out to tell me that he saw a guy in a camisa branca com bermudas amarelas walking around the area kicking at the sand looking for something, grabbed my jewelry and ran down the beach and way up the trail into the mata (forest). Boruka pointed up to the mountain and I could see his bright white shirt scurrying up the path almost to the top of the serra (hill). Oy. I ran over and yelled at the boys to come out of the water. We hustled into Jeff’s car and up to the first mirante (lookout). The only guy there was working the agua de coco stand. In his eloquent português Jeff asked if he had seen the “moreno wearing a camisa branca” run by, and he said yes, just now. We found out his name was Rico, filho de Luigimildo, dono de Peixaria – son of the local fish shop owner. He begged us not to disclose his identity in our search.

So we made our way through the hibiscus flowers, the dozens of school kids in the plaza, and down the bumpy dirt roads to the peixaria with the help of about 10 locals directing the way. An old Bahian woman with no upper teeth heard Jeff out and said, “strange because that boy is working now, and shouldn’t be stealing, but I’m not surprised because he’s served time in jail before for stealing.” She told us where Rico lived – across the estrada (highway), to the right, past the pink house on the left. She said she would speak with his father at 12 noon. In a small town like Serra, word travels fast.

Emotions rising, we found Rico’s neighborhood and asked another 7 people to find the exact house. Everyone knows everyone here. We parked the car and walked down the dirt road, barefoot and salty, satisfied that our efficient search had led us to the ladron’s house so quickly but nervous about what type of response we’d get. The door was ajar and we saw white eyes and very dark skin peering out. A tall, beautiful, very black man comes out, holding his naked baby girl, no shirt with yellow shorts. He immediately knew why we were there. With a big pearly white smile, he tells Jeff “oh, I already gave them to my wife. I didn’t know who’s they were,” and walked inside. He immediately returned with my pile of jewelry and dumped them into my hands. Amazed and relieved, the anger instantly melted away as I kissed his hands and thanked him.

Celebratory Empadas

I guess homie didn’t want more jail time. He must have been so tripped out with three gringos showing up at his home, one of them speaking perfect portuguese, on the outskirts of town. All I can say is that Jeff was my hero of the day. We celebrated with tapioca wraps, suco de limão, empadas doces de presigio and paçoquinha (delicious empanadas of chocolate-coco and peanut paste, respectively), and cafezinho. My usual no refined sugar lifestyle is definitely not happening here.

Chapter 3: Finding Eternal Love at the End of the Path of Hearts

This is a delicious story of love, one that leads to the happiest, most magical day of my life. It all started on a visit to the home of one of Jeff’s dreamy friends, Aana. We winded our way through the hilly, emerald green Mata Atlántica jungle, past a plot of forest that Jeff pointed out has the highest number of endemic tree species in the world so you can only imagine the glorious shades of green filling our site. We followed red hearts painted on the trees at each turn. Loud Krishna Das style chanting/sacred beats boomed from the lush trees. We walked over the soft, spongy, perfect grass that felt like nature’s carpet, through her open walled kitchen and all the tropical flowers and vines hanging into the house, defying the boundary between inside and outside, the two blending together seamlessly, following the source of music. At last we arrived at the central structure – the jewel in the crown: a goddess temple like nothing I had ever witnessed before. Overwhelmed with inspiration and emotion, I let the energy of the space draw me in. The emerald green forest shimmering in the background, the sound of the river flowing by, the chanting, crystals everywhere, big wicker baskets overflowing with fabric of all colors, big Balinese mirrors, yoga mats, little sacred alters filling each corner. Need I say more? Up above all that magic – a spiral staircase leading to her bedroom – a massive glass triangle pointing towards the forest and river. Absolutely stunning. Pure bliss. At the tip of the glass triangle, a crystal lotus flower.

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The designer and dweller of this space: a goddess of divine proportions named Aana. Serene energy, emanating beauty and powerful animal medicine. After a swim in her cachoeira (waterfall) and sharing life stories on the crystal forest perch, as if this day couldn’t get any better, she makes us a huge, dreamy, dark purple acaí smoothie with fresh coconut water and meat, cacau, goji berries, and banana. João (a common name here pronounced “ja-wow” which we use to express “wow.”)

So this dreamy woman tells us we have to stay in her pousada (hostel) on the beach in Itacaré – she built it 20 years ago before anyone or anything else was there and it’s still the nicest spot in Itacaré in a secluded cove. She hooks us up with the suite, called the Mermaid Room, for half off, and we find ourselves there a couple of days later. It’s epic – same magic as her own home. From our bed we can see the whole coast, and the horizon of the deep blue sparkling ocean as we lie perched in the tree tops. Our romantic bed has nets draped over it on all sides!

Sparkling Hearts!

It’s Tuesday March 27 and we finish a huge, amazing lunch of moqueca (seafood stew that Erol ate) and all kinds of traditional Brasilian sauces and side dishes. After getting serenaded by an Argentinian band, we walk along the black rocks over the ocean to a private beach. Totally deserted. I laugh in disbelief and ask Erol if he arranged this especially for me, but he doesn’t answer. He is acting kind of weird and not answering my questions. I let it go. On the sand, I do a cartwheel and he tells me to stay there and carves a huge heart in the sand around me. He enters the heart with a big grin, kisses me, professes his infinite love to me, and gets down on one knee. “Ashley Schaeffer, will you marry me?”

I could barely believe my ears, and then delayed in saying “yes!” only because I was so shocked by the ring he put on my finger! O meu deus! A crystal clear aqua blue tourmaline in a water drop “pear cut” shape with 32 diamonds around the stone and white gold band. 32 is Erol’s lucky number and his age when he met me. The stone is from Paraíba, a state in the Northeast part of Brasil. I was soooo giddy and excited for the next 24 hours, I could hardly sleep! I couldn’t stop staring at this sparkling beauty on my finger, and was just soso stoked to be marrying the love of my life. No one could have ever described that feeling to me, a fire, a light, an explosion of bliss in each and every cell in my body.

That evening we celebrated with an exquisite, rich bowl of açaí na tigela. I just love the synchronicity and flow of it all. What a beautiful life! It was the best day of my life.