by Alana Levinson
There’s a tiny island town in Brazil called Morro do Sao Paolo where the idea of “the honeymoon” was born. It takes a winding cab ride through the jungle and two boat rides to get there, but once you do, you’re hit by sweeping ocean views and the smell of passion fruit that mysteriously wafts through the air at all times. This is a place where cars aren’t allowed. Where beautiful Argentinean girls with tan legs and ankle bracelets invite you to parties on the beach. Where you dance to the Brazilian pop song of the moment in the rain at 3 am, while guzzling down drinks made of Cachaça and pure glee.
Lovers come to this place to entangle in hammocks (and then make babies), which is why it was a particularly awkward destination for my platonic friend Dustin and I, who were both smack dab in the middle of quarter life crises. We met in New York, but as two kids hailing from the West, a couple of years in the city left us burnt out and confused. He had been in South America for the past couple of months living off insurance money from a bad car accident (and recovering from a heartbreak). I was blowing savings I should have actually been saving before starting grad school in California (and lovesick for a boy back in Brooklyn).
When we arrived on this island, we had spent the past couple of weeks traveling from city to city, but everyone we met said the trip wouldn’t be complete without an indulgent tropical leg. By the time we got to Morro, we were both hard out of cash, so our first stop was the one bank on the island. We had noticed over the course of our travels in Brazil that many ATMs didn’t read American cards, but we didn’t let that stop us from spending what we had. After a couple of failed attempts at the machine, it was apparent that we weren’t getting any money. We were faced with the realities that we might not be able to 1) get a room at a hostel 2) ever leave.
Number one was a problem, the second not so much. I was more than ready to spend our last couple of real on boozie smoothies and fantasize about wasting away in paradise. We wandered the cobble stone streets, in awe at just how perfect this place seemed. There were ancient ruins on a cliff overlooking the ocean, tiny pousadas — little inns — that dotted the shore where horses ran free, NBD.
Suddenly, my romantic reverie was broken by the loud shouting of a man dressed in head-to-toe Jack Sparrow of Pirates of the Caribbean garb. He had on a pirate costume, dread locks, eye makeup, even the braided beard.
“Ay there, matey! I’m Captain Jack Sparrow,” he called out in an accent of a Brazilian trying to sound English trying not to sound completely wasted.
“Come on into my office. I’ve got a great deal on a tour of this island. You won’t believe it.”
When you’re travelling with the right person, you don’t ever need to confer. You both instinctually understand what the other person is thinking at all times. Back in Rio, when the French guy who was staying at our Airbnb mentioned that he had videos of graphic murders from the Deep Web saved on his desktop, Dustin just KNEW that I wanted to lock the deadbolt on our door that night. When we smoked a joint on the Escadaria Selarón steps, and saw cops approaching with machine guns, we both just instinctively KNEW to run. It was great.
So, we walked right in without saying a word. Things got weirder once inside. The storefront was your run-of-mill-tourist outfit, but with pirate accoutrement, like a treasure chest filled with fake coins and a snake in the corner. He was simultaneously guzzling down of a cheap bottle of vodka and chain-smoking cigarettes, breaking only to have intense coughing fits. It was impressive just how spot-on Sparrow this guy was, especially when I started to realize that he was probably blacked out. At one point, he started reciting lines a monologue from the movie, and when he forgot some lines, he started to improvise!
Eventually though he got down to business and broke out a binder with laminated pictures showing chubby tourists smiling with beers and oysters. Turns out he was selling a daylong boat tour of the island, with him, for $25 dollars (complete with a visit to a sand bar). We were immediately sold. But then I remember that we have no money. In fact, we didn’t even have a place to sleep.
Before we can explain ourselves, Sparrow offered us some vodka, pouring shots into gold gimlets. We were thrilled. But Sparrow’s colleague, who had been sitting silently at a desk across from us — in a conservative red polo shirt tucked into khakis, no less — finally said something. Angrily.
The two started yelling at each other in Portuguese and we had no idea what was going on. The conflict seemed to come from nowhere, but looking back, Sparrow really took his method acting to epic proportions, which I’m sure was annoying to his coworkers. The clean-cut guide approached Sparrow’s desk and started berating him. He picked up the bottle of vodka and chucked it out the open door. We watched it splatter into a million pieces, and Sparrow grew increasingly livid.
But the Captain never broke character. He stood up, drawing his fake rifle from his belt, and slammed it on the table threateningly (Jack Sparrow doesn’t use weapons as, if you remember, the character is violence-averse). They both locked eyes and puffed up their chests in that particularly male way, which always signals the start of a physical fight.
I was unclear if this was in some way a part of their sell. I am fucking loving it, and have never been more excited for imminent seasickness. But the other guide broke out of his fury for a second and realized potential customers were present. He huffed and puffed and walked away as Sparrow started to collect himself, apologizing and sitting back down.
I realized that we needed to break our brokenness to him. He seemed disappointed, but too drunk to really care. His coworker on the other hand looked vindicated, and I started to think maybe we had something to do with his anger. We told him we would return as soon as we figured out our funds.
I left dreaming of the sand bar, but more importantly, obsessed with this alcoholic Captain Jack Sparrow and his swagger. At this point, it was late, so we decided to hit up the ATM one last time, just for good measure. Magically, blessed by the Captain’s vibe, it worked. We headed to some horrible hostel chain, and vowed to return to the office first thing the next day and sign up for his tour.
We rose later than expected, and when we got to the office neither of the usual characters were there. Instead, a young girl who didn’t speak English — dressed in a conservative a red polo shirt tucked into khakis, no less — greeted us awkwardly. We asked her to see Sparrow, but she didn’t understand and instead led us to her computer and pulled up Google translator.
I awkwardly typed out our questions starting with a request for the pirate. She said he had gone to the mainland to visit his girlfriend and wouldn’t be back for weeks. I was crushed, but quickly decided to seize the opportunity to ask one last question, one that would bother me forever if I didn’t. I told her about the fight and asked if she had an intel into why it went down. She laughed and continued to say (via Google Translator) that Sparrow had danced with the other man’s wife at the bar. All three of us laughed uncontrollably.
The next day, we went on the tour regardless. There was nothing pirate-y about it, save for a small skull flag atop the boat. The tiny catamaran rode waves of the Perfect Storm variety, as I clung on for dear life, in a state of terror most of the day. But eventually, we got to our first stop, and I jumped in the water quickly in the hopes of washing off the nausea. Jack didn’t lie: the sand bar was the most glorious thing I’d ever seen. I swam up, quickly forgetting my sickness, my disappointment, and my confused feelings at the state of my life. I ordered two Caiprinias, and we toasted to the Captain, his legend, wherever he was.
Alana Levinson is a writer and the founding editor of STEVIE ZINE, an online culture mag for and by women. She’s down with pirates.