The weather has been hot for some weeks now and the rains come every day making up for the past two months which, although u sually wet months, have been mostly dry. For us, living in semi-urban Sao Paulo, the rain constitutes a minimum of discomfort. We go to work by car to a dry office and return through the fiercely, driving rain to a well protected house. It can be the subject of a few minutes conversation each day and then on to other things. But this week-end we came into contact with the water element and saw its force without the trappings of such protection.

Julie was staying with Inga for a week at the parent’s sitio beyond Paralheiros, about 50 kilometres from Sao Paulo on the southern range of the serra that divides the City from the coast. We left to visit them on a Saturday afternoon and drove to a small railway settlement called Engenheiro Marselac which lies on a lonely part of the mountain. Here, the ashphalt road ended right on the crest of the range and two kilometres from this dreary, little place at the end of an earth lane, I parked the car and we set off on foot down a track towards the sitio. At a small river we were able to cross over a rustic, log bridge and continued walking for another kilometre before coming to a similar bridge crossing the same river which had made a curving detour. There was another kilometre walk before we approached the vicinity of the sitio and, as we did, torrential rain began falling. We hurriedly took shelter under an open sided construction thatched with banana leaves and waited, hoping the rain would abate. But rather than this, it became even more of a deluge and whilst the thatched roof proved to be remarkably protective the strong mountain wind blew the driving downpour in slanting gusts and it became no shelter at all so we were forced to run the last few hundred metres to the nearby sitio.

We were soaking wet by the time we reached the rustic house where we were greeted by Max and dona Erna and Julie and Inga. With their help we dried off and soon were sitting round a well provisioned table and hearing each others news whilst we ate and drank. By the time we had finished the meal, now quite dry and snug, dusk was beginning to fall. The rain seemed to have settled into a steady downpour and we thought it best not to leave our departure too late. Ample precautions were taken for our return to the car. Leinlein was encased in a borrowed mac. Ursula and Cliffie each carried a bundle of dry clothing wrapped in protective covers. They had a borrowed umbrella between them and I, in shirt and trousers, needed no protection. Indeed, there was nothing more available but, as the temperature was mild, even warm, I could afford to get another soaking.

We bade a hasty farewell and set off, splashing through the deep puddles until we came to the first bridge which had disappeared and, we thought hopefully, was still in place under the sheet of fast flowing water before us. What had been a smallish river was now a wider one that carried all before it. By feeling about under water with my feet I was able to discover the logs of the bridge were still in place and we determined to cross there. Cliffie went first and the water was up to his waist as he gingerly progressed, feeling with his feet to remain on the invisible and slippery logs under the fast flowing current. As he went he had to hold his bundle above the water level. Ursula followed and half way across went partly under the water as one of her feet slipped between two of the ill-spaced logs below her. Cliffie, from the far side, and I, from behind, where I was with Leinlein in my arms, moved fast so as to hold her as she recovered her balance and made it to the far side. As we were doing this a snake, swimming on the surface of the flood water, passed amongst our struggling bodies and was carried away into the blackness of the woods.

We were badly shaken after we had all made it to the other side and, except for Leinlein, were well and truly soaked again.There was nothing else to do but to continue walking along the track under the rain dripping from our now sodden clothes. When we arrived at the second bridge a quick check showed that the water was wider and the current swifter than at the first bridge with no possibility of crossing. Not quite knowing what to do next we turned back to see if it still would be possible to re-cross and go back to the sitio. As we were approaching it some boys emerged from the woods, running in the dusk, and shouting that a horse was drowning. One of them stopped to say that the bridge we were heading for was quite impassable.

We were cut off between two flooded bridges. The rain continued cascading down and Leinlein was crying. The boys had gone but we headed in the direction from which they had burst out of the woods and soon came to an isolated, wooden house. As we approached to ask for shelter, two men, one carrying a length of rope, and a boy came out running and, in the turmoil, we understood that they were off to try and save the drowning horse. There were women at the house and they invited us in but we asked only for permission to sit under the shelter of the large, wide, flagstone terrace.

Fortunately the night was not cold and Ursula was able to find dry clothes in the covered bundle for putting on Cliffie and Leinlein, the latter now in high spirits once we were out of the rain and she and Cliffie were soon laughing and chatting. After a time the two men came back to announce that the horse had drowned. They settled themselves with us on the terrace. A moon must have been shining above the clouds as the night was not too dark; the rain continued without abating, but the lightning, that had been frightening Leinlein, passed. And we sat and waited. There were two families in the house, about sixteen people after the boys had returned, and most of them sat in the semi-darkness with us on the terrace. As is usual amongst Brazilians there was much talking and no feeling of strangeness at our presence. It was an easy situation created by natural good manners which is so common in this country. They were obviously country people and lived simply.

At about 2100 hrs. the rain had reduced to a steady drizzle and so Cliffie and I went with the two men to have a look at the bridge we needed to cross. To my surprise the level of the water had now receded to below the logs and so we returned and, back at the house, we thanked the family for their ready hospitality and once again set off. The rain came beating down again as soon as we were out in the open but we pressed on finding refuse carried down by the flood lying everywhere. The sodden woods on either side reminded us that to have been swept away into snake-infested country with two children would have been a perilous risk if we had attempted to cross earlier.

Barking dogs and the rain were the only sounds as we came to the shadow hulk of the car drawn up to the side of the lane. Inside, and with the engine on, with the lights picking out the dripping countryside ahead, it seemed that all our expectations of hot drinks, dry clothes and warm beds were within our reach. But our adventurous day was not yet over. After driving for a few minutes the car stopped and out in the wet and dark again I fumbled around with the engine with no results. We settled down to wait for a passing vehicle, but I suspected we would have to pass the night in the car.

I was outside again attempting to find a possible fuel blockage when the lights of a vehicle drew near. A bus with no passengers stopped at my signal. The driver said he worked for the railway company and would be returning this way later and could take us back to Sao Paulo. In Brazil the unexpected happens so often that they have a word for it, the ‘jeitinho’. While we waited I continued working on the engine in the quiet of the night disconnecting the petrol lead and the pre-filter and cleaned and sucked until these were clear. A final suck at the carburettor input and, spitting out the petrol, I reckoned that all was now un-blocked. By this time the battery was low and it seemed as though the engine would not fire. It did eventually splutter into action after many attempts. The time was now well after midnight and soon the car was passing through the walls of outside darkness along the twisting mountain road to home. We arrived in the early morning; Maria was up, waiting for us and there followed showers, hot drinks and food with a whiskey each for Ursula and me before we all climbed the stairs for our welcome beds.

1st March 1969