Rio de Janeiro,
Brilliant amorphous colors shift, undulating with fragments of forming thought. Responsibilities, joys and conflicts circle in organic rotation. Ideas flourish like multi-colored poppy fields. Flashes of vivid memory emerge and disappear into colorful darkness. Gnawing anxiety mixes with utmost bliss in an array of cascading patterns. A bright red ladder towers over me, reaching into the sky. With focus and determination I grab hold of its sides and begin to lift it. It wavers back and forth in the air above me threatening to fall backwards. Using all my strength I try to stabilize it and push it forward propping it up against the giant building in front of me, its glaring white wall beckons me. My mind churns with visual possibility and I reach for my paintbrush. Straining my neck I take a deep breath and look up to the top of the ladder. My heart pounds, my nerves flutter, brush in hand, I take the first step.
“The sun is shining!” A man’s voice echoes down to me from above.
A kaleidoscope of geometric shapes and white light encompass me.
“I picked some fruit fresh from the tree!” says a voice from the distance of my sleep as a crack of white light pierces through pink and yellow. I slowly open my eyes.
The shapes and mystery fade as I become conscious and a blurry figure appears above my bed. Dan, my dear friend stands over me with a cup of coffee and a plate of watermelon. A smile floods my face and I accept the offering with weak hands. He disappears through the window. The cup warms my skin, I close my eyes, and the colors return drawing me into their peaceful vortex. With the sounds of birds chirping I begin to sink back into colorful darkness.
I hear a noise as Dan returns through the window from outside.
“I’m up! I’m up! I exclaim and roll out of bed, taking care not to spill the coffee.
I follow him out the window and join the rest of the crew on the deck. A table of breakfast fare is set up just like every morning. At Rio Nature, or the Jungle palace as we like to call it, monkeys come down from the trees and hop onto the railing of the deck taking bananas from our hands. Retreating back to the branches, they eat watching us with beady black eyes and mouths wide open as they chew.
Sergio waiting for the monkeys
I have stayed in many places in my five months here in Rio de Janeiro and of those, the Jungle Palace will stay with me forever. The exceptional hostel is curiously never packed. Maybe it’s the massive stretch of stairs you have to climb to get here or maybe it’s because it’s hidden in the jungle.
Whichever the case, I am grateful we found it.
The deck of the Jungle Palace doubles as our office and overlooks Botafogo, the Santa Marta favela and Corcavado mountain. The statue of the Christ stands over us in its various incarnations: shining in the sun, glowing at night, covered in mist, sometimes obscured completely by clouds and, on special nights, we find it lit up in purple or blue.
For me the best part about this place is the people. In addition to the core group of FlutuArte, there is a constant influx of people from around the world. FlutuArte has taken over the hostel and newcomers, finding themselves in our world come to the harbor, to check out the boats we’ve been painting. The FlutuCommunity has expanded to the point that even the people who work here join us for meetings and come to help paint.
Lime, star fruit and avocado trees grow around the premises. Palace activities span widely from FlutuArte meetings, birthday cake wars, late night Churrascos (Brazilian BBQ), ping pong battles, and adventure plotting.
The palace encompasses all of our needs except perhaps for solitude. Six of us share a “private” room of bunk beds. The walls, painted a questionable lime green, cast a sickly hue on our browned skin. Our suitcases and backpacks cover the floor and our belongings hang from every possible hook or knob. I have been away from home for so long that having a room of my own is a far and distant memory. I have forgotten what is like to have a toothbrush that sits in a cup in the bathroom. I no longer know the luxuries of a closet, the comfort of a box spring mattress or the privacy of a locked door. A yogurt purchased and placed inside the palace refrigerator is no longer mine. Like art put on the streets, any semblance of ownership is given away. It belongs to the first person subject to late night hunger strikes.
Do you ever find that you only fully start to appreciate a place until you are close to leaving it? And then when time is short you try to pack in as many experiences and memories you can to feel like you fully lived your moments?
Time is moving rapidly. I have but five weeks left here in Rio and I feel an urgent need to make the most of every hour. I already feel nostalgic as I sit on the deck of the Jungle Palace. The deep green hues of the tropical trees sink into my retinas, I breathe the salty smell of Guanabara Bay and the cool sensation of a breeze refreshes my tanned skin. In a blink of time, I’ll be on the other side of the world and the symphonic sounds of the jungle will be a distant echo in my eardrums. I close my eyes, sunshine warms my body and yellow light plays on the inside of my eyelids.
I will miss this place.
But most of all I will miss the family we’ve created. I will miss the people. I will miss the communion of late night caipirinhas, group dinners and sunny breakfast gatherings. I will miss the democratic group yoga sessions and the intense work meetings. I will miss the cuddling on the couch with friends and the heart-to-hearts. But the FlutuArte family will live on. It will exist in the hearts and memories of all who experienced it, and in the colorful stories painted on the tops of fishing boats in Urca.