I'm lucky to have lived in five different countries, during different times in my life. I was born in the northeast of Brazil, in Recife, and some of my fondest childhood memories are of the beach house my dad had in a little place called Barra de Catuama. It was just an unknown fisherman's village back then. I grew up climbing guava trees and eating mango, walking barefoot, riding wooden boats across a river to find crabs or getting oysters from the manguezal.
We had a beautiful view to the islands of Itapessoca and Itamaracá. It felt like we could look at nature at its wildest, purest state. There were banana trees, there were little monkeys called sagüi, there were birds and beautiful flowers. I remember vividly the bougainvilleas my dad planted in our garden, and it was a great surprise for me to find the same flowers growing in Valencia, Spain, where I now live. I hadn't seen those flowers anywhere in all those years!
My childhood in Catuama was amazing. I was a free child there. I couldn't be free anywhere else -- certainly not in the city, as Recife is one of the most violent cities in the country. I look at my cousins and their children, and I just look at children nowadays, in general, and I can't help but feel I was very privileged to spend all my weekends and all of summer being carefree, being me. Rolling in the mud with my friends. Sleeping in the hammock. Eating fish that was caught just that morning by the fishermen that we knew by name, and that knew us by name too.
Many years later, we sold our house, heartbroken. The beach we knew and loved was now just a distant memory. In reality, the beach had been invaded by people with their jet-skis and motorboats. People with very little regards for nature, for that special environment, and for the people who had been living in that community long before it became a trendy beach. What was kilometers of fine sand and coconut trees was now high walls of houses built right next to each other, leaving us with no way to access the beach other than requesting permission to a bar owner and passing through his property.
The streets where I once played barefoot, were now stinky, with open sewers in the middle of the street and piles of garbage on the road sides. To make things more delightful still, two rival evangelical churches installed loudspeakers outside of their buildings and every night, instead of listening to the songs of frogs and crickets under the stars, we would hear instead the yells and screams of each church trying to perform exorcisms louder than the next. When the 3rd fundamentalist church decided to open its doors right behind our house, we stopped going to Catuama altogether. It wasn't fun anymore. It wasn't beautiful anymore. It had been ruined and to this date remains ruined, as you might imagine.
When I was 20-something I convinced a group of friends to travel there, so we could have the best weekend ever by the most beautiful beach ever. Needless to say, it was all a fruit of my nostalgia and memories and my friends were NOT impressed with what they saw.
So it was time to leave. And we left. And I never went back. But I do visit it still in my memories and I know at least there, Catuama is still a magical place where the river meets the ocean, where the mangue is clean, where little animals like sagüis, maria-farinhas, arraias are everywhere, and safe.