Moments of Insanity


15 Jul Moments of Insanity


“Moments of Insanity: Part 1″ was written by Ithaka, and published in Water magazine for his column “Fishdaddy Chronicles”.


Woke up this early morning (Tuesday)

to check the surf as usual.

There were no waves.

It’s summer in Rio de Janeiro,

not totally surprising.

But there was also no sun,

the sky dark with cloud cover

and only about seventy degrees outside

(a huge drop from

yesterday’s blistering Ninety-Five).

I’d actually been waiting

for a day like this since moving

here from California

about four weeks ago.

I walked up the street

to Sendas supermarket

and bought three big

bottles of water,

went home,

put a package

of sesame-seed crackers

and some of ripe pears

into a couple of zip-lock bags,

tossed them into an old backpack,

got my surfboard

and walked the three

blocks back to the beach.

I counted seventeen

women along the way

(two were beautiful).

I began to paddle

from Lifeguard Tower 11 in Leblon

all the way out to the first of the Cagarras,

a cluster of uninhabited islands,

located several miles out in front of Rio.

One of the reasons,

this excursion had to happen

midweek was because

on summer weekends

several cruise boats a day

passed through this

exact body of water

between the islands

and the beaches

of Ipanema and Leblon.

I doubted very seriously

in my ability to outrun one

or even get out of the way

of one if I had to.

Once in a rare while,

I’d see one pass by during the week too,

but those were odds I could live with.

I’d already predicted it

to be a long-ass haul

and had expected it to be

a lot farther than it looked,

but it ended up being

infinitely farther than even that.

Took two-and-half hours

of straight, open-ocean paddling

just to get out there.

Like I said, there wasn’t much

swell activity today,

but the southern flowing current

was significant enough

that I kept having to readjust my aim

to avoid missing the islands altogether

and drifting out to sea

(The next dry land mass

being the Africa Continent,

thirty-eight hundred miles away).

At about the halfway point

I passed an area that was

literally a minefield

of grapefruit size

(and colored) jellyfish.

The water looked almost black,

reflecting off

the darkly overcast sky and

the orange invertebrates

seemed electrically illuminated.

As gingerly as I maneuvered

through them,

I still ended up brushing up

against three or four,

but for whatever reason I wasn’t stung.


yard-long barracudas

(being chased by who knows what?)

would rocket out of the water

and fly five or six feet

before noisily splashing down,

adding further to

the illusionary frontline ambient.

There was also an abundance

of freshwater plants

floating around that had been

flushed out to sea

from recent violent rains

providing even further tactical difficulties.

After making it through the war zone,

the sea current started

pulling much stronger

but was now going northward

in the opposite direction.

I had to change my general overview

several more times just to stay on course.

In the end,

I was really grateful

I had waited for a day

without much undulation

to attempt this voyage

for the first time.

Ten big, sinister-looking, black,

skin-headed vultures

started flying circles

about thirty-feet above me.

Was I really that out of shape

that I was already

looking like dinner to these bastards ?

I started paddling faster

and screaming at them in defiance

when my right hand

slammed into MEAT !!!

Big and heavy

it was either a dead dolphin..


(too smooth-skinned for be a shark).

I was too freaked out

to stop and investigate,

I got the hell out of there!

And was thankful to discover

that the vultures

were definitely

more interested in it,

whatever it was,

than me.

Every several minutes,

I’d look back shoreward.

Where I’d see commercial airliners

appearing and disappearing behind

Bored Jesus Mountain

on their way to and from

Galeao Airport in Zone North.

And police helicopters

constantly transiting back and forth

from between the city center

and the general area

the Rocinha and Vidigal ghettos.


leftover New Year’s Eve fireworks

were periodically being detonated

from different parts of the city,

billowing plumes of

contrasting white smoke

silhouetted by charcoal gray

cloud cover,

their audibility

gradually fading away

into the distance along with the

visibility of city details.

Getting closer to my destination,

I began to realize that,

in terms of average height

and circumference,

the size of palm trees

on the opposite sides of the island

did not match up,

although they appeared

to be of the same species.

All these weeks

I had thought that

the closest island in the group

was mostly long and flat

with a single high peak on one side

covered by significant vegetation.

But what I’d actually been observing

was two different islands,

a long and flat one

being visually montaged (by distance)

behind the smaller, but taller more lush one.

The other five islands,

were separated by greater distances

and were obviously independent

of each other.

I realigned my aim

for the hundredth time that day

to guarantee arrival on

my now smaller target.

About two-hundred yards out

I passed through an area

of much clearer, colder water.

FIFTEEN degrees colder!


Summer in Brazil?….weird.


with my head pounding out

a little melody

(trace brain damage from



a full two days earlier)

and my arms burning

with new found soreness,

I arrived to my own private paradise.

I later learned

that all seven of these islands

had individual names,

but had actually been told

the exact opposite by one local resident

a few days earlier.

This island, MY ISLAND, was called PALMAS.

The longer and flatter one,

a half mile behind it

(that I’d mistaken as part of this one)


or in Gringo language, Long Island.

Palmas is about a ¾-of-a-mile-around

seemingly solid granite oval dome

capped with lush tropical jungle,

hosting about a thousand Royal Palms.

How long it took for enough dirt to collect

on top of a smooth protruding surface

for even a single insignificant plant to take root

and kick off the whole soil making process

.who the hell knows?

I once read that

something like a trillion pounds

of dust a year

gets kicked up into the stratosphere

by windstorms in the Sahara

and eventually transmigrate

over the Atlantic and get peppered

down onto Amazonia

courtesy of daily rainfall.

We are at least two-thousand miles

south of those wind patterns

but maybe a couple of dozen ounces

managed to make their way

down here over the course

of say 65,000 years

and began compacting

on the top PALMAS

and its six immediate island neighbors;




Guess that’s as good as explanation

as I have to dwell on

for the short -term.

The shore was really steep

And in my delirious state,

I had a difficult enough time

just getting myself out of the water.

But making things

even more pleasurable,

I nicked my knee on a pincushion

of submerged sea urchin spines.

After three or four attempts

I finally managed to crawl up over

the thousands of dormant dry barnacles

and stand up straight.

With my arms victoriously raised

high above my head

I let out a hideously loud

master-of-the-universe Tarzan yell

that was probably heard

as far away as Copacabana.








Then silence.

I chugged

a liter-and-a-half bottle of water,

chomped down two pears

and swallowed some crackers,

but my famine still hadn’t been extinguished.

I’d seen sea urchins

on the menus of several

sushi bars but had never indulged.

Why not now ? I thought,

they’re abundant here.

I grabbed a purple,

baseball-sized urchin

from just under the surface

of the crystalline water

and SMASHED it down on the rocks.

There wasn’t a whole lot of flesh in there,

but there was some eggy-looking orange stuff

that at least looked kind of edible.

I picked out the pieces

of broken shell and spine

and ate a small quantity

(swallowing it without really chewing).


Obviously my culinary skills

weren’t up to Shinjuku standards.

Even with my high-tolerance for grossness,

this was the single nastiest substance

I’d ever tasted,

I barely avoided vomiting.

Next time I’ll bring

wasabe and soy sauce.

I left the board and backpack

near the water

and began exploring.

It was extremely difficult to get around,

not only because of the incline

but because the rock face

itself was not that smooth.

Up close it was finitely sharp

and jagged

(and like an idiot,

I hadn’t even thought about bringing shoes).

I tried to climb straight over

the highest area of the island

(about two-hundred feet at it’s tallest),

but once I got past the granite slab

and the wall started leveling off on top

giving way to vegetation,

the jungle itself was guarded

by a twenty-foot deep barrier

of ground-crawling cactus shafts.

Impossible to attempt without

at least pair of army boots and a machete.

There were a couple

of random seagulls

hanging around chasing crabs

back into crevices on the rocks

and some prehistoric looking insects,

but the island’s most prevalent,

visible animal life

were the black-headed

vampiresque vultures.

They were everywhere;

flying around,

walking on the rocks,

taking shits

and standing on limbs

of shrubs and trees.

Not even moving

when I’d get close to them

(no fear whatsoever).

A mini Komodo Dragon

came out of the cactus patch

and laid right in front of me

for about fifteen minutes,

not at all annoyed by my presence.

It’s very possible that in his young life

he’d never even seen a human personally

and had yet to learn from his parents

that they are all enemies of the natural world.

Me, of course,

being no exception to the rule whatsoever.

Don’t know what he was exactly,

some sturdy, exotic-looking,


black and yellow iguana

about three-feet long.

If I’d been stranded on Palmas for real,

he’d have been made into

several excellent protein-rich meals.

Being as naïve as he was,

he didn’t look too difficult to hunt.

One rock on the head

would’ve probably been sufficient.

I descended the incline

and began crawl-climbing

the granite face

clockwise around the island

Maintaining my altitude

At only about forty feet

above the water.

I found six-to eight inch

horizontal step-grooves

inbetween sedimentary

layers of granite

randomly glittered with quartz.

On these little ledges, I kept my feet

as flat as possible while constantly

palming the stone wall with a hands

on either side of my body.

But some parts were nearly totally vertical.

I’m no free climber.

And the potentiality of falling thirty feet

And getting my head split open on a rock ledge

only to be gluttonously devoured by a bunch

of greedy, arrogant vultures

was probably not as amusing as it sounded.

I opted to come down to shore,

dive into the water

and swim around the cliffs

until I could climb up again..

On these brief immersions

I saw one sea turtle

and some beautiful,

fluorescent blue and yellow fish.

Wish I’d brought a mask,

a spear gun, a machete

shoes, waterproof camera


Next time…..(if there is one).

It took about an hour and a half

to negotiate my all the way around the island.

And although I tried to repetitively,

I never found a user-friendly enough spot

to penetrate the jungle zone.

Nature at its wildest.

There were all kinds

of chaotic insect sounds

rhythmically cocktailing

around in there

with melodic symphony accents

supplied by different species

of unseen song birds.

Everyone had their part

and no one missed a beat.

Beautiful. I was hypnotized.

Very tribal.

But occasionally,

a random gangster-vulture

would spoil it all by shrieking jealously,

(as if protesting his own

lack of songwriting ability)

They were always out of tune

and always off rhythm.

I hated them even more now,

and apparently it was mutual.

As I made my way

around the last corner

of the island,

they started reacting

more aggressively toward me.

Flying nearer to me

and squawking harassingly.

I’d overstayed my welcome.

They could have easily killed me

if they’d wanted to gang up on me,

but the vibe was more like,

Visiting hours are over kid,

now get the #%$@ out of here!

Back at camp

I had to throw rocks

at the six vultures

bickering with each other

over what was left

of my Japanese Blue Plate Special

(the urchin)

just to get near my stuff.

Although much smaller

than a condor

or some other

bigger buzzard species,

even this variety

with their five

and six-foot wingspans,

could’ve flown off

with my surfboard single-handedly

without much effort.

I ate the rest of my rations

and drank another bottle of water,

trying to hydrate as much as possible

pre-visioning the minute possibility

of being lost at sea.

My feet were now raw

and bleeding selectively

from micro-cuts caused by barnacles

and other surface irregularities.

And unfortunately at my exit point,

below the ring of razor-sharp barnacles

that had been located

just above the waters edge

all the way around the island

the descending tide had eventually exposed

a six-foot horizontal band of

black muscles and urchins

that I had to tiptoe over just to get back to

the water…….

I was in pain, not just my feet

But also my shoulders from the paddle,

and now I had to do it all over again…..

Thankfully the cool water

numbed away most of my suffering.

And I was on my way.

The view of Rio

from this far out

was absolutely spectacular.

The city is completely surrounded

by forest-covered mountains.

They say the Tijuca Forest is the largest

urban forest in the world

and believe it or not

it was one of the world’s first

major environmental projects.

These mountains were bare in 1850

resulting from four-hundred years

of over-ambitious timber industry.

The claim is that this entire area

was replanted by only eighteen slaves

who together planted

eighty-thousand indigenous trees.

My view was south

from the Grumari reserve

all the way north to Niteroi,

forty miles at least.

There are other groups of islands

in both directions.

(I’d experienced only

one of the state of Rio’s

four-hundred-and-something islands).

Predicting the same dual currents

I’d encountered

on the way over,

I steered toward the general

direction of the Corcovado Jesus Statue

(Bored Jesus)

I knew if I aimed there

that I’d first be dragged

about a half mile even farther north

and then 2nd fase of current

would eventually carry me about

a mile and a half in the opposite direction

depositing on the far south side

of the beach in Leblon,

(hopefully not far from my street,

Bartolomeu Mitre).

I took a long LONG time to get back

and making it worse

it started raining heavily

as I was going thru thejellyfish field…

COLOSSAL bolts of lighting

shot across the sky from behind me toward

Jesus on the mountain.

A boat full of fisherman,

rushing to get back to harbor in the storm,

took a short detour to motor past me

to see if I was alright.

I gave them a thumbs up

…that I was “ok”

And they were on their way.

Curiously, two other boats

passed me a half hour later

and hadn’t even

bother to investigate…

(that’s brotherly love for ya).

Eventually I could start seeing

individual people on the beach,

tourists no


Cariocas usually don’t stay

on the beach

when it’s raining.

The weather is

Near-perfect here

4-5 days a week..

(Why would they bother?)

And before long,

I could even hear

the cars and busses on “PCH”.

The swell had increased

a little throughout the day,

which toward the end

started helping me

not hindering me,

giving me a gentle

tail-push toward shore.

When I got about

a hundred feet off the beach

a solitary two-foot glassy

left appeared behind me.

I caught it almost effortlessly

butI was so exhausted,

I barely had the energy

to stand up especially

with the extra weight

of a now water-filled backpack

burdening me.

But I managed to force myself

to my feet

and regally rode it to shore.

Like a Hawaiian king

I waved to my loyal subjects

lining the shore of Leblon

anticipating my arrival.

One thing had become

embarrassingly obvious to me

during the course of the day,

I am slowly, but most definitely

loosing my mind..

My fins hit bottom.

When I put my feet

on the warmish sand,

I could feel the new pulsating

pillow-blisters painfully

de-numbing and coming

back to life on of the

bottom of my feet.

I limped the three blocks

back to my apartment

counting eighty-two women

along the way,

thirty-seven of them beautiful

(but only the uglier

ones smiled back at me).

It was still only early evening,

but I took a shower

and slept

for the next sixteen hours.


Four days later

A dead body washed up

On the beach at Leblon,

a shooting victim of drug wars

at the Vidigal favela

located a mile away

Good chance it was him

that I hit on my

paddle to the Palmas.


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