Ten miles from the small town of Casimiro de Abreu, itself 85 miles from Rio de Janeiro, lies the village of Sana. Turn off on a dirt track towards São Bento and follow the winding road higher into the mountains. The road splits, take the right, splits again, take the left, and eventually you’ll arrive at a rocky bridge over a river.
The final 20 minute walk up the narrow path is the trickiest part of the long journey, up steep and often slippery hillside. Of course, it’s made harder when carrying a fully loaded touring bike, especially when weighed down further by the weight of humidity.
But knowing what I’m heading towards makes the climb more like a pilgrimage than a hindrance: the remote and virgin land of Norberto – my sister’s boyfriend – tucked into Brazil’s Atlantic Rainforest.
TerraMaya is what you could call a way of life rather than just a place. There is no mains electricity – the power for charging the emergency mobile phone is solar. Fresh water is fed from 6 natural springs on the land. Everything that is here – the huts, kitchen, bathrooms – was all either built from materials found on the land, or brought up via that journey I’ve just described.
People come here for holistic retreats from daily life. Norberto and my sister Milli organise the workshops, which attract visitors from all over Europe.
I’ve witnessed the effects their work has had with people, and they are without doubt deep and life changing.
But their work aside, just being on the land here is a retreat in itself. Imagine breathing pristine forest air each day and gazing at the thousands of stars of the southern hemisphere at night, unpolluted by artificial light. Imagine total immersion in the revitalising beauty of nature. Imagine not being able to check your phone, let alone Facebook. Imagine going for days without seeing a single advertisement.
I’m here from when I landed in Brazil on 18th November until 15th December, when I’ll get a lift into Rio de Janeiro before starting the bike tour. I’m able to post this as I’ve taken the day to cycle into town for Wi-Fi and provisions.
On the journey to date, there have for sure been snakes and spiders, mud and mosquitoes. But to focus on these would be to miss the point. The point I’ve found here is learning how to simply Be. To be present. And wow does it feel good! The stresses and distractions of modern life are miles away, figuratively and literally. The clean living has meant impurities have left my system. And it’s also as though all doubt, worry and fear (of which, if I’m honest, there has been plenty in the lead up to this trip) has left with them.
On one day last week, we hiked up the mountain to a spot that’s been considered sacred since Indian times. There’s a rock balanced on top of another rock, balanced at the top of a mountain, worn into its shape by erosion. Surrounding the rock is a sheer drop thousands of feet to the valley floor below. It’s called Peito do Pombo – the Breast of the Dove. In the circling forest mist, my sister and I hugged each other. I’ve spent some time in the past couple of weeks learning how to live in the present. And in that moment, in that present, I felt for sure the absurdity of thinking of Heaven as a place where the Good go when they die – Heaven was right there on that mountaintop.
This has been the best preparation for the coming journey. It’s allowed me to fully relax, acclimatise and rebalance. I’m feeling strong, confident, and ready to go. Bring on the cycling!