Skip to main content

Magic Times and Magic Places

SEA DREAMS – Artist Catherine Lee

Thirty-two years ago, Carmela and I spent six weeks in Brazil – four of them in Rio de Janeiro and the other two traveling around that lovely land, visiting jungles and waterfalls, swamps and rivers, cities and countryside. It was more than beautiful. It was magical.

We never went back, I don’t know why exactly. Maybe we feared the second time around it would be a lovely place, but not the magic place it had once been. Magic is elusive. It’s not where you are, it’s what is inside you at the time.  You can go to the same place, see the same things, listen to the same lovely music, but the magic has slipped away.

But the magic of that adventure remains in our memories and in our hearts.

There was that time we almost died in the ocean just a few hundred feet from the shops and high-rise apartments along Avenida Atlantica. We had been warned about the rip tides and currents that stalked the beach that time of year, but we were relying on the magic of the moment to protect us. And it did.

When the first huge breaker drove us under, then the second one swirled us upside down, I reached out, found Carmela’s hand and pushed off from the sandy bottom. We survived, clambered back ashore, went to our rented apartment, took a shower, and then went out to dinner. Another good day in Rio.

The ocean wasn’t the only danger in Rio. We were warned again and again. Watch your back, don’t wear any jewelry that can be snatched from your ears or jerked off your fingers, and don’t think of resisting, especially if there is more than one robber. And yet, we wandered where we chose, and the magic remained. Some of the most beautiful and exciting places on the planet are also the most dangerous. Such concerns can’t defeat the magic of time or place.

Then there were the beggar kids, homeless boys who hustled money shining shoes. When they were young and still cute, they survived on handouts from tourists and even some sympathetic Cariocans, as the residents or Rio are known. But when they grew older, not so cute, and resentful of their lot in life, they often turned to crime.

There was one young boy we became attached to. He would greet us on the street and we would talk in a hodge-podge of broken English and fractured Portuguese. When we left, a few weeks later, he gave us one more shoeshine – refusing to take any money for it. A token of our friendship. A little more magic.

If the world had been fair, we would have taken that kid home and made him part of our family. As it was, we thanked him, gave him a hug, and walked away.

After Rio, we traveled around that big, beautiful, wild country – to the Amazon and the Pantanal swamp wilderness, and to Iguazu Falls on the border of Brazil and Argentina. We flew in and out of single runway airports that had been carved out of the jungle –  loading and unloading passengers at every stop as though the plane were a city bus.

There were snakes and exotic birds. There were capybara, the world’s largest rodent. Scores of caiman, the Brazilian version of alligators, lined the river banks. Indian kids fished from the same bank. And of course, there were the legendary and deadly piranha that lurked beneath the surface.

We still think about going back sometimes, but would Rio and Brazil hold the same enchantment as it did on the trip so long ago. Probably not.

But what if it did?

George Lee Cunningham

Do you have a dissenting opinion or any opinion at all on the subject? Contact me at and let me know. Meanwhile, you can always subscribe and get an email reminder of blog postings. Your name will not be shared and you may cancel at any time.