Giant leaves, vines crawling up every tree. People would be collecting water where it came out of the mountain, by the edge of the road, a sudden flash of light in the shadows, the flash of a red shirt or yellow trousers in the greenness.
The earth was red and if it had rained heavily there would be streams of red mud, like slightly congealed blood running down the mountain. There would be the of smell burning vegetation that now in my memory mixes with the taste of chocolate cream cookies sprinkled with tiny, hard granules of sugar that we ate in the car.
We also ate tangerines and bunches of tiny sweet bananas that Vóvó, calling for the driver to pull the car over and reaching her tiny hand out of the window, bought from scantily clad, barefoot boys by the side of the road as we made our winding way down the mountain.
There would be eight of us in my grandparent’s car; my grandfather, my mother, my brother, my sister, Elsa the maid, my grandmother, the driver Chauffeur Luiz (called such to differentiate between him and one of my grandmother’s brothers) and myself. I would put my head on my grandmother’s lap and she would comb her long nails through my hair.
When we arrived at the beach house it would always be dark. Chauffeur Luis would leave the headlights on, shining a cold streak of white across the pitch dark of the Atlantic rainforest until my Grandmother opened the front door and switched on the veranda light.
Stepping out of the car, half asleep, unsteady on my feet, I would be greeted by: the buzz of mosquitoes, the acrid smell of burning brush, the sweet salty smell of the ocean, the chirping of tree frogs, screech of night birds, the smell of rain lingering in the red earth from an earlier shower, the plant smell of tangled vines, hibiscus flowers half visible now in the glow from the windows as my grandmother went from room to room turning on lights.
I would follow the others inside and squinting my eyes against the harsh blue of the fluorescent bulbs, complain that I was tired and hungry and that my stomach still hurt from throwing up pineapple in the car hours earlier. The furniture would be covered in sheets and the house had the smell of salty mustiness that blended the Atlantic rain forest with the ocean.
Green coils that made chokey smoke would be lit. Bedding would be taken out of closets, shaken, carefully checked for insects; mosquito nets would be hung. And after hot “Nescau” and more cookies my Grandmother would tuck my sister and I carefully into our beds.
In the morning we would run out into the sandy yard behind the house and pick limes that Elsa would twist against the ridges of a pale-pink plastic juicer extracting sour juice that was mixed with filtered water and lots of sugar that sank to the bottom; the clink, clink of a wooden spoon against the sides of the pitcher when my grandmother stirred it before pouring it into amber colored glasses.
The limonada was sweet and tart and pulpy and made the inside of my mouth ring clear like a bell. Little bananas called banana ‘ouro’ grew on a short stocky tree in the far corner of the yard and the taller trees that formed a green canopy over our heads dropped large flat leaves with thick veins and long, dark brown seed pods that made a dry raspy noise when you kicked them along the sand.
There were also trees that grew unappetizing looking fruit covered with bumps and nodules that we stayed away from and palm trees, tall and slightly bent that swayed high above us. Every day the sand in the backyard would be raked and the dead leaves would be heaped in a corner to be periodically burned. The air always smelled of burning brush and to this day I go back to that house on the edge of the Atlantic rain forest whenever I smell the acrid scent of burning leaves.