The church in Pirenopólis

This week might have been a dream: bookended by the suburb of Aguas Claras at the edge of Brasilia, and filled with waterfalls, stone paved streets, colors and fairy lights, and two days of hiking that might have been years or no time at all.

It was my second week in Brazil. Aguas Claras had been calm but not quiet— I’d forgotten what it was to live in a house with kids. The early morning cartoons were a daily alarm clock I didn’t have to set. Small, bare feet ran from one room to another and left a trail of dolls, fake money, double-A batteries, glitter, giggles and the shed plastic trappings of new toys. In the middle of the day, the cartoons were replaced with car screeches, sirens and gun shots of Grand Theft Auto on Xbox. (My cousins are five and thirteen.)


Pirenopólis lay two hours away, a car ride with my uncle through hills and farmland. We passed isolated resort-style properties and sprawling campgrounds, getting closer.

Finally, the small town rose from the surrounding mountains as if it had been birthed from the ground itself. The streets had been cobbled together with slate and stones from nearby quarries, and the roof tiles imitated bare earth shades of brown and red.

It looked like every house in Pirenopólis was a Pousada, a type of inn or B&B, a sign of the tourism on which this little historic town thrived. It was quiet for us mid-week visitors, which didn’t matter as much in the middle of town as it did when we hit the trails.


Let me try to explain. To sit, in the company of only a few other travelers, at the foot of a thundering waterfall eating freshly-picked mangoes— the falls hit several meters away, but we could feel the drizzle on our faces and the water in motion was hypnotizing. If I had been left there for years, I don’t think I would’ve noticed time passing.

But it did pass, and soon we were back in Aguas Claras with the rest of the family. Their town to me was still new, still magical— I’ve never had monkeys or mango trees in my backyard—

Monkeys in the backyard


—but still also domestic and somehow familiar. Saturday morning, either a noise or the unusual silence woke me up before everyone else. I walked into the kitchen, to the window, tried to reimagine what I’d seen but it was difficult to tell what was what. Pirenopolis, the streets, the water, the mountains, all of it made from the same materials with echoes of the same patterns, in everything had been a reflection of everything else.

One is often told to find peace in domesticity, but Pirenópolis had risen amidst the chaotic and violent whims of nature, the waterfalls and the massive cliffs. It was there that time and worries most seemed to retreat, replaced by that profound sense of peace.